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Interview: Lars Van Berkel

Interview: Lars Van Berkel
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The 2017 season is going to be a big year for Dutch rider, Lars Van Berkel. It will be his last year competing in the MX2 World Championship due to the age rule. After switching to the VAMO Honda outfit that will compete in the MX2 World Championship for the first time, it gives Lars a chance to put in some good results. Lars will race the European rounds of the MX2 Championship, he got a taster for whats to come this year as he competed in some of the rounds.

Lars isn’t actually a full time motocross rider as he works in an office for around thirty-five hours every week! We decided to catch up with the Dutch rider to talk about his move to the VAMO Honda team for the 2017 season and how he manages to have a full time job as well as a racing at the highest level!

Gatedrop: You rode the Red Bull Knock Out event at the weekend, how did it go for you and what’s your thoughts on the event?

Lars Van Berkel: I did indeed participate in the Redbull Knock Out during the weekend, I was fourth last year which was very good. There were a few extra good riders this year but I prepared myself to finish 4th or better, I kept training hard after a few weeks off and did a few almost 2 hour long motos. I know I am strong in the longer moto’s so I really wanted to do good. My SKS husqvarna team made a very good bike so I was ready for the event.

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I had a good start in the first moto (1000 riders) and was in 5th, I told myself to take it easy in this moto but from the start I was really feeling it! In the 2nd lap I passed all the top riders like Herlings, Coldenhoff, Watson and Chappaliere, to take the lead in the waves. I was leading a few laps and almost scored the fastest lap-time. After 1 hour and 43 mins (timed on my watch) I finished 3rd behind Herlings and Chappaliere in the qualifying heat, this gave me confidence for the final! I was in around 5-6 after a few laps and starting to get in a flow, unfortunately I lost power in the long straight as I had to shift down, I looked down and the bike started steaming. I could make it to the pit-lane but it was the end of this story!

This was such a bummer as I was really riding well and I think I could have made the top 5 or even better my result from last year. I prepared well for this and if there is one race in Holland you can really make a name for yourself to the people who are not into motocross, this is the one! It is a bummer, but at least I really enjoyed my riding and the fact that I finished a strong 3rd place in the opening moto!

Gatedrop: You have joined the VAMO Honda team to race the European rounds of the MX2 World Championship. How did the deal all come about?

Lars Van Berkel: Well, this team really came together very quickly. Me and one of my sponsors/good friends Heikki vd Berg made a decision for ourselves to give my last year in the MX2 World Championship a shot (Lars will be too old to race the MX2 World Championship in 2018). I did a couple of very good GP’s this year after I had my arms fixed. In my eyes these results had to be seen by someone but not even one GP team showed interest in me.

I could have stayed with the SKS husqvarna team but they couldn’t do a full MX2 GP season (I’m talking European rounds) which was a bummer as I really liked to work together with Hans and Toine from the team. I could do the Dutch races with the team but my feeling was telling me to give it another go in the MX2 GP’s, I had my best year so far and I thought I deserved it.

Then out of nothing two teams gave me a shot – VAMO was one of them. They offered me a deal, then HONDA Europe jumped in and they gave me a deal I couldn’t refuse. So a little more than a day and a half after I got in touch with Steven from VAMO I said I was going to do it! I think it was a matter of meeting the right people during the right time and showing a few really good moto’s during my wild card rides this year. This was actually my plan to race the few GP’s that I did and turn some heads.  It is so cool it worked out and now I have a GP deal going with VAMO Honda and even a deal directly with Honda Europe!

Gatedrop: You have rode a Honda before – what’s your thoughts on the bike and are you looking forward to getting on the Honda again?

Lars Van Berkel: I did my first few laps today (23rd November) and I felt good. I was just riding a stock bike but it is such a different bike compared to the Austrian brands. I always had the feeling I fit very good with the Honda. I have had a lot of years on the Honda when I started from the age of 11 and almost to the age 20.

People have always told me a Honda is not fast enough, but I really think it is a mental thing. When you are sure it is going to work for you, it will work for you! I finished 12th in my very first GP ride in Lierop, we didn’t even have a big budget but I trained hard and I worked with everything I had. I think this bike will suite me well, with a Honda you have to ride on the right RPM’s and I think I got this from my previous year on the bike. I’m very positive about the bike and I think the VAMO team can make a very fast Honda bike!

Gatedrop: You had a good season with the SKS Husqvarna team, it might come as a surprise to some people that you have left them. What was the reason for that?

Lars Van Berkel: The only reason I left the team is that I got such a good offer from VAMO and Honda which fitted perfectly to my goals. I wanted to do another season in MX2 GP’s and this was something SKS couldn’t offer me. When I told them about my deal (because I was very honest to them) they understood it and told me I had to take the chance. Even when I called them right after I agreed with Steven, they were surprised (as it was 1 day after I told them I got the offer).

They congratulated me and they understood the whole situation. At SKS it is more than a team, is feels like a family. I worked so good together with Hans Koenen this year, I feel like I can even call him for advice in the middle of the season when I’m riding with Honda, this is how good our relationship is. The best part of all, they know how much I put into it and they understand I want to make the next step, so they told me we can not give you the ride you are looking for now, but at any other year you can come back and ride for our team! I don’t think a lot of other teams and riders split after a year of riding together, but this is how close we are and how much trust we had in each other!

Gatedrop: Gajser aside, a lot of top riders have gone to Honda in recent years and struggled to get results. Is that something you’re worried about?

