Interview: Kay Hennekens (Nestaan Husqvarna MX2 – team owner)
Kay Hennekens has been involved with the Factory Husqvarna MX2 team for a number of years but became the team owner for the 2020 season. The season has been a challenge thanks to COVID-19 but overall was a successful one for the team.
Thomas Kjer Olsen unfortunately came into the season with an injury which was a big shame as he was one of the favourites for the MX2 World title but he showed how tough he was to battle through the pain and end up sixth in the series.
Despite missing plenty much the end of the 2019 MX2 World Championship campaign, Jed Beaton clearly had a strong winter as he came out swinging at the beginning of the 2020 season and that set his tone for the whole season. The Aussie was very consistent and ended up an impressive fourth in the championship – he’ll be targeting bigger things in 2021.
Young Dutch talent, Kay de Wolf showed just how good he was during his rookie EMX250 season ending up fourth in the championship despite missing the final round – he now moves up to the MX2 World Championship in 2020.
We caught up with Kay Hennekens to discuss the season and much more.
GateDrop: First of all, can you give me an overview of the Nestaan company?
Hennekens: Nestaan is a family-owned company, it is 52 years old. We make polyurethane insulation materials. Rigid Polyurethane block foam and Rigid Polyurethane two component systems are the products we focus on. These products are sold in Europe and on project bases all over the world.
GateDrop: After you took over the team, where there many changes made? I believe that the team needed to change warehouses – how was that?
Hennekens: When we decided to run our own operation, we start looking for a suitable building. We bought a building which was a couple of years old. We completely refurbished it, a new outside and a new inside, including, offices, apartments, fitness and work area for the bikes. I’m sure you’ve seen the video and this was all ready on September the 1st 2019, to be able to start the 2020 season on time.
GateDrop: With regards to you, did your role change much after taking total control of the team?
Hennekens: I am more involved now. The first thing we had to do was to find good team members and I can tell you we have a great team. Rasmus (team manager) and Joel (technical manager) do together with the other team members a great job, making life easier for me.
GateDrop: Rasmus Jorgensen was the rider coach at the team but you handed him the role of team manager – he was doing such a good job I guess it made complete sense for him to step up to that role. He seems to be able to create a really good atmosphere for the riders…
Hennekens: Yes he does. He is still the rider coach and we have an office manager (Ellen), she takes care of most of the paperwork so Rasmus has his hands free. He is still going to the track every time with the boys and is still spending lots of time to the riding/training and stuff like that.
It’s all about feeling, if you trust somebody. Being able to work together and being a team is very important. Rasmus can learn from my experience on the business side, but he knows his job as a rider coach. We are always open for improvements and working very hard to do things better in the future.
GateDrop: Kay de Wolf had been racing the EMX125 series, but you decided for him to race EMX250 this year – I believe the team has a no 2 stroke policy? Is that true and if so why and was that the reason for Kay moving up to the EMX250 class?
Hennekens: No, that is not true. I don’t know who said it, we even had the discussion if we were going to do EMX125 or EMX250. We believe in Kay, he is a big boy even though he’s not that old. We believe he did well this year and had good results. He almost won in Latvia and Valkenswaard – they took his victory away at Valkenswaard due to the mistake he made (jumping under yellow flag) and he lost the overall in Latvia (a competitor got a penalty for noise after the race) Speed wise he was quite okay and he learned a lot, he was by far the youngest of the pack.
GateDrop: Kay had a good season despite being an EMX250 rookie finishing fourth in the championship – he made some rookie mistakes which is expected but overall, you must have been happy with his season? It also proves you made the correct decision moving him up to the class.
Hennekens: Yes, you won’t hear me say that he should have won the championship because he had to compete with +18-year-olds who have been in the series for three or four years. He also didn’t race the last race because of the crash at the time practice in Lommel 2, if it wasn’t for that he’d have been third but in the end, he was fourth. I think competing for top three all season long is not bad. Next year Kay will be on a full factory bike competing in the MX2 class.
GateDrop: Just on de Wolf – my first time watching him was on an 85cc two years ago and he just blew me away. How far do you think he can go in the sport?
Hennekens: It is a difficult question. Of course, we believe in Kay but we don’t want to put pressure on him, we believe that he is capable of doing top five but I’m cautious. So many things can happen, if he gets a nasty injury tomorrow this can change everything. He is very focused and is learning so many things and he has a great relationship based on respect with Rasmus. I think in certain races he will surprise us in 2021.
