Pit Beirer interview – MXGP/US SX/MotoGP
After a long season we got the chance to speak with Pit Beirer for an hour on a wide range of subjects; from MXGP to US motocross and supercross to the MotoGP project and Pit’s GP career.
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 at KTM, is that Beirer puts his emphasis on quality people and a family environment within the various racing organizations.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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 KTMs champions in the class but for sure we don’t give them away if we have them on-board!
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 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.
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 recover. But their 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.
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.
In America, Cooper Webb I feel has been a great advert for not only your bike but also the team structure you have there in the States with Ian Harrison and Roger DeCoster. He wasn’t getting the results he was expected to with Yamaha but as soon as he got on the KTM he was right up there, won a title and races again this year. How much do you feel he has been a great advert for your program?
I mean America, you almost need to see the whole picture, where we come from. In 2010-2012 we didn’t win one single race in supercross , we won that first championship with Ryan Dungey, we could win title in row. Once he stopped we got really nervous for what the future would be.
Jason Anderson, in the family, brought a title for Husqvarna, then Cooper came over to our group and he won the next title. That whole period was a transition because first it could build up because Roger and Ian, they were so strong. They created with us a new bike, but then I would say Ryan Dungey, he trusted them more that our company. In the next years we became so strong that the team and bike was strong that any top tier would come over. that was when Jason Anderson started to win and then Cooper Webb, he came because the bike was already there and we could give something to him.
We have our own test facilities, we have our own relationship with Aldon Baker as an exclusive trainer so I think we offer a really strong package to the boys. It’s still never easy to win, to win supercross races, it’s still an incredible effort. That Cooper could do that and become our new captain there was very, very nice to see. If you have these young boys in your family and you see them grow up, at this point he got a supercross title with us and then and injury, it becomes like a family, ups and downs. His back injury could have been much worse, his crash was a tough one but still he tried to go on, but in the end he had to fix it. But now he’s healthy and strong and he will be the leading guy from our crew to go into the season.
We also have to be careful with the Corona thing and the PCR testing. I would say looking into our European season, we will still have maybe a tough first part of the season but maybe after we could be back to normal. But for supercross we are still in the middle of this whole corona scenario and you need to be very careful. Also for the team management we have a big load and stress now to manage our people’s health through this whole Covid thing. I am glad England made a step forward (approving a vaccine) I hope that puts pressure on the rest of Europe and the other people because we need that quick to come back to normality.
We have a fantastic team in the US, Ian Harrison has done well in his new role as team manager but it’s not fair to talk about one rider or one person, we have a strong squad with all of our program, Aldon Baker being part of our program so I feel very confident.
This is almost, for an ex-racer like me, a dream world. How we had to train, find our own tracks, organise our own training, begging from the University to get some support for our physcial training, we had to fight for all these little things for ourselves. But there (USA) we have the perfect program. We have our own test facility next to the workshop in California, we have four tracks there on our own property with a watering system and you really just go out of the workshop and onto the supercross track.
Then, once you go to Florida, they have the same thing with the workshop at the training facility and also four tracks in that area. If you have a problem, I think you have a really great base to prepare for the season and professional support.
It’s more difficult in Europe because we our spread all over the place, our riders and teams. And the weather situation forces you to react quick, some time you are in the South when the North is bad, the you need to go to the sand and get permission to get tracks and training facilities is not so easy. I think this is a perfect example of how it could be on the highest level, how the operation is in the US.
Justin Barcia has signed for Gas Gas, from what I believe he has signed for a lot of money so he is clearly a big acquisition for the team, how much are you involved with that?
It’s part of my role, I am responsible for all motorsport activities for our group that includes all the brands, KTM, Husqvarna, Gas Gas, WP suspension. That is all really central from the headquarters here and then we organise everything around the world.
The Gas Gas effort is new for us, we already did the first steps in Europe this year but now we are making another step in the US together with Troy Lee and Justin. It was an interesting period for us to get this together, looking at what we were doing, how was a 250 programe going on the KTM side and we were not super happy and we changed some small things.
This opened the door that we could have still have the Troy Lee team give support to Justin. With Justin we were already flirting, when it was contract time we had talked to each other but we never did the final step before, this time I am super happy and excited that we did it. For sure he will also make our grouper stronger in the US, that is 100% clear.
Ryan Dungey had been talking about making a comeback, had that been discussed with you and did it come close?
Not really, I lost a little personal contact after he decided in an overnight move to go on with Honda. So from that moment there was not really a strong link or discussion about his future or a comeback so, I don’t know, I was not really involved in that discussion.
