Photo: James Haddock
Bob Buchanan’s GL12 Racing blew open the newly-minted EMX300 two-stroke series last year, much to the surprise of the factory teams. We sent Jeff over to find out what’s going on up the road in Gloucester.
So Bob, how did you get into motocross?
When I was a kid I road raced into my teens and - as everybody does riding a bike - you get into accidents and crashes and stuff. So I gave up road racing and started a Honda (who I used to ride for) dealership in Bath at the team HQ.
Road bikes or MX bikes?
Bath is a motocross town. Lots of boys come into the shop wanting work done on crossers. A mechanic I knew from Hartwells also rode motocross and he was a member of the local club so I used to go there with him. I used to get a lot of the boys from the club coming in to the shop on a Saturday, and I would get them spares and stuff.
Was it all two-strokes back then?
Oh yeah. There were a few four-strokes racing, but back then it was mostly all two-strokes. Air-cooled, they were just transitioning to water-cooled. A lot of the business there, and a lot of the people I was talking to, were all racing motocross. So I got involved in motocross. I eventually became chairman of Bath Club, going to all the meetings. So I started a team.
So why are two-strokes making a comeback? What’s the difference between riding a two-stroke and a four-stroke?
Well the thing about a four-stroke is it’s got an awful lot of torque, it’s fast out of corners, you can always take the inside lines, stop it, turn it, squirt it out. On one line tracks - on narrow tracks - it’s always going to have the advantage over a two-stroke. A two-stroke you need to keep corner speed. You’ve got no engine breaking on a two-stroke. Your line choice is much more critical, because if you lose your flow you lose your momentum, you regain it a lot slower than you do on a four-stroke. Lesser riders can get better results on a four-stroke than they can on a two-stroke. Kids should be started on two-stroke - the 150 Honda I am not a fan of. I don’t think they ought to be riding four-strokes that young. I think it should be 85s, your natural progression is 85 and then on to a 125, and then - if you must - then go on to a four-stroke after that. It’s the same thing in road racing. These boys with all their technical stuff, they’d never be able to ride one of Kevin Schwantz’ two-stroke Suzukis.
Well they’re getting a lot of interest...
They’re coming back big time.
I can see it. A lot of people are enjoying their riding again because of two-strokes...
It’s my missionary work that’s doing that, Jeff.
So how did GL12 come together, what was the impetus?
How did it begin? I saw what an obstacle money was - people can’t afford to race without help. There’s a lot of riders who have the money for it, so they do it. It doesn’t make them any good. There’s also a lot of people with the talent that can’t take part because they haven’t got any money or help. We’ve got a few of those riders...
You mean it’s all financial?
Yeah, exactly that. We have a trade stand at the meetings - we’re in the business, we’re in the sport. So we thought we’d put something together and help a few people. I started off with a sidecar; a local sidecar team who lived close to us. Then Brian Wheeler lives just up the hill. We started like that. We called it GL12 because we all lived in GL12. It was initially set up to help local people that couldn’t get on through lack of finance.
Did locals get involved?
Oh yeah. Everybody that works on the team and around us now are all locals. It’s not just about helping people but giving them the chance to help themselves.
How did you get involved with MXGP? I know you trade there, obviously (your stand is opposite mine) but why the team? How did that come about?
Well, TM bikes put a bit of pressure on Giuseppe Longo (head of Youthstream MXGP) I think. KTM and Husqvarna showed interest too but it was TM who really wanted to promote two-strokes as that’s what they make. Whether it’s the Italian connection working or not I don’t know.
You might say that has something to do with it.
The third tier, the old MX3 was dead on its feet. Nobody was watching it. Nobody was entering it. So they dropped the MX3 and replaced it the EMX300 - conveniently based around 300 two-strokes. I say conveniently because TM are the only ones who make a 300 two-stroke - all the others are 250s. So that came about and I thought “right, I’m coming to these meetings anyway, it’s not going to hurt to chuck a two-stroke bike on the truck and give a local lad a go at it”.
Is that how Lewis Gregory got involved as well?
Gregory was just packing up, he’d finished, he couldn’t get any help. Rob Hooper, who was helping him most of the time was not involved anymore (he’s since come back). Lewis was riding a second hand two-stroke 125 that he bought himself. Loves two-strokes, so I offered him the ride.
Match made in heaven.
Well, yeah. Initially he looked at me and said, “yeah, I’m really interested, and I’d love to do it, but how much is it going to cost me?”, and I said, “absolutely nothing, just turn up and ride”. I think he thought I was mental.
That’s so rare these days.
Well, it doesn’t happen, does it. So that’s how that came about, Lewis was without a ride in any two-stroke series and I was without a rider and that was that. Then we won the second GP we ever did.
