On Monday, December 12th, Mike Genova unveiled his reorganized MotoConcepts racing outfit. The team, which includes Mike and Jeff Alessi, Tommy Weeck, Jake Canada, and Vince Friese, will campaign the 2012 tours on “MotoConcepts” 450s and 250′, bikes purchased and customized to the team and rider’s desires, without the input from one of the “big five” manufacturers. Supported by JT Racing, We All Ride, Silkolene, Dunlop, and FMF, among others, the team feels that this is the future of the sport, a privately owned and funded team with a smaller staff than what is common in the pits now. While there, we were able to interview both Jeff and Tony Alessi, JT Racing’s owner Daniel Sandstedt, and caught a glimpse of what to expect come Anaheim One.
Interviews continued on following pages…
Catching Up With Jeff Alessi
After spending the better part of the past two years on the mend, Jeff Alessi is ready to be on the track, the place he feels he belongs. He has shown that he has the speed to run at the front of the pack, on lesser equipment even, but injuries have restrained his ability to perform at that level on a consistent basis. Back in the Motoconcepts hauler, a team he has been a part of for the majority of his career, and under the guidance of his father and brother, it seems that all the pieces are coming together for a healthy, successful year.
We are four weeks away from Anaheim One, and you have had a lot of downtime coming in to it from injury. How are you feeling?
I feel pretty good. I had a little bit of a setback a few weeks ago; I had a chain snap and I broke my wrist, but we are coming back from this and starting to get back on the bike. I was going fast before it happened, but I think we will have a good year because I am pretty focused and am going to be working each and every weekend. I want to make sure that at some point I am happy with myself, my performance and commitment, and the results that I am getting. I am definitely confident in my bike and myself, so we will be doing well this year. I am going to take the steps every weekend so that I'll be racing where I should be.
Was the wrist injury a clean fracture and somewhat minor, or did it require surgery?
We had options to get surgery or not, it was a scaphoid break, but I think I made the right decision by not getting surgery. I kind of wanted to get through it and do the therapy that I needed to do to get it healed as quickly as I could so I could hopefully be at Anaheim One.
You've been with the Motoconcepts team off and on for a number of years, and you will be on a Suzuki 450 full time for 2012. How have you adapted to the bike?
I had doubts on the bike, honestly. I wasn't sure if it would be good for a tall rider like me, but the first day I got on it all the doubts got thrown out the window and I felt really comfortable on it. I think it is the best bike I haven ridden so far, so I am excited to be on this team. Like you said, I have been on Motoconcepts since late 2008, so I think it is a great fit for me. I'm glad that my brother is here and we will all work well together, so we are going to do this right. I am happy that we have everyone on this team that is good.
How far has the team come since 2008 with their engine and suspension package?
It has made leaps and bounds. Any team or company, their first year in the sport they will be learning. By Motoconcepts' second year and with the switch to Yamahas, they had a pretty good idea of what they needed to be doing. With my Dad coming on board, he has a lot of knowledge to bring to the table and has a lot of ideas to test to bring the parts and the bike's level up. I think that the bike has gotten a lot better in the last two to three months, but in the last two to three years it has become light years better. We have switched bikes and gone the right direction each and every time. This newest change to the Suzuki, well to the "Motoconcepts" bikes, we don't want to name names, is good. I think that our bikes are great, our suspension is great and the motors are incredible, so I feel like we have factory motorcycles.
You're known for you upbeat and positive personality, and having known you for a while I can say that you are still that way when things seem dark. What keeps you in that mental frame? It has to be hard after having so many setbacks.
I think that everyone goes through tough times, and I have gone through the hardest two years of my life. But I find happiness being at the track and riding a dirt bike, taking out my anger and stress when I ride. Anytime that I am around this atmosphere, I will am happy. Anytime that I am a little depressed because I am away from the track and hurt, I know the people in the sport so well that I have to be positive until the next that I can ride. Sometimes it may go bad, but if you can put that to the side and focus on building yourself up, eventually you won't be in that position anymore.
The look of the team is very different than what it has been in the past, and like you said, they are "Motoconcepts" bikes. The gear is something different than anyone else has, and all together, it looks sick.
