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Qualifying rounds at Matterley Basin MXON

Searle Looks to 2018 MXGP With Renewed Vigour

Nov 012017

One of the nicer stories of the 2017 MXGP campaign happened in the last minutes and seconds of a long year of racing. Monster Energy DRT Kawasaki Tommy Searle was finally able to crest the podium in front of thousands of home fans at Matterley Basin in October and the 71st Motocross of Nations by helping Team Great Britain to the first trophy in the historic competition in two decades.

Back in the opening months of ‘17 Searle hardly had reason to smile and couldn’t have envisioned a Nations appearance for his country, and almost certainly a last representation under the Union Jack on UK dirt. The 27 year old former triple MX2 world championship runner-up was in the midst of an early recovery from a knee reconstruction that would cause him to sit on the sidelines for half of the season. Just when the popular Brit was ready to make his 2017 GP bow he hit a track post while training and broke his hand: another setback.

Searle finally returned at the Grand Prix of Switzerland in August and showed enough speed, potential and exasperation to convince Team GBR Team Manager Mark Chamberlain he was worth a gamble for the Nations. It was a relief and a happy ending to two years of hurt for Searle. #100 now has his sights set on a strong winter programme, and at last aim for MXGP prominence in what has been an impressive career hindered by recent turbulence.

We snatched a talk with the Kawasaki stalwart athlete and DRT rider for 2018…

"The first injury was a big blow because I knew straightway that it had ruined the season even before it had started."

This year beggared belief in terms of luck. Was there a point when you thought: ‘bo****ks to it all’…

It is a bit difficult to say. The first injury was a big blow because I knew straightaway that it had ruined the season even before it had started. Then all the focus just goes straight to getting ready again and you put in so much time and effort, almost every day. Around four weeks after the injury and operation and once everything had settled I could do light exercise then three times a day I would either be in the gym, with the physio or working alone or swimming. You do all you can to get back as quickly as you can. I arrive to a point where I was feeling really strong on the bike and with my knee and then – as everyone knows – I ‘did’ my hand. I was going so well…it was a massive blow. It was almost even harder to take than my knee. I knew the knee would take time but the hand just put me back to the beginning. The whole period was hard mentally but that second problem was really tough. I thought the hand would be better a lot sooner and when I started riding it was difficult and just kept taking time. I finally got to a good place, and where I could come back to the team and start enjoying it. Everything can change so fast in this sport: as long as I am healthy and I feel good on the bike then I’m happy. When you are not riding and you’re struggling then it takes a toll on everything: home life, professional life, people around me. Sophie [girlfriend] gets it the worse and more than anyone because I’m moody at home. I was upset but it was quite easy to re-focus to getting back ready. I’m the sort of person who always needs a goal; I cannot just wake up and wonder what to do with the day. I knew I needed to get my knee right, so it was quite easy to put my focus into that.

Do you think things go around in circles? You were so successful and prolific from fifteen years of age and never really had any problems but then the last few years have been so hard…

There are different ways to look at it. I was obviously lucky when I was young that I had good people around me and good guidance. I put a lot of effort in and worked hard but at the same time a lot of things went my way. You get other riders that struggle when they are young and then maybe have one, two or three good years whereas I had eight good years. I had one little injury in America but then came back here and had another three solid seasons. Last year I was OK but the previous two years were horrible for injuries. Some things are out of your control and they just happen. It gets everyone. If you look at anyone’s career then you get that. Some at the very top have less injury but there are plenty of riders who have been so close to making it but then get hurt. It is hard to dwell on it too much. Over the years I haven’t done too badly. Some people have been quick to say ‘he gets injured too easily’ but I think you can say that of many riders. We say it a lot but it is part of the sport. Some riders are more prone to it and take silly risks but I don't, and I very rarely crash…I just had two big ones in Thailand! Some of the accidents haven’t been my fault. You just pick yourself up and carry on.

"I’m not a rider that has a strange feeling when it comes to that: I know I can do it."

You mentioned guidance in the early years. Is that something you still need in some ways or does experience negate that?

I think everyone needs something. There is knowing what to do…and then [someone] being able to take the weight and the worry away. This comes through listening to somebody and removing any doubt. You don't over-think, you just do what you are told. You get your confidence and go and race. I think everyone needs that. It might have been [Ryan] Dungey who said that he worked as hard as anyone but once he got on the Aldon Baker programme it took the doubt away. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, sometimes it pays to change things up and sometimes it pays to go back to what you know. Different things work for different people. It is hard to have someone in this sport who knows what they are doing and who are wiling to help. It is not easy to find really good people.

Do you feel that you still need to climb a hill to get competitive in MXGP?

When I’m healthy then I feel good and ready for any challenge. The thing I have on my side is that I have beaten all these people before. I’m not a rider that has a strange feeling when it comes to that: I know I can do it. There are some who have tried as hard as they could but never reached the top whereas I have made it. There was a list made of current GP winners recently and I’m fifth on the list and even ahead of some people out there who have been world champion. I know what it takes and I’m willing to sacrifice anything to be there again. Now it is a bit different with the MXGP teams and the amount of effort the factory teams are putting into the class. We have a non-factory team but if things are done right – and they seem to be going in a really good direction here – then we can have a competitive bike. I need to put myself in a good position with a good winter, injury-free and hard work and I feel I can come into the start of the season pushing for podium positions and top fives. It is hard to say “I want to be on the podium every week…” because there are so many good riders but I feel like I am one of them. I need to make the best of what I have here with Kawasaki, the suspension and the engine guys we are working with.

"At the time I had a lot of pressure anyway to come back and ride and with that as well and all the talk and the s**t going on I thought ‘do I really need this as well?’ but it all turned out well."

At one point this year you were on a long list of riders without a contract for 2018. Was that a case of adding another worry to the plate?

Yeah, it was another worry. That’s the way it is now: it seems like it is a fight just to get a contract and it didn't used to be like that. People are also offering to ride for free and that screwed a lot of others up because that is our living. Yeah, it is a fun job at the same time but I think people shouldn't be offering to do it for free. We put our life and limbs on the line and considering the amount of effort we put in then it seems a strange thing to do.

The Nations turned out fantastically but there was a moment where being selected invited some criticism. For you personally it must have been one of the best confidence-boosters this year that Mark Chamberlain believed in you…

That was nice. Around the time the team was being picked I was not in good shape and just coming back from injury. It was nice that he believed in me and knew what I was capable of. At the time I had a lot of pressure anyway to come back and ride and with that as well and all the talk and the s**t going on I thought ‘do I really need this as well?’ but it all turned out well. The last few years I’ve enjoyed the work and the practicing but not so much at the races themselves because I was putting too much pressure on myself and some issues were going on and I had a few problems. It was a struggle but I got to the point at the end of the season where I was in a good place.