Rob Andrews interview

Posted on November 08, 2018

Former GP rider Rob Andrews has for many years been very vocal about the way the spot is bring run, being as honest as he can, and trying to help make some areas better.

As a commentator for Eurosport in the United Kingdom, Andrews has a similar job to Paul Malin, who works for MXGP.tv, and as a former racer, he always tries to give the viewer an inside look into what the riders are thinking and doing; something that most of us non-racers can’t really see or deliver.

Andrews raced in the 1980s golden era of 500cc motocross, first as a privateer, then a factory rider, and also represented his country at the Motocross of Nations. He was also a test rider for many years for Dirt Bike Rider magazine in England and still races occasionally today  in veteran events.

With a  long career as a racer and now as the inside man for British television MXLarge asked Andrews his opinion on a number of things, including the Motocross of Nations, and the MXGP series.

MXlarge: Rob, you came from and raced in that 1980’s golden era of motocross, the era that many say was the golden time of the 500cc class in Europe. How does today compare to that era?

Andrews: It is very good today. The thing with eras, you don’t always recognize how good it is at the time. When I was racing in 1986, there were nine World champions in the class, but I didn’t sit there thinking, ‘Wow, this is the best era ever’. It is only with the benefit of hindsight that you can look back and think, ‘Wow, that was a pretty good time’. I’m sure that in the future people will look back at these last couple of years in MXGP and also think it was really a good time.

You can’t deny the concentration of class in the 450 class. Last year I think there were 21 former GP winners in the MXGP class. You can’t criticize the talent, the speed or the professional attitude of the riders today, just like you couldn’t in the 1980s either. Whether it will stay like that, I don’t know, because what we have at the moment is Jeffrey running away at the front, and I don’t see anyone touching him for a while. So, that will change the dynamic a little bit. If Jeffrey continues to dominate will he lose the motivation to push at that level? I feel you only go as fast as you need to win the race. If Tony retires and nobody else challenges Jeffrey there is the risk that he will slow down. Also if Jeffrey dominates for a few years, that statistic I mentioned about 21 former GP winners, that type of thing will evaporate, because we will end up with one dominant rider taking all the wins and just a couple of World champions racing in the class.

MXlarge: Speaking of Herlings. I don’t know if you have read it on my site, and maybe I get too enthusiastic, but I look at Jeffrey, and I am just amazed what he does. With Stefan, who is probably the most amazingly talented rider the sport has seen, but even with Stefan, you would sometimes watch and go WOW, with Jeffrey, it seems like it is nearly every single time he goes out, it’s the WOW factor. What do is your opinion on Jeffrey?

Andrews: I have watched every lap of every race for the last four or five years, working with Eurosport in the UK. Back when Stefan was at his peak he was the only rider where I would say to myself, ‘Oh my god, what did he just do?!’ I would then have to rewind it and watch it again. I have been involved in this sport for a long time, and I am not easily impressed but with Stefan I used to be. I’m now feeling the same with Jeffrey. Some things he does are simply amazing, and he seems to ride a different track to the others. He can identify things that the others just don’t see, like hitting little braking bumps and jumping off those to miss bigger bumps further along. The other riders could do exactly the same thing. It isn’t impossible, but the others just don’t seem to have that vision; that creativity; that imagination. Particularly in sand, its most noticeable. I love watching Herlings. He is another level at the moment. The other guys need to go watch videos of what he is doing and figure it out.

MXlarge: What gets me is how powerful he looks on the bike, he just turns that big 450 when he wants to and where he wants it to go. A bit like riding a bronco even.

Andrews: Yes, but other riders have that same strength too. He isn’t necessarily the physically strongest rider in the class. Fitness isn’t down to talent either. There’s no reason why any of those riders couldn’t be the fittest rider in the class. It’s down to hard work, not talent. Likewise starting isn’t down to talent either, but practice. We see that with Prado. There is no reason why any rider in that class couldn’t holeshot every single race. It’s down to practice, not talent.

MXlarge: Moving onto the MXoN. Were you surprised with what happened at Redbud?

Andrews: I was and I wasn’t. On one hand I was surprised because we have been conditioned to never bet against the Americans. They were the dominant team for so long. So we would never say that we didn’t think the Americans would be good, or that they would struggle to make the podium. Saying that was setting yourself up to look stupid. However, really we have been seeing this coming for a while. The US haven’t been the strongest team since Lommel in 2012, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise.

I admire the Americans and their unwavering belief in themselves. They are convinced they are the best team, even when they lose. Of course, they have been in the past and they are still a very strong nation, but they are convinced they are the best team irrespective of the results. So, when something like this happens and they lose - and they certainly didn’t expect to lose at home - it must be devastating for them.

People therefore give them a hard time. When the British team finished fifth we didn’t slate them in the press, or on forums. We said  ‘Well, they tried hard; let’s hope we can do better next year’. For the Americans they seem to take it very hard and the fans and the media - although not so much the riders - seem to feel like they need to find something to explain the loss away. That is why we hear comments about the track, and other things.

I think they need to go in simply with lower expectations. Aim to do simply better than last year and maybe set the target as a podium. They set the bar so high that anything but domination is a failure.