Did that shock you? Seriously, did you think “what’s going on here?”
Well, we went to Bulgaria - the first ever EMX300 round - with a 250 because we didn’t really know what was going on, nobody knew what to expect. TM had paid Davide Guarnieri a fortune to spend the winter testing this bike and they’d hired Samuele Bernardini to ride it. They wanted it badly.
They thought they were going to win it?
It was their series, their EMX300 two-stroke series, so they were going to win it. That was that, come hell or high water, they were going to win it. So we all turned up with our 250s, whatever, and a few kids - well KTM took it a bit more seriously, they had riders; there was Marco Maddi with a 300 KTM. We were running right about 8th - not really knowing what we were doing - and they cleared off and won. But we knew what we were doing after that. We came home and we had a re-think and we went out in the second round in Talavera and beat them.
That must have been a real shock for them. Out of the blue.
Yeah, the rest of the paddock loved it. For me it was unbelievable. I’ve been trying hard for thirty years, and we did it. As you know, there’s one race on Saturday, one race on Sunday. We won the race on Saturday and that is still my best moment in motocross - doesn’t matter what happens after that - your first win is great.
What did you do?
I phoned home. I phoned Rose and I couldn’t talk. After about ten minutes, I was blubbering on the phone, and I can remember saying, “he won”. I couldn’t believe it, I still couldn’t believe it then and that was probably an hour after it happened. Lee said to me, “I don’t care what happens, if I go down, if me heart fails, just prop me against the wall, I just want to see the boy go over the line. We’ve been trying to do this for thirty years”. Brian Wheeler sent me a text, he said, “you’ve peaked too early”. I stood on the podium and I’m looking down and there’s Steve Turner and Steve Dixon and I’m standing where they’ve never stood. It’s not something you can buy.
What do you put that down to, though? Your experience coming from road racing two-stroke?
It’s being a two-stroke man. Knowing what you wanted to do and knowing how to do it - but also knowing the right people to talk to and which advice to take. I came away from Bulgaria and spoke to a few people who knew their stuff, picked their brains and put it together and built a package.
TM and KTM, they must have been horrified? Never mind Yamaha being shocked.
Oh yeah, but you see the Yam is the same bike. I’m working with a frame that’s already old, and then the engine’s from 2002 - it’s a fourteen-year-old engine. The chassis was changed from steel to aluminium in 2006, so it’s a ten-year-old frame, with a twelve to fourteen year-old engine. After we won in Talavera in Spain, the next round was Matterley Basin in England. TM came with a fair number of mechanics to England.
A small army...
And we went out and won the first race there as well. They had a bloke stood by my tent on the off chance that we might take the top off this engine so they could have a look in it (we didn’t). The race on the Sunday, everybody in the British GP said that was the best race that weekend because Samuele Bernardini and Lewis were gone - away from the rest of the field - but they were glued together, they must have changed places forty times in that race. We won the first race with Bernardini second - then he won the second race second with us behind him. So they were equal on points but because Samuele had won the second race he got the overall on equal points. I have never seen Lewis so disappointed to get a second place trophy at a GP. He didn’t want it. He just didn’t want it. He wouldn’t lift it up for the cameraman or anything, he just held it...
How does it make you feel that they have all this money, really deep pockets and you have - let’s face it - a very limited budget?
I haven’t got any budget. I haven’t got a budget at all. I spend what money I’ve got on it. It’s not a question of having a budget. It’s just a question of spending what I make at the GPs...
So the more people that come and support you by buying from you at the show, the more money you can spend?
Yeah, that kind of thing. That’s what it is. You’re funding it out of revenue. I haven’t got a budget. I’m funding it out of the revenue I make at the GPs.
You do work hard, because you clearly haven’t got a big budget, that’s for sure.
No, no, that’s right. There’s people doing it on nothing - there’s fathers supporting their sons doing it. All right, they’re not winning, but they are still trying hard. The problem is to try and win it with little budget. Let’s face it, it’s not going to happen. One of the FIM boys, ACU bloke Chris Warren - he does the blue flags and a lot of the official work at the GPs - came over to me after we won in Talavera, he said, “you realise what you’ve just done - you’ve won a race at a GP out the back of a trade stand”. There’s no awning, there’s no team truck, there’s no anything. We’ve got an easy-up on the side of the trade stand.
But that’s really old school. That’s how it used to be.
It doesn’t matter how good the awning is, how nice the flowers are on the table, and what wine you’ve got for the hospitality to drink, if you don’t win. Win first, then do all that. Spend the money on the bike. But really it’s all about racing. Who wants to go and not win?
