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Thomas Covington - Back Interview Geoff Meyer images Husqvarna

The always popular American racer Thomas Covington is returning to Europe and the toughest motocross series in the World, the MXGP class. The Gebben Van Venrooy Yamaha Supported MXGP Team rider knows it won’t be easy up against the 450 boys, but he also knows hard work will be an important ingredient to getting as close as possible to the likes of Herlings, Prado, Gajser and Cairoli.


We caught up with him as he was making a cup of coffee and his morning breakfast in California and as always, he gave us a good insight into his mind set and what goals he has set for himself for 2020. Motocross Illustrated: Firstly, welcome back. I can imagine you are not that happy about the way your US experience went, but I remember when you left at the end of 2018, you felt disappointed to leave the GPs. How do you feel about it? Covington: You know, I am excited to go back to the GPs. Unfortunately, this year didn’t go to plan, what with the illness and a couple of small injuries, it just wasn’t my year really. Had a lot of things working against me. I am really excited with this opportunity with Yamaha and like you said, I was a little bit sad to leave last time and it will be nice to get back and be back at the races in Europe. Motocross Illustrated: I was watching one of those Redbull MX World videos and Ken Roczen mentioned how much easier going Grand Prix is to racing in America. More breaks in the calendar and a more enjoyable feel in the paddock. Can you relate to that after your year there? Covington: I think I enjoyed it a bit more racing in the Grand Prix’s. I only did one year (in USA), but the weekends go a lot quicker and it is over before you know it. It is wide open all day and then you are packing up and heading to the next one. It is different and I can see why Roczen was saying that. It is more of a business mind-set and you are there to do a job and maybe more pressure. At the end of the day though, it is still just riding dirt bikes. Motocross Illustrated: Obviously you have Calvin Vlaanderen and Alessandro Lupino in the same team. Do you know those guys at all? Covington: I know both of them a little bit, not too well. I was team-mates with Lupino when I first came to Europe when I was 17, so it will be cool to be in the same team with him again, and I had some really good battles with Calvin in the past and it is a decent relationship. It would be cool train with those guys and spend time with them. Motocross Illustrated: Looking at the results from Lupino and his starts, it seems the team is a good one. Have you watched his results at all? Covington: I mean, I didn’t follow every race, but I did see Lupino had some solid results this year, so the team knows how to build a good bike. It will also be nice to ride with him and see how my speed is compared to him. Motocross Illustrated: Calvin will also be making his debut in the MXGP class and I guess that will help working together and checking each other’s speed on the bigger bike?


Covington: Yes, for sure. Having two guys like that on the team is never a bad thing and it should make us all better. Also, I will be working with Joel Roelants again and training with a couple of other guys he is doing. I am looking forward to getting back to the sand in Belgium. Motocross Illustrated: Can’t imagine you are looking forward to getting back to the cold weather in Belgium? Covington: I got some messages yesterday from people telling me to stay in California because it is too cold in Belgium. Motocross Illustrated: You are not a big guy on the 450, which should help your starts. I was speaking to Prado at the end of the year and he mentioned he is building up for the bigger bike. Of course, he is only 18 and his body is still growing, but are you doing anything to build your strength? Covington: For me, I am not too worried about bulking up. I think for me it is more riding time on the bike and develop the muscles I need to on the bike. If you ride the bike the right way that will work for you. Motocross Illustrated: I think we spoke about it in the past, but you should be nice on the 450 because you have a nice technical style. Have you ridden the 450 yet? Covington: Yes, I have been riding it in secret the last two or three weeks in California and I am loving it. The feeling I was struggling with when I came to Europe, was the Husqvarna turning and stuff. As soon as I got on the Yamaha, I was like, this is what I was looking for. You can plant it into the corner and lean it in, the feeling I had when growing up racing Kawasaki’s. The last few years I had been searching for that and in Europe we could find it by cutting the frame a little bit, but in America, with the product rule you don’t have many options. So, it was like a breath of fresh air when I got on the Yamaha. Motocross Illustrated: I remember talking with you at the start of the year and how stiff the set-up was in America compared to Europe. Also, Zach Osborne saying how soft the setting was that he was given by Husqvarna here and he couldn’t get used to it, so went back to his original settings for the Nations. I guess because you had a terrible season and didn’t race as much as you would have liked, you didn’t get used to the stiff settings, so you don’t need to get used to the softer settings in Europe? Covington: With everything that went on, I didn’t have too many times to test, between the knee injury and illness, I wasn’t riding during the week. I kind of relied on the team and my teammates to do the testing. That is what I struggled with, but I never went super stiff anyway here and the bike is completely different next year,


