Interview: Pit Beirer part one – MXGP

After a long season that only ended last weekend for him, we got the chance to speak with Pit Beirer for an hour this week on a wide range of subjects, so much so that we have had to break this interview down into four parts!

The overriding conclusion from the conversation with the former GP winner, who is now head of a huge and very successful global operation of racing activities, is that Beirer puts his emphasis on quality people and a family environment within the various racing organisations.

He values people and his open, friendly and honest nature no doubt helps staff understand they are valued on a human as well as professional level. But what also stands out is Pit’s love of racing and love of his job, he hasn’t lost the competitive drive or love for the sport that injured him so badly, he is still really competitive and very switched on to all aspects of racing from setting up projects to race day itself across multiple disciplines.

In the first part of our chat we spoke about the MXGP KTM squad in what was a tale of an MX2 world title but MXGP injuries in 2021.

This article continues below

We will start with the MXGP season, Tom Vialle, he was impressive last season and obviously a great rider who was going to be a title contender, but I couldn’t believe his composure under pressure this year, no signs of nervousness even when the title was close and it was Jago who made the mistakes not Tom. Were you impressed or did you see that in him before this season?

Absolutely I’m impressed. I’ve been impressed by him for I think it’s three years ago we came closer to him. We watched him in races and when Dirk Gruebel and Joel Smets first came to me and told me the name, they said this is a talent we should really look after. We said, okay, he looks good, there is a nice riding style and we see potential and then he came on-board.

How he developed in this short time is very impressive. You almost said it all, you can see he has a nice riding style and he is not on the limit yet. The body will grow and he will become stronger. But already last year he was a fantastic rider, but not the guy who could be super brutal or strong. Already then he was impressive because he didn’t go over his limits but showed already he was a really top, top rider.

Ray Archer Vialle

In our team when you become the leader of our 250 class, and that’s what happened for him when Jorge moved class, it meant he was in the front row and with that comes a certain pressure – without telling him. We will never tell a rider he must win the title for us but they feel it. Now they are in the position where they get all the support and they feel it and under that pressure he mad another incredible step.

He performed all the time, under pressure he was performing and that’s where you see a big difference between champions and good riders. If the pressure is getting higher, even later in the season when we come to Lommel, this could have been a critical point. the homeland of Jago, but Tom made the gap bigger to Jago! In very difficult moments he showed his strengths. He had many, many good starts but in the times when it came to show, okay I want to be world champion, he had an okay start 4th/5th and he made the passes immediately. He’s a really, really great rider.

Do you feel he has more room to grow because he is so inexperienced at international level?

I think once you are world champion you go home and look at the papers and you almost cannot believe it. So for sure we will see another boost. Okay you have seen one hit wonders, they enjoy that and that will never come back but his family and himself, they are completely different, so I am sure this will give him a great platform and a boost for the future. He is still so young, his body has for sure not developed 100% for a professional athlete so if he continues to work hard like he is doing, he will become stronger in the next years so I think we haven’t seen the limit yet of this boy.

Moving on to Jeffrey Herlings, I spoke to him at Hawkstone and he talked about his new attitude this year, he didn’t want to win every race or go for broke he wanted to ride like how Everts did, ride for points and get the title. That looked to be working perfectly with a 60 odd point lead until he had that crash in Italy. It was hard not to feel sorry for him when you saw him lying there and the seriousness of the crash, something you had experience with your own injury. Do you talk to him about that, especially when he was doing everything right this year so he can move past what happened and losing another world title?

This article continues below

This was really tough, it was a tough pill to swallow. We all worked together to make him a little bit more calm and to use the energy in the right moment. He had more than a 60 point lead so everything was going correct but still this sport is dangerous and the smallest little mistake can again set you off track and that’s what happened.

The boy has an unbelievable spirt and fighting spirit and he wants to work really hard but for sure this was a tough moment for him. So many times he has had to work himself back from injury, the body is not fit after injury , you have to work to come back to the level of the top guys.

I can honestly say he is working more than anyone else, he does all the work again to come back to pass all the guys and be stronger than the guys and he had another setback. Before this time, in the past, we could see terrible mistakes and it had to happen (a crash), so we need to change his style, his working style, but this time we didn’t see a huge mistake. It was a Sunday morning lap without putting any pressure on, five seconds off the top times, it was really a little mistake with a really high price.

Herlings Juan Pablo Acevedo

I’m glad he can do all the effort again and say okay, ‘let’s now summarize where we are, I still have this other little injury in my foot,’ so we agreed together to step out of the championship, not to bring him back as soon as possible to secure any position in the championship. The whole motocross world knows him, for him a second place or third place or fourth place means nothing, he wants to win a title or stay home. So okay, let’s take a deep breath, go home, fix all the small injuries and take a proper rest then slowly to prepare next year carefully with a very strong pace we will get help from the Red Bull training centre here in Salzburg.

