It has been an up and down year for the HM Plant KTM team but Roger Magee’s youthful team is, overall, still having a successful season especially on the British scene.
With young Nathan Watson winning his first overall and Elliott Banks-Browne on course to take his second British title there was plenty to smile about at Hawkstone Park last weekend. But unfortunately there was also the downside as James Dunn was badly injured and is out for the rest of the season.
We caught up with Roger to discuss the roller coaster season as well as Sunday’s British championship event which unveiled a new star in Nathan Watson. We also hear Roger’s thoughts on the British Championship format and the European series in what is a comprehensive interview on many aspects of motocross.
Nathan Watson had a great day at Hawkstone with brilliant riding all day and two moto wins!
I know that he usually performs very well in sandy and bumpy conditions but yesterday he showed exceptional turn of speed. In the first moto he came from tenth on the first lap and it took him about five minutes to get going. By the time he got into second if he had what I consider a normal British championship moto length of 30 minutes plus two laps, the race would have been in the last five minutes. Even then he only finished a few seconds behind Lenoir and he had the confidence then to beat him in the next two.
We had a chat after the first race and said if he could get a start. That’s what he went and done. He gave the team another win and he helped Elliot by taking some points off the other contenders. But he has proved to himself he belongs up there. He has been promising all year and now he has done it.
Was a surprise for him to win this year, he was good last year and it looked like he was going to take a step forward but it seemed like he has taken two steps forward.
He certainly came into the season stronger than we had anticipated. I think after the initial few showings it took him a while to get adjusted to the different types of circuit and get dialled in. But he has shown very good speed at the Europeans as well maybe the starts have been just letting him down a wee bit. But his lap times have been very good even in comparison to the MX2 lap times. The MX2 is just after EMX2 so you can have a reasonable comparison. It does tend to be the latter end of the race that he is coming up very strong and that is testament to his fitness this year. He knows he has to be that fitness to get to the next level.
He showed at the Dutch GP that he can ride the MX1 bike as well which has to be a plus.
Yeah he showed he can ride the MX1 bike at the Dutch GP and he has been strong all year on MX2. We have applied today to YS to be substitute for James Dunn at the last three GPS.
I think based on his performance yesterday Nathan deserves the opportunity. There will be no pressure from the team. We want him to go out and enjoy himself as much as possible.
We all wish James well and a speedy recovery, thankfully his injuries aren’t as bad as first thought and it’s just going to take a bit of time. But unfortunately the season is over for him at the moment and he will need to take a few months to heal.
The British GP is Nathan’s home GP and he is good in the sand so at least two of the three GPs he has something extra to look forward too!
Yeah and that is the thinking. At Bastogne that will be a stepping stone with a view to building it up at Matterly and then Lierop might be the one that might suit him the best. But it is a different animal from Hawstone and other sand tracks. To go there in his first year is a big ask but anything is possible. If you go to Lierop you have to go without having to race it, because it is more an enduro type GP where you have to pace yourself and think of new lines as the race progresses. If he does that Leirop could be special for him.
Switching to your role yesterday, Elliot is leading the championship, Nathan won but then James Dunn got injured. Is it hard for you to deal with the highs and lows there from a personal standpoint as manager?
Just a short time after I arrived at the track I was hit by the news James had had a big accident. Eventually the ambulance unit that was looking after, where he got the best of care, but it was obvious he was in a lot of pain in his left ankle and more worryingly towards the next area although he had full movement at all times. They thought initially he had a collarbone but it was already plated. The prognosis today is he has certainly broken his left ankle, he has cracked both heels and has some rib damage near the spine but there is no spinal problems whatsoever.
As regards his season he started well, then had a bit of a mid season slump but recently he was finding his form again in the Grand Prix?
He made the progress at the start of the season that we thought he would and then for a number of reasons he hit a bit of a wall. We got him checked out and he was a bit deficient in B12. We had been saying all year he needed to keep getting his blood checked and that proved to be the case so that led to a few bad results and knocked him a wee bit.
He regrouped and when it came to Germany he turned it round and in the Czech GP he had an excellent qualifying race which gave him a bit of confidence. The races didn’t go as well which sometimes happens but at least he showed he can run in that top 12 for a good part of the race. Then he just got the cruellest of blows yesterday and unfortunately it is just something you have to accept sometimes in motocross.
That brings us to Elliot. Again maybe hot and cold, he has been good in the British championship but in the GPs he has had good races with top ten speed but then DNFs.
Again Elliot has had a difficult year. He got a good start in Czech but just fell foul of the terrain which has a lot of little stones on top. We were fortunate he walked away from that one. At Hawkstone he rode okay, in the second moto there was a pile up which took down Bradshaw and Irwin and quite a few other riders. You are always on the back foot coming forward. These British championships need to be longer than twenty minutes because it is not doing anybody any favours. If you make a mistake in the first lap you are never making it back to the top four or five whereas if you make it a 30 minutes moto you have that opportunity. He got back to 12th and still came out of Hawkstone leading by thirty points.