There’s no doubt in your passion to win. So what about this year? You’ve got two riders this time...
Well, I think the best two riders, because that also makes a difference. You see, I could build the best bike in the world, but if the bloke doesn’t ride it properly, or he hasn’t got the same heart or commitment that I’ve got, I’m wasting my time. The point is surrounding yourself with people with the same goals and the same ideals. Lewis is old school, he’s a motocross fan, I’m a motocross fan, we are in it because we love being in it, we like the sport. He’s an extremely naturally talented rider. Brad Anderson is just blood and guts.
And always has been.
Yeah, he’s just blood and guts. You know when Ando’s completed a race that wherever he finished was the best place he could possibly do with that bike on that day. He doesn’t leave anything out there. Lewis - on his day - he’s as fast as anyone. Lewis’ biggest problem is he doesn’t realise how good he is. When Lewis Gregory realises that he’s one of the best, then watch: he’ll be even better.
When we went to see Yamaha we were talking about it and I said I was going to have two riders. They said, “why do you need two riders?” Well that was the season that they started off with Van Horebeek as their number one and rode Roman Febvre as number two. Van Horebeek got injured and Febvre won it. If they hadn’t had two riders, they wouldn’t have won it. And I didn’t win it last year because I was without Lewis Gregory, and I missed two rounds, you need two riders.
Photo: Peter Kutalek
How happy are Yamaha with the way things are going at the moment? They must be thrilled, really.
They must be, but they aren’t telling me. Yamaha UK weren’t interested this year.
But luckily Eric Hagan at Yamaha Europe has a different opinion - so I’m out there on Yams again. Thanks to him for that. The guy that used to run Yamaha in ‘14 in Europe, he pulled me aside in Lommel and said, “I’ve got no idea what you are doing and no interest in how you are doing it, but would you keep doing it please”. They are obviously happy. Any manufacturer is happy to see their bike topping the podium.
What’s your approach to your lineup then? You run a rider in the EMX125 too...
Well we started with Lewis three years ago, and I’ll stick with Lewis - as long as he wants to do it he’s got a ride. He’s my rider.
And a good one...
He’s confident, and that’s the thing. Ando is on a roll. The riders are up there, so that always puts the pressure on us to give them the machinery to do it, which I think we’ve got. Everybody needs a bit of luck. Yentl Martens didn’t win it last year because he had a silly crash, broke his wrist. Matty won it with solid results. We’re going to win it. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think we were going to win it. Lewis and Ando are old school. They are not young men, are they? Lewis is thirty, Brad is thirty-five. You can do the vets this year, Ando. They know what it’s like. They’ve been doing it for a long time and they’ve seen it all.
You mean there are no more surprises.
Like with Ando (it’s another thing that I’ve said about Rossi his age etc.), he was second at Hawkstone at the international this year, and he was second at Preston Docks in the first round of the MX Nationals. He’s thirty-five. Now, fair play to him - all power to Ando for being up there - but he shouldn’t be there. There should be people beating him by now. Where are the young kids? There aren’t any. Last year I had a look and there were four kids who came out of the 85 big wheel onto the 125s in Europe. I had the fastest one, I had Brett Pocock, but none of those four English kids ever qualified for a race in the European 125s. Which means the best crop of English kids in 2015 were not fast enough to get into any race in Europe. This year, there isn’t even one I’d consider taking. Which is why I’ve got Slade Tressler, who’s an American.
I met him at the GPs obviously, because he was doing the Honda 150 four-stroke cup. Hated the four-stroke. Wanted to get back on his 85 two-stroke, his super mini. He’s quite a tall kid now, he’s growing. He can ride the big bikes, so when I was looking for a 125 rider and said, “are you’re going to come over again this season?” He said, “if I’ve got a ride, I’d love to”, I said, “you’ve got a ride”. That’s how we hooked up with that. Yeah, I’d like to bring young kids on, but until such time as something sparks in somebody, there’s no point in me putting time and effort on something that is not going to work. Brett Pocock rode his heart out. He tried, he was unlucky, got injured. I’ve no doubt at all if Brett had stayed fit, he would have qualified for a race by the end of the year.
He hadn’t gotten the experience.
Yeah, that’s the other thing. The thing you’ve got is, the British Youth Nationals - that’s our national 125, 85 championship - and they run on small UK tracks, in front of not a lot of people, with very little atmosphere. You’re asking someone to go from a small track like Pontrilas or whatever (on an 85) to Arco di Trento for the first round of the EMX125, or Valkenswaard - that’s the size of a motorway.
It must be terrifying.
