Roger Harvey has been the manager of Honda’s European effort in the dirt for a long time now. A former top GP rider from England in the late 1970s, Harvey’s a fixture at the GPs, watching over his Honda teams and making sure things are done right. He’s also a great guy to chat with about the sport on both sides of the ocean. With his MX2 rider Tim Gajser on the verge of clinching the world championship, I sat down with Harvey on Saturday before the USGP.
Racer X: Going into the last round of the series, you’re second and third in the MXGP class, and Tim Gajser is leading the MX2 overall season for Honda. How was the year for Honda?
Roger Harvey: To be honest, we’ve got to be happy with it. If we look at the MXGP, it’s probably been easier this year with the rider injuries, but the target is to get up there, to be on the podiums, and to get both riders in the top three is a bonus for us. [Gautier] Paulin, we knew could win the championship; his potential is to do that. Bobby [Evgeny Bobryshev] we expected to be in the top five, but he stepped right up there and has gone strong.
And after a few years of injury, Bobby has had a nice year.
Yeah, and that’s the problem—the last three or four years injury, and some not nice injuries that he’s had to ride through. Obviously from Russia, he’s a little bit old school. He’s one of the hard-school boys. But we kept the faith in Bobby. A lot of people said to me in the beginning of the year, “Why are you signing Bobby again?” I said, “To be honest, Bobby can be the fastest guy out there.” He has that raw speed. And this year it’s come together, and he’s just probably backed it down 1 or 2 percent, and that’s worked for him.
Gautier is a big signing for Honda this year. He’s won one race. Overall how’s his season been?
It’s been difficult for him. It’s a change. It’s a complete change from the team he was on to this team. This team is controlled by HRC, run by HRC, so before it was more run by Gautier, so he’s had to get used to that situation. It’s not been easy for him, but the transition—he’s come across and he’s gradually jelled with the bike. I think if everybody was in there, it would have been more difficult, but we’ll settle on that. We’ve got no option. We’re second and third—end of story.
Jean-Michel Bayle came on your team this year. Talk about him, what he’s added, and how it’s been.
We spoke a year and a half ago, started speaking to JMB about the possibilities. Gautier was very, very keen to get JMB on board. And he just adds that dynamic. He’s got a lot of experience. And even some of the road-race experience carries over into motocross. We know what he’s done in world championships. We know what he’s done in road racing. We know what he’s done in the U.S. I’d like to mention what he did in the U.S. We’ve got on very well and it’s worked. It’s brought a real good asset to the team and given something for the riders to rely on.
Sort of like what he says you can’t really question it, right?
And that’s one thing of being an ex-champion. They hold that much more credibility than somebody that’s just stood in the pits.
You or I, we could tell them the same thing, but it’s not quite the same.
It’s like the schoolboy dad. The schoolboy dad can tell the kid exactly the same thing as what an ex-rider or an ex-champion will do. They’ll listen to the ex, but they don’t listen to their dad.
And Tim Gajser looks good to win his first world title. It’s been a long time since Honda’s been on the top step in that class. He’s a surprise, yet he’s not. If you saw his raw speed over the years, you kind of saw this coming a little.
We saw that he had speed, but, like last year, we were in the medical center so many times. He was on it but would crash. But then he bounces back stronger, another old-school rider. He gets on with it. He just gets stuck in and works at it. Fitness very good. And now his brother Nate, he’s on board. It’s kind of a family unit. When they go to the grand prix in Europe, mother’s there with her baby. But that’s the way he likes things. That’s what he wants, and he works best under that influence.
So you signed him for a four-year deal?
Yeah, until 2020. We have the option only until 2020, and he’s 19 now so he’s got some time left, but the thing is he’s a big guy so maybe he will move to MXGP sooner. Basically that’s his choice. In discussion with us, he will decide what he wants to do. Theoretically 100 percent we’re going MX2 next year, then maybe MXGP the year after. Then after that, he may come to America. There is that option if he wants to say to HRC, “I’d like to race in America, please.” His dream is to see his name in the book at Anaheim, not necessarily in the book as winner, but I’m sure that’s the ambition. That’s a dream he’s had all his life.
How are his supercross skills?
To be honest, I think they would be okay. But there’s supercross, then there’s American supercross. So maybe he might come out here and do, not some races, but just do a bit of practice and have a look. But once again, we’re open on anything he wants to do like that.
It’s been three years and the USGP is back in America. The last time they were here, you could say they were a disaster as far as American rider participation and fan interest. This year seems a little better. For you, an old-timer guy, what’s gone on with the USGP from where it used to be?
To be honest, the whole system’s changed. The American series is much stronger, so people don’t bother about it for Grand Prix. It’s not like the [Brad] Lackey days and the Danny LaPorte days. That was a target for them was a world championship. Now with the American series being so strong, it’s not so much a target. It’s more a target of the Euros to come over here and race the American series. But the Grands Prix have been gaining in stature. They get stronger and stronger. And that’s good to see. I think from the last time we were here—it was 2011—to now, there’s more American interest. So that helps. Whether we will get to the stage where you have the all the American champions in here or all the top guys remains to be seen. But from 2011 to now it’s grown in stature.
So you think the GPs need to have an American stop?
Of course. We need two. We want one on this coast and one on the other coast. That would be nice because it’s such a big country. Remember you’re as big as Europe basically, so it would be nice to see a couple of Grand Prix on the schedule—one this side, one that side. And, yeah, get the American guys in. Everybody loves that in motocross, don’t they? All the Euros do the Americans; the Americans do the Euros. Let’s give them something to talk about.
So Gajser, 18-point lead on Pauls Jonass. Are you worried about this last round being decided by the American rider presence?
Tim’s strong enough, wise enough to know. He has got a bit of an old head on his shoulders, but then again the young head can pop in occasionally. But he’s wise enough to know what he should be doing, how he should be treating it. His philosophy is I race my same race. And it’ll be interesting to see. But we’ve got to see. I think if the Americans are faster, then Jonass won’t be in front of the Americans. That’s what the feeling is. But if they’re not…. Tim and Jonass have been very, very similar speeds all year.
I was looking through some old motocross magazines, and there was a photo of a guy named Roger Harvey at Bercy or something. It said this a future star of English motocross. Is that you?
Yeah, that was an old book!
Did you know you were once a future star of English motocross, Roger Harvey?
Actually, Ben Townley has just brought it up to me. He said this guy from Pro Circuit—he introduced me to the guy who got the magazine. He said, “He wants you to sign this. Please do.” And it was 1976 Belgian Grand Prix.
The next day, Tim Gajser would beat Pauls Jonass in both motos to secure Honda’s first MX2 World Championship since Alex Puzar in 1995.