Moving to MotoGP, I am pretty blown away with the quick success you have had winning races this year, and your progress from last year to this year has been phenomenal, was that big progress a surprise for you? You have Dani Pedrosa as a test rider now but lost concessions because you have done so well, but is that worth to be at the level you now at there?
Yeah, each win (3) is incredible in that class, it took the biggest effort from myself and the company to really start that program. I feel a bit sorry I can’t spend more time with my friends in off-road department, but I know what great people we have in the off-road side.
My leading style was maybe by luck or accident in that I need very strong leaders for each project and I should never be the smartest guy in the group. The best people deserve to run the projects. Farioli the former enduro world champ to run enduro, Roger to run the US or all the motocross champions we have in Europe in the family to run motocross.
But this was not 100% plan – I don’t know why I did it like that! In the beginning it was very clear with KTM that I would be the motocross guy, I would be linked to racing and motocross for our company but still I could organise these classes they are running very well. If I am there good, if I am not there they run exactly the same. This gave me the chance to focus on building up MotoGP.
Through working like I worked in off-road, I think the company liked that style. With the financial crisis in 2008 we stepped out of road racing there was still another leadership than myself, at that time I was there for off-road but when we came back in 2012 I think the bosses asked me to do road-racing in the same style we do off-road. To create teams which are friends, people sticking together and really look at the human side of how to create a team. My signature from the beginning was always that our jobs don’t start from the race track in March they start years before with a perfect, super clean workshop, great people and if you have that platform as a workshop and great people you can have a great machine. The great machine is not there, the great machine is built by great people.
That is how I want work and that is how we stepped into road racing. Our first road race attempt we did many things external with external people, chassis, engine was not down within KTM. When the company asked me to do road racing I said yes I really want to do it, but I want to do it in the same style. So, we do everything here at home, the bike and our people they have responsibility, and they need to know it’s their bike, it’s not a bike of parts from somewhere all over Europe.
I think that was a more difficult way to start the whole program because you need to do everything yourself if you use a tubular steel frame like us and WP suspension you can’t copy anybody you have to find a way to do it. If you take people from somewhere else, they might know a lot about the sport but don’t know how to treat a tubular frame or our suspension and the next difficult thing is if you build a bike in Europe it’s not easy to find this people at the race track, because other teams they get ready-made bikes and go race. But our people when they go racing in factory program they need to drive home and build their own bike, it’s not that you order a bike and then go racing in March.
So you need to do a lot of homework before you have a bike to race. We start from zero then to have won already this year GPs, it’s amazing, incredible – nobody expected it that here. I felt pressure from the press and also in Austria because it started very well. I think everybody was excited because we had good tracks and good team – but we were too slow! But I think everybody respected us for our first step in, it was a professional first step. In the second year it was okay but in the third year people already expected results but then we had injuries and the bike was not there.
That was the moment I had to keep a strong line and say, ‘ don’t worry it will come,’ that was maybe when we had the first head wind. The end of last year was maybe more critical in the program than this year when we win. We had a super good plan when we brought Dani Pedrosa on-board but then he broke his collarbone again and we lost him again for four or five months! But in the background, we were preparing a new bike with different engineers. Dani came on-board so going into this year we were ready to go for Qatar but the Corona thing came and we could not prove it!
Everybody still had in their mind from the middle of last year it was not so fantastic, at the end of last year things became better, I think a sixth place in Misano and in Aragon we were second in the morning practice then Pol crashed and broke his hand. I had to tell everybody all winter long, ‘ the bike is better, Pol will be better, the bike is lighter.’ But it’s racing, everything you talk is for nothing, you need to show results and the lap time. So, again, you can imagine that I was very happy that we prove it that we were already starting to have podiums and get good results, it was already a big release for me because there was some pressure on.
I see a supercross and you are there, you are at MXGP, you are at MotoGP, how do you fit all that in because I am sure during the week you are really busy as well! What is your schedule and how do you manage to get to all these races and fit in everything during the week?
First of all, I love races so it’s not difficult. Other people, they pay a lot of money to see these races so I mean if you can make your passion your work, that is already a big advantage. I just love to be with these people, they have that spirit that they want to win, want to work so hard -team and riders. That spirit, I am addicted to it.
But I need to manage it, I can’t be with one category for the whole season because I want to go to all the different disciplines. Of course, MotoGP took the most time because we were far off and had to create everything from new.
