Interview: Lee Webber discusses Cab Screens Crescent Yamaha, the state of British MX and more
With things pretty close at the head of the field in the MX1 British Championship and Harri Kullas recently securing an MXGP fill in ride, Lee Webber will be hoping his rider will have a good end to the season.
Webber signed Kullas back in 2019 and what a decision that has been, and the Cab Screens Crescent Yamaha team manager will be hoping Kullas can clinch the British title this year.
We decided to give Lee a call last week to discuss his team, Harri Kullas and the sport in general.
GateDrop: Lee, just on the British Championship so far this season… The MX1 class maybe hasn’t been as controversial as the MX2 class but there has been some drama. You’ve obviously got Searle, Kullas and Gilbert as the main three at the moment. How would you describe the season so far?
Webber: There has definitely been some controversy in the MX1 class this year but that was at round one which probably not a lot of people know about, that story is one for another day but Hopefully the problem has gone away now, an easy decision for the officials to make and wasn’t made could have a huge impact on the championship come the end, the rumblings carried on for quite a while behind the scenes but that’s probably all I want to say on the subject at the moment!
It would be fair to say that there have been four guys this year that can win a race – Harri Kullas, Tommy Searle, Josh Gilbert and Shaun Simpson when he’s been healthy. It has been a competitive class and before FatCat there was probably anyone of four that could win the title but now it’s probably down to two. If you take away the one race win from Simpson, all other races have been won by Harri and Tommy. These two guys are very much on the same level at the moment so it’s interesting to see who can win each race but also who can be the most consistent, which has been easy for both guys as Tommy has only finished once outside the top three and Harri twice.
GateDrop: Just on Harri, do you feel he’s maybe under rated as a rider? He maybe hasn’t got the raw speed some of the others have but he’s at the front every single week and less likely to throw in a really bad race. You must be really happy with how consistent he is?
Webber: 100% he has been under-rated. I think when we took him on in 2019, I think it’s fair to say he was going nowhere really and kind of slipped off the radar. At that time, he wasn’t in Tommy or Shaun’s league but since then he’s got better each year and now we are disappointed if we don’t beat either one of those guys. I would say he has got raw speed when he needs it but he’s quite conservative with it – he is a better racer than qualifier that is for sure. We have seen that this season as well, we’ve seen him qualify fourth or fifth at some races but gone on to win the races on the same day. He is always quite conservative when he does use his raw speed, and it is something that we have touched on in the past, once in a while it would be good of him just to cut loose as you always feel he’s riding at 96%, but there is the risk then of throwing it down the track and that won’t win you races.
GateDrop: How do you see the rest of the season panning out now with two rounds to go?
Webber: We speak about the season quite a lot and try to plan each round as it goes, we said that we needed to get to the halfway point and be in touch with a chance of winning it as we felt the tracks in the first half of the season probably favoured Tommy slightly and that he rode those tracks better, we spoke about having to take points from him at Blaxhall and FatCat and we’ve done that, when you look at those four races we managed to beat him in three taking nine points out of his lead in the process, so now heading into the final two rounds we find ourselves 13 points down, but with a real chance on two tracks that will be quite neutral for both riders, there is still 100 points available so anything can happen
GateDrop: Just touching on his ride with the Gebben van Venrooy Yamaha team – obviously the move needed your approval. On one side you don’t want to see him injured but at the same time racing with the best in world could help give him that extra edge?
Webber: That was the thinking. Initially it 100% needed my approval along with Yamaha UK and Paul Denning from Crescent Yamaha, both Adam and Paul where immediately positive about Harri doing some GP’s and gave it their full backing. This was always the thinking of the Gebben van Venrooy team, they wanted the approval from us, they didn’t want to step on our toes and always said the British Championship was the most important thing but if they could get his services. They were really good with the whole deal, making sure everything was above board and the whole deal was done quickly and easily with all parties. I always said I’d never stand in the way of this opportunity if it arose, and we are hoping it makes him even quicker and sharper. We are obviously aware of a potential injury but that’s a risk anytime they ride a bike whether it’s practicing or racing.
GateDrop: How do you see Kullas doing in MXGP and from knowing him do you think he’s missed racing at the highest level?
