Max Anstie has undoubtedly been the most talked about rider in the last two months, as uncertainty has surrounded his plans for the new season. There was no room for Anstie at his previous team in the Grand Prix series and it was known that he had a desire to return to the United States. Now, following countless rumours and tests with teams, it is official that he will do the seventeen-round Monster Energy Supercross series and twelve-round Lucas Oil Pro Motocross series with H.E.P Motorsports. Anstie spoke about everything that led him to this point with MX Vice editor Lewis Phillips, so jump into the exclusive interview below!
MX Vice: You are done! Your deal with H.E.P Motorsports is finally official now, so explain how that thing happened. What have the last couple of months been like?
Max Anstie: Well, I can definitely it has not been the easiest couple of months. Sometimes it has been really stressful and sometimes it has been really exciting. I finished my last race in Europe – or my last proper race that I did – where I won the second moto [at the Grand Prix of Belgium in August]. I went racing at the next race in Italy but punctured my lung in the qualifying race. It was not the best end to the season or the ending that I could have had considering the progress that we made.
I felt really good with the whole Standing Construct KTM team. We did such a good job – I don’t even have to explain that. Look at the results that Glenn [Coldenhoff] had at the last five races! I wanted to be out there too, but that is just the way that it goes in this sport. I knew pretty early on that I would not be able to stay there, because they were going down to two riders. Things were shifting around a little bit. I was looking and doing my own deals in Europe. I was talking to the teams and trying to push things along, then I got in contact with WMG [Wasserman Media Group] in the USA.
Jimmy Button, who is my agent in American terms, was trying to open up some doors for me over here. I have been talking about this for the last three or four years. If I never gave this another shot… Not many people know that I did supercross over here for Star Racing Yamaha when I was sixteen. You know though, when I was sixteen my life was controlled by my Dad and parents. I was very different to who I am now. I am twenty-six now, married and just in control of what I am doing.
At that point in my life I was always good at supercross. It may sound a bit weird, but as a kid I was always good at sand and supercross. That was all I ever did. When I was ten or eleven, I always did Bercy and the little supercross races in The Netherlands. Riding supercross and in the sand is what I like to do. I much prefer it to riding a rock-hard French track or an Italian one – I seem to just struggle on those types of tracks each year.
I spent hours and hours putting in the work on the hard-pack tracks but jumping on a sand track or into supercross still comes so much easier to me. Okay, there is a difference between it coming easy and being able to race competitively. I know that. It is still something that I enjoy doing. I got pretty good at riding in the sand and it is the same kind of thing, I feel, when I am riding on a supercross. It is all about rhythm and timing the bumps. I have obviously got a lot of work to do though.
Basically, I had some offers in Europe from good teams and respectable people. It was weird. It just did not feel right to me, which must sound quite strange. I just really, really wanted to give this American thing a shot. If there was an opportunity to do it then I wanted to give it a go. I was riding and getting back into it around the time of the Motocross of Nations. Even at that point I was thinking that I was going to stay in Europe and do MXGP. I thought it was all going to work out.
Honestly, I had ninety-five percent of the deal done with Steve Dixon and Kawasaki were supporting it. There was a good deal lined up and I thought, “Yeah, this is going to work.” I was flying out to get married in the USA and I had this test planned with H.E.P Motorsports. The day I left Europe I got a text saying that it was not going to work with the Dixon deal in Europe. My mindset just changed at that point – I wanted to give this a shot in America and try to make it happen.
Anyway, we flew to America to get married. That was an amazing day and experience. That was probably the only day in the last two months that I was not thinking about deals or what was going on. I had planned a test with the H.E.P guys just before that actually, so up until that point I was still not sure. I was still thinking that something would work out in Europe with Steve Dixon or something. Maybe there were even other teams? I was still trying to push the European thing. I tested the bike with H.E.P and got on a supercross track, which was the start of this whole thing.
I had not been on a supercross track in… To be honest, I have not been on a proper supercross track in a lot of years. I was on a completely different bike as well. I jumped on the Suzuki that was set-up from whatever their last race was. Honestly, I just felt good. I just felt like it came to me pretty naturally. I walked around the track and I thought, “I might struggle today. I have not ridden anything like this in a hell of a long time.” I got on the bike and felt good though.
