It was quite a season for Roger Magee’s HM Plant KTM team in 2012. Two British titles and an MX1 GP moto win to go beside a sixth place MX1 ranking were the ultimate return for the small but successful team with big ambitions to win.
They also lifted the ACU team of the year award for MX1 and MX2 of the year along with Irish motorcycling team of the year in reward for what was an incredible season.
However with Strijbos moving back to Factory Suzuki, Roger has focused exclusively on the MX2 class for 2013 and bringing the young riders through the ranks.
MX Vice columnist Elliott Banks-Browne took a nail biting and thrilling MX2 title last year and will lead the team in 2013 and the team boss believes Elliott is capable of big things in the World Championship this season.
Banks-Browne will have youngster James Dunn as his teammate as well as the talented Watson brothers who will contest EMX2 and the British Championship, confirming Roger’s intention of helping bring the young riders through.
With Natalie Kane also going for the women’s World title it will be another busy year, so we sat down with Roger to discuss the success of 2012, the potential of 2013 and the new format changes in the GPs.
Looking back at 2012, winning both championships did you think it would go that well?
I was pleased to see that when you went to any of the main publications and any of the so-called experts none of them had Kevin Strijbos on the radar. Whenever we looked at what the program was for 2012 I think we had five out of eight tracks were sand tracks and we knew we had a good package for the MX1 class.
Whenever he went out at Fat Cat he showed everyone what he could and as the season went on he got more confident and the support we had with KTM with the factory engines just gave him the platform to get to the next level. We were very happy with what he did for us and he was very professional and we couldn’t have asked for more except for another signature at the end of the season which we didn’t get but that is too Suzuki’s benefit and we wish him all the best.
Where you close to signing him again?
Yea I wanted to do the deal back in June and if we moved then it might have happened but then he put it on the podium in a couple of races at World Championship so then automatically his value increases. It got to the stage that we weren’t able to meet the commitments that Kevin was looking for and it was just basically out of our budget so he went to the factory team.
In mx2 at Fat Cat that Elliot had the speed as well even against the likes of Osborne and Tonus, then when they had their unfortunate injuries in separate association it was game on.
We knew from midseason that Elliot was certainly quicker than what Pocock was and lady luck didn’t shine our way until the last round. I think everybody that was there will never forget that day, not just those associated with the team but the drama and theatre that was round the event and how we won it – it was a real team effort.
For Elliott to drop it in the last half lap and almost lose it, it was very memorable I must say! With Ed Warren at E-dub media he seemed to be in the right place at the right time and got all the right footage, he put together an excellent video for us and he are glad to have him as a partner again this season.
It epitomised the whole season. If you take into account what Strijbos did in the World Championship winning a moto and finished sixth in the championship which was really stacked with talent. Elliott showed at the last round at Teutschenthal that he does have the speed to run top three at MX2 level and we are giving him the machinery to do that this year.
Was that a boost to him and you as a team to keep progressing with him this year.
Yea well what happened at Teutschenthal looked to be a major technical problem but it turned out to be a minor technical problem a bit of plastic that got stuck in the filter – that’s all it was! But that’s racing.
Going into that last round of the British Championship by a few points, I had a really good feeling all week and everybody remained calm. On the day Elliott was very down to earth and calm in the way he went about things. I think the key thing is he has now equalled his father, grandfather and his Uncle in winning the British Championship. That has taken the monkey off his back and he can concentrate now on World Championship level.
It is going to be very difficult to beat Herlings but we all know what can happen in racing and if something happened to Herlings, and we don’t wish him any ill in any manner, but then it’s game on between Elliott, Jake Nicholls, Ferrandis and a couple other top MX2 guys – anything can happen.
A lot of people say there is no dept in MX2 but after Herlings there are a lot of guys that can get top five/top three…
Very much so and there is always a person that comes from off the radar but we won’t know who that will be until we get the next few races over. Max Anstie is back and perhaps on more competitive machinery and could be a threat at a number of events. Kullas is maybe going to find his form again. There is anyone of eight to ten guys that can run in the top three so it will make interesting racing. Maybe Herlings will become too confident and will leave himself open to a threat then.
Does it feel good to have that impact on a rider to help bring them on with your team?
Over the years we have managed to accomplish that sort of thing. We brought Shaun Simpson from being top ten/twelve in the British Championship to winning it in 2008. We rejuvenated Sword’s career with him taking the title in the second year. We took Jake Nicholls from almost outside the points to running top ten and he finished second in the British Championship in two consecutive years.
Certainly with Strijbos we knew that could happen if we put the right pieces of the jigsaw together. With the support of KTM and the input of Harry Everts which was in my view the key factor in that he was very good for him motivational wise and from a technical point of view and training. Harry Everts was invaluable and I know he was sad to lose Kevin to another brand this year because he felt he could take him even further.
What’s the key to maximising potential in a rider?
What we try to do is give them the best equipment to do the job with. At every level you are competing in if you don’t start off with the same machinery you are at a disadvantage straight away. The key element is to try and get inside the rider’s head a bit and see what makes them tick. Racers are all different and what works for one person doesn’t mean it will work for someone else. Some need an arm around the shoulder and others need a kick up the ass but hopefully most of them have responded to the first action and we haven’t had to rattle too many cages over the past few years.
