BIG Interview: Giuseppe Luongo!
The 2016 MXGP season is now two rounds old and sees the 2015 world champions Romain Febvre and Tim Gajser leading the way. The series looks as if it is set to be a pulsating championship with many riders capable of winning.
We thought we would get the early season thoughts of Giuseppe Luongo as well as get his views on Ryan Villopoto’s 2015 MXGP attempt and Giuseppe’s views on the war of words between himself and Ben Townley in Thailand.
Whatever the question you can expect a full and forthright answer from the head of Youthstream and it makes for some interesting reading!
Gatedrop: There was a big uproar in the media after Ben Townley’s comments, what are your thoughts on the comments now and do you have a plan to sit down with Ben and discuss both your points of view moving forward?
GL: Yes, unfortunately some media spoke more about Ben’s comments and my reply in the Saturday’s press conference in Thailand than on Gajser, Febvre and Herlings’ fantastic performance, but it’s always the same ones, otherwise all the other press focused on the racing in Thailand.
I’ve already had a chat with Ben (by the way, I have an excellent relationship with Ben), before leaving the track on Saturday evening Ben and Stefan Everts came to my office to apologize and we were able to talk, I reminded him that whenever he has something on his mind he is always very welcome (as are the other riders) to come and see me in my office where we can work towards solving any problems.
Gatedrop: Ben has said he wants a GP in New Zealand and that it would be a great venue. Is that a country (along with Australia) you would like to add to the calendar in future?
GL: Yes, 2 years ago we worked a lot together with Ben to bring a round of MXGP to New Zealand, we totally supported to have the race in Taupo, but after a lot of hard work the NZ government denied their backing, and without the government’s financial support it is impossible to take MXGP there as the travel and freight expenses are too high making it impossible to cover these costs with spectators and sponsors. We are clearly very interested in bringing an MXGP event to New Zealand or Australia in the future.
Gatedrop: Rui Goncalves now works for Youthstream. Can you remind us of his role and how has it been going so far, do you feel that will be a big step forward for the series?
GL: We are always open and attentive to the riders’ advice concerning the security on the track and how to improve the show. I always receive riders when they come with constructive proposals. Since several years after the practice on the Saturdays the top riders meet with our sport director and track designer to give their point of view about the track and give advice on how it could be improved if necessary; we see this works very well, and it is in this context that we have employed Rui with the goal to continue to improve our tracks and the dialogue with riders.
Gatedrop: Indonesia will have an MXGP in 2017. Will Thailand stay on the calendar or is Indonesia replacing it? Have you plans to increase the championship beyond 18 rounds?
GL: Yes, Indonesia will be on the 2017 calendar, they have a very nice project. Indonesia is a big country (over 230 million people) and in the past when we held a Grand Prix there it was always very well organized and with a massive spectator presence; at the last Grand Prix event in Bandung in 1997 there were more than 40,000 spectators. Bringing MXGP there will also increase the overall TV coverage because the Indonesian television will broadcast the whole MXGP World Championship live. In addition the motorcycle market is growing fast there and therefore very interesting for manufacturers and sponsors. Concerning Thailand we are currently in negotiations, for the moment we don’t know if we will continue or not. We plan to stay with 18 rounds.
Gatedrop: Ryan Villopoto’s 2015 MXGP season didn’t last long, but do you feel that it still created a lot more exposure and therefore respect for the series amongst fans in America since the GP riders gave him some stiff competition?
GL: Unfortunately Ryan’s season in MXGP was short, but I think it was positive especially because it showed America the high level of MXGP riders and the MXGP organization and promotion. I think his presence opened a gate with USA, where our Championship is now better known and respected.
Gatedrop: Sections of the US media didn’t want Ryan to race GPs in case he didn’t win, and there is still, in some cases (although it is getting better), a very low coverage of MXGP compared to US supercross and motocross, even Qatar didn’t get much hype or analysis before or after the event despite Tim Gajser’s amazing debut win. Why do you think that it is and does it frustrate you?