H.E.P are a relatively new team. I, like a lot of European guys, did not even know too much about the team at all. What I can see is potential and the potential to grow though. They want to improve. They want to get better. They want to step up. It reminds me a bit of Standing Construct in a way. The guys there were always trying to improve, impress and make steps forward. It is the same with these guys. I think JGR is the factory team and then these guys are like the supported team, but that means we have got the freedom to do more of what we want with the bike and things like that.
It reminds me of the situation I was in with a good group of guys. My first impressions were really good. Next Milly and I went off on our honeymoon and we had ten days there. Every day I was on the phone trying to figure things out in Europe or with my manager in America. I was still very much without a ride or deal at that point. I was saying to Milly, “What are we going to do? Are we going to get on our plane back to England? Am I going to sit at home in Belgium and be miserable, because I do not have a bike? Should we fly to California and try to do everything we can to make this happen?”
The day before we still had our flight booked to return to England and then I was like, “F**k it. Milly, book us a flight to California. We are going.” I literally did not get on the plane to England. I got on the plane to California. I landed in California and then things started to roll and started to happen, because I think then they realised that I was more serious about it. I was like, “Look. I’m here. I want to start working.” Nothing really happened too quick in the first ten days. Everyone knows the ins and outs of the Suzuki side of things, so we were trying to figure out what was going on.
I was like, “I need to know some answers as soon as possible. I am trying to move my whole life over here.” Things were taking their time and then we were staying in La Quinta hotels. If anyone has ever stayed in them… I am not saying they are the worst hotels, but we were struggling. I was staying in these hotels. I had no routine and no plan of training. I needed to get on a bicycle. I had to start doing some work. I felt so unfit and so unready to do any riding. Slowly it started piecing itself together though and we have got to the point where we are now.
People have been asking me, “What have you been doing? What is going on? What has been happening?” It has just been day-by-day trying to make things work and figure it out to make sure that this is what we want to do. It is not easy. I am super happy now that the deal is done though. It is one hundred percent what I am doing. I can clear my mind when I’m staying in these places. I do not even have training equipment here or anything really. I did not even have a truck, but luckily the team have actually given me one. That makes my life easier.
They have given me a house to stay in for a little while too, so that has made my life easier. I was thinking up until that point that the easiest option would be to go back to Belgium. I have got all of my stuff there. I have got everything at home that I could ever want. It just kind of happened that I was like, “No. I’m going to try and do what I can to make this happen.” They gave me the opportunity, and now we are doing what we can to do our work. I’ve just started riding and testing. I have literally done a couple of days.
Okay, I have got a month until I need to be ready for A1. It is a 450SX deal. Many people thought it was going to be a 250 deal or whatever, but Suzuki wouldn’t support the 250 programme and all that. There were a load of ins and outs with everything. Basically, I am doing 450SX and 450MX. Man, it is a challenge. It is risky. It is a challenge, but I like a good challenge. At the end of the day, if I did not do it then I would regret not giving this a go. I am going to do all I can to be ready, or as ready as I can be, and then build up throughout the year.
I am going to have to take my time and learn. I would have much rather gone in on the 250, because I would be racing a bunch of younger people and have had a bit more time if I was doing the east coast. It is what it is. I am going to make the most of the opportunity that I have got. I am super excited to be able to do this. In a way, I wish that I could fast forward two or three months so that I could be settled down. I could actually have a house to rent. If I am renting a house or whatever me and Milly are doing, I would like to be able to have things a bit more settled down.
It is what it is. I have got to make the best of the situation. I am just super happy and grateful for the H.E.P guys for giving me this opportunity. The bike seems good. The team seems solid. Like I said, there is potential to grow. They want to improve. They want to get better. Hopefully I can bring some knowledge from the European side of setting a bike up, more for the outdoor side of things. Hopefully I can bring some of that over to this team in the USA.
