Interview: Marcus Pereira de Freitas – COVID-19 Lockdown

Coming into the third round of the 2020 MXGP world championship, Team HRC’s Tim Gajser had won two of the four motos so far and was looking extremely strong on the brand-new Honda CRF450RW. Unfortunately, Mitch Evans had injured his shoulder and was unlikely to be travelling to Argentina.

Then the news struck that the COVID-19 virus was spreading globally and was reaching pandemic proportions. That caused round three to be cancelled just a week or so before it was scheduled to take place, and then rounds four, five, six, seven and eight all got moved to later in the year in a belief that the situation would be under control by then.

Right now, a lot of the world is under an enforced lockdown and going racing seems like a long way off. However, things can change very quickly and backup plans need to be in place, just in case the situation does improve. That is the job of General Manager, Marcus Pereira de Freitas who is in charge of the reigning champions Team HRC and their riders Tim Gajser and Mitch Evans. Here is an interview just to see what is going on in this break in the schedule…

How is Team HRC coping with the break in the schedule?
It is a very difficult time for everyone involved with the team right now. Everyone is back at home, in different parts of the world, all trying to stay active and stay involved and ready to work when the right moment arrives. Of course, right now the main aim is to just stay safe in these difficult times and hope that the situation improves soon.

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What about you personally?
I am in Italy so we are in a very serious position here. The lockdown is very strict and I can only leave my house when I need to go to the supermarket, and I can only do that with special permission. It isn’t easy because being part of Team HRC we are used to travelling so much and being in different places and meeting people face to face, so now to just be at home and having to do everything from there is difficult to get used to. However, that is what we all need to do so we are making it work.

And the riders, what are they able to do?
Both riders are back at their respective homes, with Tim in Slovenia and Mitch in Australia. We made the decision for Mitch to go back there when the global situation got more serious and with his injury, we all thought that it would help his recovery to be back with his family. Tim usually stays in Slovenia anyway so it isn’t any different from usual there. He has his own house with a gym, so he is able to keep a fairly normal routine going and keep his fitness levels high and just keep active in this break in the schedule.

What is the situation with Mitch’s injury?
Right now, Mitch is just recovering from his shoulder dislocation that happened in Valkenswaard. He had surgery a couple of days ago but this break in the calendar is allowing him to recover without the feeling that he has to rush to be back, in order not to miss too many rounds. That is always a difficult thing for riders because they always want to be out there racing, so it is good that he can recuperate without that pressure. We are keeping in regular contact and making sure he is doing the right things and exercising in other ways, so that when he is able to get back on the bike, he is still race fit.

Talk about how the first two rounds went for both Mitch and Tim…
Even though we’ve only had two rounds of the series, it still feels like quite a lot has happened already. In race one at Matterley Basin, Tim got a great start and then was knocked over in the second corner, meaning he had to start from the very back. Meanwhile Mitch was riding exceedingly well in third place. Race two was almost the reverse with Tim out front and riding as well as we’ve ever seen him ride, just making it look so easy and winning by over 20 seconds. Mitch then had to come back through the pack, but showed great speed there.

Then in Valkenswaard, we had the issue in the qualification race when Tim was leading that meant he had to start from the very outside gate pick. At Valkenswaard this makes things very difficult because he has to ride so much further to get to the first corner but the Honda CRF450RW showed its power and he was able to get two great starts and go on from there. In race one he swept into the lead by the second lap and was just riding so well, and took another win. Race two he wasn’t quite able to do the same but still finished second and didn’t lose any points in the championship race, which was more than we could have wished for with that gate pick.

Unfortunately, Mitch dislocated his shoulder in the first lap of race one, so he wasn’t able to compete further but he was riding well over the weekend and we are definitely happy with his progress. So yes, like I said, it’s only been two races but it seems like a lot has happened!

And the new Honda CRF450RW is performing as you hoped?
We are extremely happy with the performance of the new bike so far. Both riders have got good starts in their races and the bike is looking very smooth and powerful when the races are taking place. We knew it was good from all the testing and training over winter, but to see it performing so well in the MXGP class is very satisfactory.

Right now, the next race is scheduled to be Russia in June, how are planning for that?
We are making sure to be extremely flexible with all our plans right now. The workshop is in Italy so that is closed but everyone knows what they have to do to be ready in order to get to the next GP, wherever that is. June is still a long way away right now so things can change, but we have a good communication network in place, both with the team members here in Europe and with HRC in Japan. It is important that everyone knows the latest information so we can act quickly and efficiently when we do get the all-clear to go racing again.

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What is the plan for the rest of the season?
With all the races being postponed until later in the year, it means the schedule is going to be very busy at a time when normally we are coming to a close. The last race is now November 22nd, which is almost two months after the usual finishing date so we have to make sure that everyone is in the right frame of mind, and the riders are mentally and physically ready to still be racing at this time of year. There are also periods where we have six races in a row, when usually we only have three, so again, we need to make sure that everyone is able to cope with the change. It won’t be easy but I know that Team HRC is filled with extremely professional people and we will be able to get the job done.

How difficult is it to prepare when you don’t know exactly what is going to happen?
That is probably the toughest thing because the schedule has changed a lot these past few weeks. Every time we come up with a plan, a new update makes that plan redundant. It is frustrating but that is the position for a lot of things right now, not just in motocross but all over the world in all different sports and industries. We just have to keep making sure that everyone is staying safe and that we are ready when the time comes.

Words: HRC Honda

Pic: Shot by Bavo