So, I spent more time there than in motocross and supercross in the last two years but I try to be present as often as I can because still, I think to do a good job, you cannot just do it in the office, you need to be in the front row to get the feeling of the atmosphere. I can see the lap times and results on TV but how the riders feel what they are thinking, that I can notice more on the race track tings which that, maybe I can’t change this week, but I can go back and change something at home that helps us get better the year after.
So, I want to be on the front row, I wish I could go to more races but I also have a family at home I want to see so I need to make the balance between the office, races and home. I think it’s all under control, but I need to rely on good people, this is the great value of our group here.
Your daily schedule during the week, what sort of hours is that without taking into consideration the travel?
We have a structure with more that 400 people worldwide in the racing department so if I am not at a race then there is a normal work to do that every big company needs to manage (during the week).
On a Monday morning I talk about for example, budgets, what the budget will be for the future, every month I need to check carefully where we are in every discipline around the world because it’s quite a big budget but you have to be careful when 400 people are spending money all around the world for the company. You understand it’s not possible to control all of that so you give them a lot of trust but still every month we need to see if they stay in the planned channel, so financial management is a big one.
Of course we try to get the papers right if we want that new rider, so we have the contracts right but also many things are like a normal company. We own a huge amount of material from suppliers or within KTM or we machine them ourselves, so how to buy the material, how to store it or how to make quality control. There are many things this company is like a normal company in the week but then on the weekends we go racing! It’s also the interesting part that it’s all combined.
On the subject of Coronavirus, have you had to adjust much for next season? Geico and JGR folded in the States, there is talk some riders are having to pay for rides in MXGP, have you noticed a difficulty at KTM with Covid?
First of all it was great to see the bike community is stronger than the virus. It was a shock in March, nobody knew what would happen. Our company was closed for two months from lockdown done by the government, this was the most terrifying moment if you shut down the company, you cannot imagine it would happen but it happened.
So we reacted very early and then we tried to cut the costs down for this year as hard as we could for these two months when we couldn’t move. We used less material, the people are not in the building, you don’t spend on travelling. So we looked at how much money we could save when we were not moving and then immediately started a calculation program on what we would save with less races, how much money we needed to finish the season. Immediately we were in contact with the promoter of all the disciplines and told them, ‘please try and let’s go racing somehow. We don’t know how but there will be a way.’
I think I was definitely in the front row with some other people to push everybody; the press, the promoters to not give up a full year of racing. And later there was racing and there was fantastic racing.
We packed everything into this year but then the request on bikes after lockdown was very, very positive. Bike sales, they were really strong for us all around the world when things started to roll again. You can never completely make the back the loss of two months when you shut down the company, with more than 4,000 people not working and you don’t produce bikes and sell them, that hole you can never gain back.
You see how you can manage to the end of the year to correct as much as we can so we tried to save wherever we could this year but I got the green light from our board of directors to plan actually with the original budget to go into the 2021 season. So I didn’t have the pressure to reduce something dramatically or stop disciplines or something like that so I am in a lucky position that the company went strong, very strong through this period and we are ready to go again from January.
Does the overall money you have invested, especially in MotoGP and as well in dirt bike racing, do they reflect in bike sales? Do the numbers work or is it more a passion project?
If you look at the figures of our company and you take the two months of Corona this year, you can see a consistent growth. Our board of directors committed many, many years ago that racing is our number one marketing tool and then we learnt with specific examples that it’s working.
We have built a 350 which has 100cc less than the competition but the bike is lighter, less power but less risky for the rider and we won a world championship with that thing and it was for years the biggest selling KTM was the 350 motocross bike, so it was proven if we do something so strong in the sport we can sell the bikes.
Another example was supercross. We were nowhere in results, nowhere in the market. When we stepped into supercross professionally and won our first race with Ryan Dungey in Arizona in 2012 – from that moment the bike sales in the US they went through the roof! That’s the day when Roger DeCoster signed with us, that’s the year Ryan Dungey won his first race and that was the first very positive business year for us in the USA.
Saying that, I don’t want to overrate the racing part, that is the showcase, the window where we show the power of the company. Without fantastic product in the background and R&D department who brings these products, sales team who make sure we have a dealer network worldwide which is also important. Without these things this success would mean nothing.
