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Interview: Roger Magee

Interview: Roger Magee
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It has been a good start to the year for Roger Magee’s Hitachi construction machinery / Revo KTM team.

A 1-1 by both Shaun Simpson and Ben Watson at the first round of the British Championship , plus flashes of speed by Simpson, Watson and new recruit Petar Petrov at the GPs, has left the team in good spirits at the beginning of the season.

But it all got over-shadowed this week with the injury to Mel Pocock and the subsequent blame game and then the resignation of Brian Higgins and British Championship manager.

We caught up with the team principal to get his take on it all, plus Villopoto racing MXGP and the emergence of the next potential British GP superstar, Ben Watson.

GateDrop: You had a good relationship with Mel last year, I’m sure on a personal level you were devastated to see what he had to go through.

Roger Magee: Unfortunately due to family circumstances I wasn’t able to be at the event but I got reports from members of the team and a lot of people that contacted me during the week. But certainly the priority must be Mel’s well-being and his future progress and recovery. Unfortunately it comes with the sport occasionally but when it is someone you have been associated with it makes it even worse.

But it’s not the first time the alleged lack of medical care has been there. We had a similar situation last year with James Dunn where they didn’t stop the race on time and nobody knew the nature of his injury. James’ situation was potentially even more dangerous because it was internal bleeding which wasn’t as evident as Mel’s unfortunate injury, which was very extensive but more visual.

But both injuries, and even at the first round last year at the British championship where a rider lost a finger, they didn’t stop the race either. But hopefully now, eventually lessons will be learned and the safety of the riders will be paramount regardless of championship races, points or time schedules.

GateDrop: The whole incident with Mel seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back as it when it comes to the ACU/Brian Higgins. There appears to have been a lot of stuff bubbling under the surface but that situation seemed to create the perfect storm of everyone having enough of what they ways things had been run.

Roger Magee: There have been a number of issues, we as a team have add over the last number of years. We won’t go into any great detail at the moment. We will let the ACU have their own enquiry and it should range further than the incident at Hilton Park because of what has happened in the past few years. I think whoever the chairman of that enquiry is, it needs to be totally inclusive, very transparent and it needs to come up with a range of solutions that sorts the problems out once and for all.

There is a general groundswell of opinion that things must change, and change for the better for everybody. The main priority is the medical provision of the events in my view and then look at the way the teams are treated, they have been treated despicably over the last few years. We haven’t been listened to in terms of length of races, the schedule of the races.

We don’t need a veterans class at British Championship races, we need to be finished at 4pm so everyone can get home on time. I think we need a structure that is beneficial to everyone, I know one size doesn’t fit all. But this is the premier championship and needs to get back to the level that is should be.

The World Championships seem to have gone up a level or two and the National championships are dropping. Surely if you want British riders to get into the world championship, to me they need to be doing 30 minute motos at their national championship so they are more prepared for a GP if they do a one-off race, is that something you want to see happen  as a team manager -especially for younger riders you have coming up?

That’s what we have asked for since they introduced the 20 minute races. We were told after the first year that if it didn’t work it would be changed. It’s harder on the mechanics and everyone else because we have less time on the day. We also don’t get enough time for the sponsors which is all part of the package. It needs to be an enjoyable day for everybody. We don’t want to be there to 6pm at night and try and get a boat back to Europe.  It needs to be more concise on a Sunday.

GateDrop: Regarding the communication with the teams and riders, I see the MX Nationals have appointed Martin Barr and Neil Prince to discuss things with. Do you feel that the Maxxis championship communicates with the riders and team, and if they do, do they listen and implement what they hear or is no-one listening?

Roger Magee: Over the past few years the Maxxis has not been providing the dialogue between the organisers and the teams and the riders. Certain clubs do it better than others but it general for the overall package we are not being listened too.  Simple things like a few years ago there used to be a bonus scheme for the teams in the championship and that contributed to the running costs to get to the next round. That was withdrawn without any reason whatsoever.

At one stage Steve Dixon was representing the teams but he certainly didn’t consult  any of the rest of us and he agreed to things there was no consultation on and it got to the stage it was a one man band that called the shots. That needs to change or we will have to look at future participation in the championship if it doesn’t change.

GateDrop: It has almost got over-shadowed by everything that happened but both of your riders went 1-1 at Hilton Park. In that respect it couldn’t have went any better for you.

Roger Magee: It was a boost after quite a difficult few weeks I had on a personal level. But it pales into insignificance with the injuries Mel sustained and Luke Norris. At the end of the day can still win more races but we would prefer it if Mel was there battling for the championship as we with doubt would have been.  Unfortunately that isn’t going to be the case this year but we do wish him all the best and hopefully he can be back where he needs to be in the championship.

GateDrop: Ben Watson has won his first British championship of his career and up to his crash at Qatar was looking good in his first year of GPs, were you surprised or did you expect him to progress that much through the winter? He seems to have stepped up a level.

Roger Magee: We have monitored it over the last couple of seasons and he has been making the steps as he has become more mature and physically stronger. Part of the problem with the 250fs until they become 16 or 17 really aren’t physically strong enough to control the bikes. Personally I would still prefer to see schoolboy riders on 125s and then once they learn their trade, then go on to a 250f.

