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Giuseppe Luongo Interview: MXGP

Giuseppe Luongo splits opinion in motocross – especially in the UK. Some are behind him, see his vision and appreciate the professionalism of the series while others are dead set against it and claim he is killing the sport.
But whatever your opinion, this is a must read for all motocross fans. In this wide ranging interview that Giuseppe granted to MX Vice, the Youthstream president answers the critics and also clearly explains his vision for world motocross.

This is one of the biggest ever interviews with the man in charge of GP motocross. Giuseppe doesn’t hold back, giving us full and frank answers and is confident that GP motocross is going in the right direction to grow and maintain a sustainable and successful future.

The Italian also revealed that he is in negotiations with two big UK broadcasters to show MXGP in the coming seasons in what could be a very exciting time for our sport in the UK.

It has been ten years since you took over the World Championship again. Are the GPs ahead or behind where you envisaged them ten years ago?

We are in line with what we envisaged even with the fact we crossed (and are still crossing) the most unfavourable economical crisis since 1929. During this time we have created and developed the European Championships which prove to be thriving, we have doubled the number of professional teams taking part in the FIM Motocross World Championships, we have brought back the Motocross of Nations to the value we once knew (it had regressed between 2001 to 2003), we have tripled the TV audience and TV coverage and we have installed a positive trend for the non-European GP events. This is without entering into all the details of how the professionalism, infrastructures, and so on have been improved.

A lot of people in the UK feel that because there is no open qualification or prize money riders don’t get a fair chance at the GPs. They say that each GP should be run by clubs and riders get start money and prize money like the old days (or even a sponsored privateer purse).What is your view on that idea and is that model realistic anymore in today’s world?

I would suggest that these people organize their own series, try with their own ideas and see if it works, after that they can make their comments and maybe explain where they found money to pay for all this and to all the services they would need to provide (TV production, timing, infrastructure which Youthstream supplies and which are imperative for a modern sport to exist and be promoted on a high level).

Concerning the fairness for the riders to qualify, this is probably a story invented by riders/fans who don’t have the level to compete in MX1 / MX2. Today, via the European Championship it’s very easy for young talented riders to be spotted and be entered in the MX2 class, the MX1 class on the other hand has such a high level of competition that only a few riders in the world are able to compete on a high level in this class.

In reply to this, during the MXGP festival in Great Britain every rider who thinks they are able to race in the MX1 class and have not had the chance up until today to be seen by a team will have the possibility to make a test; riders able to make a lap within 110% of the average time of the top 10 MX1 riders will have a free entry in the 2014 MX1 class, in addition the local organizer of each MXGP event will have an allocation for wild card riders to enter for free of charge in order to promote locally the GP (under the same condition that they are able to make a lap within 110% of the average time of the top 10 MX1 riders). It is difficult to enter in the MX1 class not because the selection is unfair but because the level in this class is outstandingly high.

The European championships are really taking off alongside the World Championship, it is really strengthening the MX2 class and the young riders have a clear path to the World Championship with the GP teams following their development. Are we seeing the pyramid system you have brought in starting to take effect?

Yes, this was our project, and we are delighted with seeing that our pyramid is working well – from the 65 European to the 85 European, from the 85 European to the 125 European, from the 125 European to the 250 European and from the 250 European to the MX2 class the passage is fluid, the only passage being difficult is from MX2 to MX1 due to the high level of competition and the fact the 450 is a very powerful bike which riders need time to adapt to.

The MX2 class in the Motocross of Nations has had the U23 rule removed. Will that happen in the World championship or do you see the rule staying for the foreseeable future?

I don’t think it will be removed, the majority of the manufactures, FIM and Youthstream are happy with how the system works. These kinds of Regulation changes are always based on common agreement between FIM, manufacturers and Youthstream and go in the direction of having 1 main class (the MXGP class) while keeping the MX2 class for younger riders.

Would you like to see a Ryder Cup style event where it really is Europe v the USA – is that possible?

