Interview: Emile Gebben & Ruud van Venrooy on their team, the sport, MXGP and Youthstream

Whilst we attended the Motocross Des Nations at Assen, we dropped into the Gebben shop and work shop to check out their impressive setup.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Emile Gebben and Ruud van Venrooy, two very important men behind the running of the Gebben Van Venrooy Racing team.

We sat down with both of them to get their thoughts on their team, the sport in general, MXGP and much more.

Gatedrop: Emile, can you tell me a little bit about the background of Gebben and your role within the business?

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Emile Gebben: Our shop started in 1938, it’s the third generation. We’ve always been involved in racing, my grandfather did some speedway, grasstrack, motocross and enduro. I tried some years with racing but injuries don’t help so I went back to study. We continued the shop and we’ve been involved with racing for years.

We have helped Van Beers Racing out with bikes for a couple of years, we did it with SKS, JK in 2013, we helped Herjan Brakke for a couple of years until he got injured. We started in 2015 with some EMX riders but that didn’t really work out so in 2016 we decided to try a couple of races with Toms Macuks just to see how it goes. In 2017, we decided to do more with EMX riders, Maxime Desprey and Alessandro Lupino came onboard. The team has started to fly off a little bit more recently. This year was another year, we had a lot of problem with injuries but now we are trying to get ready for 2020. Mainly my business is bikes and selling as many as possible.

Gatedrop: Ruud, can you tell me a little bit about the Van Venrooy business as well and your role?

Ruud van Venrooy: We have roofing companies in Holland, the company has existed for approximately sixty years. My father started the company and he also had another company Venko. This is how I got involved with Motocross. In the 80’s Venko has his own professional motocross team. As a young kid I grew up with Motocross so I got involved in the sport.

Emile Gebben: We are friends for a long time with the same passion so we decided to set it all up again (laughs).

Gatedrop: Ruud, where you around in the Greg Albertyn era?

Ruud van Venrooy: Yeah, it was that era (even before)I was involved. My father and Henk Koster, the passion for the motorsport came from Koster. My father also sponsored, and he liked the sport from when he was a young kid. It meant I got involved with the sport with my business, my brother and I built up the companies. My father started it all.

Gatedrop: The Gebben and Van Venrooy businesses are much more influential with the MXGP team now. How do you think that impacts both businesses?

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Emille Gebben: You always think that racing would sell bikes for sure, but in Holland it doesn’t work like that. We like that we do it and if people want to be sponsored, we can talk about it but I don’t sell extra bikes from it. We do it out of passion, you know? It’s just we love the sport and it brings positive energy. Your network will get bigger and you will know more people. Maybe at the end of it, they can help you out or something but mainly we do it because we like the sport.

An outside view from the Gebben shop. Pic: Nigel McKinstry

Gatedrop: Tim Mayths has a Standing Construction business and last year took a year out from the MXGP paddock but he lost motivation for his work and is back in the paddock this year. Would you feel the same and does it help your motivation?

Emille Gebben: Yeah, that is one thing. Sometimes there’s things you can see the other side to it. For us, we are mostly standing on the sidelines. When we are at the race track, we don’t get involved too much. We don’t interfere with the riders, we let the manager like Klaas do their job and we don’t interfere with that. Let’s say, if something goes wrong or whatever, we are there but mostly we are on the sideline. Everybody has to do their job and also we don’t want to do everything because it’s then more like work (laughs), we don’t want to do that.

Gatedrop: Emile, I haven’t seen you at many MXGP races but Ruud I’ve seen you at quite a few. What’s your role with the team and is it nice to mix business with pleasure by attending some MXGP races?

Ruud van Venrooy: Actually, not a lot. I think I’ve only been too four MXGP races this year. It’s not much and my role, when I’m at the track I don’t have a specific role. Klaas Hattem is the team manager and he gets everything done at the track with the mechanics and the riders. I don’t interfere with that, I’m more at the sideline and arrange everything financially and things behind the scenes.

