Tommy Searle interview - Honda

Posted on October 20, 2019

I am not sure too many people would argue if you said Tommy Searle might just be the best Grand Prix rider from Great Britain since the great Dave Thorpe back in the 1980s. Sure James Dobb also has a bunch of GP wins (11) and a World 125 championship,  and add Kurt Nicoll to that list, with his 13 GP wins and multiple top three finishes in the 500cc class, however Searle carried that special X-factor for a long period of his career, coming oh so close to his boyhood dream.

From his early arrival in 2006 he looked special, and when he swept to a British Grand Prix victory at the Donnington Park circuit a year later, until his last at Teutschenthal, Germany in 2012, “Tommy Gun” has something about him. A sort of swagger that only the best has.


We all remember on that beautiful day at Matterley Basin in 2012 when he took on the seemingly unbeatable Jeffrey Herlings and came away with another GP victory, or his bar to bar battles with Antonio Cairoli in the 2007 MX2 championship. On both occasions, against two of the best GP riders ever, Searle finished second in the World. Nothing to be ashamed about, but short of what he felt was real success.

Searle also finished second to Tyla Rattray in the 2008 MX2 championship and scored third place in 2011, this time beaten only by those two youngsters, Ken Roczen and Herlings. Between 2008 and 2011 Searle moved to America, just a teenager, but excited to battle the best in the AMA supercross and AMA motocross championships. While he never really had the success he had achieved in Europe, it was an experience he would never forget, living the dream of any young British motocross rider at that time.

Yes, this young man from Pembury in England didn’t just race in the FIM Motocross World Championship, he came within inches of becoming a World Motocross champion and no doubt, his GP victories won’t be forgotten quickly.

Now, with his GP career seemingly over, Searle has turned to the greatest British GP rider of all time, Dave Thorpe, and Thorpe’s British based Buildbase Honda team. A team that has also had major success in the UK, and no doubt, these two British icons, can work together to make sure Searle gets to end of his illustrious career and can put a few more British championships in the bank.

MXlarge: You will be racing just Maxxis British championship in 2020, and maybe a few Grand Prix’s but not the full series. Are you finished now with the GP scene?

Searle: It isn’t that I have had enough of Grand Prix’s, and it isn’t that I don’t like going to the Grand Prix’s. I still enjoy racing the World championship and it is the pinnacle of the sport, in motocross it is the premier championship in the World. Where I am at the moment in my career, I didn’t want to go down the same route as last year, or the previous few years. It has nothing to do with the team last year, it is just in general, I know what it takes to win races and I know what it takes from a team to win races and if I wasn’t able to be on a factory supported team. You can do it without a factory team, don’t get me wrong, but everything has to align so much, you can do it one weekend and that is great, but it just isn’t possible to get the results I know I can still get.


MXlarge: As you know, it is a real spiral, if you are with a team like KTM or HRC and you get injured, then you don’t often get a second chance and once you are out of those factory teams, it is hard to get back in full-time. I think for half the field in MXGP it is like that sometimes?

Searle: It isn’t just me, it is life and you don’t get the results and being the rider like I feel I am, you are positive you can do to a smaller team in GP and think you can turn it around, but if that was the route I wanted to go down, and I am happy with the decision I have made. Step away from GPs and I have enjoyed my time there and I am not bitter, or thinking GPs are shit and I don’t want to go there, it is just the situation I am in, and I want to ride for Dave (Thorpe) and enjoy my racing.

MXlarge: You mentioned it is the premier series in the World, and I think the structure has made it that way, with the age rule, the EMX and the stacked MXGP class, but it also costs guys like yourself, because MXGP can be like a revolving door. I think 10 years ago you probably did have another three or four years in the class. What is you’re feeling about that, do you agree with the system or think it is too tough?

Searle: Difficult to say really. When I went to MX1, I was ready to go to MX1, I could have stayed down more years with the age rule, but I was ready to move up. I went to America when I could have stayed in MX2, but I chose to go to America, and I came back and still had two years in MX2. Some riders are different, and every riders career is different. I had my first podium at 16, my first GP win at 17, a lot of other riders, he could have one more year fighting for podium and go to MXGP with confidence, but he might have to move up earlier. It is what it is, and you can’t change the rule. I think some guys it would be nice if they stayed down, but for example, Tim Gajser, he doesn’t need to stay down, Jorge Prado same story. I think Gajser can still race MX2.