I would like that a lot as I think all Motocross fans would like to see this, but in reality this is almost impossible to do because the American teams and riders and World Championship teams and riders already have many commitments, and it would be difficult to find a time between the FIM Supercross World Championship, the FIM Motocross World Championship, the AMA Nationals and the FIM MXON to suite everyone.

The MX1 class is very tough right now almost all of the top twenty in the championship have won GPs or GP motos – but are fluctuating grid numbers worrying and what is the answer?

This is used very much by Youthstream’s detractors, when we have more than 30 riders on the grid nobody says anything and when we have around 20 they start immediately saying that Youthstream is killing MX. The reality is that the MX1 class requires a huge amount of skill, the top riders are extraordinarily fast, the bikes are extremely demanding and as you have indicated the top 20 riders are very strong. The MX1 is based on the quality, and often quality does not always go together with quantity.

Actually the fluctuation always existed in the MX1 class; in the non-European events some years ago only 15 riders went and in Russia last year there were 19 riders. If we take statistics in central Europe the MX1 class always has between 30 to 40 riders, and on the races that are far from central Europe there are between 20 to 30 riders – and this is exactly what is happening now.

The reality is that in MX1 there are about 25 fast riders who are able to participate in the entire series (sometimes less due to injuries), and all the rest are riders who race at events that are not so far to travel to. The most important point for us is that all the fast MX1 riders are there, and who is not there is because either they are not fast enough or, in a few cases, because they have difficulties to find a team due to a number of factors independent to the promotion of the championship. However, my message to all the concerned people: don’t worry our major class is very healthy and will continue to be the major class with the best riders in the world.

The TV production missed Jose Butron’s first ever moto win, is the quality of the production something you feel is crucial to the growth of the sport and in making the Superfinal a success? The American’s really excel in that area and really hype up the story lines and human interest angles. Is that something that MXGP hope to improve on?

This is another example of those who just wish to search for our mistakes. During the last lap it was a Youthstream TV director’s decision to following Herlings (who leads the Championship and was the first time this year to not win a race) or Butron (who won his first race), the TV director decided in this split of a second on Herlings, however in the mean time Paul Malin and the other Youthstream commentators praised Butron several times on his fabulous performance and his first race victory.

Obviously we do make some mistakes but we also do many good things for the sport, especially with regards to the TV production and broadcast. As a whole our TV production is of high quality; we produce every GP in HD and we show the best of the GP event, we produce highlights on the teams providing them with more exposure and we never have a minute of delay. We have a very professional crew – the best English, French and German commentators – and with MX-LIFE.TV we offer fans and all the insiders a useful tool to be able to follow the whole series from wherever they are. Do you remember seeing MX on TV before ‘Luongo’ took over?

There has been three superfinals now – what are your feelings on it, has it went better or worse than you imagined?

Firstly I have to explain the concept of the Superfinal. The concept to have MX1 and MX2 riders ride together for the non-European events was proposed by a manufacturer in order to reduce costs for these events (by bringing less riders) and increase the show; it was unanimously agreed to by all the manufacturers, factory teams, FIM and Youthstream and to use 2013 as a test to then decide for the future after studying the pros and cons. Even if the spectators who have seen it at the event and the large worldwide TV audience loved it, some old-fashion fans and a part of the paddock don’t like it because they say the MX2 riders are disadvantaged when they race against the MX1 bikes. Of course we never thought the 2 bikes would have an equal chance and the goal was not to have 1 race but to have 2 races within 1; the MX2 riders compete against the MX2 riders and the MX1 riders compete against the MX1 riders and if a few MX2 riders finished in front of MX1 riders this would be exceptional, but it has not been seen like this by everyone.

The decision of the future format will be taken during the meeting on the 19th of June between the manufacturers, factory teams, FIM and Youthstream, and following the evaluation of the test made this year Youthstream’s position will be in favour of having the same format for the non-European MXGP events as the European events.