Maybe you would prefer to be in 250SX but 450MX is kind of a thing you can look forward to, like you said. Being on a 250F outdoors would maybe be a bit of a drag, but you could do some serious damage on a big bike.
Yeah, exactly. Everyone keeps saying that. I have raced over here before though and I do know the tracks are a lot different to Europe. The only thing that is difficult is it is not October. If it was October and I had two or three months to prepare then it would be alright. I haven’t done… I had a standard Suzuki to do two days of outdoors on just to get myself into the bike. That was fine.
Everyone’s focus is on supercross right now and then when we start there are like seventeen races or something with one weekend off. How much time I am going to get to prepare for outdoors is another thing as well. I am obviously used to my European programme. I would be doing my base work now and then be ready to step it up in January and February to get ready. I know that come outdoors I will be solid. The preparation is very different over here though.
I am not going to get to prepare like normal, because everything is focused on intensity in supercross and that kind of thing. The bike set-up is completely different. You obviously need the bike to be quite aggressive, short and sharp to get you out of those turns and over the triples on supercross. Whereas an outdoor bike needs to be a lot easier to ride for the duration and on sketchy tracks with this and that. It is a challenge. I’ll get it done and I’ll work every day that I possibly can. I’ll make the best of it.
With the little bit of testing that you have done so far, has it been quite rushed now that you have only got a month? Is it still quite relaxed and you are just finding your flow?
No. Today [Monday] was literally the first day of proper testing. I have ridden the bike for a couple of days. I have literally got two or three days on it. You cannot rush testing. It is what it is. I’m also in a place mentally where I’m not going to kid myself. I know that it is not going to be easy going into Anaheim 1. I don’t expect to be at a point where I’m like, “Yeah, this is amazing.” The weird thing about supercross over here is you do not really ride with anyone. They have their own test tracks.
We went to Milestone and it is fine, because you get to ride with a few people. It is not like you go to Lommel and you see everyone, so you can kind of base yourself off of where everyone else is. I know it is different. I don’t get to do the Hawkstone International. I don’t get to do those races where you can kind of gauge yourself. I’m going to go to the first race and be like, “I actually don’t know if I’ve gone completely the wrong way or what way I’m going to go.”
I’m going to get there and definitely use as many rounds as it takes to learn. If it takes me the first six rounds to figure out what we need to work on, then we will make the steps as we go. If I started in October, then I think I would be much more dialed in. I think the most laps I’ve done at the moment is like ten. I think I’ve got a month to sort of figure out how to do twenty minutes plus one lap in supercross. Although it does not sound that long, it is quite intense.
You do a lot of laps. I am going to have to figure that out. Again, it is going to be a process. I am going to be happy to build and get better as we go. That is just the situation we are in. I am happy to be in this situation. I have put myself in this situation. I am happy to be with a team that has supported me with it and has the same goal as me. There is potential for it to grow and be great. It is a challenge, but I would rather be doing this right now than anything else.
Somewhere in the last two months was obviously the Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha test, which is not much of a secret. You were spotted at a public track. What happened there, how did that all go down and why are you not on the bike now?
After we got back from the honeymoon, I thought things were going to move quite quickly. We were literally waiting around for ten days thinking, “I don’t know what is going to happen.” There were bits and pieces that were just not falling into place. I was still on the phone to people in Europe and trying to figure things out. I was like, “I don’t know. I just don’t know.” Then really something that sort of sparked this off was Shaun Simpson and his wife, Rachel, they were having a holiday. Luckily on their last day we met up with them at the San Diego Zoo. It was just so nice to have another rider to talk to.
Shaun is obviously my friend, but it was just another person to talk to. We had been sat on the honeymoon… My brain had just been overloaded with what the hell to do and what was going on. It was nice to just get his opinions on things and talk to him about it. I was saying to him, “It is weird. I would much rather go and race the Monster Energy Cup than go and race a beach race. I would much rather go and race Bercy.” It is just always something that I was doing. He just kind of reiterated to me that if there is an opportunity to go and do it then why not? Give it a go.
