Interview: Martin Barr discusses his season so far, Apico Honda, his future and more

Images: Adam Duckworth | Interview: Andy McKinstry

At 36 years old, Martin Barr is still going strong and has had a great start to the domestic championships in England and looks fantastic on the Apico Honda. He might not be getting any younger but he’s still one, if not the best rider from Ireland.

We caught up with Barr to discuss a range of topics…

GateDrop: Martin, let’s just go back to the end of last year. There was sort of an announcement that made it sound like you might be parting ways with Apico Racing but then obviously the team made the switch from Husqvarna to Honda… Was the plan always to stay there or how did it come about and how did it feel to be back on a Honda, albeit this time on the 450?

Barr: Yeah, honestly when Apico made their decision, I was let know what could be happening for 2024 and my opinion was asked. So I was always going to be part of that. It was just they’d built such a, or they’d been with Husqvarna so long and they wanted to do the right thing.

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Obviously the switch to Honda was a big change for them because as I said, they were with Husqvarna for so many years from, I’m not sure exactly how many years it was. But yeah, I get on very well with all of that. They’ve been a long-term sponsor over the years with their various gear and bike parts and stuff that they do.

So to be on their team the last three years, it’s been fantastic. You know, 2024 was always going to happen, just depending on what bike manufacturer they went with and they ended up going Honda. I think everybody can see by the results and how everything’s been going that it’s definitely been the right choice.

GateDrop: Just on the start of this season, I mean you’ve been really fast, pretty consistent top five guy. You must be happy with your season so far but knowing you, you’ll probably want to be on that podium soon?

Barr: You know, jumping back on the Honda, it was like kind of a weight off my shoulders just the way last year went. I really struggled with the frame of the new Husqvarna last year. Being 36, I was thinking maybe it’s just me, I’m over the hill, you know…

But as soon as I jumped on the Honda within 10 minutes, it was like a massive weight off my shoulders and I was able to ride a bike the way I wanted to again and feel part of it and comfortable and, you know, throw it about. That there just kind of snowballed. We had a really good winter and we didn’t do the Arenacross this year just because we changed manufacturer.

We wanted to make sure everything was in place and do some testing and make sure we’re hitting the ground running for the outdoors rather than just jumping out in the deep end.

But yeah, as you’re saying, we’ve been consistent top five, top six every weekend, which is where you need to be. You know, obviously, as you said, you know me well. I want that podium. I don’t want to be known as a fourth, fifth place guy. Definitely it’s not far away and that’s the goal before the end of the year.

It would be nice to get on the podium again. I think the last podium British Championship result was 2019 at Foxhill on the Crescent Yamaha. So it’s been a long time.

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The MX1 class with Jeffrey over doing it. You know, the form Conrad’s on and then obviously Josh Gilbert, who’s unfortunately injured at the minute, but, they’re all fast guys.

He’s not doing Grand Prix’s but Conrad on his day should be doing Grand Prix’s. There’s a lot of fast guys. Then for me, you know, back to sixth, seventh, there’s not much in us at all. You know, Tristan Purdon doing a few AMA Nationals and stuff, he stepped up a little bit there the last few weeks.

But, you know, I still feel that on my day, I can beat them. It’s just putting the whole thing together and making it happen. I’m confident, I’m going to be working hard and hopefully we’ll make it happen for the podium.

Image: Adam Duckworth

GateDrop: Just on that MX1 class, you mentioned it a little bit there, but Conrad Mewse in England is, I mean, unbelievable. He’s got real MXGP pace. And then Jeffrey Herlings, I mean, what a rider, one of the best riders to ever throw their legs over a bike. What’s it like to have them racing the MX1 class this year? And is it nice to have that reference to the speed at the front of MXGP? Because you maybe don’t usually get that in England…

Barr: Yeah, definitely. Conrad is one of the most stylish and in control riders and perfect everywhere. I just really hope that he can put all the good stuff back in the Grand Prix and showcase what he can do at the world stage. Because, you know, that speed he has in the British Championship, you know, Jeffrey’s is not coming over here and just ride around for the sake of riding around. He’s a racer at the end of the day and he’ll want to win it.

If Conrad’s able to beat him, it just shows you where Conrad’s at, but it’s just putting that into the racing and the GP scene. But, for Jeffrey to come over and do it, it’s definitely lifted the profile for the British Championship again, which is good. Obviously it was unfortunate last week at Blaxhall, you know, the crowd that was there, I haven’t seen that in a long, long time.

