MXA INTERVIEW: IAN HARRISON ON LIFE UNDER THE ORANGE AWNING
By Jim Kimball
Long-time right-hand man to Roger DeCoster, at both Suzuki and KTM, Ian Harrison was promoted to Red Bull KTM team manager before the start of the 2019 race season when Roger DeCoster as moved higher up in the KTM organization. We caught up with Ian after a day of testing to get his take on his first year in charge.
IAN, IT MUST FEEL GOOD TO WIN THE SUPERCROSS CHAMPIONSHIP IN YOUR FIRST YEAR AS TEAM MANAGER? Yes, it’s pretty much a dream come true. To be honest with you, when they first gave me the promotion, I was just hoping we would win another race. I did not want to be the guy who took over the team, and ended up never winning another race. But in the end, it worked out really, really well. Roger has been right there every step of the way since as far as I can remember.
HOW DID YOU ACCLIMATE COOPER WEBB TO THE KTM 450SXF SO FAST? Bringing Cooper Webb over from Yamaha, getting him on the Aldon Baker program and acclimated to the bike was not perfect at first. We had our homework to do. In November when we went to Florida, he was a little way off from Zach Osborne and Marvin Musquin. But then Marvin got hurt, and Cooper was pretty much the only guy riding at Aldon’s most of the time. Now, looking back in hindsight, it was good for him. He got a lot of one-on-one with Aldon. There were no distractions. I think it really helped him do his homework, and get ready for the season.
COMING INTO THE 2019 SUPERCROSS SERIES, MARVIN WAS THE NUMBER ONE RIDER AT TEAM KTM, BUT SEVERAL ROUNDS IN IT BECAME APPARENT THAT HE WAS STRUGGLING WITH HIS PRE-SEASON INJURY. I agree. Marvin was the rider we thought had the best shot at the title, but in November he had this thing happen with his meniscus. He went to France and the doctors there were pretty confident that with some rest that it would heal. Marvin took four or five weeks off, which brought us to early December. He jumped on the bike again and was immediately fast, but the second day of riding, his knee locked up on him again. We had to pull the trigger on that one, and he ended up having it taken out. He didn’t ride again until the December 31st. I have to take my hat off to him for his preparation, keeping his cardio up, and just doing everything else he could do to stay current. Getting back to your comment, I also thought 2019 was shaping up to definitely be a good year for Marvin. And I am still extremely proud with how well he rode, and for being in the hunt for the Championship up to the last couple races.
HONESTLY, I WAS HOPING FOR A TOP-FIVE FINISH THIS SEASON—WITH ONE OR TWO WINS. I THOUGHT THAT WOULD BE A HUGE ACCOMPLISHMENT,
BUT MAN WAS I WRONG ON THAT ONE.
COOPER WAS AN UNKNOWN FACTOR FOR KTM IN 2019. DID YOU FEEL HE WAS CAPABLE OF WINNING THE TITLE? No, I did not, but when we were practicing at the test track in December, I watched him with Marvin, and I was really impressed with how far he had come. But still I thought, “Okay, he is going to be a good top five guy.” I felt that if he could get one win, that would really help him get going. Honestly, I was hoping for a top-five finish this season—with one or two wins. I thought that would be a huge accomplishment, but man was I wrong on that one.
DID YOU WANT HIM TO RIDE MORE CONSERVATIVELY AT THE END OF THE SUPERCROSS SERIES TO SECURE THE CHAMPIONSHIP, BECAUSE HE WAS STILL GOING FOR WINS? That is where Roger and my mindset came into play in. We feel that the moment a racer starts trying to go into protection mode, that is when things go wrong. Our rider train every day to go as fast as they possibly can; that is when the mind is the most concentrated on what they are doing. It seems like if they back off a little bit, I am not saying all the time, but at times, things can go wrong. So, the best thing you can do is just race to the best of your ability every time you line up. For Eli Tomac to win the title, things really needed to go sideways for Cooper.
