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Mitch Evans | Moving Up To MXGP

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INSTAGRAM | @mitchevans43

A spot at Team HRC is one of the most coveted in the MXGP paddock and for 2020, Honda will put their support behind young Australian racer Mitch Evans. The deal was rumored for much of 2019, unofficially revealed by Evans’ participation at the finale of the All-Japan MX Nationals, and finally confirmed during Honda’s media event at the EICMA tradeshow in Milan. For Evans, a 21-year-old with just one full season in the Monster Energy FIM Motocross World Championship, this is the chance of a lifetime and shows how much faith one of the biggest brands in motorsports has in his talent.

Many expected a shakeup to Honda’s roster for 2020, as the multi-year contracts held by MXGP rider Brian Bogers and MX2 rider Calvin Vlaanderen were set to expire at the end of 2019, but I was surprised to hear how soon their scouting efforts started. “There was talk of it quite early on, after Matterley Basin at round two. The talk started after the first moto, when I had to stop into the pit lane to get something fixed on my bike after a little crash. I was almost a lap down and when I came out, it almost looked like I was the leader because the guys weren’t catching me. It showed that I could hold the speed by myself,” explained Evans. “Honda started to talk about it between those motos, but didn’t tell me until a week later at Valkenswaard. Everyone has asked if it played on my mind through the year, but it didn’t really. They weren’t big discussions about it, more just little ideas, and I was more focused on getting good results. I had invested a lot of money in myself just to get over here, so I needed to make money just to get by.” 

There have to be a few transitions more difficult in motocross than the move from Australia to Europe. The island in the southern hemisphere is known for warm weather, a uniform culture and language, and the freedom to do almost anything that one wants. Europe, meanwhile, is a bit cooler, more diverse in language and culture due to the close proximity of countries, and bound by regulations. It’s an expensive endeavor that requires one’s full commitment and Evans is relieved he waited until last year to go through with it. “I remember always being told, ‘Don’t go over there too early.’ And it was exactly for that reason, because you have to be mature. If I came over when I was 17 or 18, I would have went home after three months. I’m really lucky that I have a lot of support from my parents and they helped out a lot, so I’m fortunate in that aspect,” he shared. Now that the challenge has been overcome, he will take the experience and carry with him through the next part of his career. “Everyone warned me that the transition would be tough, but you don’t know what to expect until you do it yourself and experience it. This was tougher than I expected and I learned a lot from it. For the following years, I am going to do things differently and be more prepared so that I don’t miss home as much.”

As a member of 114 Motorsports in 2019, Evans spent much of the past year in the southwest part of France to be close to the team that is managed by former WMX racer Livia Lancelot, but recently moved to Milan, Italy, to have the same connection with Giacomo Gariboldi and the rest of Team HRC. “The team and I thought it was best to come there so that I can be close to them. They have good tracks there and if I want to change something on the bike, we can do it straight away,” he explained of his Italian surroundings. “It’s not far from Tim’s place (in Slovenia), so the plan is to go there and do some riding with him. I really like Italian people, we all get along really well and the food there is really good, so I’m enjoying my time.”

Since Evans is a relatively new addition to the starting line, most don’t realize that the young rider is one of the bigger guys on the track, so he really does need to be on the 450. “There was talk about going to HRC on the 250, but eventually, they said they wanted me on the 450 and that was what I wanted,” he explained. “I raced the 450 in Australia in 2018 and my size is the whole reason I went to it that early because I’m a bigger guy. When I came over for testing a couple of weeks ago all of the mechanics were laughing because I’m 90 kilos (198 pounds) but when I took my shirt off they all said, ‘Oh, we thought you were fat!’ I’m just a big kid and that’s why I wanted the 450.”

The unofficial debut as a factory Honda rider occurred at the final round of the All-Japan MX Nationals in Sugo a few weeks ago, where Evans was entered on a race-spec CRF450R as number 143 and shown the full might of the Japanese manufacturer. “Everyone kind of knew, the rumors were going around, so it wasn’t that big of a surprise. Normally Honda gets someone there to do the Sugo race but since Tim raced the Monster Cup and was preparing for that, they came to me and asked if I wanted to do it. I always had wanted to go to Japan, I like the people and the food is really good. When they offered, I was onto it straight away,” he shared. “They took us to HRC and showed us the workshop with the rally bikes and the MX team, but we didn’t get to see the MotoGP garage. We went to Motegi and had a look at the museum, so I saw the history there.”

It cannot be stated enough how monumental it is in a rider’s career to be employed by a factory team, especially one as prestigious as Honda, and that’s something Evans is slowly starting to realize. “It really hasn’t set in yet. I was just talking to friends yesterday and we said when you see a top-level guy without a ride, nine times out of 10 they buy a Honda,” he noted. “When I first started riding it, I told them to take some power out of it because it was way too powerful. I got arm pump after two laps because it was so fast [Laughs].”

“I know there will be a lot of pressure on me and it is a big gamble for Honda, but I feel like I have kind of already proved myself on the 450. I really believe in myself on a 450. Everyone can say what they want, but they don’t know what it’s like. Life is a lot easier and happier when I am on a 450,” he stated. After a few mentions of his size and history on a 450, I brought up how difficult things had to be for Evans on the small-bore bike and he then detailed the physical changes that were necessary during the past 12 months. “Last winter I got to 77 kilos. I have a picture of myself and I’m just bones. I literally had no energy to do anything during the day, all I could do was just train. I felt unreal when I trained because I was so light and efficient at using energy, but when I finished training, I didn’t want to get out of bed.”

The new spot comes with added responsibilities and expectations, two things the rider is starting to plan for as he eyes the coming season. “I want to start off the year a little slow and build towards the end. This year I was pretty much worn out before round one even started and things went downhill from there. I want to be really consistent next year,” he said. Wins are expected with a high-profile contract and Evans expects to be in the mix for spots at the front of the field soon. “You don’t move to the other side of the world to get second place. Eventually, my goal is to be the world champion one day, but I need to be modest and keep a level head.”

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Michael Antonovich

Michael Antonovich has a wealth of experience with over 10 years of moto-journalism under his belt. A lifelong racing enthusiast and rider, Anton is the Editor of Swapmoto Live and lives to be at the race track.

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