the 450. We will have different suspension and it can’t get more different, I guess. Motocross Illustrated: As you know having raced here, the MXGP class is just like a wild animal. I did a thing today on my site, there are 21 motocross championships and something like 334 GP wins, of which you have four. I mean, I am not competitive at all, so I don’t get it, and I think to myself, I wouldn’t want to do that, but how do you prepare for something like that when you are a racer? Covington: I have been doing it my whole life. Even when it didn’t look like there was a lot of competition in the MX2 class, there are always guys stepping up and there is always tough competition wherever you go. Sure, the MXGP class is the strongest class in the World, so getting good starts is going to be key, and finding that little extra to set me apart from the other guys. Is that bike set-up or just my riding style with line choice or something like that? Motocross Illustrated: The calendar for 2020 starts at three rather nice tracks and I think you probably like all of them. Matterley Basin, Valkenswaard and then Argentina. You must be looking forward to the start of the series? Covington: Yes, I mean, Argentina I love that track. I haven’t had much success there, but I really enjoy going down there, and Matterley Basin is probably one of my favourite tracks to ride and I have had good results there. Valkenswaard in 2018 I won the qualification race there and I have had good races there, so I am looking forward to getting back there and mixing it up with the 450 guys. Motocross Illustrated: Where do you want to be in the class? Covington: I don’t really know yet, I would like to work up to be a consistent top ten guy. Obviously, it will take a lot of work with the team and getting fit again. I have taken the last six months off training because the doctor told me to stay on the couch. I am building myself back up and making sure I am 100% fit when the season comes around. Motocross Illustrated: So, from now until the season opener, what is the plan for pre-seasons and stuff like that? Covington: Well, we haven’t planned the pre-season races yet, I want to do a couple, but I will stay here in California until Christmas, and then head to meet the team. I will probably stay somewhere between Lommel and England and do our testing and training before the pre-season starts. I will be in England a bit, but the majority of time I will be in Belgium or Holland working with the team.


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Tommy Searle Departure Tommy Searle GP Departure Interview Geoff Meyer images Ray Archer

I am not sure too many people would argue if you said Tommy Searle might just be the best Grand Prix rider from Great Britain since the great Dave Thorpe back in the 1980s. Sure James Dobb also has a bunch of GP wins (11) and a World 125 championship, and add Kurt Nicoll to that list, with his 13 GP wins and multiple top three finishes in the 500cc class, however Searle carried that special X-factor for a long period of his career, coming oh so close to his boyhood dream. From his early arrival in 2006 he looked special, and when he swept to a British Grand Prix victory at the Donnington Park circuit a year later, until his last at Teutschenthal, Germany in 2012, “Tommy Gun� has something about him. A sort of swagger that only the best has.


