Interview: Tim Mathys talks MXGP, Standing Construct Honda, Jonass and the future

Interview: Andy McKinstry | Main image: Shot by Bavo

It was an unbelievable weekend for the Standing Construct team in an MXGP with brutal conditions that many riders and teams wouldn’t have enjoyed. But, Pauls Jonass won the MXGP overall to become the first rider to beat Jorge Prado to an MXGP overall of the year – incredible!

We caught up with the Standing Construct Honda team owner, Tim Mathys to discuss the win and a range of topics with the friendly Belgian.

GateDrop: Tim, what a weekend for the team! Your first MXGP overall win since making the switch to Honda… how did it feel to see Pauls Jonass on the top step – you must have been a very proud team owner!

Mathys: Indeed, it was a great weekend for our team. When arriving at the track on Friday we, probably like just everyone there, were not too happy with all the rain and mud and unfortunately the weather only got worse during the weekend making it even more difficult for the crew and riders. However, when you then get the results we had all the misery caused by the weather is quickly forgotten (laughs).

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For Pauls it was a big reward after all the health issues he was confronted with the past years. We have to have respect for the fact that he always kept believing and, even more important, kept working very hard to get back to his level when clinching the MX2 World title. The past winter, together with the team and Stefan Everts he worked very hard but also changed his approach towards MX. I think especially that, what he learned from Stefan, was a big part in the Pauls we are having now.

Image: Full Spectrum Media

GateDrop: I spoke to you briefly at Arco di Trento and you said watching Prado was like something out of a computer game he looked so good… How does it feel to become the first team to beat GasGas and Prado to an MXGP overall this year? I am guessing you didn’t expect it and would have been delighted with a podium…

Mathys: Well, I think we need to stay honest. Jorge is an extremely talented rider and in normal conditions he is technically the strongest in MXGP. However, sometimes it takes more then just being extremely talented and at some races in some particular conditions other factors are more important like for example pure determination and “riding through a wall” when necessary.

Especially in that Pauls is in my opinion one of the better MXGP riders and that’s exactly what he showed on Sunday. Of course we also got some help with Jeffrey (Herlings) having a mechanical DNF in the first heat but I think also that, in conditions like we had this weekend, is part of a mechanical sport. I can’t speak for other teams, but I know we switched everything around what concerns setup of the bike and took a lot of precautions keeping in mind the tough conditions the bike would be confronted with. I think I can say that paid of by having not one mechanical issue and winning the GP. Let’s say the win was a mutual achievement by both, Pauls and our mechanics.

GateDrop: PJ is obviously so talented but hasn’t had the best of time since moving up to MXGP – injured haven’t been kind to him but you decided to keep him for 2024. The faith you have placed in him is starting to be paid back…

Mathys: Like I already said, Pauls is besides a good rider also a strong character.  If you look at the past years where, although he lived 100% for the sport and trained like an athlete he got injured several times and also got some health issues but still kept believing that the MX2 World Champion level was still in him, you need to have a lot of respect for that.

Besides the fact that I always try to be loyal to people and partners… Exactly this is the reason why I kept faith in him. Together with Glenn Coldenhoff, Pauls is the only rider I had in the team of who I never had to be worried that they weren’t living 100% for their career. If you know all the efforts and means we, the team, put in then that’s a very comfortable feeling. We kept faith in Pauls for 4 years now and that seems to pay off.

GateDrop: PJ seems like a cool and easy-going guy, what is he like to work with? At the same time, he is tough, he just won the toughest MXGP of the year – those conditions, crazy!

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Mathys: Pauls is a great guy! When he arrives at the races he is always smiling, making jokes… he brings such a nice atmosphere to the team. By being like that he not only makes everyone happy but also makes all the hard work for the crew a little less heavy.

That said, when the moment is there to be serious, he turns into Pauls “the racer” and puts the focus not only on riding but also on what we can do to make the bike better or gain here and there some tenths of a second.

GateDrop: He worked with Stefan Everts back when he won his MX2 GP title, and he is back working with him this year. Was that your decision? Did PJ decide that? I think it’s a masterstroke as Stefan does a brilliant job…

Mathys: I know Stefan since we were kids and of course I always followed his career with huge respect. For me Stefan is the greatest of all time, he is still the only rider getting 10 World titles and I think you and me wont never see that record being broken (laughs).

Pauls worked with Stefan in his KTM days and when we decided last year that we maybe needed to get “back to basics” with Pauls the idea came to maybe try to convince Stefan to train Pauls. At the Latvian GP last year I walked with Kelly, Stefan’s wife from the parking to the paddock and I asked her if she thought Stefan might be open for that. From there on Pauls started talking with Stefan and the collaboration became reality.