GateDrop: At the end of last year, it was pretty clear that Thomas Kjer Olsen was going to be one of the favourites for the title and with it being his last year in the class but then he picked up an injury over winter – just how disappointing was that as without the injury who knows how close he could have come to the title…
Hennekens: It was bad, Thomas was not injured for three years in a row so you can’t say much. He broke his hand 10 days for the first race, every jump hurt his hand in England. He broke his shoulder just before Latvia 1 and tried to race (one mote 5th in Latvia 2!) but this was extremely painful but the moment he was feeling better he was winning races. For sure he was a title contender, but it worked out differently.
GateDrop: Olsen moves up to the MXGP World Championship next year, looking at his size and build he looks made for the bigger bike. How do you think he can perform in MXGP next year?
Hennekens: For us it was really nice that he ended up with Antti (Pyrhönen – team manager of Ice One Factory Husqvarna) because he stays in the Husqvarna family. He still lives in Lommel so we still see him every day. I think he can surprise if he feels well and is not injured. At the end of the day, you need a certain amount of luck and I’m not surprised if he’s doing many top ten results in his first year.
GateDrop: Last year Jed Beaton missed the end of the season through injury but he clearly had a very strong winter as he came out flying at Matterley Basin and was consistent throughout the whole season. You must be happy with the progress he’s made?
Hennekens: Yes, I think he was the only one to score points in every moto. Consistency wise, extremely pleased. Is there room for improvement? Yes, there is, and we are working on it to try and improve for next year. It will be the same competition because Geerts and Vialle will still be there. He must make another step to beat them but he’s working extremely hard and is very professional. He is a nice kid to have in your team.
GateDrop: A lot of the Aussie’s come across as cocky and self-confident, Beaton seems to be slightly different from a lot of them – he has the self-confidence but seems to understand how tough it is to make it in this sport because he pretty much grew up with nothing. What’s he like to work with?
Hennekens: He is a great kid and really nice to work with. He’s working really hard and is very professional, always taking care. He does a great job and he’s quite hard on himself, if something doesn’t go the way he wants it to go.
GateDrop: For the 2021 season, Beaton for the first time in his GP career might have a bit more pressure as he’s the main guy in the team…
Hennekens: Yes, Jed has to perform, it’s his last year and his last chance and he needs to go for the podium. For that you need to be consistent and to be fast to have a good season. I hope he can do it and I am convinced he is ready to do so.
GateDrop: Was the plan always to move de Wolf up to race the MX2 World Championship or did you target other riders first? Benistant has been linked to Husqvarna for quite some time, is he a rider you admire? After he stayed Yamaha it made sense to move de Wolf up to MX2 I guess?
Hennekens: Yeah, all the Yamaha riders stayed Yamaha so there wasn’t anyone available. We looked at riders but decided to give Kay the opportunity and bring him to the GP’s. We have a new kid (Maxime Grau) for the EMX250 series, he’s only 14 years old but this French kid we believe in as the next big thing. For now, we have to bring our own talents and prepare them for the World Championship. If that’s the way we have to do it we will try to succeed this way.
GateDrop: Just on Maxime Grau for 2021 – He really impressed me on his EMX125 debut at Matterley Basin – it should have been a 4-4 results wise, but he didn’t have the luck despite being so impressive. From the outside it perhaps would have made more sense to keep in EMX125 for another year as EMX250 is very competitive and he’s still very young so what’s the reason for moving him and up and what do you expect from him?
Hennekens: It’s the same discussion as we had with Kay last year. Many people told us that we weren’t smart to have Kay in EMX250 and if you look back now, what’s wrong with it? He was almost third, so I think he did a great job. With Maxime, he must learn how to ride the sand and that’s why he’s come to live in Lommel. We will spent hours in the sand, he is extremely motivated and an hard worker, very professional for his age. He is a very nice kid to work with and speed wise on hard pack he is on a very high level already.
GateDrop: How is Grau looking on the 250cc Husqvarna so far?
Hennekens: On the hard pack he looks great, he is outstanding. On the sand tracks he is learning every day but that is okay, when you are 14 years old you have to learn and invest more time to learn riding in the sand. It will take time to be there but for sure if you are as talented as Maxime you will do well on the sand soon. Kay knows the sand and can perform on it, for Maxime it’s a big learning curve so we will see how we end up. I think Maxime will surprise even more people than Kay did this year.
GateDrop: Infront recently announced the provisional 2021 MXGP calendar. Given the current circumstances I was surprised to see quite a lot of fly away races on there – what’s your thoughts on the calendar and would you like to see anything chance or are you happy as it is?
Hennekens: It’s a real world championship, it goes all over the world. I think that it is a really nice calendar. But Corona isn’t gone yet so it will be tough and difficult, but I hope that we can do again the amount of races we had this year.
Interview: Andy McKinstry
Main pic: Shot by Bavo