Ben is now coming to the stage, we saw it last year in the Europeans where he won some races but didn’t have the luck he needed to get into the top 3. But when you looked at the times, which is most important, you could see where he would slot in in MX2 once you gave him another year. Realistically we think he can finish top ten at some GPs this year and in the British he has already proven he will be there for the MX2 championship as we predicted.

GateDrop: How important are the EMX championship now that run alongside the GPs? Are they more important that the British championship now because the riders get to race on GP tracks and the teams get to see them progress against the best of Europe. Are those series’ becoming increasingly important from a team manager point of view and a rider development point of view?

Roger Magee: It’s certainly good, because with everyone being at one event you can keep an eye on it. With riders coming to the end of their availability in MX2 because of their age then you can look at EMX2 and see who is next in contention. When you factor in the amount riders that had to move up to MXGP this season from MX2 then in my view Ben was always going to be one of the successors and he showed that at Qatar until he had that fall on a jump that caught out many more experienced riders as well.

GateDrop: The first two tracks at the GPs, I guess everyone knows what to expect at Qatar, it is a one-off type of race but where you disappointed at the track they used in Thailand after such a good track they previously?

Roger Magee: It wasn’t the facility we should be going to when there was a much better and established track not that far away. I know there is politics involved but if we don’t have a suitable circuit then we shouldn’t be going to those venues.

GateDrop: The next round looks pretty sandy in Argentina, Ben, Shaun and Petar must be looking forward to that event.

Roger Magee: Yeah well whenever you go to a new country it keeps the championship fresh but we should only be going to the country if it is economically feasible and the facilities and the track are suitable. It looks much better than the other places than we have been but when it comes down to costs, to go to Thailand then come back for a British championship then out to Argentina is not really satisfactory. The governing body needs to look at condensing that so it benefits everyone including their own staff, because they have to fly them out too.

But Petar Petrov should be back racing there (he missed the British championship round due to injury). The doctor said he should rest for ten days but he was back on the bike today and was ok. He is still only 19, had two top tens at Qatar and he likes the bike.

GateDrop: With Ryan Villopoto in the championship this year it is giving the world championship a lot of extra exposure in the USA/ Australia and places like that. What is your take on Ryan coming over and also the extra exposure the GPS are getting which obviously helps your team and riders as well?

Roger Magee: If you bring someone the calibre of Villopoto it’s going to raise the profile and the interest. There will be a lot of people going to see Villopoto win, and they will be a lot of people going to see him get beaten. That’s what we lack on domestic level, that rivalry. In MXGP that rivalry is helping the sport.

Villopoto is a racer but it is not easy to come to Europe, he has to fit in with a different culture and lifestyles, some of the tracks will suit him and some won’t. It will be interesting to see at the end, if he is in contention for the title at the final GP at Glen Helen then it’s game on, that would be the best scenario for the championship –winner takes all at the last round.

GateDrop: Who do you see coming out on top?

Roger Magee: I would never, ever bet against Cairoli. I have always said that, he has been top dog for the past few years and this year he might have to step it up a bit. But he is something special, I think he will still win this year if he stays free of injury.

GateDrop: Just on Shaun Simpson , he dominated the British championship but in the GPs he had a very good run in Qatar and did ok in the heat of Thailand. The tracks coming up now will suit him better, you must be pleased he is a top ten contender already on tracks that aren’t his style as such in a class that has so much talent in 2015.

Roger Magee: Yeah, we saw from last year that Shaun ran top five/six for a large part of the season. Shaun has got to the stage know where he has a lot of experience under his belt and he knows what it takes to win championships and finish well up in others.  Some tracks suit some riders better than others and we know that there are tracks Shaun will be very strong at. It’s just a pity we don’t have Lierop on the GP calendar this year!  But there are other tracks too where he should be at the sharp end but the class is very stacked this year and for a rider top finish in the top ten in the championship or at any race they have been doing very well.

We also have James Cottrell doing the European championship and he showed some good speed at Hilton running fourth in the first moto. Then James Dunn has been back on the bike in the last few weeks but we will just monitor his progress. There is no pressure on his to come back too early because we want to make sure he is totally ready when he comes back at championship level.

Ollie Benton is our MXY2 riders this year and he was circulating around the top ten at Hawkstone  so across the board we are well represented and it’s good to bring young riders on, because that’s what we have always done really. I need to thank the invaluable continued support of Hitachi construction machinery this year and we have had Mark Yates to come in as team manager to take a bit of weight off me and do more of the day to day stuff.

GateDrop: It was a very serious injury for James Dunn, are you surprised he is even on a bike again after what happened?

Roger Magee: Yeah, well it was a very severe injury. He has had a lot of very good treatment in Manchester. They guys there have done a lot for him and they have been working with James Cottrell as well.

There has been a lot of dedication from both James’ parts to come back from those injuries and to want to race again and to race at that level. And we look forward to seeing James Dunn back in the paddock as soon as possible.

Interview: Jonathan McCready

Picture: YS

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