In December, we spoke with Bobby Hewitt and Dave Gowland of the Rockstar Energy Racing KTM team on their increase in support from the Austrian brand. While this increase in support helped bring the independent team much-needed resources, there was a constant murmur that the comeback of Husqvarna led by KTM would result in one of their many teams jumping to the white bikes. On the eve of the Glen Helen National it was announced that the Rockstar Energy Racing team would be rebranded yet again, but would now be a full factory supported effort as the official motocross team of the company’s American efforts. Once the announcement was made, we spoke with the two partners on the change and what the future holds.
The last time we talked was in December, during the introduction night for the team’s partnership with KTM. Now we are in May, after scoring a championship and officially becoming a full factory team. How does this feel?
Bobby Hewitt: It feels great [laughs]. Dave and I have been together for ten years now with this and all of the work that we have done has led us to this point. It is gratifying, because we have a great group of guys around that helped us get this. But the reality of it is that now the work really begins. To take an iconic brand like this, bring it back, and have the responsibility of relaunching it like this is a huge honor and task. Dave will just say, “Ditto,” with a lot more articulate words in there.
Dave Gowland: [Laughs] I agree with Bobby on a lot of the aspects he said. In December, we were only focused on what was presented to us at that time with KTM. The whole change over for the shop was maybe a month before that, when we were shipping twelve crates of Suzuki parts overseas. And here we are going to do it again. One of the good things is that riders are getting signed earlier this year and having the alliance between both brands will make the transition seamless. I agree with Bobby on the iconic thing, because when you have a guy like Brad Lackey or even Steve McQueen, who put the thing on the map, and now I’m going to put Jason Anderson on it because he is one of the top riders who can put it on the box. I think it will be just as exciting to have those people on the same page with Husqvarna.
What do you think has more precedence to a sponsor: winning a championship or becoming a factory team?
Dave Gowland: To be quite honest with you, I don’t think they are equal or the same. We have always run this team on passion and the passion to win. Everyone on the team shares that and I think that overall we want to win races. If we can put Husqvarna in the championship chase next year is a huge goal for us and I think we can do it. The talent pool that we are looking at next year has all of the ability to do it and that is what we are focused on.
You will have four positions on the team next year, with Jason already filling one. Do you have riders in mind for the other three?
There are some people who still think this is the old Husqvarna with the red and white plastic, not the new KTM style. Has it been hard to sell people on that?
Dave Gowland: The people we have spoken to obviously have a little more understanding what the make-up of the bike is and knowing the brand haven’t had a lot of reservations. Yeah, there will always be a little skepticism and we won’t be able to get rid of that until the first couple of Anaheim races get by. The will think, “What if?” But if you look at GPs, the bike is finishing on or right around the box. The brand is proven, but the biggest thing people will have to get around is how much is KTM and how much really is a Husqvarna. That is what people will judge the brand on.
Bobby Hewitt: I was telling one of the guys from Husqvarna that the demographics are split a little. If you are thirty-five and older, you understand where Husqvarna came from and its heritage. If you are in your twenties or younger, you don’t know as much about it and that is where you get the skepticism. If you talk to someone Dave and I’s age, it’s no problem. Everyone that has ridden the bike has fallen in love with it and I think personally everyone will be surprised how we do on it, how it preforms, and the quality of the program we will have with the factory and people around. I think that will say a lot.
This isn’t your first time as a factory supported team, but does this feel more important now that you are part of relaunching a brand?
Bobby Hewitt: Oh, absolutely. Roger DeCoster was instrumental in bringing us the factory Suzuki Lites program at the time and I think he was instrumental again. And for whatever reason, he has faith in Dave and myself to take on this challenge and go forward with it. The biggest difference in this is the huge amount of support, it is like five to one. We have engineers, the head of the PR department, the head of factory racing in Europe all here and it is constant communication.
Dave Gowland: The communication is unreal. Even coming from factories, what we received from Suzuki and Kawasaki during our amateur program, the passion and the drive behind the Austrians is incredible. We can ask for something on Saturday and it is there by Wednesday.
How does it feel to have Jason win the championship? You stuck by him during the early parts of his career and now you get to carry him to the 450 class with a full factory bike.
Dave Gowland: Now he is doing us a favor. We may have stuck with him, but now he is staying with us and repaying us the favor.
Bobby Hewitt: I agree. I’ve said many times that one of the most satisfying things in this is to take a guy and watch him develop through the deal. We always say that the most comfortable they should be anywhere, whether it is at home or practice or the track, is underneath our tent. I have been guilty of probably staying with riders for too long, where other people don’t stay with them long enough. When I sign a guy it is because I believe in him and I will give him every opportunity to prove me wrong. Jason has grown as an individual with his maturity and everything that goes along with that. This is a tough sport and winning a championship isn’t easy, to repeat is even harder. That is what we are here for and what we are trying to do.
How much of a logistical undertaking was it to go from everything being Suzuki, switching to KTM, and now to Husqvarna?
Dave Gowland: I think I’m a pro at it now! If there is any other team looking to change brands, we have a formula and know what works [laughs]. It is an undertaking, but because of the similarities, the resources they have given us, and that we are starting earlier since we have had the bikes for two months, we are pretty far along. That we are able to get the assets in place during the outdoor Nationals, we will be that much farther ahead once we start going testing again.
Are the many differences between the Husqvarna and the KTM, or a lot of things that change between the two?
Dave Gowland: There is not a lot of things that we have to change, but there are some which are significant enough to make the bike feel different.