What are the characteristics you look for when you sign a rider?
Well you try and do your best on information that you can gather from other people but you don’t always get it right. One glaring example was Musquin a couple of years ago. Whenever we looked at what Musquin had done the previous year in the World Championship he had just one top ten result the whole year, he was more a supercross rider and I thought he wasn’t really on the radar – then he goes out and wins the World Championship the next year!
There is no golden rule that you can say one size fits all, another example is a good few years ago we were offered Desalle when he was an up and coming Belgium rider. At that time I didn’t really perhaps see the overall picture with him.
It’s a matter of judgement and there is an element of luck in it as well.
You have James Dunn is riding the world championship this year?
James has only just turned 18 and I think the time is right for him to ride in the MX2 class at World Championship level. He knows the circuits with doing the European 125s last year. It is a matter of getting more experience and starting to string two results together on the day. Last year one result was excellent and the next was mediocre. That will come with a bit more experience and with Elliott for guidance. James is one of those riders that it could click and he will just turn it on and could get good results in the championship. He has the talent, he is very good technically and he and his family are very easy to work with which is essential when you are trying to bring someone into the team.
We are giving him the best machinery with factory fitted backs, white power are doing the suspension so he can go and do his job.
What are you hoping for with him in the British Championship?
He showed his potential at Hawkstone last year when he finished within ten second of Pocock. He just needs to make better starts on the day and get into the rythnm of the top guys. He certainly has the speed but it is just getting the experience and the confidence to know he can do it at British Championship and World Championship level.
You have the Watson brothers as well this season…
Ben and Nathan were with us a couple of years ago and they have now both progressed onto a 250f and they are certainly both very talented riders and we look forward to encouraging their career at British championship level and EMX2.
Ben seemed to be the more talented rider coming through on 80s but the last couple of years Nathan has shown a lot of speed in the British Championship.
He has shown a lot of speed and even in pre-season testing this year his lap times are potentially up there with some of the front runner. But it is a different game when they go to the first race with a bit more pressue but certainly they have the potential. It isjust a matter of getting the right key for the lock. This will be a learning year form them especially with Ben being just 15 and they don’t know the European tracks. Certainly when we get some sand tracks that is probably where they excel at the moment. They are very established at the beach races they have done. Ben was second at the European at Le Touquet afer leading it for quite a while and Nathan after a bad pick at the start came up into 29th which was excellent with the competition that was there.
You have a good stable of guys with the young rider coming through.
Yes it is a very young team they are 22 year or under but that is the best time to try and get a rider and guide him in the right direction and perhaps take some of the rough edges off at an early stage and they will progress that bit quicker. We look at other countries like the French and they are all coming through at 16/17/18 you look at Roczen and Herlings although they are two exceptions, but we do need to be getting the guys into the European level as early as possible without putting too much pressure on them.
Did you try to get a 450 rider or are you just wanting to concentrate on MX2?
We are happy enough to have a young team and that box has now being ticked and to get somebody at World Championship level we need to find bigger budgets. I think we are better at the moment doing what we do best and trying to bring the young riders through.
Apart from winning a world championship you have won a GP moto and won both British titles, where does your personal motivation come from to keep going having achieved all that success?
Well obviously one we haven’t ticked the box on is we haven’t won a GP overall so that is obviously the next goal to achieve. With Natalie Kane also riding for us in the Women’s World Championship she has the speed on certain days to beat Fonatanesi. Really what we want to do is push her this year and get that World championship crown and bring it home to Northern Ireland.
I know she knows she can do it. She has brand new 2013 KTMs, a good package behind her so she has the tools to do the job. She has upped her training and works with Andy Ward the ex Ulster rugby player he is also interested in motocross and enduro so he knows what it will take to get to that next level.
What are your thoughts on the MX1/2 format changes with the fly away and new superfinal. From a fans perspective it seems quite good but from your perspective and an MX2 rider it is maybe a different story.
The jury is out on this one until we see it happen. The format has changed a bit in recent weeks and the crunch will be if some of the top MX1 or MX2 guys not making it to that super final then there could be changes again.
The first two GPs are a bit of a tester but I wouldn’t want to see it being the norm for 2014.
Obviously Giusseppe’s argument is you will be able to sell it as a TV package more easily to more mainstream TV companies is that something you think is viable?
Personally I thought the package we had in the last few years has been good for television. Very often the last race of both classes tends to be perhaps the best race where guys are pushing for overall podiums or wins. The racing has been excellent over the past few years, it wasn’t broken so don’t fix it in my view.
With the economic climate as it is, even teams in America are struggling so how do you manage to keep sponsors happy with the extended GP program and British Championship, is it difficult to keep a team running?
We have been grateful to secure the valuable backing of HM Plant again for 2013. We are the only motorcycle team the company now supports. We are really indebted to their continued support and to KTM and all the other main line sponsors we have but we are certainly open to any offers if anyone else wants to come on board and we know we can do a lot for them and their customers and try and make them feel part of the team.
We are pushing for additional sponsors but in the current climate it is not straight forward. But I want to thank all the sponsors for their continued support and hopefully we will give them the payback like we did in 2012.
Article by Jonathan McCready
Photo by Nigel McKinstry