I think it is unique. Motoconcepts is trying their best to go a different direction than another team would go, because obviously our sport is changing. It is not what it was five years ago, so it is one of those things were the team said, "If the sport is changing, we will change with it and not fight it." That is why you see the uniqueness about us, that our program is great and that the team blends together. You usually don't have a lot of teams where the riders like each other, so it is good. The team is unique and we, the Alessi's, are bringing that much more to it. And JT is one of the coolest things we have going on.
How is it to work with your dad and brother again? You have a close family atmosphere, and there have been times where you were side by side and then there were times when you were separate.
I think that having them under the tent will bring the level and focus up. It is good for us, and my Dad is doing the best he can to give us the best product so that we can do the best that we can. Regardless of what is going on, we are happy to have this and to be together.
Catching Up With Tony Alessi
It can be said that Tony Alessi has an eclectic personality. Confident, yet somewhat soft-spoken, the father of Mike and Jeff Alessi has been there for the duration of their careers, becoming a sort of martyr for "mini bike parents" in the process. While many say that he is there to live vicariously, a few moments with the elder Alessi will have one realize that he simply wants the best for his children and that he believes in their abilities as racers. For the first time in years, practically since their privateer effort during Mike's rookie season, Tony will be able to maintain constant communication with his sons at the races. As a "crew member" of the Motoconcepts team, Tony will help oversee the 450 operations and will tailor the bikes to the needs of the riders with the ability to use any part they deem necessary. We spoke with Tony on the future holds and what this new endeavor means to "Team Alessi."
For the first time in quite a while you have both of your sons under the same canopy and the ability be around them both at the same time. Is it an exciting opportunity for you?
Yeah, it is exciting to have Mike and Jeff under the same tent and the same management. The last time that we had this was in 2006 with KTM.
Have they adjusted to the bikes well in the amount of time they have had?
The whole "MX1" program, which is the 450 program, is our program. We can build the bike around the rider in any way, shape, or form that we want. We aren't calling the bike a Suzuki, but a "Motoconcepts 450." It is on our dime with our development.
When the Monster Energy Cup and the overseas races came about, did you basically go out and purchase your own bikes to race?
For the Monster Energy Cup, the basic idea was to buy our own bikes, but it was the beginning of this. We did our own project and built bikes that we thought could be competitive. Mike qualified third and ran at the front, so that was a small step in the direction that we are going in now. The goal is to build a program that can compete with the factory level teams, because Yamaha and Suzuki are already gone, and it won't be long before the other factory teams are out. This is the platform that will become normal in the future, the private teams. So if that is the case, I feel like we have a head start.
In the future, do you see it being the same way the Joe Gibbs Racing or Pro Circuit is, where it will be a factory supported team, or will it all be at the owner's expense?
I think it will change. The factories will always have the need and want to sell motorcycles, and want to have their bikes involved in racing. I think at some level they will be involved, but I think that the new platforms will be private teams that are not selling motorcycles, but themselves as a company.
Will Motoconcepts stay a plastic and garage supply company, or will they offer in-house motor and suspension work the same way the Pro Circuit does, and sell what they race?
They are not going to build pipes or whatever for sale. They are more going to promote themselves and the products they are interested in, but not motorcycles or performance parts.
Mike stayed busy in the off-season with the overseas races and other local events. What do you think is the right way for a racer to go: to rest and relax while they can or to go to all the other events to stay sharp?
It wasn't much of an option. This year, we had a short period of time to develop a motorcycle, just in September. And the process of developing a motorcycle means that you have to put it in competition and see where it is. If the objective is to win, then you have to know what the elements are to win. What are the other guys doing and why are they beating you? And you have to take that apart and try to do it to stay better than them. You won't learn anything riding around the test track. You'll only know what your speed is and that is about it. To know how your bike is in combat, you have to go race. You learn about the bike, and why you got beat, and what you have to do better.
No one can ever say that you are a "hands off parent," and many say that you should take a step back in both Mike and Jeff's careers. But you have been with them forever, and you think you need to stay beside them. What do you think of the people that give an opinion on how to raise your kids?
I don't know if it always just that. It really comes down to how you are able to interpret information. For example, Mike might three people the same thing, but they will all come up with a different outcome of what he is telling them. But I have been around them long enough to understand their language, so that helps me process the information and what is going on with their bike. There isn't anything lost in translation, so when they are discussing how they want to make their bike better, I understand better than someone else will. Because I have had more time with Mike and Jeff, and they are only guessing, where I can hear what they say and know what the correction needs to be. That puts me in a better technical standpoint than someone else because I know my kids.
