The inaugural Honda 150 European championship is now over. And after a three round cameo appearance in 2013 the series seems to have been a resounding success. After such an exciting final moto that saw young Brit Mitchell Lewis trying to take out Italy’s Filippo Grigoletto for the championship, the series has been firmly put on the map with media, fans and the young aspiring riders it is aimed at.
Lewis would break his front wheel in the collision allowing Grigoletto to pick his bike up and go on to win the championship. As a reward the Italian will now get a full Gariboldi Honda ride in the EMX2 championship in 2014 – not a bad prize!
We spoke with Honda’s rider coach Gordon Crockard to get an inside take on the success of this new championship.
Three rounds for the first attempt, so how did it all go from Honda’s viewpoint?
Really positive, there was so much interest. Next year is six rounds the year after is eight rounds we have had so many people trying to get in as wild card riders at the last minute. It really shows that it’s going to be very successful. The guys that did come and ride all are coming back. My job was made a lot easier because I was in charge of selection and because we didn’t have more than 30 riders I didn’t have to turn anyone away.
We are going to do a lot of work in the time. We are going to work with the FIM and are in discussions in terms of doing a training program in Spain down were I run my camps together with Honda and the FIM. We will probably have out selection already done a long time in advance ahead of the series starting. So from outside it has been really good, we didn’t have any mechanical break downs of any sort with the bikes. We had nothing but praise from all the riders about how good the bikes were. They are fully stock, nothing can be changed. Everything is completely equal and that is the whole concept – it’s to scout out the best rider, as opposed to the kid that is a good rider but has the better bike. We had brilliant co-operation with the rider’s parents and our sponsors so it has worked out really well.
From a personal point of view how did it go?
From my own side this was very similar to what I do in Spain in terms of management. You are managing a group of riders and from a logistics side it is setting everything up. I have been in paddocks my whole life so I had nothing to learn there.
In terms of working with the riders on the track it is quite interesting how young riders think whenever you put them on a GP track. We do track walks and rider briefings and on the track walks they all think they are going to make the big jumps the same as the MX1 guys do! It’s not the case the tracks are big and they are used to riding on National tracks or youth tracks and you come to GP level and everything is just bigger, the jumps are bigger the hills are bigger, the bumps and ruts are bigger. Everything is on a larger scale and that is something that I think they underestimated.
At this track (Matterley) you could see they were all pretty impressive riders. The top five were all doing the finish double jump and our boys all got put out when the track was heavily watered and ripped up so it is a heavy load on the bike.
For me I have really enjoyed it. We did intend that I would ride the GP races as well and part of that was so that I got more track knowledge on the day so that I could relay that to the kids. And also to show the kids that I can ride a bike! A lot of them aren’t of an age that they would have known me because they are too young to remember my best days.
So if I was riding it would show that I could back up what I am talking about on the track. I really look forward to that opportunity next season.
Is that good for you to have that opportunity and goal again to race in GPs?
If I have half a chance of being on the track with a good bike, I will take that opportunity to prepare properly. Those opportunities were taken away from me just through the nature of you career going up and down and it’s very difficult if you have been a former winner on Factory bikes to work out of your own van on a sponsored with no technical support from a manufacturer, that is very hard to roll up onto the line and try and be competitive.
There are a lot of opportunities for me, for instance Max Nagl has Epstein Barr and there is a factory bike sitting down there, I would give my left arm to ride that bike. I have been a replacement rider in the last couple of seasons for different teams so I think I am well qualified to do that. There is no problem with fitness but for the future the priority is the 150 European Cup and if I can be on the track that is a bonus.
What is it like being back in the GP paddock and watching the races that you used to be at the front in?
It is really frustrating actually for me. I have never been a good spectator, I don’t like it. I like riding bikes, that’s what I like about them. Being in the pits it took me a minute or two just to adjust to the role that I am in. It is different now but I am 34 and next year you have the two stroke class so there may be something we could do there. But we have literally just finished this season and it suited quite well that I got an injury and can’t ride because if we had tried to include me into it all it would have been too much initially.
So overall it has been a success and it is something to build on?
Overall it has been extremely successful I believe. Youthsteam and the FIM are very happy with it, Honda and Dunlop and all of our sponsors are absolutely delighted. The rider has won himself a ride on Gariboldi Honda next year in EMX250 and that is a massive opportunity.
The race itself was very exciting in the final moto, is that exciting for you or because you are representing all three riders is it difficult?
Well we aren’t bias, we can’t be. We offer everyone the same in terms of bikes, advice and support, that’s the number one thing that we had to do. We had two riders who were both on equal points and you couldn’t have written it any better.
As you saw Filippo was leading, Albie Wilkie was second and Mitchell Lewis was third and Mitch went for a pass to take the lead, he collided and took Filippo down in the process and he destroyed his (Mitchells) front wheel. A couple of laps later his bike wasn’t rideable, I sprinted up and got him a wheel and we changed the front wheel and got him back on the track.
Both riders were very strong in the championship but unfortunately Albie Wilkie didn’t ride the first round, I don’t know why, but I am quite sure that he has a level of regret for not doing that.
The race was phenomenal and I enjoyed the competitiveness that the boys had. I have watched every race and every session that all the riders have ridden and they are very, very competitive. There is not many of them giving anything away, they are pushing hard. That is what professional racing is and that what we are teaching them. We are showing them how to be a professional and how to race in a world championship paddock.
What way do entries work for riders that want to take part next season?
You go onto the Honda 150 championship website http://www.honda150championship.com. You can speak to your federation as they can nominate you and you also have to go through them to get your international license. But basically just go through the website and that’s where you get all the guidance.
Interview by Jonathan McCready