Monday Conversation: Mike Alessi

November 26, 2007 10:23am

The tipping point in Mike Alessi’s 2007 AMA Toyota Motocross Championship season undoubtedly came on Sunday, July 1, at the Red Bud National in Michigan. On that sunny day, before nearly 30,000 Midwestern motocross fans, the 19-year-old Californian aced both holeshots atop his #800 KTM and even led the way for a lap or three. And while overall winner Ricky Carmichael and runner-up James Stewart would ultimately pass Alessi, Mike tried to give both superstars an honest run for their money.

From that moment on, things began to change for Alessi. In fact, in the last six nationals of the season— Washougal not withstanding —Alessi found himself on the podium. He was in the running for the title until the very end, and he finished second overall to Grant Langston in the final standings.

As the summer came to a close it was announced that Alessi would be leaving KTM to replace a retiring Ricky Carmichael and a vacating Ivan Tedesco at Makita Suzuki. Many insiders questioned the move, but as DeCoster told this writer, “With our guy [Carmichael] leaving, I have to take a chance. I have to have a rider who has a shot at winning. I think Mike Alessi can be a winner here.”

Yesterday, on Sunday afternoon, Mike Alessi took some time out of his day to talk to
Racer X about riding for what he called “the top team.” Relaxed and friendly, Alessi was thrilled about his new association with Team Makita Suzuki and the 2008 racing season just ahead.

Racer X: Mike, what do you have going on today?
Mike Alessi: I’m just relaxing, really. It’s cloudy and sort of rainy here. That’s quite a sight to see in California.

I can relate: A place where 200 days can go by, all of them looking identical.
For sure. More like 350! It seems like we get like four days of rain a year here in Victorville.

Word has it that you’ve been doing a lot of testing for the 2008 season.
Yeah, this off-season has been very busy. We’ve been testing all kinds of parts on the 2008 bike. For me, it’s been non-stop riding and testing. We want to get the bike to be the very best it can be. I’ve been testing two or three times a week and doing motos two or three times a week. The past few months have been very busy.

Even though you had just recently joined the team, at the U.S. Open Roger DeCoster mentioned to me that testing with a team like Suzuki appeared to be all new to you.
I’m not going to lie to you. When we started doing a lot of testing, we were doing way more testing than I was used to. When Roger says to be on time and be ready to ride and test, he means be on time. We did a lot of testing right away and that was all new to me. But I feel I’ve adjusted really well to the team and have been welcomed to the team. There is a great atmosphere within the team and I’m really looking forward to 2008.

That’s another thing Roger said to me in Las Vegas: “I tell you, when I tell the Alessis to be at the track at 9, they’re there at 8:30 A.M. and ready to go to work. They don’t drag their feet.”
For sure. We’re always there 30 minutes before hand. In Roger’s eyes, I think he appreciates our dedication and that we’re on time and ready to work. We wake up early and get there to test and work to get the bike to be the best it can be. And we test everything. We test the gas, the pipe, the suspension — there is definitely a lot more going on at a team like Suzuki. They’re a top-rated team and are so professional. They look at everything to try and make the bike better. They’re so good at all of that. They know that all the little things add up.

So, how is your 2008 Suzuki factory bike?
It’s a very, very good motorcycle. It handles very well in the whoops. I’m so comfortable on the bike. I can seat bounce everything. When I go through a rough whoop section, I think, “Okay, I’m going to come out at the other end just fine.” It’s an awesome bike.

How did your deal with Team Suzuki come about?
They said they had been watching since Daytona and saw that I had a lot of potential. And then with Ricky retiring and Ivan leaving, they didn’t feel like there were many guys who could ride the RM-Z 450 for them. So we met and I signed. It all happened so fast. I was so happy about it. I think I had gotten to the point where I was looking forward to something new. I mean, KTM was awesome to me, and working with Kurt Nicoll was awesome. I feel good that I left there on a great note. I almost won the title for them. So now I have something new and I’m starting over and I am at the best place I can be.

You were so new to the team at the U.S. Open that Roger DeCoster mentioned to me that he actually tried to talk you out of doing the race. Nonetheless, you went 5-3 over both nights of racing and very well could have won the overall. Was it a good event for you?
It was a very good experience. I wanted to get a race in on the new bike. I didn’t want to go to Anaheim I and line up with James Stewart and Chad Reed and not be sure what it would be like to race the bike. The U.S. Open was a good race for me and built my confidence up.

In the first four rounds of the 2007 AMA National Championship you placed eighth, ninth, fifth and sixth, respectively. Then came Red Bud. From that point forward you caught fire and almost won the AMA National Championship. That was the turning point of your 2007 season, wasn’t it?
I would say yes, Red Bud was where things really started clicking. We got the new shock from [David] Philippaerts (a KTM Grand Prix rider) and the team was 100 percent behind me and knew I was a capable rider who could race with the top guys. My training was getting good and my endurance was better. Everything clicked at Red Bud. After that I was on the podium almost every weekend. The race salvaged my year; it really turned things around for me.

And you won your first 450F moto at Steel City….
Steel City felt the greatest. It’s always been one of my favorite tracks of all-time. In fact, I was on the podium there in 2004 (on a Honda 450F). I was 16 years old and on the podium with Ricky Carmichael and Kevin Windham in the premier class.

The series finale at Glen Helen was especially impressive as you came into the race fourth in points. However, after both motos were run you found yourself second overall in the series.
Oh yeah, I came into that race fourth in points and knew, no matter what, I had nothing to lose. I went there to ride with everything I had. I was second in the first moto. Going into the last moto, I was two points ahead of Ferry and six points behind Short. I was going into that moto to win the race. I got a great start and was winning the race when I made a dumb mistake and hit the front brake too hard and fell. I was in third place and knew I needed to pass Grant Langston to get second. I was charging hard and two laps from the end, I started to put pressure on Langston and I think he thought, ‘I’ve got the overall’ and he moved over and let me by. Over the next big jump I gave him the thumbs up to thank him. I finished second overall and so many people at KTM were really happy. It was a fantastic year. KTM and Red Bull were behind me the whole time and I really want to say thanks to them for being there for me.

What are your goals for both the opening races of the season and supercross championship itself?
Right now, as far as my goals and plans are concerned, it’s still a little too early to tell. I’ve just gotten to the point where I can do two 20-minute motos. I don’t know what my speed is like against the other guys right now. If any of the guys — Stewart, Reed, Short, any of them — want to come ride with me at my track, I’d be more than happy to invite them. I’d love to know where my speed is when compared to the good guys. But I guess I can say my goal would be top five. I’d like to finish in the top five, and the top three would be awesome. To stay healthy, though, that’s the main thing — to be healthy going into the outdoors. But my goal in supercross is the top five.

Within the racing community, a number of people have come to agree that the Alessi family —you, your dad and your brother Jeff — has really made an effort to be more cooperative and approachable. In other words, maybe a few of the negative things that have happened in the past have been forgotten and been replaced by goodwill and sincerity. Would you agree?
Yeah, I would agree. A lot of things have turned around for us. I think now it’s kind of like, “Mike Alessi is not a bad kid.” Yeah, in the past I think we may have made some dumb moves, but now it’s more like, “These guys are good motocross people who just want to do their best and try and win. They’re not here to T-bone people and do bad things.” It’s been great that people have taken the time to see that we are good people and we’re pleased people have noticed it. We really appreciate it.

Good luck with getting ready for Anaheim, Mike.
Thank you.