In-depth interview: Steve Dixon talks Haarup, offers update on Hammal and Duncan

It’s been a fantastic start to the season for Steve Dixon and the DRT Kawasaki team as Mikkel Haarup has already had two podium’s and sits third in the MX2 World Championship standings – a dream start!

Dixon is one of the oldest teams in the paddock but still has a burning desire to get the best out of his riders and battle against the factory bikes.

We caught up with Dixon to discuss the start of the season, Haarup and more. It happens to be Dixon’s birthday today so happy birthday, Steve!

GateDrop: Steve, the fourth round of the MX2 World Championship is done and dusted here in Portugal… Before this season it’s been a while since you’ve had a podium with the last one being Brylyakov and now two have came together at once! You must be pleased with how this season has started with Mikkel Haarup?

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Dixon: I mean he was a good signing; he is probably the closest guy to Zach (Osborne) in my consideration and enthusiasm to wanting to help himself to get to the positions he is in now. That is what you need from a rider, someone who wants to test, who wants to find any advantage he can both in himself and the team. We felt this at the beginning which is obviously why I took him on.

You know I was speaking to both Haarup and Horgmo with Kawasaki making the decision to place Mikkel with us because it didn’t seem to be working with F&H and then place Kevin with F&H so it’s good to see both of them doing well. We are really pleased, there’s a really good atmosphere in the team, I trust him and we keep very good contact most days and it’s really working for him training in Denmark. He’s very motivated, has a good trainer from the Danish federation so that helps as well.

GateDrop: He’s a very hard worker from what I believe, one of his friends that I know went to Lommel with him on a hot summer day and he did three moto’s around a rough track and then later that night he was in the gym! It must be nice for you to know he’s working hard and you don’t have to worry about that aspect?

Dixon: I think what he benefits from us is the experience of how to work with riders and how to control how much work to do because you can always do too much. It’s a long season and we are only at round four and we never really do pre-season’s because this is our pre-season and this is why people are seeing him build.

We plan for a twenty race GP season and as you know the last two years we’ve done the one-day format so this year we’ve gone back to twenty races, a lot more travel and two days. There’s a lot less time during the week compared to normal but that’s part of it whether you are a rider or a mechanic. I think we have managed that well with him.

GateDrop: You touched on the Haarup and Horgmo situation there earlier… where there any other teams in for Haarup? The factory teams might have missed a trick there!

Dixon: No, not really. He didn’t have much interest. I guess they could see that he’d been with IceOne and F&H that are two very well-funded teams. We are the oldest team in the paddock, I am old-school and come from a mechanic building it all up and we are probably one of the lowest funded teams but our concentration is on racing. That is what we are here for and I have enough confidence to make our own decisions and pathways. I don’t follow others and just make my own decisions, I think he respects that and I think his family do as well. I try to involve the family at all times because at the end of the day it’s the family that have usually got them into the position to get them into a team and at this level in the first place. They’re a good ally to have on-board.

Pic: Ray Archer

GateDrop: He’s still only 19 years old – it feels like he’s been around for years, so he still has lots of potential!

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Dixon: He’s 20 now so it’s three years left after this one. When you look around and like I said on social media the other day, it’s just a shame that in the UK that we only had two British riders in Argentina. I feel that now Roger Magee has two foreign riders, it’s just a shame that to me the British riders, they seem to think they’ve got success before they’ve made it. There doesn’t seem to be any ambition in the UK, I don’t mean this horribly but they don’t want to go out and win world championships, to me they want to go out and get a sponsored van and a nice little lifestyle in the UK. For the capital of Motocross for what it used to be, it’s a shame.

It’s nothing to do with Infront Moto Racing or anything like that, the fact of the matter and like what I said last week… You’ve got Swedish, Norwegian and Danish people on the podiums each week now. They’re small countries compared to the UK and it’s a shame. It’s something that the riders and teams need to sort of suss out in the UK to get back into Europe and start getting some results. That’s what needs to happen.

GateDrop: Just on Mikkel, his pace is really strong but I’ve noticed the first 10 minutes it takes him a while to get that speed but once he gets it he’s one of the fastest riders in the class… The next step is probably to improve the first 10 minutes but that’s probably because of a lack of racing with no pre-season races…

Dixon: We are actually ahead of our plan which we had for the season. We are in third position in the MX2 World Championship at the moment and we’ve scored in all eight races. Each GP has been an improvement over the previous one which is our plan and like I said to Mikkel, the first few will just be to build, and we need to build into the season. You know we have a period coming which is five Grand Prix’s in six weeks so that’s a lot and you have to be prepared for that.

As I said, we manage our season how we like to manage it while other teams do it their way. We have to work with a lot less personnel but achieve the same results. Our main aim was to get a bike out of the gate and be able to run with the Yamaha and KTM. I feel that we are sort of in that position now, Mikkel is normally up there at the start and it’s normally a mistake from him as to why he’s not in the top three at the start. Now he has the confidence in the bike and in himself. Obviously, he broke away and is doing his own training regime in Denmark which I was in agreement with. I have a lot of experience with guys like Osborne and Tonus who trained on their own, also with Dean Ferris and Andrew McFarlane when they were in Australia.