When I first came into the British Championship nearly 20 years ago now, you had Josh Coppins, Yoshi Atsuta, Jussi Vehvilainen, Gordon Crockard, Mark Jones and Paul Cooper… All them guys were doing Grand Prix’s at that time and the British Championship, the last few years you’ve only had one or two riders doing it. So, yeah, for Jeffrey to come and show that speed where they’re at, it’s refreshing. It’s good for the British Championship and, you know, hopefully it keeps building.

GateDrop: Just on the Fastest 40 series, that was known as the MX Nationals, a lot has changed in that Championship, obviously the format’s completely different now, as MX1 and MX2 are now split, and the pros run on the Saturday now instead of the Sunday. Just what’s your thoughts on all the changes?

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Barr: You know, if it’s the right way, it’s hard to say but it’s that needed to be changed to see if it could be better, rather than just sticking to the same old every weekend, same format and what have you. But, in my eyes, I still think that British Championship, Fastest 40 should be a two-day event, you know, it’s supposed to be one of the biggest racing events in the UK. You know, you look at BSB, the British Championship, they’re three days, GP’s are two days, and we’re doing all that travel, all that work and effort, all the teams, you know, on the day set up their gazebos and tents and awnings and stuff for one day.

I just feel that it should be a two-day event to make it bigger and try and create something that’s, worthwhile going to and having a worth of the night. Always having a free practice and then a qualifying race on a Saturday, they should have like a sprint, just the way that we’re used to in MotoGP, just to try and create something different and then on the Sunday, have your two motos as well.

Obviously, there’s a lot of hurdles to jump over, but I just think, you know, British Motocross at the minute, there’s just way too many championships for people to choose from, and I don’t think that’s overly healthy, I think there’s a lot of people around the series that, you know, if you want to be part of the best championship, then you got to sign up for that one big championship where everybody’s at.

GateDrop: I’ve got a couple of Motocross des Nations questions for you, but the first one is, just looking back at last year, you raced at Ernee in France, I think that was your first Motocross the Nations, and I think that was your 17th time last year, just how was it being back there at that event? I think it was for your 17th time, correct me if I’m wrong, the atmosphere looked unbelievable!

Barr: Yeah, you’ve got that in one there and that was the 17th time I did the event there in 2023, so it’s France, Ernee especially, they’re all mad. The atmosphere is crazy, just the way the track there, the tracks on one side of the bank, the competitors on the other side, the atmosphere that creates is really special, and especially the French crowd gets, the commentators get the crowd all hyped up, and it’s always absolutely fantastic.

Ernee, you know, I’ve been there a few times, it’s not one of my most favourite tracks, but, it’s definitely, it’s a good track for the spectators and just that format across the Nations. As you were saying, the atmosphere is always electric there and it’s always nice to be part of it.

Image: Adam Duckworth

GateDrop: You did a post, I think it was in the 1st of January, that it would maybe be your last time racing the MXoN, your last one for Team Ireland, now I’ve heard recently, if you get selected for Matterley Basin, you’d probably go for Team Ireland, can you just confirm what your current stance is and if you’d be willing to go this year? Obviously, you and Jason are probably the best riders in the country at the moment…

Barr: Yeah since then, pretty much a day or two after, you know, Mark Mooney, the team manager, who’s really good, he’s one of my sponsors, we were having a chat and he was just asking me about it. I just said, look, it’s kind of, where I started is where I wanted to finish (at Ernee), and he said, well, what if you’re getting results, and I’m like, well, we’ll cross that bridge once we get there. If you’re wanting to go with the strongest team and I’m part of your strongest team, getting results wise, then we’ll have a chat, but if I’m not that guy getting results, if I’ve been off, then I am done with it.

I’ve done it 17 times, but, you know, he did say well, if you’re getting results, we really need you, but yeah, it’s probably the best I’ve felt in a couple of years, whether I get the call up, we’ll just have to see. Obviously, it’s, as you said, Jason, he’s stepped it up a notch this year, he’s riding very, very well, and it’s good to see. We’ve had a few close battles out on track, so it’s, it’s good for the sport back home. We’ll just have to wait and see whether I get the call, if I get it or not and we’ll just take it from there.

GateDrop: One young rider I’d like to ask you about is young Cole McCullough, who’s obviously racing the EMX125 Series, I think this is his second or third year doing it, the first rider, really, from Ireland to do it, and it looks like he could have a bright future, what’s your thoughts on Cole?