The USA are struggling to get all four motos on the same TV channel, the GPs have the MXlife.tv and Motors TV but their situation does highlight how hard it is to get four hours of motocross on TV. Is that one of the reasons you are trying to get one of those GP motos as a main event so motocross can get on more mainstream TV networks and therefore gain more exposure?

Our goal is for the FIM Motocross World Championship to go on important TV stations and to touch the largest possible audience with the best quality of broadcasting. We produce in HD but some TV stations still broadcast in SD due to costs causing the final image the fans to see at home to be not good; we will not accept SD broadcasting in the future. We have already reached agreements with many important TV channels around the world like FOX in Brazil, Mexico and all Latin America and Australia, Al Jazeera for the entire Middle East and Africa, BeIn in France, USA and Russia, Sport1 in Germany, Band Sport in Brazil, Supersport in South Africa, True Vision in Thailand and Sport TV in Portugal and Angola. We are working on making this list grow and we are in negotiation with 2 big broadcasters in the UK we should be able to announce this shortly.

Naturally these big companies will not transmit 4 hours of Motocross on Sunday and a lot depends on the decision that will be made regarding the format on the 19th June, in principle we will prepare 2 hours to be broadcasted live (1 hour for MX2 and 1 hour for MX1), and naturally MX-LIFE.TV will continue broadcasting everything live including the European Championship races.

There seems to be a traditional voice that says motocross can’t grow – that is isn’t F1 or MotoGP and never will be, but at the same time people also want the sport and the riders to get more mainstream respect and grow. Is it possible to stick with tradition and bring motocross forward at the same time or do you have to make a choice?

MX will never be MotoGP or F1 because Motocross is Motocross with it’s own identity which makes this sport unique. I’m sure everyone is aware that Motocross has grown a lot over the past years and continues to grow. So far this year has been outstanding and the MXGPs coming up in Ernée, Maggiora and then Lausitzring and Matterley Basin will be bigger and better than ever before. There is twice the number of riders in the European Championship (the base of our sport).

We don’t want to leave the tradition behind but we need to make our sport more up-to-date with our time; the difficulty lies right there, in finding the right balance. I see there are a very few who would prefer Motocross to remain as it was in the 80s, but today the world has dramatically changed and the young (which is the future of everyone) don’t care about the 80s anymore, they want everything very fast and new things all the time, we are living in a moment of consummation. We don’t intend on losing the soul of Motocross but we must keep it interesting for the young of today, not for the young of 30 years ago.

Will it ever be possible to get the top Americans into the World Championship and to get the American media to give it equal exposure to their own series? That is a huge market that the world championship doesn’t seem to be able to crack.

USA is a big market but no longer the biggest market that it was 5 years ago. The statistics of the off-road market show that USA has gone from 60% of the 2007 world off-road market to 25% (similar to Europe), and other markets are becoming increasingly important like Brazil, Mexico and Asia. For sure we would like to have more American riders in the MXGP but as you know there are very few American riders who are able to compete for top positions in the MXGP and those top riders are also very specialized in Supercross, where they have very good contracts. We hope that one day some top American riders will join our series; last year at the GP of Belgium Villopoto indicated that he would like to come and compete in the MXGP by 2015 / 2016, if he does decide to come he will be very welcome.

The next couple of months are crucial for the future of MXGP, how important is it to get these decisions right?

Like for everything, it’s very important to make the right decision. We have to be intelligent, keep our eyes open and remain humble, and in the case we make a wrong decision we do not have to be afraid to change again, not to keep going deeper into a mistake. And it’s the same if we believe we have made a right decision, we have to be strong and fight to go on. Decisions regarding the future format will be made by the majority during the meeting held between the manufacturers, factory teams, FIM and Youthstream.

How possible is the lower engine capacity and one main MXGP class? Will that class still get two motos and what is the future for MX2?