MXlarge: Yes, just turned 23.

Searle: So, he isn’t somebody who was pushed up because of the age rule and he adapted well. Everyone is different though.


MXlarge: Another question, you came out of MX2 and I think everyone felt you could easily have finished top three in the World in MXGP/MX1. I think talent wise, if I think of guys from England or maybe even Great Britain, you are the best guy from the last 15 years and maybe even the best guy since Dave Thorpe in the 1980s. I remember you getting injured in Thailand, but maybe even before that it seems you didn’t have a lot of luck. Was Thailand the start of the end for you?

Searle: I think so, difficult to say. When I moved to the 450 class in 2013, I had all the factory teams chasing me, I could have picked just about any team I wanted, and had I been able to go back to 2013, I would have signed for a factory team. I was a little naive, I thought I could stay on a satellite-based team. I got on the standard Kawasaki 450 and I thought the bike felt great, I can win on this bike. It didn’t work out that way, I probably should have signed for a factory team. Even so, in that first year on the 450, I won a couple of qualification races, I was fighting for podiums, I went 3-4 like three times that year and was close to the podium but didn’t get on it. I felt in 2014 I could have gone to a factory team again, but I wasn’t allowed, I had signed a two-year deal with Kawasaki. Then the following year I got onto the KTM factory team, but I got hurt in Thailand and I had a lot of injures after that. I was always trying to come back early, and it didn’t help my confidence and how my contract was. It didn’t spiral, because at times I felt great on the bike with KTM, so I got the opportunity, but I just didn’t get the results. I mean that year, I got injured in the first round, then injured my thumb in the second round and then broke my back in Thailand. The whole year I was trying to come back early. I didn’t go the way I wanted it to unfortunately.

MXlarge: When I think about your career, 14 Grand Prix wins, second in the World, some really good Motocross of Nations performances, you also raced in America. Set yourself up for life I would think. You can’t really have too many regrets I would think?

Searle: No regrets really, I mean, it would have been nice to be a World champion, because that was the goal. I think a lot of people forget I had 14 GP wins and I went to America in my prime and had I not gone, maybe I could have had 30 GP wins and been up there with the best of them. I chose to go to America, and I did enjoy my time there and I wouldn’t change that. As an 18-year-old kid living in America and that was the dream at the time. Maybe I could regret not staying in Europe back then and winning a World championship, or maybe I could regret not going to a factory team in that first year in the 450 class. That would probably be the one thing I would have changed. I am not happy with my 450 careers, because I wanted to do big things, but my MX2 career was pretty good. I am pretty happy and moving on is okay.

MXlarge: I don’t think you have ever raced a Honda, how was it riding it for the first time?

Searle: I actually rode one when I nearly signed for HRC in 2013, but I can’t remember it that well. I rode Dave’s (Thorpe) this week and I was surprised, or maybe not surprised, because I had watched his riders on it at the British championship and they were always fast. I was really happy with the bike, and Dave’s bikes are production based, but the balance and the way it rides was nice.


MXlarge: Speaking of Dave (Thorpe) he is one of only two British riders above you in GP wins, and obviously a legend in the sport. You must be excited to be riding for him?

Searle: I am really looking forward to it. I have known Dave for a few years now and he is very level-headed and does it with the correct point of view. He is excited to have me in the team and it is really nice to have that. All round I am happy with the deal I have.

MXlarge: As defending British champions, would you wear number one for the Maxxis, or number 100?

Searle: No, number 100. It feels strange, I always look at the World champion as number one. To win a British championship and wear number one, it just doesn’t feel correct.

MXlarge: Last question. Let’s say you have a really good year in England, and a top GP team decides they want you for the GPs. Would you come back?

Searle: Yes, if I won everything in the UK, do okay in a GP or two, do well in an AMA National, then I might go back to the Grand Prix. I want to race a couple of Grand Prix’s in 2020 and also maybe a round of the AMA Nationals. I don’t hate GP’s and I would go with the right bike, but if a factory team wanted me to race for them, I would, but I can’t see the way my career is heading that they would want me. I mean there are plenty of young kids coming up and some teams in the Grand Prix don’t want to pay, and I won’t race GP motocross for nothing. 

Honda images Adam Duckworth/ KTM images Ray Archer