Gatedrop: Is it hard to balance your business and find time to do everything else?

Emile Gebben: No, not really. I am doing it between jobs, if they need parts or whatever or there’s something missing, I just send a few emails or make a telephone call and everything is sorted. If they miss something, they put it on my desk and I get it done. We keep it simple like this, we more do the financial side to get that all arranged.

Gatedrop: You seem to have it quite well worked out with who does what..

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Ruud van Venrooy: Yeah, that’s right. We also made these decisions with Klaas Hattem (the team manager). He does a lot at the track.

Gatedrop: When we think about Motocross and the sport, I mean even in Ireland, twenty years ago a lot more people did the sport compared to now. That means more bikes would have been sold back then, you’ve been selling bikes for a number of years now. Have you noticed any difference and what would you say the sport is like now compared to what it used to be in terms of popularity?

Emile Gebben: I mean, if I look at the tracks here and go look on a Sunday, you see many riders riding bikes. There’s still a lot of riders left. On the other side, I do think there’s less than what there used to be. It goes through up and downs and it just depends on the youth too. You mostly see that the start gates for young riders, there’s less for the 50cc than there are with the 65cc’s in one year and the other year it can be different again. It fluctuates.

It’s getting more and more difficult I think to attract new kids to do motocross. It’s hard to pay for it too because there’s so many side things to do. Now they all have mobiles, IPad’s – a tonne of things to pay for and stuff. The times are changing and also for the sport. I guess it’s getting harder and harder to get kids on a bike and to get it paid. It’s not that cheap anymore.

Pic: Nigel McKinstry

Gatedrop: The recession also had a big impact I think but in one way the Netherlands are quite lucky because you have Jeffrey Herlings. I guess a lot of young kids look up to him and want to follow in his footsteps? That probably helps the sport in the Netherlands.

Emile Gebben: That’s right, I hope it helps. We’ve got other good Dutch riders also. Now a days with Facebook and Instagram, people are able to follow it more and more. Hopefully the kids will see it and want to ride. Max Verstappen, he’s another one, everyone wants to go karting and get into F1. So, we hope that part of his success will also help motorsport.

Gatedrop: Dutch Motocross is really strong at the moment, it’s not just Herlings, is there a good system in place do you think to help the riders?

Emile Gebben: We had a couple of years were there wasn’t much, there were only a few riders on top but not many. Luckily, we had some good youth like Herlings and Coldenhoff. Now the system, is a lot more focused on the youth trainings. We still have a lot of tracks so people can still ride.

I think it also comes down to motivation, we have some good riders in Holland and now that so many are doing it, you want to be part of it also. But then there’s still talent there, it’s a willingness to put everything into it, only talent won’t be enough to bring you there.

Gatedrop: Just on the Gebben Van Venrooy team, it started pretty small but I feel each and every year it’s getting bigger and bigger. It’s still a private team and how difficult is that competing against the factory bikes?

Emille Gebben: We try too (laughs). In Motorsport in general, it’s not easy to get sponsors from outside because they all look at environmental issues unfortunately. It’s a real pure sport, the machine doesn’t only make it, it needs a rider as well. I think the sport is still not big or known enough to get more different brands into the sport. In road cycling, they have really big companies but it’s not easy to get sponsorships.

If you want to grow, you need brands to put in so it’s a big puzzle every year if you want to grow. Being a factory team, it’s not possible, they’re already all set and we understand who they are and what they do, they deserve it also. We want to be a good private team and try to get as much sponsorship as possible. It’ll help the team grow but it’s not that easy.

Gatedrop: Just on Youthstream, a lot of people are very negative about what they do, personally I can see a lot of good things they do as well. However, as a private team, what’s your thoughts on the fly away GP’s? it must be difficult for teams like yourselves…

Emile Gebben: Youthstream do a lot of things for the sport that works out good, you know. They make it really professional and in a good way. The fly away’s, of course if we had a little bit less races it would be easier. Twenty races are a lot and it’s a long season adding the International races too.