Also there, if I talk about team and spirit, we push for the same spirit in the company because they don’t get racing without a strong market but we can influence that strong market with racing. But then if our R&D department don’t build fantastic bikes, the market won’t like the bikes. It’s such a strong link and this goes so deep that, every Wednesday since I have been leading this motorsport department, the R&D people (non race team) and the top racing people they meet at a table and they share information about developing bikes and then the race team doing even more radical things. So all this feedback goes straight into the product, so all that together make racing a success.
Back to your question, when we stepped in to MotoGP and the company could grow more and we could increase turnover in the street segment worldwide. For sure there is many countries where we only started to sell motorcycles and the brand wasn’t so famous like it was in Europe where everybody knows KTM. in these countries you have nothing else on TV other than a MotoGP race so they know Valentino Rossi, MotoGP and nothing else. So, if they see MotoGP is on the grid with Valentino Rossi it brings you to a different platform. We can confirm that the step into MotoGP was a good one for our company and made the company even stronger and bigger.
Would you say MXGP, supercross and MotoGP are three biggest avenues of exposure for the brand in the racing world, is that why you put so much emphasis on that?
Yes, but I would also mention the rally because that was also something that made the company famous and big, the Dakar program. Dakar is only a small part of the year but there is nothing else going on in that period. But Motocross, supercross, MotoGP and rally, for sure are the strong sports with the most publicity where we can make the brand more famous.
Enduro is not that present on TV but we are very close to our customer. You look at a race like Erzberg you have 1500 participants and 1300 on our bikes and you mix with the pros. That was a personal wish from my side why we pushed the extreme enduros so hard in the last two or three years, because it is not on TV, it is a huge loop and they go into the forest, you cannot transport the fantastic part of that sport to the wider public because it’s impossible for a camera to get in.
Everything they do is super difficult and super hard but people don’t see. I was sure and now it’s proven, it’s much nice to combine the professionals with the amateurs and at least have huge paddock, crowd together by the participants because if there are 1500 participants and everybody bring three or four family members you have already ten to 15 thousand people already there. That’s where I see the future, to have the pros there to show what is really possible and then to have amateur say I was on the start line with say Graham Jarvis and it is crazy what these guys can do on these climbs up these mountains.
It’s a different sport and much closer to the customer than the wider public. In MotoGP it’s the other end, you cannot buy that product in the shop but you are there with the brand in worldwide TV coverage.
Regarding development of motocross bikes and the US and Europe, Mikes Sleeter was a guy you had in the States testing and you have your GP, European guys, where does most of your information that goes into production come from?
I mean, there is only one good motocross bike. You cannot make a good one for Europe, a good one for supercross and a good one for the public. I think sometimes overate a little bit the performance of a factory bike in motocross.
You need a very strong standard product otherwise you cannot succeed. If you need to produce your own bike, own chassis, own everything and in our group with 15 to 18 factory riders all over the world, you cannot bring the level they are on with competitive bikes, so you need to bring a very strong standard product.
That is enforced by the US because you have to use a stock frame, stock swingarm, many parts under the production rule so that is forcing you to build… if you want to win a supercross championship, that stock frame must be good enough to build a supercross championship! So that brings already the quality of all motocross bikes to a very high level and then that Wednesday meeting I told you about before, it’s why it’s very important. Because if a stock bike is ready in production there is some fundamental things you cannot change anymore so you must make sure that bike has everything you can win GPs or supercross with and that’s why it’s so important that these people are talking to each other.
When I went to KTM, the race department wanted to show the R&D people that they could build a better race bike, the R&D people would say but they will crack the frame and then they will laugh and say the production bike is better! It was a kind of a competition that was not healthy, but now we have a competition that is healthy. We want to build from a great standard product and then try to make to make it better everything we know we tell them and everything they know they tell us.
I must also say that Roger Decoster and Ian Harrison, they helped a lot to get the friction out of this whole thing. They had a very good way to explain to our R&D engineers what they needed. They didn’t just say what they were doing was wrong or anything like that, they explained very well, can you help us to do it like this? Because we know Ryan Dungey wants it like this and if we don’t do it like this, like, for example, so the dirt is not sticking under the foot-peg when you lift it up, because then we have a problem in racing. So, they found a really good way to bring all of our opinions together so this was really good cross-over project for the US, Europe and our R&D department in the factory.
I am pretty proud we could bring all these people together. All these people are still there and all these people are still pushing for the next bike generation.
I believe you were pretty good friends with Ian Harrison when you both ride GPs in the early 90s and obviously his mechanic was Ian Harrison, so was it nice on a personal level to have a friend but also a very competent guy and to see his progress and where is his now, the success he had as a mechanic with Greg and now as team manager with KTM?
