Interview: Joel Rizzi on signing with 114 Motorsports Honda and going MX2!

It’s set to be a big year for young British talent, Joel Rizzi after inking a deal to race the MX2 World Championship with the 114 Motorsports Honda team. 

Rizzi who’s had good results in the EMX125 and the EMX250 championship with the PAR Homes Husqvarna team now has a superb opportunity to showcase his talent at the highest level. 

We caught up with Rizzi to discuss the opportunity and much more. 

GateDrop: Joel, let’s start with the big news, you signed with 114 Honda Motorsports for the MX2 World Championship in 2021 – just how did the deal all come around?

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Rizzi: I left PAR Homes by RFX Husqvarna and I had nothing really. I had a few things to ride in Britain and things like that but that’s not were I want to be and put my focus in. I wanted to put my focus in the EMX250 class, luckily, I have Jamie Dobb behind me who really helped get this deal. He has been a big factor for me getting this deal with 114, they came up with a deal which I thought at first was EMX250 but then they told me it was for MX2, I thought that’s even better. It’s a two-year deal so this year is all about building, improving and just to keep getting better.

GateDrop:  Was there ever a chance you’d be racing the EMX250 series for 114 as oppose MX2? It’s the more natural route but at the same time, it’s a great opportunity to race the World Championship!

Rizzi: Literally I only had offers of British rides and nothing for EMX250 then this great deal came along. I still had nothing for the EMX250 class, it was literally a GP MX2 ride and a few ones in Britain but that wasn’t what I was for. So, I made the decision to sign with 114, you know I haven’t really had results or anything yet and they’ve put their trust in me. When it comes to my riding skills, they have put their faith in me, so I am really happy about that.

GateDrop:  You’ve obviously had some great years with RFX Husqvarna by PAR Homes – six years I believe! When did you find out you’d be leaving and was it stressful trying to sort out a ride for 2021?

Rizzi: Well, actually I got a phone call from Neil (Prince) and he said he loved the time we had, and I did as well. With all this COVID-19 stuff, they couldn’t run another European rider so that is fair enough, you know? It was sad but at the same time I’ve been with them for so long this feels like a new door and a new chapter now. I’ve had the same thing for the last six years which I enjoyed every minute of but now I’ve got such a big opportunity to get the work done. I am really looking forward to the future.

Pic: PAR Homes Husqvarna

GateDrop: In 2020 you did some racing in EMX125 and EMX250 and showed some good pace. You were near top ten a few occasions on EMX250, but I feel you got a little tired toward the end of the races which is understandable as it was your first year on the 250cc…

Rizzi: Yeah, that’s true, Latvia really let me down with that. Like you said, I started off in the EMX125 and the goal was to go to Matterley Basin and get two solid moto’s in. I think I was last in both moto’s off the start and came through to seventh in the first one, the second moto was just terrible. After that race, I got a call from Clinton who’s the boss at PAR Homes, he said the 125’s are sold so to jump on the 250cc. So, I jumped on it and then obviously lockdown came so I did do some riding on the 250cc but not lots because the tracks were closed and stuff. I got to Latvia and my speed was right there it was just the fitness that was letting me down.

GateDrop: That’s quite interesting, I thought maybe you decided to go EMX250 because of the lockdown meant you’d have a lot more time to prepare, we saw quite a lot of 125cc riders do that, but actually it was nothing to do with that?

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Rizzi: Not really, no. Obviously I was one of the biggest lads in the class as well, but I literally had a phone call saying the 125cc’s are gone but I wasn’t bothered one bit. The sooner to get on the 250cc the better and I had been practicing on one all over winter pretty much. I had got to grips with it pretty quickly but the team and myself thought it felt right to focus on the 250cc.

GateDrop: With 114, I believe you’ll be moving to France? For Brits that can be quite tough to deal with, will you be going on your own or the whole family? You’ll have to start learning French (laughs)

Rizzi: (laughs) Yeah, I am moving over with my cousin actually, he is 22 now and has done a bit of riding. He’s coming over for the year as well, it’s a massive opportunity for us both. I’m not really assed if it’s going to be hard, I just want to knuckle down, get to grips with the team, the bike, racing MX2 and everything like that. I am looking forward to living the MX2 lifestyle and keep improving. My cousin is looking forward to it as well, but we will have to get some cooking lessons sorted though (laughs).

GateDrop: I believe you won’t be racing the British Championship but the French series instead, riding the typical French tracks should help but will you miss the British?

Rizzi: I will miss the British but not really racing, I’ll miss more my friends and stuff like that. I know everyone when I go to a British race but when I go to these French elites and MX2 races, I’m literally going to be a newbie. I won’t know anyone, and I’ll just be with my team and stuff like that, I think it will be different.

