European fans will have an additional reason to tune into the opening round of 2021 Monster Energy Supercross on Saturday night, as Max Anstie will make his 450SX debut with the Twisted Tea H.E.P Suzuki squad. Anstie has been hammering out laps in Southern California over the winter and, for the first time in a while, talks about his progress and thoughts heading into Houston 1 in this MX Vice interview. There is a lot of detail in this lengthy interview, so settle down and enjoy.
MX Vice: You re-signed with Twisted Tea H.E.P Suzuki halfway through the outdoors, but the whole thing got thrown under the radar with the weird Christmas Eve announcement. Why did you decide to go back there?
Max Anstie: My original deal with H.E.P was for the 2020 season and we have all been through that story, but I ultimately did not get a chance to race supercross. I really felt like I had a good vibe with the team though. I was getting along with the people who I had around me and they actually offered me a contract for 2021 before I had even raced in the outdoors. If you look back at my career, I have switched manufacturers and teams a lot. I didn’t want to do that though! I wanted to be loyal to the people who gave me the opportunity to come to the USA. I would not have had the chance to come here without them, because it’s not easy.
People on the outside just go, “You have just gone from MXGP to the USA. It’s no big deal.” The logistics of getting a team, bike and set-up… There is a hell of a lot of other riders who they can pick from. I felt good that they believed in me enough to give me a contract for this year without even having seen me raced and wanted to stay with those guys. 2020 was a crazy year with COVID-19, but I was happy with the people who I had around me. Dave Dye, my mechanic, is a great guy with a lot of experience and helps me. I have experience with racing, obviously, but it is different in the USA.
Dave is really pointing me in the right direction with some of the bike stuff, as is my crew chief. Clark Jones has a lot of experience and has worked with a lot of great people too. I feel that if you surround yourself with the right people then that is better than just having a great bike or whatever. You can get the job done if you have the right people around you. I knew that there was a plan to step up this year as well – we have Twisted Tea and JGR has moved out. We are the main 450F team now. My original goal was to elevate the profile of the team and put it on the map, and I think we did that during the outdoors. We were racing against the best guys and led laps. Now, going into supercross, I feel like we are an established team and ready to do a good job.
You mentioned there about the number of times that you have changed teams. The one time that you stayed on the same manufacturer for two years in a row was at IceOne, but they had an all-new FC 450 that second year. This is the first time you have had some proper consistency, which must be nice.
It’s really, really weird. I obviously didn’t want to do that when I was younger, but I was controlled by people around me who kept telling me to go where there was more money. It was the same when I raced for Steve Dixon – we went from Dixon Yamaha to Dixon Kawasaki. I had the 2017 bike absolutely dialled at IceOne and then they completely changed it for 2018. It was like riding a completely different manufacturer, so I do feel like one year is very short. I have done a lot of testing for supercross now, but we are always going to be developing things and learning. That is especially true for me; I do not have the race experience in supercross.
There are things that I’m going to learn and pick up as we go but staying on the bike from outdoors to now has been amazing. Honestly, my practice bike now is my race bike from Pala. It is exactly the same bike with supercross suspension. It took me the whole of the outdoors to figure out silly things with the chassis, different sub-frames, linkages and that stuff that makes the balance of the bike. It took me the whole of the outdoors to figure that out. Now, going into the new season, I like the way that my bike sits and turns. It feels like my bike. The supercross suspension is very different – it is as stiff as a board.
The balance of the bike is still the same though and that is a big thing for me. It’s nice to go into Houston 1 for my first supercross in however many years and yet I have already been to the races with my mechanic and my crew chief. They already know me from the outdoors. I’m not going there and stressing about learning new stuff, because my mechanic knows what to write on the pit board. Even down to the silly little things! Dave knows where my bars go and how I like my front brake. It is a lot easier. I’m happy that I have managed to use 2020 to get settled and now we can start stepping it up. I’m happy with my people. We will be ready to go racing.
It does seem as though this whole off-season has been quite smooth, with no drama. There was the lung surgery that took you out for three weeks. Ignore that and it has all been quite smooth, huh?