I spent two winters with both of these boys down in South Africa and we did our things together. I was waiting at the harbour until that boat finally arrived with my motocross bike. I was a mechanic on my bike and Ian helped me out. Greg, riding wise, was a little bit ahead so I tried to catch up speed in practice, so those are great memories.
Later, Greg was somewhat involved, i think I was sitting a BBQ with Greg, making a plan how to approach Roger and Ian to get them over to KTM.
It’s good to have these relationships, it’s much stronger than just normal working relationship to have these friendships in the people who are really directly links. But this is almost spread over our whole racing program, if I call in any of our disciplines a team a manager, I always call a friend, it’s never between two company colleagues, it’s friendship and that makes it also very strong and very hard for other people to enter if you are not on our side.
Finally Pit, just to go back a few and your career, you were a leading GP rider for many years, won Grand Prix, a double win at the Nations in 97 and you were really close in 99 to winning that 250 world championship, does that 99 season play on your mind at all or how do you look back on that?
Only now when you remind me! I mean I don’t wake up and think I lost the title in 99 but this was a very painful experience and I still hate to think about. I gave a lot for that year, I moved to Belgium, I hired the trainer of Stefan Everts and really was living on my own there and put in a lot of effort to win that title and it didn’t happen – that was painful.
But since I hate to lose maybe this gave me the right spirit to make sure we are trying to win now with KTM! But I am not looking back, I am happy for the career I had. I am what I am because I was a professional motocross racer, that’s where I learned life, that’s where I got the first super important contacts for my life and on that period, I could build my career which is now the working career so I am happy.
I still look back and this was the most fun time of my life, when you can do your sport, you do your physical training and, in the afternoon, you go ride your bike and then race on the weekend – and get paid to do that! That’s something I say to my boys, enjoy that part, it will be the best part of your life.
Was it difficult for you after your injury to find that passion again or did this job fulfil that?
I didn’t lose that passion, not even one single day. I was co-commentating two weeks after my accident from the hospital be on Eurosport for the Swedish GP and I couldn’t even sit in a wheelchair by that point. I was just lying on my back, I never had any hate or something against what happened.
I knew what happened, why it happened so for me it was a clear, clean decision from that moment to become as fit and strong as possible again in this new situation and I knew the wheelchair would be part of my life for the future. I mean, not that I enjoy it, I wish it was different but I never struggled with the sport. The first travelling I did after hospital was going to a motocross race.
From your perspective as a GP rider knowing Greg Albertyn, Stefan Everts and those guys at that time but also your perspective as a manager, what’s the difference between a guy that wins multiple championships and a guy that is close and is a contender? Is it a mental thing, riding ability – what do you see?
First of all, every success starts mentally. If you don’t or can’t dream it then I don’t think you can reach it. I have seen so many guys with huge talent but maybe a little lazy that might mean they can win one championship but they will never win one again. You have that guy always in the best team, best bike but maybe not enough talent or maybe not working hard enough.
I came in the last years of the last years of my career, very close to Stefan Everts and I could see him. If you saw him riding you say his riding style, he has so much talent, his father was four times world champion – that’s why he’s winning. He had maybe the most effective or efficient riding style of all of the guys. He always had a fantastic team because his dad was a four-time world champion and his dad could get him straight into the official Suzuki factory team at that time with Sylvain Geboers but then the third component – he was also working harder than anybody else! That combination is what makes a big champion.
If the talent is there and you make the right decisions, the right team and bike and you work hard then you can win multiple championships and also take the right decisions, not take too much risk. That’s where I see many parallels between Stefan and Cairoli, how far they go before they say, ‘okay, today I better finish third but I am going to win the second moto or I am going to win next week.’
The champions, they don’t live from the talent they combine the hard work, the political decisions and the talent. Without talent you wouldn’t win a GP in your life but there are still many guys out there with talent but then you can beat these guys with hard work.
That’s where the sport is exactly the same all over the world; road racing, motocross, rally. That’s the chance I have, and I enjoy it a lot to work with so many different disciplines. The boys, they don’t know how similar the other guy is that other sport in that other country or continent is.
Those winning guys, you look in the eyes of one and you know the other one, they also break your balls for details, they want better and if it’s good they want better again! That’s how they work and that’s of course the area I like the most in the sport, to talk the people in these extreme situations.
Interview: Jonathan McCready
Pic: Sebas Romero/KTM/Simon Cudby/Ray Archer/In Front Moto Racing/Bavo/Yamaha