If you are going to regret not doing it, then give it a go. The very next day I got a phone call from my manager guy over here saying, “I have got you a test at Star Yamaha. You need to be at the test track for whenever.” I was like, “Oh, sweet! Okay, cool.” I then started thinking, “Sh*t. I have not been on a 250 since Maggiora 2016.” When I got off the 250F I thought, “I’m never going to ride a 250 again.” I did not really like my last year. I was like, “Sh*t. I have got to ride a supercross track on a 250.” I didn’t know any other information at that time.
I literally just thought somehow the strings have been pulled and I got a test. I ended up going to the test track and doing a day. Man, I got it down. Their bike was really good, obviously. It is no surprise. It was solid. It was awesome. I met all the guys. I did ride with them in 2010. It is not the same as then, because they have got completely different people managing it and things like that. It was a great experience and great to do. I finished that day and thought, “I’ve done it. I wonder what is going to happen now.”
I kind of left and in the next couple of days they said, “Can you be at Milestone tomorrow and do this?” I was like, “Okay!” I had nothing else to do. I showed up at Milestone and did a day with them. I did motos with their other riders. There were a lot of guys there. I got on it and felt pretty good. It was a good experience and good to do. I spoke more to my manager after that and we figured things out. One of their guys was injured [Colt Nichols] and they were looking for a replacement rider, but they were not sure on when he was going to be back.
It was just like… This was even an option in Europe, I could have just waited for someone to get injured. No one wants to do that though. I don’t want to wait for someone to get injured. That is a sh*t thing to do. I don’t want to be sat in Europe waiting for a phone call to go, “Someone is injured. You can go and ride.” It is not really what I want to do. They said they were all pumped on how I was getting on with the bike and things like that, but their team was full. They have got five riders at the end of the day – their team is full.
One guy is injured and might miss the first race, but it would only be a short-term thing. It just got to a point where I was like, “The H.E.P thing is a 450 deal and it is not going to be easy, but I feel wanted.” I felt like there was potential there to grow and it would obviously be a full year. I have got the time to learn and do a full supercross season. The Star door was opened and closed, which happens. It was a great experience to go and do that. It was actually a weird time in my career, because I have never been free from contracts.
I have always rolled on from contract to contract to contract since I was sixteen. You start riding on the date that your other contract ends. I have kind of gone for two months where I have been holding off and going, “That does not really feel right.” I had some good meetings over in Europe and I really tried to get things going but, for me, I felt like I left something in America when I was young. People might say this is a mistake or this and that, but I just really want to do it. It is just something that I have always wanted to do. It is scary. It is a risk. I just don’t f**king care.
I’m going to give this opportunity a go. I’m going to try to do this and see where it takes me. I know if I don’t do it now – I am twenty-six – then I am probably never going to get the opportunity to come to America and do it. Another point to add is it is quite easy for me to move over here, because I got a green card and a driving license when I was younger. I have got most things set up over here. It is not too difficult for me to come over and do it on short notice. At the end of the day, I am just happy now that I know what I am doing. I can get to work and start grinding away.
One thing we do need to make clear is what you alluded to there. You are in America because you want to be there. It is not like you got pushed out of MXGP. There were good offers on the table there. There were good offers on the table in America too. You just decided to go this way and it was your choice.
Yeah. For the last few months I have been saying it to the people closest to me that if I finish my career in Europe then I do not know how I would feel. I’d probably regret not giving it a go in the USA. I talk about Dixon, but it is only because I have obviously ridden for him before and know him. I phoned him up and was just chatting about stuff. I was like, “I want to do the Monster Cup.” I even said, “I’ll ride your 250 in 250SX West over here.” That was a big thing for me. Trying to come and do this was a big thing. It was big with all the deals that I was thinking about too.
I am my own manager in Europe and then I have got good contacts here with Wasserman to open doors, because obviously I do not know that many people over here. I explained it to him [Jimmy Button]. I was like, “Look. This is how I feel. This is what I want to happen, so just try to do your best to open up some doors and see what is available.” It came around in this way, but I had opportunities in Europe. I still do. I don’t know if this is just a one-year thing in the USA or if I’m going to like it and be here for the next five or six years. You never know.