As I see now how Stefan changed Pauls’ behaviour, on and off the track, that was a masterstroke. You just can’t believe how simple Stefan can explain things and sometimes point on things that others just don’t see. Often, he is explaining something to Pauls or giving Pauls some advice that I think “man, that’s so logical”, but no one else sees it or has the ability to explain it correctly. Pauls’ training program last winter was completely different from what we were used to do, for example with some enduro riding… But I think we can say that it has been proven this weekend, with both Liam and Pauls winning the GP, that it was the right approach.

Image: Full Spectrum Media

GateDrop: Stefan is also working with Alby (Forato), how did that go throughout the winter? Injury means he hasn’t got to show us what he can do…

Mathys: At the end of last season I organized a meeting with Stefan and Alby. Stefan wanted to be absolutely sure that Alberto wanted it 100% and that he would live for it like Stefan requests. There were a few extra meetings afterwards and finally Stefan decided to accept the task.

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At the end of last year Alby had a tough time (laughs). Stefan let him ride many hours and requested a very tough training schedule. However, Alby persevered and proved to everyone that he really wanted to take a next step in his career. Everything was going to plan until the huge crash at the track in Ligny. For sure it will not be easy for him when he returns at the races, but I am convinced that also then Stefan’s professional advice will be a big help. Remember, at a certain moment in his career, the late 90’s, Stefan had a time that probably many riders would call it quits. But he persevered and became 6 times more World Champion. He experienced it all, the highs and the lows, so who can be better to guide Alby in his come back?

GateDrop: What is the latest on Alby and his injury – can we expect him back soon? Is a fill in rider an option? Jeremy van Horebeek says hello (laughs)…

Mathys: Alby is working hard to be healthy and fit again. We evaluate it day by day; from the moment we think he is ready he will be back behind the gate. Of course we need to be realistic. Alberto will need some time, but I am sure with what I saw in winter and how I heard he is working hard he will be towards the end of the season in the top 10.

Jeremy did a great job last year for our team. He came from 6 months without riding and immediately finished in the top 10. He also helped us with the development of the bike. Jerre is such an experienced rider and still definitely has the speed. We were thinking to contact him again but unfortunately there are more factors involved then just putting him on our bike.

GateDrop: You made the switch to Honda last year after pretty much getting shown the door by Husqvarna. How feel good does it feel to win for Honda and what kind of support do you receive from the factory?

Mathys: After all the years on Austrian brands it was a tough pill to swallow when I got the phone call that due to the economical situation there needed to be made some reorganisation in the company, meaning we would lose all support.

It was even more a surprise that this phone call came less then two weeks after were told by the top people of the company that we were doing an extremely good job and so on … You need to know that even when we had the status “Factory team” we prepared our engines ourselves, with all the costs related to that, and also what concerned budget the biggest part came from our sponsors.

We brought GasGas in the paddock, we won the first GP for the brand, we won GP’s on all three brands and we won the MXoN for them. All this for a fraction of the cost what the other teams got. I dare to take the expression “cronyism” in the mouth…  But hey, we can look everyone straight in the eyes and know we have always been pure. Everything we achieved we got through our capabilities and that’s something I will forever be proud off.

Soon after we got the phone call from Austria, I contacted Honda. We had a first meeting at the MXGP in France where I had the big honour to also meet the top technical responsible of HRC. Soon after that we got an agreement to ride Honda’s from 2023 on.

In the beginning we had to learn the brand and we had to do a lot of testing. Luckily, we got some big help from Honda, getting an answer on every question we had in a very short notice. I have to say that working with the people at Honda is a huge difference to working with other brands. You feel that you have a common goal and that there is respect from both sides. In the past we often had the impression that the brand we were representing wasn’t too happy when we took holeshots or finished in front of their Factory teams. Luckily with Honda that is a whole other collaboration. I was very charmed this weekend to get from several people at Honda congratulations, I think that shows how they see us as “one family”.

Image: Full Spectrum Media

GateDrop: How does it feel to be the only private team to really compete at the level of the Factory teams and winning GP’s?

Mathys: Well, it definitely isn’t easy. We are very happy and extremely thankful with the help we get from Honda but besides that there is needed a lot more to compete at this level. I always had the approach that “when you do something in life, you need to do it 100% or you don’t do it”.

We were never in the paddock “just to be there”…  we were always there to get results. And this means that besides a lot of material and budget you also need to work extremely hard, and you need to put the focus on the racing.

