Interview: Mark Chamberlain – GB MXON team manager

If there’s one thing that comes over in a conversation with British MXON team manager Mark Chamberlain, it’s his passion for the sport and pride of his undertaking his role as manager for GB at the Nations.

He oversaw Britain’s first podium since 1997 in 2017 at Matterley, and then did it again at Red Bud following Italy’s disqualification and is now looking for a third podium on the bounce at Assen.

Despite injuries to original team members, Max Anstie and Ben Watson, team GB is still very strong with sand man Nathan Watson and Adam Sterry, who is coming off the back of a good final MX2 campaign, drafted in to race for their country.

We spoke to Mark about his role in the team and dealing with late injuries as well how he likes to create a real team spirit amongst the squad.

This article continues below

I guess we will start with the stress of being team manager in recent weeks! You had your team sorted and then had injuries, then had to choose two new riders! How was that process for you and how did you come to the decision of Nathan Watson and Adam Sterry?

It’s a difficult one. I was speaking to someone yesterday and they described it as stress, but I said it wasn’t really stress, it was just a matter of waiting.

I guess the main thing is it’s never as straight forward as it seems. Although we had limited options we still had options. Then for one reason or another some work harder than others, some fell by the wayside and you end up where you’re at.

From my side the fact we even have options is great. What makes it difficult is all the guys wanted to race, all of them and it is difficult. It was a lot easier a few years ago when I was one of the ones that stood there and said, ‘ I would have chosen, him, him and him.’ When you dig into it it’s never quite as straight forward as it seems from the outside.

I’m really happy with the team we have got. In a way, more importantly, I’m really happy with the squad of riders we have got. Nathan and Tommy went out riding together a couple weeks ago, that’s really good, the communication between themselves and as a group of riders, I feel very lucky to be working with this group. It’s difficult to chose the riders when it comes to getting down to three and even after the injuries it still wasn’t cut and dry. So fair play to all the boys, they are a cracking bunch of lads.

Nathan Watson on his 150 at the Apico two-stroke festival Pic: Adam Duckworth

You mentioned Tommy there, his results got pretty good when he went to factory Kawasaki although he had a couple of injuries, how close was he to getting on the team? And Nathan obviously has a lot of sand experience, what was the thinking choosing between those two?

It was tough call to be fair. In a lot of ways Shaun was struggling, then Tommy came into form as well and then Nathan was there. The only thing we did was keep in communication with Shaun on where he is at, whether he feels he would be ready to put in one of those sand performances we all know he can and he’s confident of that.

Then Tommy, he was getting better and better and loves riding for team GB even if it was in the sand. He always said in the beginning that if I needed him he would be there but he know he wasn’t an automatic pick like maybe sometimes on different terrain he would be.

This article continues below

Like you said the factory bike just turned his season around, then all of a sudden you are sat there thinking and looking at the results, two years ago although it was only a heat race, he finished seventh there and was ahead of Max and Shaun. In the race he crashed in the second corner or whatever. But your brain goes, ‘ hold on a minute, if Tommy is on form and with his experience and the way he raises his game, should he be on the team?’ it was just one of those. Then he had another little knock and we spoke again but he has been brilliant.

Nathan, he is such a cracking kid, when we first spoke to him three weeks ago when we knew Max was out, he from the beginning said he would ride anything to get on the the team and he understood we had to wait to see how Tommy was going and he got that. Some of the fans and press didn’t understand why we waited but the riders all understood the rationale behind it.

And it wasn’t a straight forward call, I think the three guys who are been picked, Adam Sterry has had a great season, wasn’t a million miles away from Ben in the sense of speed and then you have Nathan coming in who has great sand riding skill, and Shaun with all his experience in the sand before, it gives you high hopes. It’s not been straight forward but I don’t think it has for any team. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves, we are blessed to have so many good riders.

Sterry Pic: Shot by Bavo

As you say, I think every team bar Holland have, maybe not a B team, but a rider or two that weren’t first choice, so the fight for the podium is still very competitive and Britain probably have as good a chance as any with the riders you have selected?

I think so, it’s such a unique event, it’s over two days, one day that really counts (Sunday) but Saturday is really important as well. Other teams have have had injuries, Holland are way above everyone else, I think America are the dark horses to be fair, they are over here as a unit training early. They could be the ones to watch, because if they all grit out a result it could end up being a strong points scoring situation.