Yeah, but that is the other thing about racing here. It’s been an off-season, but it has not been that long. It has been three months – I think it is fourteen weeks from the last outdoors to the first supercross. It’s really not long at all, especially when you are used to MXGP where you have a lot longer to work on stuff. You do strength stuff in the gym, then you work on your base, then you go to Spain and begin to step it up. It is so different. I finished outdoors, had a week off and I have been riding supercross ever since. I’ve been testing, developing, learning the craft and getting comfortable. I had that one little hiccup – I had surgery on my lung – and that kept me off the bike for three weeks. It was not the end of the world. I got back on it pretty quickly and was one hundred percent within a month. You don’t have that long though, so it seems like it has been a quick turnaround.
There has been a lot of testing to do. They gave me a suspension setting when we first started – I just asked my crew chief how different my bike is now from when I first started riding supercross. He said, “Put it this way: When you first started riding we gave you a set-up that you could have ridden outdoors with, but now you are on proper supercross stuff.” They really broke me in slowly. I’m sure that if they had given me this suspension when I first started riding supercross, I would not have been able to turn. It doesn’t move! When you start going faster and hit the whoops faster, you realise that you need stiff stuff to hit things. That is where we are at with it.
That is worth talking about. The one critique that American people tend to have of European riders riding supercross is that their suspension is too soft. You are now an AMA Supercross version of Max Anstie though, huh? You have let your European ways go.
Yeah! I was talking to someone at the Yoshimura photo shoot yesterday and they told me about settings from HRC in Europe to HRC in the USA. They do not even share settings, because the bikes are just so different. I remember thinking that they should just give Dean [Wilson] my set-up at Matterley Basin that time, because I knew that it would work, but he wanted his American set-up. It is the same as when [Ryan] Villopoto came to do MXGP. When MXGP riders come to the USA, or vice versa, you have to swallow your ego and accept that the American people know what the f**k they are doing. The European staff know too when it comes to MXGP. There is no point trying to take something… You can be open and I’m quite good at doing that when testing.
I will say what I’m feeling and what I want to feel, but I’m not really sure what direction I need to go in for supercross. I just let the guys do the job with that information. My set-up is as American as it can get though, but it feels like my bike now. A European bike just would not work… I could still go into supercross and find out that I have got it all wrong, but I believe in my team and what we have done so far. I know there are going to be things that I have to learn and that there are going to be obstacles on the track that I don’t even know what I am supposed to do over. I’m going to have to learn on that sides of the things.
Say I go through the whoops and it kicks me; I need to figure out if it is my technique, the bike or the track that is doing that. I can look at an outdoor track and know exactly how everything should feel – that is just from experience. All of the teams at the top level in both America and Europe know what they are doing. I can go on… I tried to do some supercross rounds with European teams back in the day and it just did not work. They did a good job, but they just don’t fully know. The H.E.P know how the track is going to develop in the night show and what way to go with suspension. It is even the same with tyres! We run tubes in the tyres, because it is better for supercross when it gets colder. They never run mooses here, even in the outdoors. There is just a difference. I have to trust the team – there is no point trying to make a European bike work over here.
The biggest change with your programme is that you have switched from Ohlins suspension to Showa. How good is that and what sort of impact do you think that will have by the time the outdoors starts?
I have performed well with the Ohlins stuff, even when I rode for Dixon. I won MX2 Grands Prix with it and then I led laps with H.E.P in the outdoor season. We still have my crew chief – he is my technician and the one looking after my stuff. I have got the same guy working with me, which is a big advantage. I just feel like the Showa stuff takes a little bit of doubt out of my head, like I said before about figuring out if it is the bike that is kicking me or not. It’s not like WP in Europe where every team is sharing information. Adam Cianciarulo is not sharing information with Ken Roczen or my team, whereas in MXGP everyone knows if someone has made a change to their suspension.
You know if you are in the ballpark or not. I feel like going into supercross with Showa will help me get into that ballpark faster. I’m not going to know what I want the bike to feel straight away, like I am riding supercross at the moment and I think that I feel great. The guys try to change some stuff and I am like, “Jeez! I didn’t think it could be even better.” I think that I am learning that in supercross. It will make a big difference going into outdoors as well. I managed to do a bit of Showa testing at Glen Helen after the outdoor season and I got comfortable pretty quick. I think that moving into there… It will be really good as well.
Is there one thing that you have had to specifically focus on in the off-season, like getting whoops dialled in or something? Is there one part of supercross that has required more attention?