Lars Van Berkel: Of course I’ve thought about that and you always will have the negative people rating your next years success/failure on other riders seasons. But I know what kind of person I am and I never quit. If I would’ve quit when it got tough, I would have quit at the very beginning. We had almost no budget over the years as my parents are not rich, but we did everything with what we had and I’m sure we’ve come way further than lots of Dutch people would have expected.

What I want to tell you with this is that I go into everything positive and as long as you put hard work into it, it will work out.  There will always be tough days, but this is possible on every brand! I believe my team can make me a good bike and I will be fit, this together doesn’t make me worry because of other riders previous seasons! The only thing I have to worry about is myself.

Gatedrop: You rode a lot of MX2 GP’s in 2016, where you happy with your results and speed?

Lars Van Berkel: At the very first GP this year in Valkenswaard I was very unhappy, I had a few very tough months in the beginning, my riding was not good and I really could only do 2-3 laps before my arms felt like concrete, I just couldn’t ride like the real Lars. Right after Valkenswaard I did tests and I had the compartment syndrome, Dr. Claes couldn’t understand I did all these years riding with success and good results with these arms, It really had to get fixed.

After my operation I did one week of riding and went to Teutschenthal, there my form was not good yet, but it was way better than my riding in Valkenswaard and after that everything started to click! I had a 13th and 8th in Lommel then a 4th and a 14th in Assen.  I also had some very good Dutch races where I had battles with Covington, Bogers and a few top GP riders. My speed was very good and I learned a lot off the bike. So, at the end of the season I am happy and I already forgot about the bad start of the season, good results always make me hungry for more!

Gatedrop: Not a lot of people know but you actually aren’t a full time motocross rider, can you tell me a bit about your job?

Lars Van Berkel: Yes, I am not a full time motocross rider. I also work around 35 hours a week as an international sales employee at a Dutch company called BAS Parts. We sell truck parts all over the world. I went to Caspar the boss from BAS Trucks for a sponsorship and came home with an offer to start working as one of his sales employees, at first I was shocked. I told my mum and they were so happy. I finished my college degree in November last year so I was full pro for a few months, I just didn’t have a salary!

At first I wasn’t going to take the job as I thought this would be the end of my motocross career, but I am happy I took the chance! I now have my degree, a salary and in my free time I get to ride the GP’s, how cool is that? For me the best part is the support from my parents, they’ve always taught me to work for my dreams but also to be realistic. In Holland there is only one rider who doesn’t have to work any in his life because he made enough money from motocross (Herlings). The rest will all have to do something else in their life at some stage. I think I made a very wise decision and I am happy my parents always told me to go to college and get my degree!

Gatedrop: You finished fourth in the first moto in Assen, how good did that feel beating lots of factory riders and you aren’t even a full time rider?

Lars Van Berkel: At first I thought I finished 5th! That feeling was great when I found out that I finished 4th. I gave up a lot when I started working and I thought this was the beginning of the end, but it took away some of the pressure from me so now everything is working better. I remember telling myself in Lommel on the Friday that years back I would count done for weeks to this race and I would be a little bit nervous.

However, this year I walked the track on friday and the race started the day after, I am as prepared as I have ever been but I am so relaxed because I know either I do good or bad at the end I still have to be on the office at Monday morning. This took a lot of pressure off, but on the other hand it gives me so much motivation to beat the factory riders like in Assen. I think it is a perfect combination for me. I realised it (that I finished fourth) after I drove back to my mechanic right after the first moto that I just finished 4th at my home GP. I’ve always worked hard but now everything is falling into place, everybody was watching at this GP – even my boss! To finish your best GP especially at Assen where I still had some unfinished business, it made me silent, I got goosebumps!!

Gatedrop: Obviously your boss is good to you and is quite flexible to allow you to ride and train throughout the week?

Lars Van Berkel: I get the Wednesday afternoon off for training when I need it, as well as 2-3 extra hours on a Thursday. In the winter I almost work the full hours because I can train after work (physical). When I have to go to the races on Friday I can go. I just have to plan everything right, make enough hours over the complete year and make sure I sell enough truck parts – then everything will be fine(laughs).

Gatedrop: Did you think about becoming a full time motocross rider for the 2017 season?

Lars Van Berkel: Of course I’ve thought about it, but this works the best for me now. I have got some extra sponsors this year because I showed I put a lot into my motocross career. Business people like the fact you work hard at your work but also for your sport so I will keep working, it is better for me and especially with my eyes on the future.

Gatedrop: What are your goals for the 2017 season?

Lars Van Berkel: Sell enough truck parts, No.. that’s a joke (laughs). I want to ride like I know how and make a few results like I did this year! I just want to build further on the season I had and show that I can ride hard pack tracks aswell. I just go all in and we will see what this season will bring!

Gatedrop: Anyone you’d like to thank?

Lars Van Berkel: Yes, I would like to thank everyone who’ve been involved in my career so far on a positive note!

My parents, Heikki vd Berg from Galvin to help get the best out of me. Davy Dousselare from Honda Europe, Steven vd Weijer from Vamo Honda, Kay Hennekens from Nestaan to fulfil the manager role contract wise! The complete SKS husqvarna team for a good 2016 season. I’d also like to thank my boss and ofcourse all my personal sponsors like Galvin, Vd Ven, BAS Trucks, V Zutven, Vd Linden and many more!

All of these people together made my 2017 possible! I always forget a lot of people but I want to thank them all!

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