GL: I agree with you, there are some media in USA which don’t talk about MXGP or when they do they just talk about negative things (take the example of Ben’s comments in Thailand, which was definitely not the highlight of the race), but that’s their choice, maybe it’s a kind of protection for their own Championship. I am not frustrated, I just think they don’t make a good service for their readers by not giving the right space and information about MXGP, anyway who wants to know about MXGP have the possibilities to follow it on CBS Sports Network, on MXGP-TV or via all the other media that talks about our Championship. Tim Gajser, also Febvre and Herlings were outstanding at the first rounds and deserve more respect from certain US media. MXGP is a fantastic Championship, there are more than 10 riders within 2 seconds from each other, there are no championships in the world with so many good riders and so close to each other. American fans will have the chance to get to know more and more about MXGP with the 2 events in Charlotte and Glen Helen in September this year, and then in 2017 with even more events with 2 MXGP rounds and the Motocross of Nations. I would like to take this occasion to thank the very large majority of media worldwide that make a very objective and professional job giving a lot of exposure to MXGP.
Gatedrop: Ryan Dungey made a comment a while back, saying he didn’t like the look of the hard pack tracks in MXGP, that he didn’t fancy racing the series to try and be world champion after what happened to Ryan Villopoto, and mentioned the tough competition in America – what did you make of those comments? And will it be harder or easier to get US riders to race MXGP after they saw Ryan Villopoto’s attempt?
GL: I fully respect Ryan Dungey’s decision and frankly I understand because he’s on the top in America and if he came to race MXGP he risks having more to lose than win. MXGP is very tough and Ryan Dungey experienced the level of MXGP riders during his last MXoN. MXGP tracks are a wide variety of soils and there are no two the same. I think after Ryan Villopoto it will be more difficult to have some top US riders and I don’t think it would be easy for anyone to arrive and fight for the top three positions, as I told you the level is so high and the Championship is so long and tough. Maybe what would be best is for some young talented US riders entered in MX2, gain experience with the tracks and lifestyle and improve year by year, like what Thomas Covington’s doing. But, never say never.
Gatedrop: The tracks always seem a debating point from riders to fans, some don’t like hard pack, some say the old tracks are done and others complain about the man-made tracks and want the old traditional tracks! Is it impossible to keep everyone happy?
GL: In all democracies you never have 100% otherwise it would no longer be a democracy, it would be a dictatorship. The MXGP tracks vary from one to another, there are classic tracks like Maggiora, Teutschenthal, Ernée, St Jean d’Angèly, Lommel, Valkenswaard, Matterley Basin, Trentino, Latvia, Talavera, Loket, Glen Helen and then we have more modern tracks like Qatar, Thailand, Argentina, Mexico, Mantova, Switzerland and Charlotte, there are hard-pack, soft, clay and sandy, and the winner of the World Championship is the fastest rider in the world who races in all different countries with the different weather conditions, different cultures and different tracks. The World Championship is extremely demanding and that’s why the MXGP riders are the best in the world and the most complete rider in the world. But as I told you before, we have a lot of dialogue with the riders, and together with our organizers all over the world we make the best possible tracks given the various conditions.
Gatedrop: There was a plan to have points for qualification. What was the reason for abandoning it? Is it still something you’d like to implement in the future as it will make qualifying more exciting?
GL: There were talks regarding the points for the qualifications, and then based on the open discussion between riders, manufacturers, FIM and us, we decided to abandon it because it gave more pressure to the riders on Saturday and increased the possibility of injury. There’s no new plan for the moment concerning the Saturdays’ qualifying races.
Gatedrop: There is still debate over the numbers on the gate in MXGP, especially in overseas Grand Prix, what is your ideal number of competitors for overseas races and how can you ensure you get that number with the cost of travel for smaller teams seemingly affecting their participation?