Maybe I’ll do three years of this and I’ll then go back and ride GPs? I don’t actually know. This was just a feeling inside me right now. I had good meetings with teams in Europe. I had options on the table, but just something was pulling me to the USA. I just thought that if I did not do this then I would regret it. I have got nothing to lose. Let’s give it a go. I’m going to go all in, do the best job that I can and see where it takes me. You never know. It might open up a load more doors over here or I’m going to be back in the same situation that I was in a few months ago.
I can come back to Europe at the end of the year and we’ll figure it out from there. I really feel like this is something that I want to do. I’m changing my whole life. I’ve literally got nothing in America. My whole life is set up in Europe and I’m just going to come out here to make the best job that I possibly can, take everything that I’ve learned from the GPs and everything that I’ve learned in the last twenty-six years of my life to do the best job that I can this next season. That’s the plan.
It has obviously been a stressful couple of months. Now that you are actually done and you know what you are doing, are you quite relaxed or are you now just as stressed because there are five weeks until Anaheim 1?
I will tell you what, stress… I have never been in this situation. It’s weird because everyone is happy when you have got a roof over your head and you have got your food. In the grand scheme of things, I have those things. I could stay places. I have good food. I can do what I want to. It is weird. Motocross is my life. It’s strange to really think how much it means to you when you don’t have it, when you don’t have an opportunity or a goal. I’m very big on when I get set on something, I think about it. I get f**king obsessed with it. I like that. I like what I do. I love what I do.
I’m passionate about riding my bike. Whether that’s in Europe or America, I just love figuring out how to go faster and make it work. Anyone at the top of the sport is the same. Everyone thinks the same, in any sport to be honest. Yet when you do not have that you really have to try to appreciate the things that you do have. It really takes you to a place where you have got to start appreciating what you do have. You have got to look at that to see the things that are there when you don’t have a ride and when you don’t have the team around you.
I’ve got my friends. I’ve got Milly, my wife now. I’ve got my family. You are always going to have the rest of those things. It’s a weird situation to be in, but I actually feel like it’s meant to go this way. I’m really excited about this next chapter and this next book that we are going to write on what’s going to happen. I don’t feel as stressed in the fact of I’m happy that I know what I’m doing. There is not much time, yeah, but to be honest I’m not even that stressed about that, because I feel pretty good. I know I’ve been around long enough that I’ve just got to do day by day and step by step.
I’m not going to go and try to make massive changes. All I’ve got to do is just stay solid and build myself up. Wherever we are at going into the first race is where we are. We’ll just take it from there. I’m not too stressed. I’m happy with the people I’ve got around me now. I’ve got to dial a few more things in. I’ve got to get a bit of a better set-up over here. Milly is not even here at the moment. She’s trying to figure out the house back in Belgium.
I’m doing my own cooking, which to most people doesn’t sound that bad. When you have got Milly cooking for you though you then realize that your own cooking is that bad. The food that I normally get given to me… I literally train and I’m like, “Ugh, hungry!” I then just get a mountain of nice and healthy food. When I try to do my own cooking, I am a bit plainer and simpler. Microwave some rice, put a tin of tuna in there and that will do me for dinner.
Is it a surreal thing when you say, “Anaheim 1 is four weeks away?” Even when I hear you say that it is like, “Wow, this is actually happening!”
Yeah. I think tomorrow we have got a media day. They are doing the opening show and all that stuff. I don’t actually know what happens. They kind of do a load of filming. I think when I do that it will feel more like… I know it sounds weird, but I kind of feel like I’m in Spain testing and getting ready at the moment. It is weird. I feel like I am at that stage getting ready for Hawkstone. It is a weird situation. I know it is a completely different place, but that is kind of how I feel.
I am not really completely at home. I’m just sort of riding, training and doing the best that I can. I guess when I get in there under the lights it will be a moment to take in. At the end of the day, I have done the biggest races that you can do in Europe and I do not think anything will ever top Matterley Basin and the pressure there. It is going to be a completely different thing in supercross, but at the end of the day I’ll roll with it and we’ll do the best job that we can.
Interview: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: Ray Archer