The right capacity for the MXGP class will be decided together between the manufacturers, FIM and Youthstream. The MXGP bike has to be the best Motocross bike based on power, handling and weight, it doesn’t matter what capacity it is it just needs to be the best where the riders can enjoy racing and are able to race at 100% for 40 minutes (not 25). We will continue with prototypes in the FIM Motocross World Championship. Two motos are likely to remain; during the meeting on the 19th June it will be decided if it stays with the classic two motos (like today) or if the first moto will be used as a qualifying moto for the 2nd moto (main event) where the points will be given.

The MX2 class will continue having a bright future and will most likely be run with the same format as the MXGP, but as I said all the final decisions will be taken during the meeting on the 19th of June.

The GPs have never been more professional, every moto is live and the riders are of a high quality – despite all the critics the World Championship provides a great weekend’s entertainment and more races to watch then ever – do you feel the critics overlook the good things and investment Youthstream have done for the sport?

Within your question you provide the answer. Youthstream is doing a great job in promoting Motocross on a World Championship level and also on the base level for which we receive many compliments from everyone within the MX world. We have made huge investments in TV, infrastructure, presentation and preparation of the circuit among a long list of improvements, without a doubt it is the best Motocross series in the world.

Really there are only a few critics from people who would like things to stay as they were when they were racing, but they are people who are older than myself and don’t want to change with the times. However frankly speaking, most of these people are cowards who hide behind fake names and build up stories between themselves on the forums but don’t have the courage to put their true name. They are people who were not able to do something for MX when they were racing years ago, do you really think they are able to do something today? If they are so capable they could make their own series with all their wonderful ideas, it’s a free world, like I did when I was 28 years-old when I created the Masters of Motocross. Amongst these critics do you see the name of people that have done something in MX like Thorpe, Malherbe, Geboers, Everts, Cairoli, Carmichael, Johnson, Bayle or the top MXGP teams or MXGP organizers?

I think I have already lost too much time and given too much attention to these people. It’s very easy to meet us and present ideas in a humane manner with a goal of making Motocross better and better, we are very open to productive criticism but not to people who personally attack us for the most absurd things. Like I have said we have many spectators at the events with millions of followers on MX-LIFE.TV, the FIM Motocross World Championship official web-site, social networks and all types of media, we have hundreds of millions watching the MXGP on TV and they all love our sport. People like Steve Dixon and Paul Malin can give you accurate information of what the conditions in Motocross were like before regarding work, finance, organization of the events and travel for riders and mechanics (especially for the non-European events) compared to today.

So, what is your ultimate goal for the GPs, where do you want to take it? How big can motocross really get?

Our goal is to cover each continent with MXGP events, have riders coming from all over the world and to be covered more and more on main-stream TV stations. We are working towards having riders from all over the world via our Youth Academy with John Van den Berk and Jan Postema where we are creating training centres in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America. These centres form trainers so that they are qualified to locally continue the training with young riders, and in agreement with MXGP teams, once a talent is found they will be brought to the European Championship and grow until they reach the main MXGP class. This will need a lot of time but slowly we will succeed.

Motocross still has great potential and I believe it will continue to grow over the next few years, this depends a lot on the TV broadcasters bringing it easily into the most possible homes and on the number of Grand Prix events in strong markets out of Europe. The combination of these 2 elements together with the quality of the promotion and the involvement of manufacturers will permit the World Championship to be stronger and more credible attracting more important partners to join the FIM Motocross World Championship.

The Festival of Motocross at British GP was a huge success last year with all the classes. Are you looking forward to it again this year and is there anything else we can expect?

From the first moment we were delighted with the success of the British MXGP Festival. Steve Dixon and Youthstream worked hard to put this event together and we want this to remain as a unique moment where we have the entire MX world (the Amateur, the Youth, Women, Veteran, Professional) all together at one event once a year. I have seen many things in Motocross since I began 30 years ago, and the parade lap at Matterley last year was a remarkable moment in the history of Motocross. We believe UK is the right location for this event for many reasons: Motocross was born in the UK, Matterley Basin is a fantastic venue in all aspects, Steve Dixon is a reliable partner and last, but not least, the British fans are outstanding.

Interview by Jonathan McCready
Picture by Nigel McKinstry

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