Moving the Milestone: Jeremy Seewer
38 points. At the time of writing Suzuki’s Jeremy Seewer needs to peg back this distance to Red Bull KTM’s Pauls Jonass over seven rounds to not only be the first title winner for the Japanese with the RM-Z250 but also for Switzerland in the premier categories of the FIM Motocross World Championship. To increase the weight of the potential milestone that #91 is carrying then his current age of 23 years means 2017 is his last shot at MX2 glory before he leaps – still with the factory ‘yellow’ – into MXGP next season.
Accessible and friendly – so much so that one member of the Suzuki team in 2015 said to me that he really hoped the youngster would not change under the approaching lights of pressure and profile – Seewer’s rise in Grand Prix has been textbook. He has benefitted from the close support of his family and some key backers in Switzerland (a quiet hotbed of the sport but long-starved of notable GP winning athletes until three came along at once with Arnaud Tonus, Valentin Guillod and the Suzuki stalwart) to progress tidily through the ranks.
Spotted and nurtured by Suzuki International Europe (Germany) to the degree that he was thrown into the MX2 deep end back in 2012 when the works team had injury problems, Seewer has plotted a path to the peak of the sport and has barely broken stride. EMX250 wins came in 2013 (he was European Championship runner-up), he was 10th in his first MX2 season in 2014, rose to 5th in 2015 when he had finished his engineering studies and was finally able to train full-time and spend more riding hours in Belgium close to the Lommel-based team and moved up to 2nd in 2016. So far this ‘Herlings-free’ MX2 term he has won his first Grand Prix and held the red plate as championship leader but has found stiff resistance from another athlete in the KTM stable.
10-5-2 in three years: that’s impressive going and without any discernible injury. There is only one digit left to grasp.
In 2017 Seewer has had to deal with the mantle of team leader as Suzuki’s MXGP set-up moves through a state of flux with Kevin Strijbos sitting on the sidelines and most certainly contemplating the end of his enormous history with the brand and rookie Arminas Jasikonis bouncing off the ropes in exciting and unpredictable fashion. He also has the new RM-Z250 to refine and young teammates in the forms of Bas Vaessen and Hunter Lawrence snapping at the chance to share some impact. Over his head hangs the ticking clock of his age and the knowledge that he is in the midst of a valuable and rare opportunity to etch letters in the history books.
On the track and Seewer has rarely been faster or more aggressive. His first moto stalk and demotion of Jonass (two years his junior) in Portugal two weeks ago was masterful. However, Jeremy has led less than a quarter of the laps Jonass has fronted in MX2 and this has been down to the questionable starting prowess of the RM-Z out of the metal gate; an issue that has to be rectified for the final seven fixtures if Suzuki want to dream of a first major GP title in ten years.
We speak in the thankfully air-conditioned race truck at the sweltering Ottobiano circuit for the Grand Prix of Lombardia. Seewer would take the first of back-to-back GP wins in Italy and then rule again in Portugal a week later. We’ve produced feature content with Jeremy each year of his MX2 rise but sitting opposite the Swiss on this occasion we’re struck by his quiet confidence. Previously there was a boyish aspect to Jeremy’s demeanour but here was a mature, physically prime and slightly more weathered athlete to the demands and rigours to the many dimensions of being one of the sports protagonists.
Seewer is a capable champion-in-waiting and it is hard to imagine that Jonass will not have an almighty tussle on his hands until the finish at round nineteen in France. For the third time in four years MX2 could go down to the very last laps.
You’ve progressed quickly and steadily up the ranks to now be fighting for a world championship: is this how you expected it to be? Or are things harder or more pressurised than you anticipated?
It’s a good question because some guys either have this experience only for a short time or they work so hard but never really get into a position like I am. I have gone step-by-step and I remember my manager saying ‘in three years you’ll be fighting for the world title’ and I believed in that but it also sounded a bit unrealistic when you are just around the top ten…but we’re doing that now. You dream of this as a kid and when you arrive here it’s like life isn’t real. You only think about getting ‘it’ done and try to enjoy every moment of it. I know not many riders or sportsmen are able to really fight for a title. It is kinda special, and you lose some days and win on others but I really try to enjoy this part of my life. Is it hard? It is always difficult to think about how it will be before you arrive but now I am in the fight for the title then it is never easy! There are a lot of things going on in your head – and that is one of the most important parts. I knew this [mental struggle] was coming and could prepare myself and I knew it would be tough. It is challenging GP-to-GP to keep loose and focussed: if you want to win so badly then you put too much pressure on yourself, be too nervous, too aggressive and make too many mistakes but if you go the opposite way and try to be relaxed then you can be too relaxed! So it is difficult to find a good balance in your head to go out there for the win to be honest. Before, it was about second or third and of course that matters but it’s not quite the same as pushing for a win.
It must be complicated because a moto is no longer just a straightforward race: you also have to be thinking about points, Pauls’ position, bike development and being the lead rider/figure for a team and brand…
That’s true. In the past it was just a case of ‘doing your best’ – and that is what I try to do now also and have fun – but there is much more going on in your head because of that thought about the title. And you cannot change that. Points and positions come into your head automatically. Of course I try to block that out as much as possible and I’m also pretty good at that but it’s always there and I don’t think any human brain can avoid thinking about the bigger picture. What you say about bike development is also true; KTM have their advantages and we also have some and it is difficult to keep that level the same through the whole season.
People tended to see you as a fast and blossoming rider that didn’t make too many mistakes. Perhaps the last question about you concerns an ability to put a championship campaign together. Do you feel you are being judged in that respect?
Yeah and I felt it last year [winter] as vice-champion. It is only second place but people look to you for that position. When you are fifth and sixth then I don’t think you notice it too much but finishing second puts that expectation there. I don’t quite know how to explain how I deal with this but it is more about putting pressure from others to one side. The most important thing is ‘me’ and what I want and what my goals are. If you fail from pressure then it’s self-induced not from other people saying ‘can he do it?’ and trying to reach their estimation…it is more from what you want to achieve.
Do you feel at the sharp end because this is the last try at MX2?
Actually this doesn’t bother me at all. I’m already quite looking forward to step up to the main class and the 450s. It doesn’t matter how this [MX2] will end because I am already looking at the next class. I was thinking ‘this is the last chance to be champion in 250s’ last year but while the season has been going on it doesn’t bother me that I’m going to be too old and I have to move. I saw other guys in their last year that were trying too much and they blew themselves up because they realised ‘I have to go all or nothing’ and it didn’t work.
Do you think that might be affecting Benoit Paturel to a degree? Many had him pegged to be in the title fight…
That could be true and he is not under a contract yet for the 450s – maybe now he is I don’t know – and this makes it more difficult because you need to show the results. My future is planned and I have two years. I’ve done a race already with next year’s bike, which was really positive, so however it ends for me I’m really excited to go up and race the big boys next year.
Maybe it’s a silly question but will you be really disappointed if you are second again this year? It is not a terrible result…
Of course I would be. I think if you have that mentality to win then you’ll always be disappointed to leave the track or a championship with second. Last year I was quite happy with it because it was planned…but this year we planned something else and if it doesn’t work then I will not be happy. Some years later I might look back and think that second place was not that bad but for sure the disappointment will be big now…that’s why we’ll try to avoid it and really go for that championship.
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Photos by Ray Archer