Barr: I’ve seen Cole rip and it’s absolutely fantastic to see him putting the work and effort, and I hope he goes the whole way. You know, that EMX125 class is fast, there’s a lot of people who you don’t even know but fair play to him. This year hasn’t gone to plan so far, he definitely has the speed, but with crashes and mechanicals, they have let that down a little bit, which is all part of motocross, but, you know, he’s not giving up, he’s bouncing back, and keeping the head down and working towards that goal. I hope it all works out for him.

I’m not too sure what his plans are for next year, but it would definitely be good to see him  in the EMX250 class on a 4 stroke or 2 stroke because that’s when you really start knowing, where they’re going to go with it all. With MX2 and MXGP being the top two classes, once you’re on that bike, because, once you finish with the 125cc, you never really ride one again but no doubt, Cole will be good. He’s done an EMX250 round last year, and at the start of the year, when we were at Magilligan for training, he was on a 250 2 stroke and he was absolutely ripping on it.

I have no doubt that he’s a big future, and hopefully everything goes to plan for him and keep the head down and keep working hard.  It would be nice to try and get a few more, you have Lennox Dickinson and Lewis Spratt. They all have the ability, but they just haven’t got the sources to go and do all those big events. It’s just unfortunate, but I think the next few years is going to be good for motocross riders from home. In any way I can help, I’ll help as much as I can.

GateDrop: To go back to last year again, you raced Matterley Basin GP, what was it like, how did you find racing the GP again? That MXGP class is certainly no joke…

Barr: No, it was cool to be back and doing another GP, you know, I can’t remember exactly how many years it’d been since I’ve done one. But yeah, on a different level, you know, long gone are the years where you could just go and do a one-off wildcard race, and be in the mix. You need to be there week in, week out, because them guys just get faster as the day goes on, but yeah, it was cool to be part of it. It was nice to be back in the paddock and see a lot of old faces and stuff and  who knows we’ll maybe try and see this year, where it takes us.

I know the EMX Open is coming up in Lommel and stuff, but I’ll just have to see how things are going and take it from there, obviously with the season going good, I’m third in the British Championship, third in the fastest 40 championship, so, for the team that’s their main focus, so we’ll just keep working and see how things progress.

GateDrop: Yeah, I was going to ask you about that, actually, is that something you’d like to do, doing an international race, or even one or two GPs, that would obviously help you prepare for Ernee, if you do end up going?

Barr: Yeah, it would be cool and go and do. Lommel, I have been there many times and it’s a tough ass track but I like that type of going. The EMX Open would be a better option for me because dipping your toes into an MXGP wildcard and especially around Lommel, I’d probably end up getting in the way. EMX is more appealing but no doubt there’s going to be a lot of local heroes that will be in for that class and will be ripping as well. We’ll just wait and see, you know, all this comes down to the financial side of things, and the travel and all the rest of it, so, we’ll just take it, each weekend as it comes. I know it’s coming up pretty fast but we’ll just wait and see.

Image: Adam Duckworth

GateDrop: Just finally, you obviously aren’t getting any younger, you’ve got a couple of kids now, to be honest, sometimes I don’t know how you get the motivation to keep going to England every weekend and racing, but it shows that you clearly still love the sport, and you still love racing… How many more years do you see yourself doing this, or are you just taking it on a year-to-year basis?

Barr: Yeah, I absolutely love it and I don’t really know anything else. I don’t mind putting in the hard work, graft and training side of things and all the rest of it. I always joke with my wife, I go racing now for a break, with the twins (laughs). It is full on at home, they are three years of age and they’re just into everything. But it’s cool, it’s nice to get home to that and have a bit of fun with them.

At the minute I am just taking it year by year, if I am still getting the results and if there’s a team out there that wants to support me and take a chance on me, the results are there then I’ll still race. At the flip side of that, you know, I’m going to be 37 in September, I’m definitely not getting any younger so it’s not easy out there, especially with having no British Championship back home now with Desertmartin. I’ve lost a few personal sponsors over the years, because I don’t get to showcase at home anymore which is  totally understandable. It’s not easy going back and forth every weekend across the water but I do love it, and I still really enjoy it.  Hopefully there might be a year or two left in me yet but we’ll just see how the rest of this year goes results-wise and see if there’s anything on the table for next year.