Interview: Ruben Fernandez discusses his career, signing with HRC Honda and expectations for 2023

Hear from newly signed Ruben Fernandez as he talks about his career in motocross and how he got in the position to sign for the best team in the MXGP World Championships – Team HRC.

Quick Bio
Date of Birth: 21st February 1999
Place of birth: Vigo, Galicia, Spain
Where are you based: On the border of Spain and Portugal, mainly in Portugal now as there are more tracks there for me to practice and I think this is better for my training.

How did you first get into motocross?
I got into motocross because of my father. It is a family thing as my dad used to be a racer, he was good in his time, one of the best in Spain and he used to race in Portugal and even in Argentina. In that period it wasn’t so usual to go out of your country to race, but he was on a good level so he was able to do that. My brothers and I used to watch him at the races and one day we got to ride a bike and we loved it so my dad got us our own bikes. We started all together, my two older brothers and I. At the regional championship, there were four of us racing, my dad, my brothers and I, so they were fun times.

What is your favourite motocross track to ride on?
I would say Agueda in Portugal, Matterley Basin in England and Kegums in Latvia are my top three. I think that Agueda is my favourite though because it is a track that is close to my home and so a lot of fans come over, and I like the layout and the surface and I love Portugal as a country and their people, so I love going there.

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Were there any other careers or sports, that you wanted to do?
Not really. I used to try many other sports growing up, basketball and football, stuff like that. I even played for my local football team and had a lot of fun but since I was a kid and started riding, I always liked and wanted to head in the motocross direction. However, outside of sports, there was a career I liked and that was to be a firefighter as a job. That used to get me interested

The 2015 125 Junior World Championship in Spain was your ‘breakout’ ride, in your home country, what do you remember from that event?
It was a really good event. I probably only did four races in the European 125 championship so I was new at this level of racing, as I’d only ever ridden in Spain really. I came out with the pole position in qualifying, so that was a big thing for me. I got to have my first TV interview with Lisa Leyland, and I remember it being a funny moment. I didn’t really speak English so well back then, so we had to prepare the interview before it started but in the end it was too short so Lisa wanted to make it longer but I didn’t understand what she was asking me and I probably said things that weren’t related to the question at all. It was funny moment for me.

Then in the races I had some good battles fighting for the lead, finishing third in race one and then fourth overall. But as I said, it was all new to me, racing that sort of event so it was a good and something I look back on with proud memories. And I believe it gave me confidence that I belonged at that level.

You’ve had to work hard for your chance, moving between EMX250 and MX2 a couple of times, how difficult was that period and did you ever have doubts?
Obviously, I had doubts because I was going up and down and I had some difficult times where I didn’t know what was going to happen with my future. Things weren’t going well after my split with F&H, my first big team who I am incredibly grateful for. But I didn’t know what was going to happen with my future. Thankfully I got another chance in the European championship again. It was a step back, but I looked at it as a chance to comeback stronger. However, I never got a chance to really ride a competitive bike, so I never got a chance to show my true potential and it was a struggle both physically and mentally. I never gave up though, I always pushed myself, I tried to give everything I had to overcame that disadvantage. It was difficult for sure, but I always believed in myself.

Your first podium in MX2 was in Russia 2021, how did that feel?
It felt amazing! As I said before, I had to go through some difficult times, but I made the change to Honda that year and it was the first time I felt good with the bike and was competitive enough to make podiums so I arrived in the first round of the championship after a good winter. To jump straight into the podium was amazing for me, and a great way to start a new season.

You then held the red-plate for round three in Italy, did that place extra pressure? Or was it a great experience?
It was a great experience more than anything else. I never thought about having the red plate, and to be able to hold one was a great feeling. I wished I could have kept it for longer but in Italy I had a crash in the first lap so that took away so many points that weekend. However, it was great having it and after some difficult years, to have my first ever podium and then to have the red plate it was all a positive feeling for me. I really didn’t see it as adding any extra pressure because I was enjoying it so much.