I am very pleased to have such a competent crew. We are, compared to the Factory teams, a very small crew. But also, in that I made the past years all choices in function of the results by taking only the most competent mechanics. Every mechanic working in our team is a guy that first of all has the knowledge, the technical capabilities but also the determination to have the best possible bike behind the gate. My people work extremely hard, I have enormous respect for them, and you see in weekends like Portugal how important they are in getting results.

Image: MXGP/Infront Moto Racing

From my side I try to do and organize everything to make their life as easy as possible. Besides paying them a correct salary I for example always try to book the better hotels for them at the overseas races as often the conditions aren’t already not too pleasant in those countries. Also, what concerns the travelling we prefer to book more expensive flights but with better timing than the cheapest possible ones.

I can continue a while in summing up similar things. For those guys their job is already pretty difficult, they do hours that a normal worker would call you crazy for, so in my opinion I need to try to make the circumstances they work and live in as good as possible. A good example is the two Expandable trailers which we bought last year. Believe me, I also like a lot the look of a big tent where you have close contact with the fans. But when you have a small crew like ours and they need to be at the race on Thursday-noon to build up the tent, maintain it a whole weekend in sometimes very difficult conditions like mud, wind, dust… and then, for example after an already very exhausting weekend like Portugal, break the tent down on Sunday evening and do a lot of cleaning work during the week, that just isn’t feasible.

If you have a crew that is 4 times the size of ours, like many Factory teams have, then that’s possible, but not in our situation, I just can’t expect that of my people.  I want them to have the focus on the bikes, not on things around the racing. We are there for racing and getting the results, that’s our focus.

I am happy that I feel that this approach is respected by the people working in my team. Most of the guys who work in our team are here for already many years. My right hand man, the guy without who it never would have been possible to get the results we got, “Wim van Hoof” is working more then 12 years with me. He is not only making our engines but is also doing the daily management of the team. Comparing to other teams he is doing 3 jobs, and that’s how all of our mechanics are working. I have huge respect for every single one of them.

Image: Full Spectrum Media

GateDrop: How do you see the future of the sport in general and your team in particular?

Mathys: That’s a difficult one. It is clear that the promotor has changed the sport a lot. It became a lot more professional and for example the tv coverage now is incomparable with how it was in the past. That’s very important for the sport, it gives the chance for commercial partners to reach millions of fans around the World. What concerns the organization and general professional look of the events we are on a level that is comparable with many other motorized sports.

But on the other hand the funding of the teams to be able to travel around the World continues to be very difficult, not to say gets worse. The promotor is helping the teams and we are thankful for that, but proportional the support is a very small part of the budget needed to race overseas.

Sometimes I hear people saying that there are riders that go overseas with one bike and very limited kilograms and that they “also race”. But I lost count how many times we helped riders like that with parts so they could race the GP. Also, what concerns the overseas races I feel that if you participate at the World Championship you need to be at the races at a level that can be expected of a World Championship. Also, for the promotor I think it is important that the teams and riders have a professional presentation over there. But unfortunately, this means that for example this year there is needed a budget of 150.000eu, only to do the overseas GP’s.

Besides that the biggest question at the moment is what will happen with the electrification of the sport. I’m definitely a huge fan of combustion engines, of the noise and the smell… But if I have to choose between having the chance to continue watching motocross on electric bikes or having to go watch volleyball or tennis then my choice is quickly made (laughs).

Apparently the promoter decided to make a separate category for electric bikes in the future which for me makes sense as the same happens in other motorized sports. I just wonder what will happen if the electric bikes get quicker lap times in their races than the fuel powered bikes. Which one will be the main class then?

What concerns our team we went through a lot of good and bad times, but we always kept the same goals and we always used the same way of working. As long as I run the team together with Wim (van Hoof) we will continue doing that.

What the future will bring, I don’t know. For sure it would be nice to get a step higher in especially the support which we get. It is very difficult to get the budget together to race at this level and if it wasn’t that I put year after year so much of my own pocket in the team then it would have been long time gone. The same applies to many other teams by the way, even for most of the Factory teams. There are around 8 people in the paddock thanks to who MXGP exists. All men who, because they love the sport so much, put huge amounts of money in it.

Imagine Toto Wolf and Christian Horner putting every year hundreds and hundreds thousands of euros in their teams to keep them alive… (laughs).  Well, that’s what is happening in Motocross and I think that is a big risk for MXGP.

What concerns myself, like everything in life I see the team as a balance. On one side you have all the positive things, and in running the team for me that is the satisfaction of being in the sport I love and getting results together with a like minded group of people in our team. Of course, also the results and the nice moments with my riders are a big positive factor. On the other side there is all the work, the stress, the often much disrespect and all the funds I have to put in. As long as that balance leans to the right side we will be in the paddock (laughs).