There are still three races to go and we aren’t taking anything for granted but Farleigh Castle is one of his favourite tracks and he knows what he has to do on the day.
Ben Watson is starting to come through now too. He is starting to make it in the top ten. Although he has grown a bit in height he is certainly only a kid and hasn’t got his full strength. But he is doing everything right and riding very smoothly. In the early part of the season he was struggling to get top twenty and now he is getting top tens. If he can make the same progress his brother made last winter we will have something else on our hands next year!
Ben was always the main brother in the media coming through but now Nathan is the main guy. Will that ultimately help Ben because he has someone to chase?
I also think it helps take a bit of pressure off him. When schoolboys go from an 85 to a 250f it is a big switch and personally I would like some sort of streaming at schoolboy level so they don’t ride 250fs immediately. That is my personal opinion and I think they would be much better on two strokes . Then they would progress onto a 250f in the adults. I think first of all from a financial point of view a two stroke is much easier to maintain, the fathers could do it themselves and maybe get more numbers on the gate.
Ben has a lot of talent, his performance on 85s at European and World level showed that. Are you excited at the prospects for Ben when it all clicks?
He has been overshadowed by Nathan but if they continure on the rivalry between them will bring them both on. One brother will want to beat the other. It is almost unheard to to have two kids from the same family being that competitive at that level.
Do you think the British Championship needs to make a choice to follow the GP format to get the GP riders back and prepare the young riders or go their own way similar to BSB. What would you favour?
Well it is up to the powers that be. Unfortunately No one seems to want to ask the teams what their view is.
My view is that the day is much too long for the riders, mechanics and spectators. And if they watch the time the spectators are leaving – they need the whole thing wrapped up for 4 o’clock. We don’t need in many cases the MXY2 or at least a shortened version so everybody can leave by four.
It is a long day, and it is not doing anyone any favours. They need to look at the number of rounds. Some countries get away with less such as Italy, Belgium etc. But for some reason every time we have a free date from a GP they put a British Championship into it.
I know it’s our home round but for us to go from Italy, to Desertmartin to Sweden it puts a lot of financial burden on the team. If they want the teams there to put on a show for the spectators, they need to change. They have lost enough teams in the last number of years. The paddock is shrinking so they need to do something to put on a show instead of continually taking from the teams.
They also need more fuel testing at British Championship level, we anticipate that that might show a few results.
Does the three moto 20 minute format hinder Elliot and James in GP because they are switching between the two formats or is it not too bad?
It certainly doesn’t help. Next year the GPs are 30 minutes, so at least if there was some sort of movement in Britain it would help. I believe going back to the two motos per day is better than the three sprints because you will see the true rider that has prepared themselves physically as opposed to the rider that can hang for 20 minutes. A 20 minute race in British championship is just not long enough.
Next year with the longer GP seasons of 18 rounds, is it getitng harder get the money in to do a full GP season?
It will be much the same as this year with the exception of Mexico. It is difficult to find the extra money to fund the fly away GPs but in saying that some of the fly away GPs such as Qatar present marketing opportunities. It is just a matter of getting that one contact that could make all the difference and could fund that GP or even a budget for the rest. It’s just getting the magic key to open the lock.
As far as riders go, have you any movement with riders staying or going for next season?
It will be a combination of both probably. There are a number of possibilities but it is just a bit too early. Some negotiations are at a delicate stage so we don’t want to pre-empt that. But our main focus is to try and bring new talent through.
We don’t have the mega budget to just go and buy riders like other teams can do. Even if we did have that budget it is more rewarding to try and bring riders through from the early level. Nathan has went from being an average rider a couple of years ago to being top of the British championship. He can do it at European level too but he has had to adapt to tracks he has never seen before.
The European 125 and European 250 series seems to be a good way of getting adapted to the GP tracks without going straight into MX2 GPs. Are you a supporter of that system?
It is good from a team point of you because you can assess them. We have had it here in Ireland where riders here go very fast but when they go to England they can struggle in the first year. The same can happen even more so at world championship level. But if they are racing against a guy of the same age and get the experience with the tracks it helps, whereas, it is a bit daunting to go straight to GPs. Any rider that goes to MX2 in his first year still needs a learning year and that’s what we did with James this year.
The MX2 class gets a lot of criticism from America and even Europe for a lack of depth. Obviously Herlings is on another level but from second to fifteenth seems to have stepped up and is really close.
It definitely has. Anyone of those guys can finish in the top six if they get the start and their bike is quick enough. America hasn’t any strength and depth whatsoever.
Interview by Jonathan McCready
Image By Elliot Spencer