I tried to go back to… I have been around racing long enough, so I kind of replicated my MXGP plan and turned it into a supercross programme. I think that plan works for everything. I started off by getting my base work done, which was just riding laps. I just got my laps in and tried to get as many laps in as I could. I was not necessarily trying to go too fast, because you have to respect the track a lot more than in outdoors. You have to be so much more precise. When I first started riding supercross, I felt like I was just jumping through the rhythm sections and getting through the whoops. I now feel like I’m much racier through those sections… It is just a progression.
I had to start at the bottom, which was just getting my laps in and making sure that I can jump the jumps. I feel very lucky so far that I have not been to a track that has a jump or section that I have not been able to do. Everywhere that I have been… I have even been one of the first people to jump stuff a lot of the times. That has been pretty good for me. Whoops are something that I have to pick up on and learn, but that is the same with anyone who is new to supercross.
It’s the same if the guys do something new like tyre-tapping a jump or going over a table instead of jumping on. I may be like, “Oh! I never thought of that.” I can do it straight away. There has not been just one thing… It’s just been a progression of building myself up. I’m at a level where I can race the track. It is still going to be a work in progress and I’m going into the first round almost like it is Hawkstone. We can start plugging away as we go from there. I’m experienced enough to know that the boys are going to be exceptionally good.
Speaking of progression, this schedule is not normal. It’s all whacky with COVID-19. I feel like having multiple races in a week will help your progression though, because you will spend more time on track with those top guys rather than alone in California.
Yeah, exactly. I think that I can look at the positives, despite how bad the last year has been. It has allowed me to get settled in America and get the outdoors under my belt before lining up in supercross. Having an injury was not ideal, of course, but now I’m going into supercross and there will be less fans. It is not going into A1, which is like going to Matterley with so many English people and European people around. Now, going into Houston, it is just me and Milly. We will go with the team, do our job and that is it.
There’s going to be enough for me to think about anyway, like figuring out a new series! It will allow me to focus on what I need to focus on. It’s going to simplify things. I feel like that will be a good thing, as will the mid-week races. I guess most people do not know this, but Suzuki don’t have a test track in Corona where all of the other manufacturers do. I’m pretty sure that the old Suzuki track became a Honda track, and I think Ken Roczen has purchased that now so that he can ride there all of the time.
Suzuki don’t have a track, so we go to local tracks like Lake Elsinore or State Fair. My team has a test track, but it is five hours away from where we are down south. It is going to be quite good for us to be stuck in the same place – everyone will be doing the same thing. There is only one day of practicing that you can do, which is Thursday, and everyone will probably be at the same track anyway. I’ll be able to get familiar with the stadiums, the dirt and things like that. Settings from the first round should carry over.
One week away from H1. Does feel different to being one week away from the first MXGP round? Do you have more excitement about you?
I do. I’m excited about supercross. I am more experienced than what I used to be when I first raced supercross. I remember being so nervous and unprepared, but I feel like I am focused on myself. I’m pretty excited about it. Everything has gone well so far, then I have two more days of testing to do on Monday and Tuesday. We fly to Houston on Wednesday. I’m pretty happy with the way that it has all worked out. I feel like this is where I am meant to be… I really do enjoy riding a supercross track.
It just seems like you are in such a good place, both on the bike and mentally. It doesn’t seem like you are putting pressure on yourself to get a certain result. You seem well prepared for whatever challenges that will pop up along the way.
Yeah, exactly. I know they are all going to be really good, but all I can do is focus on myself. There are going to be things that I have to learn, but I cannot wait to get stuck in there with them. I just want to have a good race. Everyone looks at supercross and wants to do it as a kid… There are not many people in the world who have even ridden a supercross track. If you want to go and ride at an MXGP track like Lommel then you can do that on a Wednesday.
Most people can ride a lot of the MXGP tracks and have a ride around when it is flat. There are not many people who could even do a lap around a supercross track though – it is like riding a super bumpy Lommel. The whoops are so steep and horrible, and they are way worse when you try to roll them. Skimming them is as sketchy as anything too! The rhythm sections are so steep, so you just cannot come up short. That is like hitting a brick wall. This just feels like the pinnacle of everything.
To be British and an MXGP guy, but have the opportunity to race supercross… I cannot wait to give it my best shot. Weirdly, I feel like I’m better at supercross than I ever was at outdoors. I haven’t even raced yet! I love it. Whenever I get to race supercross, my brain is just going flat out when I go to bed about what I could do to get better. I can go and do something that I really feel like I am good at.
Interview: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: Twisted Tea H.E.P Suzuki