Will a switch to Suzuki see Max Anstie finally fulfil his potential or will 2013 just be another wasted effort?
Where is Max Anstie? In one respect the answer is easy. The 19 year old is sitting in front of me in his modest race truck within the paddock of the Angels Stadium at Anaheim. Figuratively, the question is a little harder to solve. It is clear however that the Brit seems very much at home on the Rockstar Energy Suzuki Europe RM-Z250 – the third bike with which he will make his third attempt at the FIM Motocross World Championship come March 2.
A child prodigy, Anstie has been split since he turned Pro. Divided between his first love of supercross and then motocross, alternating between a home in Hemet, California – that is the definition of being ‘out in the sticks’ – and a nomadic existence in Europe that has included brief residences in Holland, Italy and the UK where his grandparents live.
It’s fair to say Anstie’s life so far on this planet has been mainly about the bike but it is hardly conventional, compared to many of his peers and last season the Grand Prix community could easily see that he was tackling a temperamental set-up, wavering confidence and periods of loneliness. The quick smile was frequently in place but you could easily be forgiven for assuming that – personally and professionally – Anstie was taking a few knocks.
A graceful and skilful motorcycle rider, Anstie has transformed from a gawky teenager in CLS colours in 2011 to a determined young man that has found a nest of fellow workers striving towards a common goal with the works MX2 Suzuki unit. Anstie doesn’t come across as relived but his contentment at having discovered a crew that can focus on him as a potential Grand Prix winner is palpable.
We chat openly about the last two seasons in green and red, episodes like having to post a YouTube clip to dispel rumours of his dad’s alleged ‘meddling’ at the Bulgarian round last April and being one of the few that crossed the qualification heat picket line in Mexico.
It hasn’t been a quiet time for Max, and the depth of his inconsistent moments in 2012 mean that he is not the first name that rolls off the tongue when it comes to debating the potential stars for MX2 this year. The repercussions of this assumption cast Anstie firmly into the role of a ‘dark horse’ and it could be a powerful position from which to do some real – and overdue – damage at the highest level.
DBR: Let’s talk about the family house in Hemet. Does it still feel like home?
MA: “Yeah, I love it where we stay. My goal this year is to go into the world championship as late as possible and spend as much time at home as I can. I have everything there that I need to train and work and do the job. We are working hard and that place gives me a chance to get going in the best way possible. We don’t have any telephones or anything…so it is isolated but perfect for me and what I need.”
DBR: It is a bit of an understatement to say it is ‘free from distraction…’
MA: “Haha, well, I like it that way. I train on my own and I ride on my own. We have the tracks and the space.”
DBR: Are you a bit confused about who and where you are? I mean with all that transcontinental travel and bases?
MA: “No! My family is here in America. Okay, I’m from England but I live here and I want to be back here racing one day because I will be close to them. I am going to Europe because I am doing a job and I want to be in the World Championship and I want to do it well. I feel that in the last two years I haven’t been able to do it to 100 per cent. Wherever we finish is wherever we finish but if I have a good group of people around me, supporting me and giving me the equipment to do the job as best as we can then that’s all I can ask.”
DBR: It will be your third year in GPs, people forget how young you are and how much experience you have already…
MA: “It is weird because as soon as I turned 16 I did a year over here – supercross and motocross – rode for KTM then Yamaha, rode for CLS when I was 18, Honda when I was 19 last year and now turning 20 with Suzuki. So you could say I have been around a bit already!
“I honestly believe now I have found a group of guys with whom I can get the job done. People like Jens and Thomas put a lot of effort into making sure I can be out here and doing the first five supercross rounds. Like me, they see it as perfect preparation for the season-start in March. I am racing here rather than riding around a frozen track in Mantova or in Valence. We are in similar conditions to what we might find for the first two GPs here and in the race environment it is perfect to learn how we work and communicate and figure stuff out. I need bike time and to get that momentum going.”
DBR: Can you understand if some people might think you’ve ‘lost the plot’ a little bit with so many changes?
MA: “People can think what they want. I will go with the guys that give me the best chance of doing the job and the Rockstar Energy Suzuki Europe team were the ones that stepped up. Honda had the option to keep me for this year – first rider refusal or whatever you call it – and they chose not to take it. Suzuki came in and we are here now. I am 100 per cent onboard with these guys because what I’ve learnt with Jens and my mechanic Kevin has been great. Their work ethic is like mine because they want to achieve something.”
DBR: Do you think you are a good example of a rider who really needs a positive group around him?
MA: “No, because I think everyone does. What I’ve learnt is that you cannot take a bike, screw everybody else and just go and race. There is a lot more about racing in the pursuit of winning. At the end of the day you just have to go out there and ride the bike…but the truth is that it’s actually a lot harder than that. You need the right people at a high level. You cannot just show-up and race. You need the set-up, the plan and the schedule.”
