“I love this sport so much and I love to travel and be at the races,” says Stefan Everts. This declaration makes complete sense coming from a man who won a total of ten FIM World Motocross Championships and stood atop the victory podium at 101 Grands Prix during his sixteen-year racing career. Son of four-time world champion Harry Everts, it can certainly be contended that Belgium’s Stefan Everts is the greatest FIM World Motocross Championship rider who ever lived (a hell of a feat considering the sport dates back to 1957). And now, for the 2016 MXGP season, Everts will once again race for a world title, this time as a team owner.
After recently parting ways with KTM—where he operated in the role of race director and rider coach—Everts recently came to an agreement with Sylvain Geboers and Geboers Racing Promotions to assume the lofty title of team principal with the organization. As part of the new agreement, Geboers, also from Belgium and part of the dynasty that made that nation the strongest motocross power in the world during the late 1960s and early 1970s, will remain on with the team and assist Everts during the transition. “What we have now is a good opportunity for GRP, Suzuki and Stefan,” said Geboers via a press release. “I think Stefan can be a huge help to riders and know what it takes to win and become a champion.”
In 2016 Everts will oversee a full-on works program that will send out veterans Kevin Strijbos and Ben Townley in the MXGP classification as well as Jeremy Seewer and Brian Hsu in the MX2 division. We were stoked to track down our buddy recently and get the inside line straight from him.
Racer X: Stefan, so how does it feel to be a MXGP team owner?
Stefan Everts: Yeah, I’m very excited. You know it’s like the new chapter of my life just started and I’m happy. We’re very happy to get this opportunity. If it would have come to us two years ago it would not have been at the right time. Everything fell together with the right timing. Sylvain [Geboers] was looking out for his retirement and looking for a replacement and I was not feeling in the right place anymore at KTM and this came along. It took us a while to make the decision because it’s a very big step and a very big responsibility. Suzuki is really big in the sport and in GP racing. It’s a very big, very well-respected team and Sylvain is a very big personality and to step into his show is… like I said, a very big responsibility and it took me a little bit of time to make the decision, but it was now or never and I took the chance.
How did the opportunity to become team principal present itself? Did Sylvain Geboers come to you with a proposal, or did you hear that there might be an opportunity to work with Geboers and the team and you sought him out?
We have been friends for a long time. Sylvain has known me since I was born. He was the mechanic for my father back in the late 1970s. He became team manager and then we started working together at Suzuki in 1989 and I was selected to be on his team and he was my team manager. Between the Geboers and the Everts families, there is a long, long history and we have had a lot of contact just because of friendship and respect to each other and we get along really well. Also, the situation with KTM was going in a different direction and I was not feeling happy anymore. At one point, my wife and myself, we started talking about the team and thinking about maybe taking it over. So we called them up and asked if it was possible to speak about it. This was last winter when it all started. From there, yeah, it all started rolling.
Between your father winning three 125cc World Championships in 1979, 1980 and 1981, and yourself winning the 125cc world title in 1991, the Everts family certainly has a long history with Suzuki.
Yeah, that’s true. Actually Sylvain organized support for me to ride for Suzuki back in 1988 when I started to race 125s in the juniors. He called Japan and asked Suzuki if it was possible to get some support for me, and they sent two standard bikes from Japan, so that’s where it all started for me. And then during the next five years I was a part of the factory team. The first three years I was on the 125, and in ’92 and ’93 I was on the 250. So, yeah, it’s a little bit of a coming home again because that’s where it all started with me in GP racing.
Will you be the team owner or co-owner? What will your actual role be and what will it entail?
Yeah, I will be the team owner. With GRP, that’s Geboers Racing Promotions, we will take over the company. GRP has been running the factory team for Suzuki here in the GPs in Europe and the rest of the world, and yeah, I’m going to be team owner and I’m going to be in charge of a lot of things, so I’m very thankful and happy that Sylvain will be by our side for the next three years because he’s going to be our consultant. He’ll especially help us to learn how to deal with the Japanese people at Suzuki. The trust that he built up with Japan is big and you just don’t get that trust on a plate, it will take a bit of time and it is good that he’s there on my side and he’ll try and introduce everything to us step-by-step. And also there are many other points to learn, especially on the technical-side. We also have great mechanics and we’ve got great people inside the team who have been there for many years. I feel confident and I feel strong that we will get there eventually.
It wasn’t only that and there were more things, but you know, Herlings had something to do with it. That’s clear.