EVERYONE KNEW THAT THERE WAS TENSION BETWEEN MARVIN AND COOPER IN THE KTM PITS. DID IT EVER GET UNCOMFORTABLE? Looking back now, Cooper definitely made Marvin better. Marvin thrived to beating Cooper — and that is normal. And I think Marvin helped Cooper to do better too. In the big picture, both of them got the same advantage from being teammates. it was is tense in the truck sometimes because they are both fighting for the same goal. They both want the same Championship. They both are on the same bike, and they both have the same team members to talk to. It makes it tough, but I always told them, “In the end, you are such a big factor on the bike, and because you both do things so differently, it doesn’t really matter in the big picture because you are never going to do the same thing on the track.” Their body styles are different, their technique is very different, and at the end of the day, that is what helps them win races. There is no way we can go to a race and think that KTM is way better than everybody else. All those guys that show up on their Kawasaki, Yamaha, Suzuki and Husqvarna factory bikes have done their work. Their bikes are good. That is what makes winning so awesome. When you beat guys that are on other factory teams that is awesome.
ANY BIG FIGHTS BETWEEN COOPER AND MARVIN? For sure, there were times that it was not so easy, but I have to take my hat off to them. They both treated each other with respect. We get into the same little 10 x 10 office in the semi and discuss things and they are both man enough to tell us what the deal is. I have nothing but admiration for both of them.
WE TALKED TO HIM BEFORE THE SEASON ABOUT HOW LONG THE SERIES WAS AND HOW HE DIDN’T NEED TO MAKE ENEMIES ON THE TRACK —
JUST SIMPLE THINGS THAT EVERY CHAMPION KNOWS.
WHEN COOPER WAS WAS WINNING IN THE 250 CLASS HE RUBBED A LOT OF PEOPLE THE WRONG WAY, BUT THIS YEAR I COULD SENSE A CHANGE IN HIS ATTITUDE. Yes, I agree. One aspect of that is just age, and when you add in that he was getting beat for the two years before brought some humility out of him. We talked to him before the season about how long the series was and how he didn’t need to make enemies on the track — just simple things that every Champion knows. We wanted him to not let his emotions get out of control. I am not saying it worked every time. There were a few times that things got away from him, but it happens to us all regardless — even me as a Team Manager. But I think he took a lot of what we told him to heart. He was ready to start fresh.
EVERY TEAM HIRES TWO POTENTIAL WINNERS, BUT ITS RARE THAT THEY BOTH COULD WIN ON ANY GIVEN WEEKEND. DO YOU AGREE WITH THAT? Yes, I see that in general. It is really hard, and normally very expensive to hire two guys that can both win. Typically, you always have one guy that is expected to win and an insurance rider in case something happens. Hopefully, you get someone good that can fight for podiums, but to have two guys that can win, that would be every team manager’s dream. So, it is awesome, but it does have its difficulties. I have to bring myself back to reality and remember when they are racing against each other, “Hey, this is a good problem to have.” When things arise between them, you try keep things very, very fair and even. If we get something new that we can test, we have to bring it to both guys at the same time, and if they choose to use it, it is their choice. We don’t want to keep anything hidden from either one of them.
THINGS ARE A LITTLE DIFFERENT AT TEAM KTM NOW THAT THE OUTDOOR SERIES IS A COUPLE RACES INTO THE 12-RACE SERIES? First of all, we knew that Eli was going to be extremely tough. The guy has won two titles in a row now. On any given day, he can be incredible, but we are really happy with how the season started for Marvin; he seems to have the speed to run with Eli. I have to say that as of late, when I have been out testing with Marvin he has been really, really fast. I think that the Supercross title slipping from his fingertips was a good motivator. As for Cooper, winning the Supercross Championship means that he cannot accept riding around in the back anymore. We do need some improvements to help him, and he needs to work on a few things to get closer to the podium. So, I feel very confident with both of them.
ANY FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT THE RED BULL KTM TEAM? For the team, the immediate thing is that I am very happy about renewing Marvin’s contract until 2021. I don’t see Marvin as a second rider at all. I see him as a title contender, which means that we have two guys who are winners, which is awesome.