Jeremy Van Horebeek has been one of the revelations of the MXGP class this year. The 24-year-old Belgian posted his tenth consecutive podium finish from eleven rounds of the FIM Motocross World Championship in Germany last weekend with a 4-3. The 2013 Motocross of Nations champion (with Belgium) has increased his stock immensely in his second season in the premier class and turned around the fortunes of the factory Yamaha crew who had suffered through two campaigns of incredible bad luck in terms of injuries. We grabbed five minutes with the affable “JVH” after he moved to within 37 points of Tony Cairoli at the top of the MXGP tree.
Racer X: So, a tenth podium. It didn’t look easy today.
Jeremy Van Horebeek: It was not easy at all. I was sick all week and not practicing or doing much to try and be fit for this weekend. Yesterday I had a lot of energy but today not too much. I messed up my starts and had to come back through … eating a lot of stones on the way! That was pretty painful because those things hurt, even through the chest protector. The podium ended up making today a good day, so I have to be happy. On this track you just need to follow and ride aggressively. Everybody is going the same and you can see in the second moto that guys like Dennis Ullrich were able to stay at the front for five or six laps and on other tracks they would never do this. It’s really fast out there and it’s all about the start, and I missed those this weekend. Still, ten [podiums] in a row now and everything is possible.
How was it racing hard against Cairoli in that first moto? It was intense stuff but you held him off.
At the beginning of the year I always got a bit nervous when Tony or a good guy came up behind me but I’ve managed to learn to deal with the stress and the pressure. It doesn't matter who is there now, it is just a matter of time [before he beats them all]. I didn't open any doors to let him by and just rode smooth like I normally do. It was a great battle, actually.
You’ve always seemed to be a bit of a slow burn talent in GPs. You are only 24 but you needed a few years in MX2 to get up to speed.
When I started GPs it didn't go perfectly and I was hanging around the back of the pack but I didn't give up and kept fighting. I said to myself that I would quit when I didn't enjoy it any more but that day never came and I kept pushing. You don't really realise it, but suddenly you are one of “them” and you’re there.
Were there moments of self-doubt on the path to where you are now?
Sometimes I thought, “I’m over it. I’m done.” 2010 in MX2 was hard. Big crashes and small injuries. All those small things become one big thing and I thought, “Let’s do something else.” Then you go home, wake up the next day and decide to work harder. If I knew I would have to go through all the hard things before then I’m not sure I would be here now. All those injuries and setbacks—it’s a story for many riders and many people don't see behind the scenes what you have to go through.
Joining the factory KTM team in 2011 for two years, linking up with Stefan Everts and finishing third in the MX2 championship in ’12; that’s when it clicked for you wasn’t it?
When I started getting on the podium everything was getting better. I had two years with Stefan and he kept reminding me that I had to calm down and keep my feet on the ground. I’m now really thankful for all the advice he gave me, not just for racing but also in private life. I think I’ve learned a lot and I still have to learn a lot because I am only 24. Stefan and I still speak a lot and I really appreciate what he has to say. Those years at KTM were wonderful and when it was time to move on the goal was to do the same in MX1 like I had in MX2. I did not know what to expect. I had some difficulties to choose a team; it was a case of staying with KTM or going somewhere else. I adapted to the 450 pretty quick and I knew I would. People today tell me I am doing really well but to me it feels normal. I don't need to take big risks to do what I am doing. MX1 was a big change in the beginning but now it is routine.
How about being teammate with Jeffrey Herlings? Must have been interesting.
It motivated me a lot. I lived with him and saw how he was. He’d be eating fries between motos and knew I was different because if I did the same then I wouldn't even be in the top ten! It helped me and I knew I had to step it up. We did some stupid things together and were seen as the bad boys. I think the only guy who is faster than me now is Tony [Cairoli]. Jeffrey is still a kid. He is better than before, though! I would like to see him come to MXGP because I don't think he will blow us away.
You are obviously one of Belgium’s top riders now and a Motocross of Nations winner. Your first year in MX1 on the factory Kawasaki was very solid but you changed teams again for 2014. Why move around a lot?
I am looking for the perfect group around me. I might have changed many teams but I have found what I needed now. The Yamaha guys are not only working to help me race but they feel like family, like [Claudio] De Carli with Tony [Cairoli]. If everything keeps going like this then I feel like I can finish my career at Yamaha and not move any more. We might go through some bad times but I feel so much at home here and the relationships are very strong. I felt good with Kawasaki also last year but if I don't have the power to make the bike how I want then it isn’t going to happen. The key to my success is making my own bike. If I am the number one guy then it is going to happen.
Yamaha have had a good record recently in their first year with riders; Philippaerts champion in ’08, Frossard runner-up in ’11. What do you like about the set-up?
I was free to do what I wanted. Michele [Rinaldi, Team Owner] was there for me and ready with any tips but the best thing they said was “It is all there for you, change what you want, do what you want” so that has been a big factor and as a team we have made the bike that I wanted. In the beginning there was so much power with the 450 so we toned that down and tipped the balance of the bike a bit more to the rear. The changes were not that radical but they have worked.
Do you need a mean streak now to win? You have been getting stronger and stronger in MXGP and are just missing a little something to enter the Cairoli-Desalle-Paulin axis.
Tony, Desalle and Paulin have a bit more experience in this class than I have and I don't want to go over the limit and get upside down. I just need to complete this year with a good championship and not take any risks to mess up the progress we have made. I have many seasons ahead of me … but I have been analysing it a lot. Maybe I need to have a little less respect for the others. Not like wiping them out, but I had a conversation with Michele at the French GP recently and he said, “I don't want to push you, but you are one of the main guys now and you have to stop being the nice guy.” That came at me pretty hard, but it was the only thing he wanted to change! It is just around the corner.