Interview: Steve James
Team owner Steve James is renowned in British motocross for his top class motocross and arenacross teams.
But for 2016 James will concentrate solely on Arenacross with four very talented riders; Florent Richier, Fabien Izoird (the 2014 champ) under the LPE Kawasaki awning and Jack Brunell and of course super talented American, Josh Hansen under the SJR banner.
All four have the potential be champion at the end of the series and Steve would love nothing more than to win the pro championship and the team championship just like he did in 2014, but he knows the competition is stiffer than ever!
We caught up with Steve, who kindly gave us a few minutes of his time, just before the first round of the series in Manchester. We discovered why he is just concentrating on Arenacross, and discussed the signing of Josh Hansen, the growing popularity of the Arenacross series and we find out Steve’s ideal scenario for British motocross to grow.
Gatedrop: You are running two teams in Arenacross but no motocross team this year, what is the reason behind the emphasis on Arenacross this year?
SJ: Really it’s the cost. I have been doing it for ten years and we finished second in the British championship this year with Tanel Leok which was fantastic and would have liked to have kept Tanel for another year and he would have liked to stay. But he got offered another good ride and I hadn’t made my mind up what I was doing. And also Jamie Law, I would have liked to have kept him this year too if I’d carried on, but I decided I needed to have a break and do something for myself, take some time out and concentrate more on my business and my home life.
I will still be involved in motocross with my son, just doing some club races, some Pirelli masters and MX Nationals and selected different events. I might also bring a wildcard rider over for the odd British championship if I get bored!
We have been involved with the Arenacross since it’s inception and before that I did the John Hellam supercross for a few years and had some success with Adam Chatfield, Jack Brunell, Ashley Greedy. In the Arenacross I have had Gordon Crockard, Jack Brunell, Erki Kahro, Ryan Voase. I have ran SJR before, last year I ran Mickael Musquin and Charles LeFrançois, we also had a British kid who is now over in America, Bradley Ward, who raced in London.
This year it came round and I just wanted to focus on Arenacross, there is money for the teams if you have two riders good enough to win and you win the team championship, you can get some money back. There is start money, there is no awning to put up, it’s easy on the bikes – they don’t get a lot of wear and tear. It means you can sell them when you finished and sell them before the new bikes come out so you get more of your money back.
There are lots of reasons and I do enjoy it, the worst place we have finished is third and in 2014 we won both the team championship and the pro championship. We would like to try and win that back if possible but this season is going to be the toughest yet, there are a lot of very good teams and riders in it. But if you win against that sort of company it is more of an achievement.
The second team came about because there was a possibility of Josh Hansen coming over and Jack Brunell wanted to ride a Kawasaki and with us if possible. So we put that together to Josh and Jack could ride in that team and Fabien and Florent Richier would ride in the first team (LPE Kawasaki).
Both will work out of the same workshop and the same people, and we will all help each other. We more or less have the same sponsors, barring Josh who has some of his own sponsors like Dunlop tyres and shift clothing, so he has to honour them. We have our own sponsorship with Apico, Maxxis and team Green. We are the official team for Kawasaki for the Arenacross, we are supported by Rip’N Roll and Pro Circuit.
On the SJR team we are using FMF pipes for both guys because that is what Josh uses, so we are trying keep things similar so the bikes look the same. I hope it all goes well because it’s a big thing and even though I still think I am running a small team, a lot of people look at it differently than I do. I just want to go and do s job and enjoy it and try and win.
Gatedrop: You have four pretty legitimate title contenders, Josh Hansen is I guess the big name that everyone will recognise the most, how easy or difficult was it to get that signing done and how has he adapted to arenacross if he’s had a chance to practice?
SJ: That’s the thing, he flew in Christmas day and had a bit of jetlag but he hasn’t actually ridden due to the weather. He will be on a 450, we are supplying the bike but he is bringing his own mechanics, he has a suspension mechanic and an engine mechanic coming over with him but we will supply him as much as we can and look after him as much as we can.
It will be interesting to see how he gets on because arenacross is completely different to supercross, there is no corner speed like there is in America, it’s more stop/start. The guys from France, Soūbeyras is going to be very strong, Fabien, will be strong. Richier is nursing a little knee injury, so the first round might not see him at his full potential but he will give it his all. You have Daniel McCoy, Mike Brown – you can never write him off. The British guys, Jack Brunell is riding really well, Chatfield will be riding well and the you have Pellegrini.
It will be hard to judge on the first weekend, it’s a long championship – eleven rounds, so it will take consistency.
Gatedrop: With starts being so important for Arenacross do they spend a lot of time setting the bike up for that or is what are the riders really concentrated on?
