By Danny Brault
Photos by James Lissimore
I’ve been fortunate to meet some interesting characters along the way, in life, and in motocross. (And I’m sure that most people who have met me think I’m quite the instrument as well.) That’s fine; colour is better than black and white.
At Sand Del Lee and Walton this summer, I had the opportunity to meet and shake hands with the infamous Tony Alessi, Team Manager of Smartop MotoConcepts, but most notably, father of Mike and Jeff Alessi, two very fast riders who often provide ‘sidebars’ of entertainment to the sport of motocross.
I really don’t know Tony Alessi but in the short conversations I have had with him, he’s been friendly, helpful and, of course, usually has a different perspective than others on situations, racing and riders. You can tell in speaking with Tony that he really loves motocross and enjoys being around competition. Love ’em or hate ’em, it was a good thing for the Rockstar Energy Drink Motocross Nationals and series fans to have Tony and his MotoConcepts team on board. Remove both of their guys, Vince Friese and Mike Alessi, and things could have been quite sleepy in the MX2 and MX1 title chase.
Could Alessi and Vince Friese return to Canada in 2015? The option is on the table, says Tony, who shares with us his thoughts on Canadian moto, Team Canada, to Ryan Villopoto and how much cheaper it is racing in Canada than the US.
Take a read below for our most recent ten minutes with Tony Alessi.
MXP: Hi Tony, are you free to chat?
Tony Alessi: Yep, I’m all ready for ya.
Got that suspension ready for Monster Energy Cup?
Oh, of course.
Good to hear. So what have you and the MotoConcepts team been up to since the Canadian Nationals ended at Walton?
After Walton wrapped up, we took a vacation to New York City because it’s close to Walton. That was cool. We spent a week with team owner Mike Genova and his family. We saw some Broadway plays and sights, weather was great and it was a nice time overall. We came back after that and started a 50/50 program. Mike has to keep riding so he went back to riding. I started cleaning up the supercross track and doing some weeding. While I prepared the track, Mike rode motocross and some local events around the house. Now the track is up and running and we’re riding supercross for Monster Cup and the Supercross of Stockholm. Those are the nearest events on our agenda. Monster Cup is a big race; a million dollar purse, that’s definitely something to shoot for. We’ll do a warm-up race for that in Sweden (October 11th).
Mike’s a great racer and is always up front in the early laps in supercross but then drops off. What do you feel he needs to do to stay up front for the entire race and improve his results indoors?
I think what it is, is that he needs to be physically stronger. That is our plan in the off-season: get physically stronger but not to the point of getting arm pump. It’s a fine line; you have to be pretty physically strong and that’s an area he needs to work on. Our bike is good, his starts are good and his speed is fine, because he won some heat races last year. That’s seven laps of leading the best guys. We were running very close to the front for over 10 laps (in main events), we just need to work on those next 10 laps and be stronger.
Will we see you and the Smartop MotoConcepts back in Canada next summer?
Right now that it is to-be-announced. We are getting lots of offers in terms of bike manufacturers and race series in general. Lots of offers from events and championship series and manufacturers. We are getting lots of offers to do stuff next summer. We will look at all options and try to make the best choice. Canada is amongst those; the promoter wants us there and there are two manufacturers interested in us racing in Canada.
With Mike riding a Suzuki 450, has Suzuki Canada shown any interest?
I can’t say anything but it’s TBA. There are manufacturers showing heavy interest, and I’m getting the same interest in Europe as well. We need to look at all the options on the table, pick one out and then announce it.
Good for you guys. That’s a good problem to have, having too much interest.
I appreciate it. We also had very good results! In supercross, Mike finished 10th overall, you know what I’m saying? He had two heat race wins, he won the semi-final 6 times and led upwards of 20 laps. That’s a lot of laps to lead during a main event. In Canada, we won five races, led the most laps, got the most holeshots and qualified first in eight out of ten events. We had a strong showing in Canada. All of those things brought us a lot of appeal to sponsors.
Will Vince Friese be back on your team?
Yes. Vince Friese is definitely being given a contract from us. He will be a team member in 2015 as well. We like Vince Friese; we think he has huge potential and showed that in Canada, winning some races, leading a lot of laps and yes, he created a little drama … that’s okay, though, because I think that’s what we’re about at times . He’s a good guy to have on our team; I see a lot of potential in Vince.
As a fan, a little drama is sometimes okay and gives us something to talk about. It’s too bad things ended the way they did but these guys are competitive.
Ulverton was definitely one of, if not the most, gnarliest races I’ve ever been to .
Quebec fans are some of the most passionate and stick behind their guys .
For sure, they have passion – and I’d rather see passion in people than people sleeping.
Your take on Ryan Villopoto possibly leaving America to race in the World GP motocross series?
My question is why? That, to me, is a big question mark in my mind. If I were in Ryan’s shoes and had his level, why would I run away? What’s he running from? That’s my question. That’s it. That’s all I can think of … who is he running from, or what is he running from?
Maybe now that he’s won everything there is to win in the US, he wants to etch a different notch into his belt buckle?
I don’t think that guy cares about goals; none of them matter to him. He brings a level of speed to win a race, a program, and he delivers that and what it is, is what it is. To me, his level of program is plenty good to win races in the US next year. So why he is going to Europe just baffles me.
You said this summer that other US teams are calling you, asking questions about what racing is like in Canada. Are some of these teams still interested in traveling north next year?
Everyone is focused on supercross right now, but everyone in general is looking for a better opportunity. Factory teams are locked into the US events, but smaller teams and privateers are not locked in. They see benefits of going some place else; less cost, more exposure, better results, the list goes on. There’s more future potential for teams. There are more opportunities in Canada than there ever will be in the US for these (smaller) teams.
What is the cost difference between racing the Canadian and American Nationals?
I would say that it’s nearly 50 percent cheaper; half the cost. Every team operates on a different budget, of course. In our situation, it was half as much racing in Canada than the US.
If you’re the team manager of Team Canada, what advice do you give them for the Motocross of Nations in Latvia?
The team manager … our guy, Gauldy (Ryan Gauld); he’s running the team and he’s good. He’s a former pro rider and he won a race there at Ulverton. He knows what’s up and has lots of experience. I would have a lot of confidence in the message that he’s delivering to the riders, because it would be right. I would tell the riders to follow his lead. All three of those riders are plenty good. They should go there with confidence and let it roll out. They can be top five guys.
Thanks for taking the time to chat, Tony. Good luck in Sweden and at the Monster Cup!
No problem, thanks for taking an interest in our team.