For the riders to stay healthy throughout the course of ten months, it’s long and then it’s preparation time for a new season. The fly aways – China, Indonesia, they’re really big motorcycle markets. If you look, they sell millions. If you get motocross up 1% there, it’s like more than one complete country here, we must not forget how big it could be. I can understand that they go to some of those races. But five or six fly away races, it really kills the budget (laughs).

Pic: Nigel McKinstry

Gatedrop: How much support do you get from Youthstream to go to those races?

Emile Gebben: They don’t pay the fly away races, we all have to pay ourselves. Championship points get us some discount on kilo prices but it’s still a lot of money that is chipping away. Factory teams have more budget and support from brands anyway, but it would be great if there was more support for the privateer teams to get a little support at the fly away’s.

Gatedrop: Has that been discussed or anything with Youthstream?

Emile Gebben: Not as I know off. Of course, it had been put on the table a couple of times throughout the years I think, but the organisation still has to decide what they do. If you have fly away races with just twelve or thirteen good guys, it’s not good for the sport. But it’s up to them what they want to do.

We decide at the beginning of the year what we will do – either you do it or you don’t. It’s a choice you make but it would be great if there would be more support for the fly away races. That’s a question mark but we just have to sit and wait, it’s not up to us.

Gatedrop: Specifically, how hard are the fly away races to organise as a team?

Emile Gebben: It’s a lot of work. Especially if after the fly away you have another race. The box is coming in, it goes pretty quick. You have to get it out of the box, get everything ready and the truck is already leaving the road to the next race. It just depends on the agenda. Sometimes like in Indonesia, you have two races after each other and that’s pretty good. There’s two races and you have a little breathing time and then we go to the next.

China, we didn’t go there but if you have China and then one week after a break so they have time to get everything together and regroup for the MXoN. If we had a race the week after China then it would be hard. Everything is in the planning, if you plan to do the fly away races then you need the extra bikes here to be ready. If you only have two bikes then it would be hard (laughs).

Gatedrop: Just on the team, you’ve been with Kawasaki for a number of years now, have you been happy with the support you’ve been getting from them?

Emile Gebben: Yeah, you know that is already a choice you have to make. You have an agreement and you respect it. With them we have been happy with how they’ve supported us. Of course, more is welcome but at the beginning when you make an agreement, than you work with that. You make a plan around it. It’s also down to the riders what you are going to get and how they perform. Are they happy with the riders or maybe we performed badly? Every year you have to try and make something out of it as well – it works both ways.

Gatedrop: In terms of 2020, you can’t tell me too much yet but there’s been talk you might have three MXGP riders next year?

Emile Gebben: Not just yet, hopefully next week we can make it all clear. One thing that’s sure is that we will have Lupino on board. Hopefully he can recover completely after the crash in Russia, he’s not 100% fit yet, it takes a little bit of time. If he has one month off, I think he will be fresh and ready again for the new season.

We are working on the second rider, hopefully next week we will know more. We might also have a third rider as well; all will race the MXGP class.

Gatedrop: A lot of MXGP riders have tried running three riders in the past but have decided to go back to two as they find having three is tough. Are you confident you’ll be able to run three? Personally, I think it’s great to run three!

Emile Gebben: We will split everything up, this is for this rider, this is for that rider and so on. We will have to experience that, but we will try to make everything as simple as possible. Hopefully all the riders will have the same sort of setup. If you have three riders that want completely different of engines, that would be a challenge.

Looking at the riders we are talking too it looks like it’ll be pretty much the same. Hopefully we can configure things pretty much the same and then we will try to go from there, we will try to make things as simple as possible. Lupino runs his own show in Italy, he has his trainer and mechanic there so we do not have to follow him around. He does his own thing so we will try to do that with every rider so we don’t have guys running in and out making a lot of stress (laughs). We try to keep it simple. I think that will work out for the best.

Interview: Andy McKinstry/Jonathan McCready

Pics: Nigel McKinstry