Webber: He has definitely missed it. I’d love it if he could pull a top ten, that would be really good, We are obviously back to the European circuits and tracks that are more popular with Czech Republic having a full rider line up. Moving forward a top ten would be fantastic or a top fifteen would be great. He has missed it, I mean he is a GP rider and a class act. His training regime is so good and his attention to detail is second to none. He has all the credentials to be a GP rider, that is for sure, but at 30 his age might go against him now.
GateDrop: Just going back to the British Championship this year – what’s your thoughts on it and the sport? There’s low numbers although that seems to be a worldwide issue…
Webber: I think if you’d have asked me after round one, I’d have been really worried for the sport in general and the British Championship, there was obviously an issue at round one within the MX1 class but that seems to have gone away now. Going forward from round one, Blaxhall and Canada Heights rounds were both fantastic. Blaxhall was a good round and if we used that round as a model for the British Championship it would be really good. FatCat was a bit disappointing in terms of the track, it wasn’t the best track that we’ve seen by a long shot. I have to say that Gareth Hockey is putting his heart and soul into it and I think he’s got some guys on-board now that will help him for the rest of this year and next year. This will only improve things but from my side of things I’d like to see track preparation improve quite a bit, particularly ripping tracks deeper and getting more water into them, and watering between races, much like they do in AMA.
There was talk at one time of a break away series but as the problem from round one that has gone away, those breakaway guys (which included me) have worked with Gareth and there seems to be a harmony around the pits, and in Manager meetings, and Gareth is trying to make it work. If he picks the right locations for tracks and those guys all work together, I think the future could be good. I do think the low numbers is right across the board at the moment with all championships in all countries with the exception of the states of course, I think it’s just a general thing around the world right now, I don’t think too many championships have 40 riders behind the gate, and I would say 30 is the new 40, if you get 30 riders on a line up then you’ve done well. It’s just the way it is now with the state off the world and the economy and rising costs.
GateDrop: When you look at the British paddock, there’s always been that big talent coming up with the likes of Searle, Anstie and more recently Mewse but at the moment there doesn’t seem to be an elite talent coming through… There is Heyman but he doesn’t race EMX – What’s your thoughts on the sport in the UK and maybe I’ve just forgot to mention a fast young kid…
Webber: There definitely is a real problem with talent coming through now. After Conrad, I can’t see a rider coming into MX2 at the moment and particularly the World Championship. We do have a real problem with talent, whether it’s not being looked after correctly, I just don’t know what the issue is. It’s with no disrespect to the riders that are coming through and putting everything into it, but we just don’t see another Conrad Mewse coming through. Charlie Heyman looks to have really good potential but it’s disappointing not to see him race EMX125 this year because he finished top ten at round one and hasn’t competed a round since then. It’s probably down to finances but he looks a good prospect. There’s a good couple of kids in the 85cc’s as well so hopefully those kids get the right financial backing, and they can go onto bigger and better things. most kids that go onto make it need to get out of this country and go to live in Belgium or Holland – Cole McCullough looks a really good prospect as well and he’s young so he’s another one that could make it. You would have to look at the French federation as a blueprint as they seem to have a conveyor belt of riders coming up through the ranks, so maybe now our governing body needs to help when giving riders a chance, I believe the Estonian federation help youth riders quite a bit, even loaning them bikes, but I would think motocross is generally quite low on the ACU list of importance compared to other motor sports they look after.
GateDrop: Just on post Covid-19, the price of living has gone up through the roof! Have you noticed that with running your team or because you only race domestically maybe there’s not that much of a difference?
Webber: I think the costs increasing worldwide are having an impact on the sport in general, club riders and lesser riders in the British Championship maybe have to make the decision now between racing or putting food on the table, obviously food on the table will win that one every day. I think we are seeing lower numbers generally because of rising costs as well as a few other reasons, it’s no secret that motocross is a very expensive sport to do with very little return, if any.
GateDrop: Just what’s your plans for 2023 – will you stay with Yamaha?
Webber: Yes, we are 100% staying with Yamaha next year. We just haven’t made decisions on riders yet and I haven’t even spoke to riders yet. I am trying to secure sponsorship at the moment to make it all happen. We will still do the British Championship and MX Nationals but having lost two major sponsors last year I’m still trying to fill that hole, I am focused at the moment on rounding out this year, and two championships, and we also have a small matter of getting everything to America for the MXoN.
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