As the sole American in the FIM Motocross World Championship, teenage rookie Thomas Covington has not had an easy time in 2014. The 18-year-old opened eyes by grabbing a top three finish at the first round in Qatar but has since struggled to get close to the leaders.
The rider from Alabama has had to deal with a move across the world to Holland (where his CLS Monster Energy Kawasaki team is based) as well as a broken foot sustained in Maggiora, Italy for round ten. A difficult campaign has been all part of the learning experience for Covington who decided against a Pro Circuit Kawasaki saddle for his first season as a Pro in the AMA this year to embark on a Grand Prix adventure. It means that 2015 will be a vital term for ’64’.
“It has been tough, for sure,” he said. “I have really learned a lot and I had to say to myself to ‘keep going’. I hope to finish off the season on a good note and really work hard for next year.”
Adjusting to the Grand Prix schedule and posting laps right off the bat has been one of the major lessons. “Qualifying,” he states. “Learning to find a quick lap when the track is more open or following someone to see a fast lap. I’m learning what works and what doesn’t. I’m trying different lines but need that position in the gate because everyone tends to line up rank and file from the inside.”
With just three top eleven finishes since Losail it seems like Covington placed too much pressure on his shoulders too soon to deliver the goods. The American insists he has not had to deal with any expectation from the CLS crew in his maiden campaign and the real test came when the overseas stretch of Qatar, Thailand and Brazil ended and the European stint of MXGP began.
“Next year was really my plan the whole time and the team have been cool about not putting any pressure on me,” he says. “Qatar does feel like years ago! It was an awesome way to start and [it was] what I came here to do. I had a lot of confidence coming into that race and then in Thailand and Brazil I was still fast and running in the top ten. Once we came over to Europe it was a whole different game and it has been hard to pull myself out of this big hole.”
So what put Covington in this ‘hole’? Was it the disorientation of life in Europe? “Maybe. I’m not sure what it was. The tracks are just so different; really gnarly and big rocks everywhere. They don’t get a lot of prep in between the motos. I’ve had to get used to that and pick the lines and figure them out. It has been a big thing. I struggled in a few rounds and lost some confidence and that was the hole. So now the goal is to have a positive mindset going into the winter.”
Then there was the broken foot in Italy. “I don’t want to make any excuses but my foot has been bothering me quite a bit,” he says. “The guys are really good here and I know how hard I have to work in the off-season to be with them in the off-season. Maybe I will just have to do to the tracks in California at different times and when they haven’t been so well prepared!
There is the chance that Covington will not be the sole rider from the USA in MXGP in 2015 if Ryan Villopoto flies across the Atlantic and moves into the Kawasaki Racing Team next door to CLS. “It would be awesome to have Ryan over here,” Covington opines. “It would be cool to watch and I think it would be a positive move for everybody here. It would be great for the series. I don’t know him really well but I’m sure we’ll spend some time together if he did come over.”
Covington – who has encouraged his team by the hard work and dedication he has applied since coming to Grand Prix – is in a privileged position of having a factory ride and time to grasp the demands of the FIM World Championship. Brands and teams are looking for the next Herlings’, Roczens and Gajsers in MX2 at a time when age and promise is so crucial around the 23 year limit for the class. ‘TC’ knows this: “I have a really good opportunity with the team here because they are not expecting me to blow the world away this year. I’m just able to figure things out in my own time.”
There is some hope that Covington can follow the examples set by Mike Brown and Zach Osborne of Americans seizing Grand Prix success for the good of their careers. There are others, like Ryan Mills, Jimmy Decotis and Michael Leib that haven’t fared so well.
The youngster is remaining grounded about his situation. “I still like the whole experience,” he remarks. “Travelling around Europe has been great and exactly what I expected. Other than the race results it has been a lot of fun. I can see that if things are not going well then it can be easy to get depressed and ‘down’ but this is such a cool life experience and I cannot help but be happy where I am.”