I think now he has that monkey of his back, he has more confidence in himself in making decisions in which you start growing up and owning a business or whatever, he is his own business and how he does is how he goes forward in his world championship career. That step of training on his own in Denmark, riding tracks in Denmark and having a more character-building year. He’s just got a new house with his girlfriend as well but he put in the work during the winter, I went out to Croatia with him, he made his training programme but I followed it and agreed with it. You know he has a guy from his hometown who is his training mechanic now and he’s learning. All of these things were sort of big decisions and he’s coming from a team that made decisions all around Lommel.

Pic: Ray Archer

We’ve never had a workshop at Lommel, we’ve always stayed UK based which is why I’ve kept my mechanics for like fifteen years at a time. I believe you have to have happiness in this career because this is what you had when you were in the schoolboys. It’s a family sport still and you know the hardest thing is when you’re doing bad. It’s easy when you are doing good but you need someone to pick you up and have a good team around you for when it’s bad… I mean fortunately it hasn’t went bad yet but he knows he’s got a team that cares about him.

It’s nice again for us to be at the sharp end, we missed out with Darian (Sanayei) and his illness which cost us a couple of years. Also, with Taylor (Hammal) and his injury and Wilson (Todd) with his sort of injuries. I believe Wilson could have been up there, but it just wasn’t to be and he’s winning a championship now in Australia. He’s a good rider but aged out of MX2 so we have got to be happy with where we are now.

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GateDrop: Taylor Hammal recently got back on the bike – when can we expect to see him back at the GP’s? And just on Courtney Duncan she is the disappointing bit about this weekend, what’s the latest on her?

Dixon: With Taylor, he actually went to have surgery two days ago. He rode at Culham for the British Championship and did okay but he was getting pain. Another guy who’s keen to our team, Ashley Kane with the input for the riders and health and stuff. He said that Taylor needs something looking at so he got him into a place in London, they looked at it and there was a screw that was slightly too long which was put in Belgium. It was hurting his tendon where he lost a little bit of movement on his up-right thumb. So he went over to Belgium at the beginning of this week to have the operation but hopefully it’s only a two-three week period before he’s back. Hopefully he can race Foxhill for the British Championship but we won’t bring Taylor back until he can be pushing for top tens in MX2. There’s no point in rushing it, there’s no need to so he can build.

With Courtney, she had a crash in free practice on lap two. I think Van de Ven crashed there as well, Courtney was getting pain in her collarbone but she did five more laps. At the end of the session we thought it would be better to get it checked out, she got it checked out and they said there was a slight crack in it. We asked her if she felt she could ride and she said yes, we tapped her up and went down to the line but then she wasn’t allowed to ride.

Pic: Ray Archer

To our amazement I then had to run up to the doctors and had a bit of a running in with the FIM and doctors which I’ve apologised for but you know, Courtney is down there waiting to go out and I’m trying to get explanations as to why she’s not been allowed out. This is a sport they all ride with injuries but anyway it turns out that the CMO’s word is official and he said it was to dangerous because if she broke the collarbone anymore she could get a splinter in an artery and all that. I said yes but that can happen anyone going out there – it’s not normal for a rider not being able to ride if they feel they can ride. We offered to sign a disclaimer to say that we could ride but she still wasn’t allowed to ride.

She flew back and was in Belgium this morning and going to see a consultant tomorrow and they will determine whether she has an operation to plate it or let it heal naturally for the next three or four weeks. She will be back hopefully in time for Riola Sardo. Obviously, they lost a round in France which is a bummer but it’s Motocross, it won’t be the first time we lose a title due to injury. Credit to the other girls, the pace is good and Courtney will try to get some race wins when she comes back and maybe go for third place or something like that if it’s possible. It’s a tough sport and she’s been injured before. You know, she won the title two years ago tied on points but more wins so that was hard for Nancy van de Ven – that’s Motocross for you, you have to take the rough with the smooth.

GateDrop: I actually thought Taylor was going to be back to the GP’s soon, do you plan on signing a fill in rider or will you fully focus on Mikkel Haarup?

Dixon: We are happy to fully focus on Mikkel. It’s not that but’s hard to get riders if you are at the front, the lesser of the rider the more of the time you need to put into them…

GateDrop: Jeremy Sydow could be an option as his last GP with DIGA-Procross is likely to be a Arco….

Dixon: Yeah, well that could be an option… At the moment we just have to see, I’m sure he’ll get snapped up anyway. It’s not on our cards at the moment. We’ve even seen in MXGP that Kawasaki can’t find anyone to replace Febvre. That was a bad bit of news, but we will keep trying to focus on Mikkel. Like I say our budget is a lot smaller than the two teams above us so we will try to keep the pressure of them and pull away from the others but it’s not easy. I mean the GasGas team will be coming back strong again shortly and now we’ll be heading back to Italy, but you can only do what you do each week.

Interview: Andy McKinstry

Pics: Ray Archer