Interview: Bryan Connolly on Hitachi KTM – Vaessen, Mewse and Gifting

The Hitachi KTM fuelled by Milwaukee team are going into the 2022 season with a strong rider line up to take on the MX2 World Championship after agreeing a deal with Swedish prospect Isak Gifting. The Swede will join up with Conrad Mewse who goes into his last year of MX2 World Championship racing and he’s still chasing that podium.

We decided to catch up with Bryan Connolly (team manager) a few weeks ago to discuss the team and much more.

GateDrop: Bryan, let’s start with the 2021 season. How would you say it went for the Hitachi KTM fuelled by Milwaukee team? Obviously, Bas’ big injury must have been devastating for everyone in the team and Adam ended the season injured too! Mewse showed speed at times but is still searching for consistency!

Connolly: I just want to start by saying thanks for thinking of me for an interview. The winter for us as team went really well, I would say. We made a plan between Swordy and myself and pretty much stuck to it for a good mix of conditions. We started in the mud and cold in Belgium, France and Holland then we headed to Redsands area for 4 weeks for warmer climates. Then came back to Belgium, went back to Italy for a few days testing with GET. The plan worked out really, good minus Adam picking up a little hand injury which took a couple weeks, but we got that sorted with the help of his trainer Stephan, then we were back on track. The speed was good from all three guys and it was looking really good for the season. We came to the first race at Culham. It couldn’t have been better in the morning qualifying we were P1 and P2 in MX2 Adam was P1 MX1 dream start really. It was looking really good and then the unfortunate incident with Bas happened in the first race which really knocked everyone for six, this still affects us now you know.

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Bas has been a true warrior throughout and not stopped fighting. His training and physical therapy regime would put most professional athletes to shame, it’s intense, he’s working so so hard and its starting to pay off as he can walk now. He’s far from 100% but the improvement in the last 6 months is really quite remarkable. It’s a true testament to how hard Bas is working every day, he is fighting and overcoming tough times but he’s a fighter and won’t quit.

GateDrop: Everyone talks about how deep MXGP is and rightly so, but I thought MX2 was very deep this year as well, what were your thoughts on the level of MX2 this year?

Connolly: Yeah of course it is really deep. To get in the top 15 in that class is something else but MX2 really this year they’ve stepped up. The bikes, the riders, the levels are much more high you know, there’s not really much between the guys from 15th to 5th, it’s all so similar. You’ve seen qualifying 1st to 12th is being separated by under two seconds, it is unbelievable this year.

GateDrop: The team recently announced the signing of Isak Gifting. When did you first notice his talents and how did the deal all come around?

Connolly: To be honest we did notice Isak quite early when he first signed the factory GasGas deal as a fill in last year, yeah! His name came on the headset quite a lot as he would get a good start and just be tough to pass. The restructure of KTM brought him to our attention and he was really keen to come to the team. We were really keen to have him on the team so the deal was really quite easy to make. It was done really early so both sides are happy and really pumped, we’re looking forward to seeing what we can do for the next two years.

GateDrop: Last year he was a bit of a revelation as a factory fill in rider but after this year, he came into the season injured which hindered him but towards the end of the season he was looking fast again. I guess you’ll be hoping to get him back to his 2020 level…

Connolly: Yeah last year, like I said, we seen him a lot. He was up front a lot, he was good in the beginning of the year and won in Sweden against some good guys. He unfortunately got hurt before the first GP and then it just takes time to get back to the level that you need to be at the front in the GP’s. By the middle, towards the end, he was back on the pace and we started to see him again up front.

GateDrop: Being a full factory rider is quite a lot of pressure, do you think the Hitachi KTM fuelled by Milwaukee team can be a better fit for Gifting? I feel like it’s less pressure to handle and a two-year deal is also good for him as well…

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Connolly: Of course, being a factory rider comes with pressure. I feel like with our team there’s going to be less pressure and more of a family-oriented atmosphere so I think Isak is going to fit in really well. He’s going to be based in Belgium which is going to be better for him as well.

GateDrop: Conrad has been the main rider for the team for a few years now, was it a difficult decision to sign up Gifting? Are you hoping it can help spur Mewse on – as they say rule number one is to beat your teammate!

Connolly: To be honest Conrad doesn’t really need any help in the speed department. He has proven time and time again that he can be one of the fastest guys in the world. However it does help to have a teammate who can push you on practice and training days but we did have that this year with Adam on the 450cc.

GateDrop: What are your expectations for both Conrad and Isak in the MX2 World Championship next year? With both riding the British I’m sure the goal will be to win that title again!

Connolly: Next year the expectation for the world championship is to have both riders to finish inside the top 10 at the end of the season, hopefully a few top fives and maybe on our day a podium.

GateDrop: Do you know yet if the team will run an MXGP rider for the 2021 season – there’s obviously some rumours about it! Also, can you comment on Sterry’s future and is it away from the team?

Connolly: In this sport there’s always rumours. There has been a little talk, it’s getting late but we will see. Unfortunately we will not have Adam back for 2022 as far as his future I can’t really comment as I don’t know but I heard he has some options.

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GateDrop: Are there also any plans on running any EMX riders for the year ahead or is that still up in the air?

Connolly: Yes,  it’s still up in the air about an EMX rider.

GateDrop: With the season getting underway in February there won’t be too much of a break! What are the team’s plans for the off season?

Connolly: We’ve started with Isak and will do a couple of weeks in December. We are not going to be really turning the intensity up until January. Once again we will try and get a good balance, like we did this year, of tough mud and cold and some warmer climates like Sardinia and possibly take in some pre-season races from the International Italian championship.

Interview: Andy McKinstry

Pics: Hitachi KTM fuelled by Milwaukee/Ray Archer