SJ: We have been over to France and did some testing with Fabien Izoird and Jack Brunell and did some testing with, suspension, pipes, ignitions and gearing and we think we have the bike set up pretty good. But yeah, the start is everything, you have to get out of the gate and the new 2016 Kawasaki is very good off the bottom. For Tanel’s bikes and the 2015 AX bikes we did have a lot of trick stuff done on the engine but the 2016 engine is so good this time.
I spoke to my friend Paul Teasdale who works for Monster Energy Kawasaki in Australia and he said that over there they are using just a couple of engine mods, a pipe, an ignition and the right gearing. We have followed suit and that has allowed us to hit the ground running. Again, we won’t know until we get to the first round and see how we do against the competition but we think the bikes are strong.
Gatedrop: With Josh coming from America, as you say Arenacross will be a totally different world, he may not even have heard of some of the riders have had to make him aware of just how competitive the championship will be?
SJ: When he came over the the NEC for the launch, we chatted a bit in the hotel and he is aware of who’s who. He follows some of them, he knows Fabien since he filled in for factory Kawasaki in US SX in 2011 and he knows Soubeyras, he’s not expecting to come and wipe the floor with everyone, he knows it will be tough. I think the first round will be eye-opener to everybody just to see where we are all at.
Gatedrop: As a team manager is it difficult to watch your riders race each other hard in Arenacross?!
SJ: Yeah it is difficult. But even with passes and stuff we have 20 people at each round including the riders, everyone has their role. Each rider has a mechanic, a suspension guy and a technical guy and we have a couple of runners who help the mechanics to fetch parts and load in and out. I have my nephew who will help me on the management side, getting time sheets and talking to the riders and just dealing with everything. We are speaking to the track people, the organisers, there is a lot going on. When you’re sat watching sometimes you can see things like maybe a different line and you talk to the riders about that, the French guys especially, when you tell them, they will go out and try it.
But there will be no team orders, they are all out there to win, as long as they keep it clean and stay safe. If it gets to the point where some of the guys can win the championship then I’m sure the others will help but at the moment it is every man for himself. But the French riders definitely work as a team, they are very clever and help one another with lines and help each other when they can.
Gatedrop: Just on the wider discussion of Arenacross, it seems to be gaining momentum the last couple of years and this season there are a lot top riders competing. Does that make it easier to be involved in the series and also to attract sponsors? It seems to be potentially getting more exposure than the British motocross championship now.
SJ: It is and that is one thing with Kawasaki, I have only ever been with them, when I said I was stepping down they said, ‘what about Arenacross?’ They were more concerned that we were going to quit Arenacross because of our success in the past. Both championships are important but Arenacross is gathering momentum, last year over eight rounds I think there was maybe 60 -70,000 spectators whereas at the British motocross you are maybe getting 20,000 over the year and they are your hardened fans whereas at Arenacross you are getting bums on seats from people that haven’t seen it before and you have probably more chance of selling kit and bike and product. So I think there is more money going towards it because it is gathering momentum. I was talking to Tommy Searle earlier and he was saying that Arenacross has got a good buzz about it and is getting bigger and bigger in the UK. As it gathers momentum more and more better riders will want to come and do it, the prize money is good and they can earn a good living.
Credit to Matt Bates he has put his money where his mouth is and he’s doing a good job, it’s not just about making money, it’s about a passion and doing what you want to do. It’s a proper show now, and for me running a business as well as running a team, I can take some of my clients and customers to there and they can watch the show, you don’t have to babysit them, everything is explained to them and it’s got the wow factor, then in three or four hours you can go home and we are all sat in the warm and dry. Whereas in outdoor they don’t understand, they can’t get near enough to the track, they don’t know what is coming next and you have to explain everything to them and be with them the whole time.
With Arenacross I can still run a team at the highest level, keep all our sponsors and if I carry on just doing Arenacross after February I can concentrate on my home life and my business. It gives me the right mix, I’m still involved with my passion for racing but I also still have my home life and can concentrate on my business.
Gatedrop: Just finally, there are still a lot of indoor specialist riders racing arenacross even for motocross teams, do you think in time the outdoor guys like Whatley, Barr, Irwin and the rest will start doing the Arenacross with the money and prestige it is getting?
SJ: I think so, Kristian did it in 2014 and was very good at it, Kristian is a very talented, skilful rider and so is Martin Barr and Graeme Irwin. If the ACU and MCF wasn’t two different organisations. For instance if Matt Bates was running the outdoors as well as the indoors you could have a mini AMA with all the same teams going from the indoor to the outdoor and have a 20 round series, if you got TV behind that and the sponsors behind it then it could be absolutely huge. I can’t see it ever happening but that would be the dream thing and them more British riders could be involved.
I would like to say Events 22 and MCF, they are all great people, they all have a passion and I would like to say what a great job they all do, without them we wouldn’t have this series so hats off to Matt and his team for doing this.
Interview: Jonathan McCready