I also could see in the first two or three weeks it was really hard for Jeffrey to really get the mind free again. This time it was looking back at the points standings and seeing another world title slip through our fingers. When I speak about him I speak about us, his mechanics, everybody was working so hard for this. If you are in a programme for Jeffrey, you also work hard! If it is raining or snowing or one metre high water in Lommel, you would not even send a dog or a cat out there – he is doing 40 minute motos!

Yeah, it’s a setback but we will all not give up in this kind of position. Our big target is to get Jeffrey back healthy and stronger for the championship next year.

Anonio Cairoli and Jorge Prado this season, Cairoli, it was looking like he could have won the world title this year, that was amazingly impressive and Jorge Prado, his race intelligence and technique, it reminds me a bit of Stefan Everts, he is so in tune with what he needs to do when he needs to do it…

It is incredible moments for us when you have three champions on one bike/brand but that shows also that our work as a company but also shows that our company always tries to plan in advance. If you see how many titles we could win in the last ten years in motocross I think you could see we had a pretty good feeling which would be the next talent.

This article continues below

Then there is Tony Cairoli! We thought maybe five years ago it could be his last season and we need to bring new talent so we had Jeffrey Herlings but then Jeffrey was injured at times so it was still Tony who was then often the number one guy in the MXGP class. Then we had Jorge Prado coming and running the through the MX2 program much quicker than we all expected so we had everything squeezed together. This was never our plan, it was never our plan to have three KTM champions in the class but for sure we don’t give them away if we have them on-board!

Image: Ray Archer

The outlook is very clear, we are planning a pretty fantastic farewell tour for Tony, it could be his last season next year. With Tony it’s not only about winning, he did so much for our brand, he trusted in the days when we went to the 350, nobody saw that bike before, he decided to come with us and he won five title in a row with that bike. Still now the structure around him the team base, the track they have down there, they bring so much with the bike development and still Tony is also very important for our company to make the bike better every day.

I think this coming season will be a mix of giving him the chance to finish his career not in a stupid Corona year but do it in a proper way, his last GP must be a GP with a lot of fans and not alone. He will definitely put his his signature on a brand new motocross generation that we will bring the year after so also there he will be heavily involved. He will be more than busy next year and we are happy and proud to have him on board.

Jeffrey, I see more as the centre of the 450 program, then you have coming from the other side (younger) also with fantastic talent, Jorge Prado. Unusually for him this winter he had injuries, a broken femur then a collarbone so this was something knew he had to learn. Things came quite easy and nice to him because he is an incredible rider but riding the 450 it’s a different story and maybe that bike can hurt you quicker than a 250 bike.

Image: Ray Archer

In the end what he could do with just a few riding days, because he didn’t have a lot of preparation this year, was incredible. If he would not have got the Coronvirus at the end of the season he would have given the other guys a strong competition.It’s a dream team that we have together.

Tony was struggling a little bit with the shoulder coming into this year, Jorge came in with a femur injury, Jeffrey still carried the old injury in his foot so i think the winter break will help all our boys to first, recover but they recovery time is basically over now for all of them and now have a strong preparation for a very strong 450 team.

Jorge obviously learnt a lot from Tony when he was on the 450 team but this year he didn’t give him an inch on the track! He was blocking him and squaring under him to pass straight back, at Lommel he made lovely move, that seemed to wreck Tony’s rhythm and then Prado was able to stay ahead of him, how difficult is that as a team member that it doesn’t spill over because at that point they were both in with a shot of the world title?

To watch racing like this is kind of terrible for the team! You want the fastest guy of course as far as possible in the front but if two of our boys are fighting tight, both of them are losing seconds compared to the competition no matter if that next guy is in front of you or they are behind you so you feel you giving away three/four seconds to the competition. Maybe if they just rode together they would be faster then just fight it out the last two or three laps to see who is faster and not blocking each other. But that’s the fantastic part of the sport. It’s an individual sport and I feel very strongly as a team that we help each other in the preparation, but then once it’s race time it’s showtime, we cannot tell the riders to let the other guy past.

Pic: Infront Moto Racing

First the rider is working on his individual career, he has points he needs himself , then he has money linked to the results. If they were too friendly they would throw away their chances, their money and their place in the (championship) standings. That’s why we love racing, they have to do it out there, but what we really don’t want or where we step in is if they really hit each other or hurt each other. If they make block passes with each other and one guy needs to slow down, we have a hard time and we may talk to them. We want clean passes but we will not tell the young boy to let the other guy go, it’s pure racing.

To read part two, that sees Pit talk about the company’s success in the USA go here. For part three, on MotoGP and how Pit runs all the various racing divisions, go here and go here for part four on Pit’s career.

Images: Ray Archer, Juan Pablo Acevedo, InFront Moto Racing

Interview: Jonathan McCready