The more I do these French elite races and MX2 races, I’ll be able to get into it and then it’ll start becoming a British championship. When I turn up to a British Championship and especially the year I won the youth, I’m so relaxed and chilled out – I knew I could go there and dominate. The more I do these harder MX2 races, I’m obviously going to be the nervous for the first few but the more I do them the more it’ll feel like a British championship.

GateDrop: It’s interesting you say that actually, I feel that British riders when it comes to their mentalities when they go outside the UK, they maybe tend to struggle to adapt? But it’s not due to their speed or talents…

Rizzi: Totally, it is a mental thing. For this year and that I actually have a mind coach let’s say, to help me with this. I have struggled with that so much last year with my mental side. With how I’d ride at practice days I’d be like 1 second off Gilbert and then when it comes to race day and I’m miles off him. It’s stuff like that and my head would just go at the races, I’ve looked into the mind coach thing and I never believed in it but then I did one session and it’s a totally different thing.

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It helps with your confidence and everything so I’m excited to see how that works for next year. Like you said, it’s just a whole different league in the European scene, everyone is a similar speed and us British riders aren’t used to it. We have the MX Nationals this year which is nothing like European races and stuff like that.

The awning Rizzi will be under in 2021. Pic: 114 Motorsports Honda

GateDrop: The 114 team use the BUD Racing facility, which is a great place, track looks to get really rough so you must be looking forward to that? Do you see anywhere in the UK that has a facility as good? Possibly that’s where the UK is behind…

Rizzi: No, no we don’t have tracks like that. It’s just all the tracks in France, they’re all amazing. I went to the South of France for pre-season last year and the tracks are just insane out there, it’s so good. The BUD facility looks great, Bailey Malkiewicz said that last year that it was his first time when he got there. I’ll be putting plenty of laps in at the BUD facility and then other tracks in the South of France, I am well excited.

GateDrop: Eric Sorby has been the rider trainer at the 114 team the past few years, will you be working with him? You must be looking forward to that…

Rizzi: I can’t wait. We have already been sending each other messages and stuff, I can’t wait. The amount he knows, it’s just going to be awesome. With Mitch Evans as example, he’s helped develop some really good riders.

GateDrop: Just on MX2, when you start to think about 2021 and racing with the best in the world. How do you feel? Maybe a bit daunting as of right now or just excitement?

Rizzi: Excitement! You know I am coming into MX2 and everyone is thinking that I’m going to be nowhere so I’ve got no worries. I’m just going to hang it out the best I can on an amazing bike and see what I can do. I just want to show my speed, I’ve done that in the Latvian qualifying and stuff. Benistant jumped into MX2 and done really well, it shows the EMX250 pace this year has been insane. I feel like if I can get a brilliant pre-season in then I can run up there to be honest.

GateDrop: I believe it’s a multi-year contract with 114 – that must help take the pressure off you?

Rizzi: Yeah, it does. Giacomo (Gariboldi) spoke to my Dad and was saying about how they signed Tim Gajser six years ago and they didn’t really know who he was, but they took him on and six years later, he has four world titles to his name. I kind of want to follow in his footsteps and be a prodigy of Honda. I want to build with them, to have a two-year deal with an option of a third, it’s a dream come true. In two years, the amount you can accomplish is loads.

GateDrop: What will your expectations be heading into 2021?

Rizzi: Results wise, nothing. I just want to go out there, enjoy myself and if I can improve and ride like how I ride on practice days – the results will come. I think I will shock some people.

GateDrop: The provisional calendar is out for 2021, what’s your initial thoughts on it? What tracks do you like the look of? There’s quite a lot of fly away races on there which is quite surprising considering the circumstances…

Rizzi: It’s sick. The first round in the middle east, that’s just going to be insane. My first ever GP in one of the most coolest places in the world is just going to be sick. I’m looking forward to it. I have saw some stuff on Facebook about the two Russian rounds, but it is what it is, really. It’s racing and you have to get on with it and have fun!

GateDrop: Last question, Gautier Paulin recently spoke out about riders paying for certain rides in the paddock, for people that might think you only have this ride because of money, what would you say to those people?

Rizzi: Yeah, obviously I’ve saw it with Ivo Monticelli getting it with the Monster Energy thing. I literally only have this deal because of Jamie Dobb, if I didn’t have him, I wouldn’t have this ride. That’s all I can really say, Honda have got faith in me and we will see how it goes. I’m going to give 100% to make them happy that they have chosen the right rider.

Interview: Andy McKinstry