DBR: Are you comfortable in your own skin in Europe now with all the country-hopping and moments when you were pretty much by yourself?
MA: “I’ve grown up a little bit in the last couple of years and especially last year with living in Italy. I think it has made me stronger. I think you get hardened by pain and there were a lot of days where I just had to scrape myself up from the bottom of the barrel and go again. I feel like I am going in the right direction and I’m going fast at the moment. I’m starting to believe I am gelling with the bike and these five races are for me to learn as much as possible about the Suzuki. Like you said, I’ve changed bikes so many times that I need the mileage to get to know it.”
DBR: Would it good to finally have a quiet, consistent year without things like Youtube videos and defiance of rider strikes? Get out of that firing line?
MA: “I did what I had to. I was there to race in Mexico, so that’s what I did. [tongue-in-cheek] People just want to pick on me Adam! I’m a nice guy really! A quiet year? I don’t know…I just want to race.”
DBR: Here’s another thing. Your fans will know the story from your interviews over the last two years but to the general Grand Prix follower you are a bit of an enigma because you’ll be pushing for the podium at one race and then down in 18th the next. How do you explain that ‘hot and cold’ tendency?
MA: “Without Gariboldi and Honda and those guys I wouldn’t be in the position I am in now. 2012 was a character-building year. Would I want to change anything if I had the chance? Yes and no, but it is what it is. To the casual fan ‘why is he third and then 18th?’ Well, they are not me racing a bike…”
DBR: When Tommy won both motos at Matterley Basin at his home GP did you think ‘I’d like some of that’?
MA: “Yeah…but I was afraid to do that finish line jump though! We had problems on Saturday…”
DBR: I mean sampling the feeling of winning in front of home crowd…
MA: “Yeah! For sure…I really enjoyed the Nations actually. Seeing all the British fans there…I actually felt a part of something then. I had a few moments at Lommel where I thought ‘okay, we’re getting back into this’ I was running behind Barcia in the Heat race and Dungey was behind me. I felt okay and it was a good way to finish the season and gave me a bit of confidence in the sense of ‘these guys aren’t so far away after all’.”
DBR: After a turbulent season in 2012 was it nice to feel part of something at the Nations?
MA: “It was nice to ride for my country and to see the British flags. It gives you that extra little buzz. It was a decent way to end a season that hadn’t gone to plan. The Italians gave me everything they could and I left on good terms with Giacomo.”
DBR: You’re on the Suzuki now, a motorcycle that hasn’t really figured at the front of an MX2 GP for two years. Is that another challenge?
MA: “I was at the point where I said if I don’t have the team that will get behind me 100 per cent to give me what I need then I would have just come back to America and tried to set my own thing up over here or tried to get in somewhere.
“The powerhouse team in Europe is KTM. Tommy brought CLS along but for me that was not an option. You had Yamaha that were going well but Suzuki stepped up and straight after Lommel I went to do three weeks of testing with them and I was pleasantly surprised at the professional set-up they have. I know GRP and Geboers have the MX1 team but it all transfers over and I immediately saw that there was a solid set-up. The facilities and infrastructure they have is exactly what I needed. Jens just wants to work hard and that’s all I want too.
“You can say the bike hasn’t done this or hasn’t done that in the last couple of years but there are stories behind that, and I know I will be able sit on the start line and say that this is the best Suzuki I can possibly have. It will be my bike and it will be the best it can be with the best Suzuki support possible.”
DBR: It seems like the team wanted you badly for 2013…
MA: “I can’t say whether they did or not but all I can say is what I saw when I went there totally convinced me.”
DBR: It seems like there is a real chance in 2013. Herlings is the big target but then you have a large group of riders who will all be going for podiums…
MA: “Yeah, we will be as well prepared as possible and I know racing these American guys, working with Ricky Carmichael and riding with James Stewart is going to bring a big benefit.”
DBR: How do you feel about taking on the 450s in the first two rounds?
MA: “That is going to be weird. I don’t know…for me it will feel like it did last year I suppose! I did come back through the pack a lot last season. I don’t think it would be realistic to expect a 250 to holeshot all the time and I think it will slow things down a bit. I think there will be a bigger gaggle of people racing instead of it being strung-out. There will be some ‘getting in the way’ and plenty of action.”
DBR: What is so good about that yellow bike?
MA: “The first thing that springs to mind is the level of support behind it. We have so many options. We have done 50 tests already and so much work covering the engine set-up and character and suspension. The wide range of stuff has given me a good view on what the bike is like. The Suzuki feels light and is going fast.”