GL: MXGP is based on quality not on the quantity. It would be stupid to push a small team to come to an overseas Grand Prix, spending money to have a 20th or 30th position, for the smaller teams it’s better to concentrate on the European rounds and on the European Championship, which is what the large majority are currently doing. I think around 20 MXGP riders for the overseas races is a good number, also because when you know the names of the top 20, they are all very fast, very competitive and practically all factory or semi-factory. Where we need many riders is in the European Championship because we need a large base for our pyramid. The base is where new talent can be found and can then they can come up to the top, and frankly the system is working very very well, there are many young riders coming up from European Championship into MX2 and then from MX2 to MXGP. Some news: in Valkenswaard today there are 127 entries for the EMX250, 61 for the EMX300, 60 for the Women, 50 for MX2 and 48 for MXGP (but of course only 40 can be entered in MX2 and MXGP). Despite some people who enjoy criticizing and focusing only on what they see as negative things, the Motocross World and European Championships are going very well.
Gatedrop: Injuries have been a problem both last season and this pre-season, meaning some teams haven’t travelled or only have one rider instead of two competing, which again doesn’t help gate numbers. Is there an answer to injuries and would you like to see teams have replacement riders instead of just not running the injured rider’s machine?
GL: Sure, injuries in our sport are the biggest problem, and this unfortunately happens in all the various Championships, during training, etc. A commission with MX experts and doctors has been created by FIM and Youthstream in order to study carefully this subject and try to find solutions of how we can decrease the number of injuries. It would be better if teams could have a substitute, but I also understand that this would significantly increase the teams’ costs and it would be practically impossible to find a substitute for an MXGP rider because there are about 20 riders in the world at this level, and they all already have contracts with other teams/ manufacturers.
Gatedrop: Two rounds into the MXGP season and the two 2015 world champions are leading the way, it looks like another exciting series and when everyone is fit the depth is pretty incredible, what are your thoughts so far on 2016 in both classes?
GL: In MX2 Herlings looks like he has everything under control, and he’s so strong and so fast where it will be difficult for another rider to be able to touch him. In MXGP it’s a different story, for the moment Febvre and Gajser show they are very strong, but Cairoli and Desalle have still not recovered from their injuries, Bobryshev and Van Horebeek look very consistent and also Townley shows he still has the speed, and don’t forget Nagl, Strijbos, Paulin and Simpson who are very fast and their moment is bound to come shortly. So, as I told you before we have at least 10 riders within 2 seconds, and with the various tracks, conditions and different moments of the season we will surely see many different MXGP winners and a thrilling, unpredictable Championship.
Gatedrop: Two big new events are coming up in the Autumn with the MXGP at Charlotte in September and the Supermotocross in Germany in October. Both events are very different to the normal races but are you excited at pushing the envelope and seeing how these events go and maybe attract new fans? What is the mindset behind both events?
GL: Those events will be held in wonderful infrastructures where all the manufacturers, teams and sponsors will be able to bring their guests in total comfort and see our sport in a different way. These events will be enjoyable for the traditional fans and will create interest from new fans and spectators. At these races there will be what all the MX fans like: the best MXGP riders together with the best world Supercross riders. Manufacturers support these two projects very much and I really believe both events will be fantastic and a great promotion for our sport.
Gatedrop: What is your ultimate goal with MXGP? Can you describe your vision for the series and how far away are you from achieving that?
GL: MXGP has developed significantly over the last few years; despite the world’s worst economical crisis since 1929, MXGP and the European Championship have both grown steadily year-by-year, but we still want to improve in each sector. Each year we set our aim higher; 10 years ago our goal was to reach to where we are now, but now we want to be even better, I think the day where we think to be on top is the day we will start to decline. Every year the motorcycles are better and more performing, every year there are more products on the market and every year technology comes with new features, so we have to think in the same way; we have to respect our roots, use the past as experience and we need to look far in front and continue to develop