Interview: Sean Mitchell – ex GP rider from Zimbabwe

It’s not too often a rider comes from Zimbabwe to race the Motocross World Championship but that’s exacltly what Sean Mitchell did. After a year in the EMX250 championship as a privateer, Mitchell decided to step up and race the MX2 World Championship after securing rides with MVRD Honda and HM Planet KTM.

After 2012, Mitchell kind of disappeared from the Motocross world so we decided to catch up with him to find out why and discuss his time in the GP paddock.

Gatedrop: Sean, you were a young rider in Europe coming from Zimbabwe which isn’t exactly a Motocross country. How did you get the first opportunity to come over?

Mitchell: First of all thanks for reaching out to me for the interview, really grateful I have a chance to talk and give some information about my sudden disappearance from the MX scene. I actually raced the GP in sun City South Africa in 2006 and I met a Belgian traveller by chance on the Friday as we’d arrived late for technical control and he helped us out and from there made friends with him – he invited us to Belgium for 2007 to try come over and race.

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Gatedrop: Was it tough coming from Zimbabwe trying to make it in the Motocross world, I can’t imagine Motocross being popular there..

Mitchell: Believe it or not when I started riding Mx in Zimbabwe it was huge in the 80’s and 90’s. A lot of British and GP racers world often come to race in December summer series this side such as Greg Albertyn, Langston, Dugmore,Pastrana and Roger Harvey as well as Willie Simpson. But yes it was really hard to learn how to prepare yourself for Europe. But I was really good on mini bikes coming from Zimbabwe to race in USA I actually qualified for Loretta lynns in 01 and finished 4th in Vegas world mini on 65cc against Tomac, Wilson and co. I was actually offered to stay behind at 10 years old to live and ride with the Alessi family and I was almost gonna stay. My Dad had committed to let me race but my Mother wasn’t comfortable with me staying alone so far from home and I had to go home to finish school. Which I believe is something that I’d of benefited from if I stayed in USA but I still ended up in Europe later on.

Gatedrop: You contested MX2 World Championship races at a young age and against so much talent. Jeffrey Herlings, Ken Roczen, Searle, Paulin, Frossard, you raced against them all! How would you describe the level of the MX2 World Championship looking back at it now?

Mitchell: The level was super high then in MX2, unbelievable how many good guys they were. I believe I left the EMX250 series a bit too early and I didn’t have the right guidance or team to help me grow and manage it all. In 2012 I was at a good level after spending the winter with John van den Berk in Spain. At Valkenswaard GP my times and results were gonna be top 15 had my bike not broken in both races.

Gatedrop: The EMX250 series is now a lot more professional as it is now, if you were in the same situation back then would you maybe have focused on EMX250 before moving up to the MX2 World Championship?

Mitchell: Definitely, I did the European championship from 09/10 and I was top 10 on a standard bike putting out of my small van at 17/18 years old with a mechanic who was 20 and had no license so I drove on my own to races in Bulgaria, Greece etc. It definitely was not ideal but it made me a stronger man in life and in general. It was hard on 250’s for me, I’m 6ft 2 and weighed 86kg without kit on and stock bikes but I was young and lacked guidance and didn’t understand how it all worked but I’m grateful I had a opportunity to live my dream.

Pic: Nigel McKinstry

Gatedrop: You had a few season’s with the MVRD team, how was it being a member of the team and working with Mark Chamberlain?

Mitchell: It was a good time, I had fun in that team for sure but I think I would have done better if I had a father figure to advise me with me everything so I could’ve focused more on my racing and not manage everything alone at 19 years old but Mark was a good guy. He is a different personality to me as I was very quiet and reserved and I just needed them to understand me a bit better and we’d have had much better results. But definitely I enjoyed Mark and his old man as well as the mechanics on the team.

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Gatedrop: You also signed with Hitachi KTM, I believe that was your last year in the Motocross scene in Europe, how was it being part of that team?

Mitchell: The HM Plant team on paper was everything I dreamed of but in reality it was a lot different and it didn’t turn out how I’d hoped and actually was my main reason for going back to school and then becoming an engineer. Which in retrospect was a good move but also brought a lot of pain in my life with my career being cut short and leaving a lot of what ifs.

Gatedrop: When you look back to your time in the GP paddock, what memories/races stand out?

Mitchell: You know, there’s a lot of good memories from my time in Europe I made life long friendships and learned a lot from it but the racing side I feel I never truly showed my potential or capabilities as it was hard being alone and having to learn from mistakes rather than have guidance on what to do, it was tough but I lost a lot of time fixing my own mistakes and I feel that slowed me down.

Gatedrop: What would you say is the hardest thing being a young rider trying to make it in the Motocross world?

Mitchell: I would say being able to know who to trust and keep around you is hard for young kids who are on their own away from home especially being uneducated as well. People tend to take advantage of the lack of understanding and common sense in young riders. My advice would be to move with a family member until your old enough to understand the business side of it.

Pic: Nigel McKinstry

Gatedrop: You kind of just disappeared and went back to Zimbabwe, what was the reason for that?

Mitchell: A lot of stuff happened in 2012 with the team I was on that I’d prefer not to talk about but I ended up going to school and studying engineering and sort of stepping away from the sport after everything that happened behind the scenes with the team.

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Gatedrop: What are the things you miss the most from racing the World Championship?

Mitchell: I miss everything about it to be honest, life was pretty easy in retrospect compared to now doing engineering is a difficult and I’m managing a business so that on its own is a serious commitment but I enjoy it. I still ride and race for fun and enjoy the freedom away from everything for a few hours but man what a great sport motocross is and the world championships is the ultimate championship and organisation to be apart of.

Gatedrop: What’s life for you like now and what’s the future hold?

Mitchell: Life is different now I work Monday to Saturday 7am to 7pm which I enjoy. I’ve also learnt a lot of new things and got an education so I’m really into learning as much as possible and implementing these lessons into life. I also did a lot of travelling and actually seeing the countries from a tourist perspective. I  got married in August last year to my long term partner who actually stayed with me for a season in Belgium. For the future my wife and I definitely plan on coming back to Europe to live and work and I’d most likely race locally in UK or Belgium again so I can be ready for the veteran world championship when I come if age (laughs).

Interview: Andy McKinstry

Pics: Nigel McKinstry