Will you run the entire team? Will you also work with the riders? It sounds to me like you’re going to be the man on this whole enterprise.
Well, I can’t run everything, but I will have good people around me and everyone will have their function and their job. But, yeah, it’s up to me to follow everything up in general and I think the main point for me will be to also work with the riders and coach them together with my dad. He’ll be there every second and every minute that they are riding and racing and I’m going to be there as much as I can. Of course I will also have other duties to fill in, but overall, I know this is something strong that I have here and I need to maintain working closely with the riders and put most of my important time towards that because at the end of the day we are there to [get] race results, and we get the results when the riders are doing well. Having a team these days is like a small company because you have so many people working with it. Like I said, you have to have good people around. My wife Kelly, she will be there. She’ll be doing a big part of the job and she’s going to be there and for me, that’s also a very important part of it.
Will you and your team interact at all with the U.S.-based Suzuki race teams?
The plan is to have an overall data bank where information goes and all other official Suzuki teams can follow up with it—like what we run and what they run. We had a meeting in the USA with all the teams when the GP ran there, like with RCH and [James] Stewart’s Yoshimura team. I think it’s important to try and put the feedback from every side of the world together. I feel that you are stronger together than just by yourself. This is the plan. To work daily on this is, of course, impossible because everyone has their schedule and all that. Overall, yes, there will be some connection.
So in 2016 Kevin Strijbos and Ben Townley will compete in MXGP for your team?
Yeah, Kevin is there with us for the next three years. He’s been racing ten years for Suzuki, so he’s a very familiar rider. We have changed Kevin’s program completely with a different trainer and a different way of working now. In the beginning he was not so open to it, but after a lot of talking, he really opened up and is really interested now. He’s been at Suzuki for many years and he’s a great rider, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen his true potential over a whole GP season. That’s my vision with Kevin—to really bring him to his true level. He’s a very, very talented kid and I still believe we haven’t seen all he has yet.
As far as Ben Townley goes… This was already up in the air for a number of months, but for me, it was very important to see him race and what he showed at Ernee was fantastic, you know? After being away for so long and then being able to come back and race with the top guys like he did was incredible. I mean, it doesn’t say a lot because racing a whole championship is different, but you see that he has still got it. He’s still got good speed. Also, we had a lot of long talks with Ben and he really opened up and he’s really keen to be open to listen and how to work and how to think. I think you need good people around you to succeed in something. It’s impossible with anything you do in this world to do it by yourself. I believe we can do some great things with Ben. I think his comeback is something special and brings some extra attention, which is good for us. Of course, we also need to come with the results. For me, it is very important for Ben to finish off the season in one piece and this is also a big ambition for Ben. As long as we build it step-by-step and don’t try and do two or three steps at a time, I’m sure if we can succeed with this then we will have a great result at the end of the season.
I have to ask you: what happened with KTM? Was it just not working out for you anymore? How did it come to an end?
After Mexico in 2014, I went home with a really bad feeling and this was already going on for some time. After Mexico I decided to step away from the official MX2 team and to do the KTM junior team. So I went to Austria and we had a long talk with Pit [Beirer] and Pit was very, very kind and KTM has been very fair. So I said, “Listen, let’s do this for a year and see what happens and if I’m not happy, I will stop and walk away.” Pit said, “Okay, that’s fine.” So I had two more years with KTM—2015 and 2016—and they were very, very fair to me. I went back to them at one point and said, “Listen, this Suzuki thing came up and you guys have the last word. If you have anything else to offer me, I’m willing to listen. You have the last chance.” Nothing came up, which was very interesting, and after that I made my decision to go to Suzuki. KTM has been very fair and very kind and I appreciate everything that they’ve done for me and the chance I got from them, so we walk away in friendship and with a good feeling. That made me happy.
Most people close to the sport knew there was a lot of tension between you and Jeffrey Herlings inside the KTM camp. Did that play any part in why you decided to move on from KTM?
Yeah, I mean, I don’t have to lie here. It had something to do with it. It wasn’t only that and there were more things, but you know, Herlings had something to do with it. That’s clear.
I’ve known you a long time. I think this new team is a fantastic opportunity for you. The Everts’ motocross dynasty keeps on trucking, huh?
It’s weird in a way how life sometimes turns and changes and it’s nice. In a way, it’s really nice to see this happening, especially for Sylvain. I see he’s a very satisfied man and he’s happy that someone with a lot of passion can follow up and step into his footsteps and keep everything moving along.