MXlarge: They also use the supercross thing as a reason, but I don’t get that, because they have had two or three eras of supercross and for sure, back in the 1980s the supercross tracks were more or less just indoor motocross tracks, but the last 20 years, with Carmichael, Stewart, Villopoto and Dungey, those guys also rode the same schedule as the guys now, and those guys won the Nations. To me, its just a terrible excuse.

Andrews: I totally agree with you and I don’t buy into that at all. Saying their concentration is on supercross is something that has just come up in the last few years. I like supercross, and I will be going to A1 again in 2019. The riders also love it and they make a lot of money. It’s easier and they don’t spend a lot of time on the bike. And so that appears to be where their current focus is and that is where they are earning their money. But, as you said, it’s always been like that. Supercross has been going since 1972, and it’s been around ever since. It’s always been their focus, even during the time that America dominated the nations. In fact, when they started to dominate it was accepted that supercross was the reason for their dominance!. So, I don’t buy that all and I don’t know the answer.

MXlarge: I think since they change to the one-day format in motocross, to make it more interesting for the riders and teams to do the Nationals, and the FIM series went from just racing Sunday to also racing Saturday, I think that is what has changed it. We race a lot of motocross and they don’t. Until that changes, I think it stays like this. No doubt Herlings and Cairoli have also brought the level up, that is probably the main thing. The GP guys race a much more diverse type of track than the AMA guys do. I know Davey (Coombs) doesn’t agree, but watching the nationals on television, those tracks all look rather similar, prepared the same, not much racing on them, so maybe they don’t get as rough as the GP tracks, who run five classes on the track sometimes over two days and those tracks get really rough and often very ugly.

Andrews: I don’t know if I agree with you on that completely. The American tracks I have seen - and like you I haven’t been to one but have watched a lot on television – they seem to get plenty rough enough. In fact, I think the National tracks are better designed than the GP tracks. I don’t like how some of the GP tracks are designed, and I don’t feel that they make for good racing. But that is another discussion.

The GP riders have to ride on some pretty horrible tracks, like the one in Indonesia and the one in Turkey. I think those are dreadful tracks, but does that make the GP riders more versatile? Maybe, because they rider on a lot of different circuits. But does riding around a terrible track in Turkey make them better at a track like Redbud? I don’t think so. They’re two completely different tracks and I don’t see how riding at Turkey helps them for Redbud.

You mention the two-day format and that they are riding more, I don’t put too much weight to that either. I don’t think the fact the GP riders’ race two days is a major factor in their fitness. The American riders train all week I’m sure. But, I do think the American riders have taken their eye off the ball a bit. Whenever I see a video of an American rider practicing they seem to be riding on a billiard table-smooth track. That’s nothing like they will be racing on. I think that is a factor. Certainly the European riders have become more versatile riding on different tracks, but I don’t know if that is solely the answer to why they were faster at Redbud.

MXlarge: What has impressed me over the last few years is the coverage of the MXGP series. We are roughly the same age, and I know when I grew up in Australia, the emphasize in Australia was all on the AMA series. My first motocross hero was Marty Smith and we followed the AMA series, my first GP I attended was the USGP in 1984 at Carlsbad and I couldn’t wait to see guys like Broc Glover and Ricky Johnson racing, but the coverage from Youthstream and a handful of European websites has really taken the sport to another level as far as quality coverage goes. To the point Worldwide the sport in Europe is really getting equal coverage as the American series. Now we are seeing these Redbull videos, which to me are the best videos I have ever seen on the sport in Europe. You work for Eurosport covering the event, and that is something that has also grown around Europe is the television coverage. What is your opinion on that?

Andrews: The coverage is good, you get all the races on TV around the world and if you choose, you can subscribe and get the qualification races online also. The coverage is good, but times have moved on so we expect that. There was no internet back in the day after all. In the 1980s motocross wasn’t televised as much but when it was it was on main-stream BBC television, not online or satellite. So, there is an argument that it still isn’t on main-stream TV.  But the coverage is pretty good. There are a lot of good things Youthstream have done but still many decisions that I do not agree with but you can’t level much criticism at the media coverage.

MXlarge: You still work with Jack Burnicle on the television commentary?

Andrews: I work with either Jack or Roger Warren. Jack’s priority is the Superbikes and if the MXGP doesn’t clash with the Superbikes, then he will be there.

MXlarge: When you think of motocross journalism, you think of Jack and probably Eric Johnson being a level above everyone else. I don’t think there is anyone who writes like those two. To me they are like Ricky Carmichael or Stefan Everts, those type of guys only come along once in a life-time. You have a long relationship with Jack. Do you think that maybe because motocross is a poor man’s sport, or maybe an uneducated sport, that we don’t have more journalists like Jack and Eric?

Andrews: They are both very good writers, and there are a few journalists that can write very well. I don’t even know if Jack trained as a journalist. It is a skill isn’t it. Jack was just a master of the English language and he could paint a vivid picture with just a few words. From what Jack has told me over the years that skill he learnt from writing letters back and forth with his father, and that is how it evolved. I love the way Jack writes. There are other good guys too. I like Eric Johnson’s stuff, Davey Coombs’ and I also like how Adam Wheeler writes. They are proper journalists.     

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