Like a lot of young riders, you had speed, but you also had mistakes, was it difficult to find that balance of going fast but not too fast?
I believe I created this style of riding, this aggressive style because I felt I was trying overcome the disadvantage of my bike, so I had to give a little bit extra of myself to fight with the other guys who had better equipment. I had to give more, and that is a little bit risky, so if you’re on that limit, crashes happen. Now though, I’ve learnt to be smarter, to ride more in control and I just feel more comfortable on the Honda CRF450R. That allows me to relax a bit more and although I had some mistakes at the beginning of the season, I rode better and better as the season went on. Experience really helps you and helps you make less mistakes.

Although your MXGP career began really well, at the end of 2021, how tough was it to make that step-up, from MX2 to MXGP?
It was really tough, because it was straight from one weekend on a CR250R to the next weekend on a CRF450R, so I didn’t have any preparation and I didn’t have the time to really get any settings setup properly. Nothing was really setup for how I wanted, so it was really difficult but somehow the CR450R matched really well with my style of riding and I knew the bike was good enough. However, because I was so under-prepared, I got a lot of arm-pump but it was a lot of fun and I’m glad I got the opportunity to do it and just show people what I was capable of on the bigger bikes.

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How good did was it to climb up onto your first MXGP podium in Latvia this year?
It really felt amazing, even in the second moto I got passed one metre before the finish line but because I knew I was on the podium, I was really happy. Afterwards it bothered me, but in that moment, it was so special that I didn’t mind. As a kid, I never really thought about arriving on the podium in the premier class of the world championship so I had to make it happen, to believe it, and even then, it was difficult to believe it. I was very nervous in that second moto because I knew it was possible and that’s perhaps why I lost that position right at the end, but overall, it was an amazing feeling.

You were on a really good run of form in the middle of the season, including a second podium in Indonesia, but then you had a crash in Czech, how frustrating was that? And how difficult has it been to overcome?
I was in great form, coming from the podium in Indonesia, and just feeling so good. I was fastest in the free practice session and I’d just set the fastest lap in timed practice, but I felt I could go even faster and maybe that is a characteristic I need to control a bit and just calm myself in those moments but I was just riding so well and then a small mistake had big consequences. After that, it was difficult, I wanted to get back on the bike as quickly as possible, but I had to visit the hospital for various things and it just wasn’t easy. It was difficult to overcome and I wanted to finish the season but I knew that I needed to have a break too.

It looked like you were back to yourself at the MXON. How excited are you for Team Spain in the future as it looks like you have a really good shot at podiums or even winning?
For the Nations, which was my first ever Nations, I had a bit of time to recover because the MXGP races were so close together and I just didn’t have time to prepare properly, but for the Nations there was a little bit of a gap and I just felt a lot better heading there. Even though it went well, I still feel like it could have gone better and I know there was more to come, but it was good for Spain and I feel we have a bright future ahead and will be capable of the podium and have some really good results in the future.

Signing for Team HRC must have been a dream come true, how exciting is it, knowing you’re with the best team in the paddock?
Of course, it is a dream come true and it’s a great reward for all the hard work and all the difficulties that I’ve had to go through in my career before, so I’m excited to get going. I’m having a bit of a break now, but I can’t wait to put in the work and really make sure that I come into 2023 in as best a condition as possible.

The close relationship between 114 and HRC means that you already know a lot of the people you’ll be working alongside in 2023, does that make things easier for you? Taking the pressure off a bit?
It definitely does. I know almost everyone on the team and have a good relationship with them all already. I believe it makes a big difference to have a good relationship and already being in 114 we got to work close to Team HRC and I had a feeling with everyone there, it will be much easier in the coming seasons. I am Spanish, and a lot of the team are Italian, which means we have a similar culture so that makes things easier too and makes me comfortable.

You’ve now ridden the Team HRC CRF450R, how happy are you with it?
I’m really happy about the bike and the improvements that have been made. I’m excited to get to work and just having fun riding the bike full-time, after this break, because I know that it’ll get even better as we put in more and more work.

What are the goals for 2023, both in terms of race results and overall championship?
I achieved all the goals I had for 2022 so now I need to step up a little bit. I had two podiums this year so I want to make sure I am fighting more often for podiums and of course I am going to be looking to get my first win and my aim is to shoot for top three in the championship. Now I need to put in the work to try and make that happen and we will see how things turn out.

Words: HRC Honda

Images: Shot by Bavo