Interview: Gordon Crockard – the manager

Gordon Crockard had a long and successful affiliation with Honda as a rider, winning four Grand Prix and challenging for a 250 world title as well as winning three British championships for the red brand.

Now the personable Northern Irishman is representing Honda in a different way as Off road racing manager for Honda Motor Europe, and now deals with a myriad of different situations wearing a number of hats, but it allows him to still be involved in the sport he loves and maintain a competitive edge, albeit in slightly different way!

We caught up with the most logical man in motocross to get an insight into his role and what his day to day activities compromise of, as well as get his thoughts on a brilliant GP debut by Aussie Mitchell Evans, who made the podium in Argentina on the 114 Motorsports Honda squad, a team Crockard has been directly involved with since it’s creation last season.

What’s is your official role with Honda and what does your day to day job entail?

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The title is Off Road Racing Manager for Honda Motor Europe, that involves corporate communications as well as managing all of the racing activity. The primary role is the racing activity and that is in motocross and enduro, the clue is in the name, off -road racing, I am not involved in BSB, MotoGP, I’m just involved in dirt bike racing, it’s the European and World championship that we are promoting our range of CRF bikes in.

So you have the HRC factory team which is directly from Honda Japan with factory bikes in MX2 and MXGP and their goal is to obviously win. I work also for Honda Japan but it’s through Honda Europe but we run all of the racing activities in the world championship. It’s ulimately racing, which is fantastic given my background as a racer. I’m aware of what matters to the riders, to the teams, to the sponsors, I’m aware of all of the those things which really helps when you are a footsoldier on the ground as oppose to a suit sitting behind a computer.

My skill set has to be pretty broad, the perfect example, dealing with journalists, dealing with the media to dealing with riders about their training programme, their race strategy, talking with teams about bike set-up and testing programmes and all of this stuff that you can’t read in a book and learn, you have to go through the experiences, so I’m lucky that way that I have got that background.

Crockard Pic: Paul McCready

The other side of the stuff is businesss, corporate communication, dealing with the Honda branches throughout Europe and dealing with Honda Japan from every aspect, reporting back to them technical feedback we get from their teams about their bikes, reporting back commercial interests in the markets, in terms of this is what we (Honda) are doing, this is what Yamaha are doing, this is what Suzuki are not doing. All of that stuff is for me to study, collect information and put it together in a conclusion to let Japan know what is going on and what I think we should do, and that is kind of what it is.

Day to day the routine changes throughout the season. Every single day I am on the computer, I am working whether it be organising spare parts for the teams, getting orders, getting invoices paid, doing contract agreements, doing bike orders, approving designs of graphics, riding gear, trucks, awnings, it’s from top to bottom, all of the different aspects and it going through different periods given the time it is.

This morning we have been finalising all of our branch guests who will attend Matterley Basin this weekend, organising the pick up of their passes, organising the hospitality, organising where the venue is and where the welcome centre is, all of that detailed stuff. It all has to be done, it’s just a case of managing any of the problems you might have foresight for or problems that may come in and you need to find a solution for them and those are vast, team problems, sponsor problems, material supply problems, negotiating with Youthstream, the FIM and the MSMA, going to meetings with them to discuss rule changes, the calendar the timetable freight allowance, you name it, it’s all there, I’m the representative from Honda who has to be there. So yeah – it’s busy!

That sounds pretty stressful , you are wearing many hats in a way!

Yes, you have to be very clear on what the priority at that given time on that day. You have to sometimes choose what you have to give up, I can’t do it all, I can’t go to all of the rider training days, I can’t go to all of the tests, I just can’t do that. I can’t be calling up the mechanics and ask what gearing they are going to use, I just don’t have the capacity to that, you have to focus on the main things that need the attention at that moment.

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I sometimes try to explain it as a bus coming along and you have the opportunity to the get on that bus, if you don’t get on that bus then you are going to miss out on getting the opportunity of getting somewhere where you could be. It’s a case of those things, you have to have a vision of what is important at that time and make sure your priorities are correct and it’s very easy to get distracted because often our objectives as Honda are maybe not the same or not aligned with the objectives of the rider or of the team, so I have got to remember who my customer is, who it is that I work for and make sure that I am doing my job properly, that’s my responsibility.

Crockard’s role means he is a key part of events likes the unveiling of the revamped CRF250 Honda. Pic: Honda

It’s not a straight forward 9-5 five days a week, you are on call all the time, people say to me ‘just switch off your phone’ but I would have extreme anxiety if I did that! I would rather just look at the emails as they come in and say, “ that’s important, that’s not, oh I better ring this guy back.’ It’s better just to manage it over a continual period as oppose to taking days off, I would pay a heavy price for that because things would back up, like the buses that come along and go by. So that’s kind of a really complicated way of really explaining what I do but I think it is complicated what I do, it’s not an easy thing to explain.

You were a racer and very competitive, so in terms of this job do you get your drive from competing against other manufacturers? And how important is Mitchell Evans getting a podium on the non-factory team, how much of a reward is that and how much of a benefit is that to you and your job and I guess commercially, is there knock on benefit of that?

There’s a couple of different angles there, there is big personal satisfaction in feeling that we know what we are doing whenever we finish ahead of the other brands. Even when you improve, that feeling like, ‘right, we know what we are doing here.’