In front of twenty thousand people. They’ve got to cope with that and then try and race a motocross bike. The French kids, the Dutch kids, they’re brought up with it. They ride on these tracks all the time. The Dutch championship meetings, they’re full of spectators and people, and they have the kids classes there. Their preparation is much better. If you would have seen young Davy Pootjes, I saw Davy Pootjes on an 85 for the first round in the Dutch championship about three years ago. The kid was a rock star then. He walked into the pits like a rock star - he was signing autographs. This kid is fourteen. Maybe moving up to GPs is just a breeze for those guys...
How do we get British lads to be able to do that?
The $64,000 question...
Is the support needed from the manufacturers, or from the ACU, or who? Who puts the money in?
That’s the point. Nobody puts any money in, do they? There isn’t any money available. I have been asked this question so many times and I put the same answer, I firmly believe there are kids in England that are fast enough. There has to be. We always used to have them. You’ve got to get away from the culture of the teams taking riders because their parents can afford to pay for them to ride. That’s not the right attitude; you need kids with the desire, the application. You watch these Dutch kids, when they were at Assen on the weekend and they are out Sunday morning running around the track. They want it. It’s in their blood. You see the way some of them train, it’s fantastic to watch.
We must have British lads like that, but they’ve just not been given the chance.
Yeah, but they can’t get on the track. They can’t get on the bikes, because, it’s money. It’s money.
If we don’t change it the only people you are ever going to see on the tracks are people whose parents have got the money to pay for them to be there.
So where do you think the UK stands on the national circuit now?
Where is the UK in European motocross? Third world country. You’ve got, at the moment, the last of a generation - I think you’ve got Shaun Simpson, Max Anstie, Tommy Searle etc..
Where is the team for the Nations coming from once those people are done?
There’s tumble-weed blowing across the table, Jeff. We haven’t got one.
No rising stars.
Conrad rode well at the weekend. There’s a couple coming, but there’s not a crop of them. An injury here and an injury there and we’re not in it. I mean France could have picked three, four teams that could have won the nations last year. Jordi Tixier was not in the French nations team and he was the current MX2 champion.
How about the European scene? What do you make of the fly-away rounds of the MXGP?
Well, it’s always upset me as a trader because I can’t go. That’s not as selfish a comment as you might think, because when the fly-away rounds are on there’s nothing going on in Europe. Europe is the beating heart of GP motocross. That’s where everything is. But every European round that MXGP takes away, it takes money out of European motocross. And it needs all the money it can get at the minute.
Because you could change those rounds to European rounds easily...
Yes. Or, you could run the European series, well some of the rounds of the European series in Europe while the fly away rounds are on. So you’ve got big meetings happening in Europe while the fly-aways are on.
If there was a two-stroke series, you wouldn’t be able to afford to go would you?
Not a chance. No.
Even with help.
It’s not remotely possible. No. For a lot of the other riders in the GPs it’s not possible either. I know he’s trying to take the show around the world, but it’s not the full show.
So it’s at the expense of some of the European spectacle as well...
Of course. Yeah. It’s kind of like, he’ll take the tour away for two or three months or whatever, and we are just expected to be waiting there when they get back. What are we supposed to do in that time? You’re not going to earn revenue to pay for our racing, or give your sponsors exposure. What can we do? Because there are no big races to go to - nobody will put one on because there’s no big names to race. Yeah, he’s trying to push the sport into other parts of the world to reach other markets but something always loses out.
Do you think there should be a two-stroke series? Do you think the powers that be should encourage someone to get it rolling?
In England there’s only - I think - the Scot Nationals, and thank you to Darren who does the two-stroke series.
Do we want to get back to “On Any Sunday” type racing with just a bike and van?
Simple, old school. Yeah.
...and cheap racing.
That’s the other thing. I know at EMX300 level the flipping engines ain’t cheap. For your club rider though - your amateur rider - when you blow out the top end of your two-stroke you can rebuild it for a couple of hundred quid. Four-strokes, a couple of thousand. Your average Joe can’t afford much of the repairs on the four-strokes. People want to get back to old school. They want to throw the bike in the back of the van, go out, have a race, come back home, clean the filter, clean the bike and put some juice in, and then come out again next week. Long may that continue.
Has much changed around the pits then - other than the new O’Neal kits and Jesse James teamwear?
Well we look good. I’m one of those people that think it doesn’t matter. You know that. I’ll spend the money inside the bike.
But I’ve seen a few photos of us in it, I’ve had good comments about it off people who know about these things. The kit is cool, and we’re looking like a proper team. Not only are we now beating them on a track, we are beating them in the media.
And in the paddock.
Yeah, yeah. But if I ever have plastic flowers on a table in my awning, shoot me Jeff.
I will. Thanks a lot Bob.
Cheers Jeff and thanks to all the sponsors for their help this year.
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