Belgium have had a bit of knock, Strijbos I think has a bit of a shoulder injury but they are looking strong, Switzerland have a problem with Tonus, again, they were ones to watch. There are plenty of teams I think can finish on the podium but I believe our boys are more than capable of it given a bit of luck and them all riding to their potential, I think we should be knocking on the door.

It’s Nathan and Adam’s First Nations but you have a lot of experience on the management side, Shaun has experience racing the event, do you think they will have to lean on you guys to learn different thing to get the nerves out of the way or do you think they will be okay with the hype of the event?

Obviously it’s our job to watch out for that. Last year Ben was helped out by Max and Tommy. I’ve already spoken to Shaun about keeping an eye on the boys, and to be fair Max Anstie is coming to the race and is going to help out . We have his experience to lean on as well, I think thats important, to have a guy that has been there as recently as Max, that’s a massive plus for the team.

This article continues below

Again it all boils down to the huge squad of riders I have got. The fact Max says he’ll come and help -I’m so pumped with that, it’s brilliant, it’s another massive plus for us really.

Simpson Pic: Elliot Spencer

Nathan and Shaun and racing this weekend, is it a a bit of a stressful weekend for team managers coming up with different riders racing in different championships the week before the big on at Assen?!

(Laughs) yeah it’s a bit of a nightmare, I would have been more comfortable naming the team next Tuesday! But it is what it is, you can’t wrap the guys up in cotton wool, they are professional racers, if something happens to one or two of them, God forbid, we would have to deal with it. But that’s what they do for a living so they just have to do what they normally do, crack on and race hard, and then next week we will get ready for Assen.

From your end with the two late additions does that make it more stressful getting bikes and gear and all the logistics of everything sorted?

Not really, I mean all the teams are really professional, everyone has worked really hard to get everything ready. There are a few little details on my side but I’m not going to make out it has been that hard of work. We have got a lot of stuff going on to raise funds for the team, like a dinner on the Friday night, things like that. Things I don’t have to do, I suppose I could make my job easier not doing it but I also like that part of it because the team get to meet with the fans and sponsors on the the Friday night. In the last few years we’ve done it has taken the riders mind off what they are going and they have the craic and have a laugh instead sitting there thinking about the next day, it gives them a chance to chill.

Overall it’s not that stressful, I do have sleepless nights thinking about the combination of teams and riders and all the rest of it, but it’s only because I really want the team to do well. It’s an honour to do it and I can’t complain.

How is the race weekend for a team manager from the press conference on the Friday through to the race days on Saturday and Sunday? Are you able to enjoy it?

I don’t necessarily enjoy it until it’s over. But the build up is always good to see the look in the boys eyes and see them get excited about it. They are the stars of the show but the press conference and the team launch is not really my cup of tea to be honest! I just like to see the boys are soaking it up, that’s the main focus. All I try to do is make their job easy, if their family need tickets and they’re going to be on the gate, just that side of things. Their individual teams do the bike side of things so that’s good and all we have to do is make sure everything functions and that the boys enjoy themselves and have any back-up that they need.

GB on the podium at home in Matterley in 2017 Pic: Youthstream

You have a video background with Motovision and did a video on team GB at the race a couple of years ago, have you plans to do one of Britain’s Des Nations at Assen?

Yeah, my brother is doing stuff again with Ollie Beamish who will help out as well. They are doing some behind the scenes and maybe get something of the dinner, we are going to try and get a little bit more of those clips out if we can, so people get what the boys are doing at the weekend. The fans deserve to have a little look at what the boys are doing where possible, we have to be careful it doesn’t get in their (riders) way and keep their focus, obviously you have to get the balance right so everyone is happy.

Finally I heard Zach Osborne saying America are trying to pit together and have a bit more of an inner circle as such. Are GB able to do a similar thing? Do you have that option?

That’s difficult in the sense of getting all the team bikes underneath the same tent or whatever. My thoughts process is to get them all together, have them stay together the week leading up to the event, talking together, they have a WhatsApp group to discuss things on so they are all on the same wavelength. We aren’t going there as three individuals riders, we are going there as a team. With it being in Holland and most of guys are based there it’s almost harder because everyone has their own routines but we are still going to pull them all together for the last few days and do a social evening together, go out riding together.

America having a couple of weeks together have had more time to do that but we have been pushing for that the last three years to have them talking together as soon we know what the squad/team is. I think there is good communication with the British riders and that’s a positive for us to build on leading up to the event.