Catching Up With Daniel Sandstedt
When word first trickled out that iconic gear manufacturer JT Racing would be re-launched, there was a great divide in reactions. Those who witnessed the brand's growth, impact, and sudden demise, were in awe at the classic, simple design, while younger riders missed the appeal of two-tone gear. Many wondered if the brand would have one look and if it could survive solely on legacy, or if it would push the envelope the way the original company did. After speaking with Daniel Sandstedt, the co-owner of the "new" JT Racing, it appears that it will be a mixture of the two. Sandstedt, who is also a sales representative for eyewear giant Luxottica, gave us a small preview of the new designs and let us know what to expect in the coming months from the reawakened giant.
In the next few weeks JT Racing will make it's first big push back in to the market. How are things coming along?
Things are going great. It has been a long way for us internally as a company since we started a couple of years ago to put this thing together. We knew at certain steps that we needed to make more of a presence in the racing scene, not only with our legendary riders that we launched the brand with, but to more importantly that to have a presence at the races we needed to get on board with some riders and a team like this. This is what we worked really hard to accomplish, and now we are here and we hope that it gives us back everything that we put in to it. Come Anaheim One, we will have a lot of guys sprinkled around on the track and we look to make a presence and move forward from here.
It is rumored that an outside the industry clothing company works with JT. Is there a company behind the gear?
We are the main company, my business partner, David, and myself. We have the license to the brand. The licensor has nothing to do with the brand. They are a publicly traded company. The paintball company, they are another division and like a trademark and is owned by someone separate. We took on JT Racing and fully own and operate the company. Everything that you see here is a derivative of our hard work, investment, and research in to the legacy of the brand. We have taken all the elements that we have gathered over the years as fans and as owners to create our initial collection. We took all the golden years and put them together in one package for our re-launch, and now we have our 2013 set to be developed for a summer delivery, like all the other companies that are set to be delivered at that time. Our first year was a nod to the past, but going forward, we will be relevant to every demographic that we can reach out to in the sport.
Was it a surprise to see how well received the gear was or was that expected?
As a fan of JT my whole life, it wasn't a surprise and that was one of the reasons that I did it. It was something that needed to be done during all the years that it was missing. But from a business standpoint and as an owner, it was a nice surprise. With it being a small industry but a big world, there is always going to be criticism and skepticism, and positivity and negativity. But with JT having the history and legacy that it has, it was a delicate matter to everybody in the sport. For us to take it on, we had to do it the right way, deliver the right type of product and quality, and not take away from what it used to be. That was important for us to do and we knew that we did it, which is why we got the results with the public. We took our time. If you noticed, we had our countdown earlier in the year and we weren't fully ready to deliver the product. People had heard rumors for the last couple of years, since we took the brand over, and we didn't want to just come out with any old thing. We wanted to make sure it was done right and it was important to wait and have the right product.
There is a lot to do to form a company, like the manufacturing and the design. Was it difficult to launch from the ground up?
It was very time consuming and why we took our time with it. We didn't want to do it the wrong way and we knew that if we had the patience of the fans and the industry and kept the support alive by giving people a glimpse of what we were working on, we could stretch it out as long as we needed to, to make sure that we delivered the right product and the right approach to the market.
You mentioned that new gear is to be released for 2013 in the summer months. Will the new designs be strictly throwback styles like you have now, or will they be a more current design?
Most of it will be a more modern take. We did what we did last year to pay homage to the brand and what it did and the riders that we had on board, because they are the ones that built the brand along with John and Rita Gregory. That was then, but this is now. For 2013, you will see an all-new look for JT. If you see the side of the Motoconcepts bikes and the trailer, you will see the new version of our JT logo, which will be put in to our 2013 collection. We will have two more collections at different price points, in addition to the classic collection that we will keep in the stable. To bridge the gap of what we have now and what we will have in the summertime, we have taken our classic collection and refaced it with a matte selection. It will be a matte black helmet with neon green, neon orange, and a white color option with matching gear color ways as well. Even though it is the same chassis, the same design, graphics, and logo, you will see it when it comes out next month and starts shipping to dealers that it looks like a completely new set of gear. That was our way to add something in between and let people know that we are going in to the more current stage of the market. We used black to lead us in to the younger demographic and bridge the gap of what we have to what we are going to do.