We all remember on that beautiful day at Matterley Basin in 2012 when he took on the seemingly unbeatable Jeffrey Herlings and came away with another GP victory, or his bar to bar battles with Antonio Cairoli in the 2007 MX2 championship. On both occasions, against two of the best GP riders ever, Searle finished second in the World. Nothing to be ashamed about, but short of what he felt was real success. Searle also finished second to Tyla Rattray in the 2008 MX2 championship and scored third place in 2011, this time beaten only by those two youngsters, Ken Roczen and Herlings. Between 2008 and 2011 Searle moved to America, just a teenager, but excited to battle the best in the AMA supercross and AMA motocross championships. While he never really had the success he had achieved in Europe, it was an experience he would never forget, living the dream of any young British motocross rider at that time. Yes, this young man from Pembury in England didn’t just race in the FIM Motocross World Championship, he came within inches of becoming a World Motocross champion and no doubt, his GP victories won’t be forgotten quickly. Now, with his GP career seemingly over, Searle has turned to the greatest British GP rider of all time, Dave Thorpe, and Thorpe’s British based Buildbase Honda team. A team that has also had major success in the UK, and no doubt, these two British icons, can work together to make sure Searle gets to end of his illustrious career and can put a few more British championships in the bank. Motocross Illustrated: You will be racing just Maxxis British championship in 2020, and maybe a few Grand Prix’s but not the full series. Are you finished now with the GP scene? Searle: It isn’t that I have had enough of Grand Prix’s, and it isn’t that I don’t like going to the Grand Prix’s. I still enjoy racing the World championship and it is the pinnacle of the sport, in motocross it is the premier championship in the World. Where I am at the moment in my career, I didn’t want to go down the same route as last year, or the previous few years. It has nothing to do with the team last year, it is just in general, I know what it takes to win races and I know what it takes from a team to win races and if I wasn’t able to be on a factory supported team. You can do it without a factory team, don’t get me wrong, but everything has to align so much, you can do it one weekend and that is great, but it just isn’t possible to get the results I know I can still get. Motocross Illustrated: As you know, it is a real spiral, if you are with a team like KTM or HRC and you get injured, then you don’t often get a second chance and once you are out of those factory teams, it is hard to get back in full-time. I think for half the field in MXGP it is like that sometimes? Searle: It isn’t just me, it is life and you don’t get the results and being the rider like I feel I am, you are positive you can do to a smaller team in GP and think you can turn it around, but if that was the route I wanted to go down, and I am happy with the decision I have made. Step away from GPs and I have enjoyed my time there and I am not bitter, or thinking GPs are shit and I don’t want to go


there, it is just the situation I am in, and I want to ride for Dave (Thorpe) and enjoy my racing. Motocross Illustrated: You mentioned it is the premier series in the World, and I think the structure has made it that way, with the age rule, the EMX and the stacked MXGP class, but it also costs guys like yourself, because MXGP can be like a revolving door. I think 10 years ago you probably did have another three or four years in the class. What is you’re feeling about that, do you agree with the system or think it is too tough? Searle: Difficult to say really. When I went to MX1, I was ready to go to MX1, I could have stayed down more years with the age rule, but I was ready to move up. I went to America when I could have stayed in MX2, but I chose to go to America, and I came back and still had two years in MX2. Some riders are different, and every riders career is different. I had my first podium at 16, my first GP win at 17, a lot of other riders, he could have one more year fighting for podium and go to MXGP with confidence, but he might have to move up earlier. It is what it is, and you can’t change the rule. I think some guys it would be nice if they stayed down, but for example, Tim Gajser, he doesn’t need to stay down, Jorge Prado same story. I think Gajser can still race MX2. Motocross Illustrated: Yes, just turned 23. Searle: So, he isn’t somebody who was pushed up because of the age rule and he adapted well. Everyone is different though. Motocross Illustrated: Another question, you came out of MX2 and I think everyone felt you could easily have finished top three in the World in MXGP/MX1. I think talent wise, if I think of guys from England or maybe even Great Britain, you are the best guy from the last 15 years and maybe even the best guy since Dave Thorpe in the 1980s. I remember you getting injured in Thailand, but maybe even before that it seems you didn’t have a lot of luck. Was Thailand the start of the end for you? Searle: I think so, difficult to say. When I moved to the 450 class in 2013, I had all the factory teams chasing me, I could have picked just about any team I wanted, and had I been able to go back to 2013, I would have signed for a factory team. I was a little naive, I thought I could stay on a satellite-based team. I got on the standard Kawasaki 450 and I thought the bike felt great, I can win on this bike. It didn’t work out that way, I probably should have signed for a factory team. Even so, in that first year on the 450, I won a couple of qualification races, I was fighting for podiums, I went 3-4 like three times that year and was close to the podium but didn’t get on it. I felt in 2014 I could have gone to a factory team again, but I wasn’t allowed, I had signed a two-year deal with Kawasaki. Then the following year I got onto the KTM factory team, but I got hurt in Thailand and I had a lot of injures after that. I was always trying to come back early, and it didn’t help my confidence and how my contract was. It didn’t spiral, because at times I felt great on the bike with KTM, so I got the opportunity, but I just didn’t get the results. I mean that year, I got injured in the first round, then injured my thumb in the second round and then broke my back in Thailand. The whole year I was trying to come back early. I didn’t go the way I wanted it to unfortunately.


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