Features 6 Jun 2024

Conversation: Gavin Towers

American on opportunity with the VRT Yamaha Official EMX250 team.

There’s a lot of interest in Gavin Towers and his arrival in the MXGP paddock after landing a deal with the VRT Yamaha Official EMX250 team ahead of Teutschenthal, immediately impressing with 6-2 finishes for fourth overall on debut in Germany. MotoOnline tracked down the 20-year-old from Pennsylvania to get his take on GPs, how he ended up in Europe after starting the year with Star Racing’s amateur program, the upcoming chance to contest select MX2 World Championship rounds beginning with Maggiora next weekend, and a whole lot more on his newfound opportunity.

Image: Supplied.

The results on paper at Teutschenthal were really positive, a really strong start. Did it meet your expectations and, two, how was the experience for you last weekend?

It was really good. I definitely struggled in the beginning. I hadn’t ridden on a pro national-type track in a long time and at Combines they don’t get as rough. So when I went into it, I didn’t really expect a whole lot, just tried to do my best. Obviously, I wanted to do as good as I could and you have your own expectations, I guess top-five was probably a pretty good goal for me at the first one, but like I said, I just didn’t know. I kind of wanted to see where we would end up and I felt really good on the bike, the team atmosphere was really good, and I really gelled with my mechanic Scott [Lillis]… Everything was really clicking, but you just don’t know until race day. I didn’t really qualify that good, like seventh in the free practice and then 12th, and I was like, ‘Wow, I got arm-pump, was ridiing tight, I guess it’s going to be a long 25-minute moto’. But then I felt way more comfortable in the motos, so we had a whole bunch of things that were really positive and it helped my comfortability on the track. All-in-all, racing was a lot better for me than practice, and that’s not really been the case for me the last six months, so I was really happy with that. I was definitely a lot more confident going into the next day on Sunday, I felt I belonged a little bit more, and I knew I could do better than what I had shown on Saturday. I got a good start, actually pulled the holeshot, and then I tipped over, but luckily it was so bunched up I only got passed by a couple of people. And then I tried to learn the pace, and hung in there for a good while to finish third. With the leader getting docked, it helped my result a little bit, so I went from third to second in the moto and up to fourth overall. I know I’ll get better and better, because I haven’t even raced a lot of outdoors since the Combine last year while I’ve been doing a lot of Supercross.

Did that experience from getting those gate drops outdoors, has that enabled you to find direction… You know the level now, so did you take a lot from racing against those EMX guys, who I’m sure you’re not overly familiar with?

Yeah. You don’t really… I mean, when I’m passing somebody, I don’t really know who it is just yet. I’ve never really followed it over here too much, so those two gate drops helped my confidence a lot, and I understand the format a little bit more, stuff like that.

How did the opportunity to go to the MXGP paddock in the EMX category come about?

Yeah, it was really, really quick. There were a couple of guys up there at Monster, they helped me kind of get this ball rolling. It’s been really hard this year, because I didn’t live up to myself and the Star team’s expectations for Futures, and it’s understandable. It’s tough, but I was really struggling at the races, and I wanted to compete at a higher level with a good team and a good bike. For the States, it’s hard unless you’re on a factory bike to compete with the pros, and the same over here – if you’re not on a factory team and on a good bike, it’s very hard. So, it was a really quick turnaround. I got the phone call about going to Europe and I knew it was a big change, and you’re across the world from everything I know. That was a week before Salt Lake, where it all came together, and I didn’t really ride that good there… You know, shoulda, coulda, woulda. We talked about it more and then I really talked to the guys over here, put everything in place, and within a week we were here in France.

Image: Supplied.

We’ve seen a whole bunch of riders, whether it’s the Lawrence brothers or Tom Vialle right now, even from an American standpoint Zach Osborne in the past, bring a lot from grand prix racing to the US, so are you just trying to embrace that and learn as much as possible, even though it’s not the conventional kind of path for a young American at this point of your career?

Yeah, I’ve talked to a few people about that, and it’s not an easy one, that’s for sure. These guys are gnarly, and the tracks they train on are hard, not super-fun, but it makes you enjoy the races a little bit more. These guys are very good at riding anything and everything, so I’m just going to learn as much as I can and take as much as I can from this experience, as well as the people around me. We’ll see where it takes us.

Is the plan definitely to finish the EMX250 season or will we potentially see you in MX2?

So the plan is, I’ll probably do MX2 in Maggiora, which is in Italy, in two weeks. As long as it goes to plan, because I know it’s been raining a lot there, and then I believe the Netherlands. Other than that, it’ll be pretty much all EMX, unless something drastic changes – that’s what my contract says, to do EMX250, so that’s what I’m going to do.

How do you find the bike over there? Like you said, you have been doing Supercross a lot, but you did do the Moto Combine race at Ironman last year on the Star bike and you’ve done a little bit of outdoors, so just how different is the Euro-spec YZ250F?

It’s not a major difference and the bike is really good. I gelled with it right away, it just has different power in the way that it’s distributed, but it’s a really, really good bike. It’s really good off for the gate, that’s for sure.

Image: Supplied.

You mentioned your mechanic, Scott Lillis, who is from Australia and has spent time in the US, so that has to help, having somebody who speaks English as their first language and being a person who has experience in America as well.

Yeah, I was really happy when I found out that I was going to be with a mechanic who knows English very well, and on top of that he’s a great guy. He’s made everything a little bit easier in the transition, that’s for sure – a great person to have in my corner.

In terms of life in Europe so far, you’ve only been there for a short time, but how has that been for you? And where have you been based in between races, at least at this point?

I’ve been based in France, two hours from Paris, so it’s been a very big culture shock. You know, coming into it you think you know what to expect, and you just get a massive wake-up call when you get here. Like, you go to the local supermarket, nobody speaks English and it’s a very big change, and a little scary, but we’re getting used to it. I have great people around me with the team, but for the most part in terms of family and friends, it’s really just myself… A cool experience, but a little overwhelming in the beginning.

Last question, any chance we see you in the US at any point for the rest of this year, whether or not it’s possible?

Probably not. It’d be very cool, but as you know, I have this commitment here and I want to do as good as I possibly can for the people that gave me this opportunity so, no, I don’t think it would be possible, because all of our races are… The season here ends in late September, so I don’t think I’ll be able to come back to do any races this year. And then I’m not really sure what my plan is for next year, just going to finish out this summer and then kind of go from there, see what we want to do for next year.