For me the goal is always to maximise your potential and if you can exceed what you are expected to do, well that’s good and Mitchell Evans did that in Argentina and it felt great. We are going racing against the other guys and other brands and to get on the podium for his first ever Grand Prix was really rewarding. Part of my mandate is to show the ability of the customer CRF, the bike that you can walk into a shop a buy, and we were third in MX2 with that bike and we were third in MXGP with that bike and for me, that’s means I’m doing my job, we are showing what you can do with a customer CRF.

Evans Pic: 114 Motorsports

You can also use it as a tool, you are able to attract riders for future years, sponsors to be part of your success and really you get the results and everything follows. We are having this conversation now possibly off the back of Mitchell Evans having his podium, so you are able to attract an array of different things basically because you have demonstrated you are better than the other guys or the other brands so it’s very important.

For me I’ve always been a competitor as oppose to a participant and I don’t want to show up and see Honda’s ride around and go, ‘hey look we’re here too.’ You want to be there and you want to be racing, that’s the nice part of the job.

Regarding Mitchell Evans and Livia’s team, how much were you involved with setting that up, Hunter Lawrence getting on the team then getting hurt and coming back, then having someone of Mitchell’s calibre and getting those results, it seems a lot of effort to set up but you are getting the successes too along with the difficult times…

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Livia’s team, I think she has done exceptionally well, year one Hunter Lawrence finished on the podium, he finished on the podium at her first Grand Prix and it’s been repeated coincidentally with another Aussie (Evans), the first Grand Prix and on the podium. His results, he has only done one Grand Prix, but in the pre-season races in Riola and Mantova he had good results, so already I think he’s doing better than we first expected. I thought it would take some time to get up to podium pace which is very, very good.

Livia is now year two of being a team manager, it’s getting easier to make it all work, because we are not going around corners for the first time anymore, we have done it before and then you get confidence as well in each other, you build trust and work out each other’s strength and weaknesses. It’s really just a partnership that is developing well, we don’t rest on our laurels, Mitch Evans was racing in Argentina with an injury which he kept to himself, he’s only been on the bike once since Argentina, he has a knee injury which needed rest to recover.

Evans Pic: 114 Motorsports Honda

We now have Matterley Basin, Valkenswaard and Arco which is pretty intense, three weekends back to back. Three new circuits for him, three new countries, three new cultures. It’s a process to take on and at the end of the day he’s just a kid from Australia who has ended up on the other side of the world by himself trying to race against the best in the world, I think he is doing a good job so far. He rides with quite a lot of margin, I think he will improve as the year goes on, he is a very good asset to have on a red bike.

In terms of you having been a rider and having success and injuries, for a guy like Mitchell Evans or Boisrame coming into the GPs after wining the Europeans, do you have much involvement as mentor to those guys on a racer to racer level or is that left to the teams and their entourage?

I don’t have the opportunity to be in their company enough to get involved that way, you have to have a quality across all of the riders. For me to take off my Honda hat as a manager and step in as an ex-rider and be somewhat a coach or a mentor, it would be wrong for me to do that, I don’t have the time capacity to do that for one rider nevermind across all of the riders.

However, I do feel I have something to offer, and what I like to do is try and collect as much information as I can from the riders and also from the team about the riders in terms of their programmes of what their doing, their mental state, their confidence, their self- belief, the general things that equate to good results, I try to get a good understanding of what each of them are really like and each of them are doing.

And if I feel I have something better I can contribute or offer I will have that conversation with them, then. But at the end of the day, we are Honda and we are contracting professional athletes to do a job for us and it’s not really my place to step in and tell them what they should do.

I get involved if I think I have something to offer but for the most part I don’t need to, they are all doing well themselves. They are occasions when some guidance is necessary but you are dealing more on the big picture as oppose to a week to week or month to month thing.

You mentioned Mathys Boisrame, he wanted to race MX2 in 2018 and it took a lot of persuasion on my side for him to do EMX250, he wanted to come and race MX2 and that was it, he wouldn’t sign a contract for EMX2, he wanted to do MX2, that’s where I used my experience and my background to say ‘look, this is reasons why you should do EMX2,’ and it was all related to his development, his confidence, his progression, not being MX2 and finishing 10th and 15th and worse each week and being demoralised and by 2020 he’s nearly retired because he doesn’t believe in himself!

Boisrame celebrates his EMX250 title Pic: Shot by Bavo

I had to convince him that doing the European in 2018 was the best thing for his career and he did race MX2 rounds to gauge his level and at the same time preserve his confidence and he has now come into MX2 in 2019 and European champion, he actually has a good wedge of money in his account for being European champion, he got a good bonus, so it has given him the ability as some funds to train and have physio and invest in his own career and he has had to deal with pressure, learning how to win championships, how to win races, how to deal with the media, deal with teams, deal with expectation He’s had to do all of that to be European champion and now he has come into MX2 and spend that’s next two years trying to work out how to win that championship but he can use all that he has learnt in the European series to help him.

That would be where and when I would be able to give my advice, let’s call it that, on the bigger scale of things on what he should do for his career. Dealing with stuff from week to week, yeah it works, we had a lot of this last year actually with Steven Clarke, Steven was struggling with getting a good qualification time and getting a good gate and getting start then getting a decent result, my input was you have to forget about riding motos and forget about training for the race, what’s stopping you winning that race is your start and the reason you are getting that start is because of the position you are on the start, that’s because of your qualification lap time. We had to change everything in terms of his preparation and training.

That’s the sort of time I would get involved and I would be able to give all the examples of my own experience to support my case, so yeah I do get involved but it’s really when only when someone is searching for a solution that they can’t find themselves and I can use my own theories and talk about it and if they agree, great, if they don’t, why do you not agree?