An exclusive interview with 2017 MotoGP rookie Sam Lowes, who is stepping up to the premier-class with the factory Aprilia Gresini team after winning Moto2 races for the past two seasons.

Lowes, the 2013 World Supersport champion, was injured after a fall from the RS-GP in November, meaning he was unable to show his true pace in testing at Valencia and Jerez.

The Englishman will be back on track alongside his 2017 rivals when the Sepang test begins on January 30...
Hi Sam, how's the injury progressing?

Sam Lowes:
I'd say that I'm fully fit and bike fit.

I'm actually in Spain at the moment with my brother and our good friend Leon Haslam doing some training and I feel good, certainly a lot better than when I hurt my back and ribs at the end of last year. It wasn't anything complicated, it just needed a little time to come good again.
...and having had time to reflect, I guess you could say 2016 was a season of two halves?

Sam Lowes:
Obviously the aim at the start of the season was the championship so when you look back you can't help but feel a little negative.

For me up until Silverstone it was going well and even the weekend was going good but then I had my collision with Zarco and in all honesty I was so disappointed that I let that ruin the next couple of races. It really pissed me off.

Even though I felt OK in myself I think I may have been riding a little angry and a little too aggressive and when you add that to my style anyway it's not ideal for a Moto2 bike. Then I had a couple of DNFs and before you know it my back's up against the wall.

When I went to Aragon and finished in a good way and Zarco didn't finish too high up, I again thought I might have some chance, but then had a nightmare at the three flyaways so it was pretty much a roller coaster.

Those three flyaways are strange races because if you go to the first one and get a good result it seems to carry through, but if you get a bad result there it's sort of difficult to bounce back from.

It is what it is, I had a bad end to the year and didn't finish where I wanted to finish but I still achieved a lot to be proud of. I won some races, got some podiums and got a pole position so I'm happy in some ways. But in the end this is GP racing and you can't make that many mistakes and expect to win a championship. I have to accept it and move on.
Do you think it's a problem for you that incidents like the one with Zarco at Silverstone linger too much?

Sam Lowes:
I don't know if that's a problem, it's just natural.

The worst thing for me is that it was that weekend. If it'd been anywhere else I'd have just brushed it off and felt OK about it. I've never won at home in GPs and even in WSS I had a collision with Kenan Sofuoglu. It's a really important race for me.

I had a good bike and felt really chilled in the race. I felt that I'd just put so much effort into that weekend, I'd put a lot of heart into it and it meant everything to me to win the British GP. It was particularly important for me because I saw it as my last chance for a couple of years knowing that I was going into the main class the next year.

So I can sit back now and criticise myself saying that I let it piss me off too much, but only I know how much that race meant to me and I'm only human. Sure you can say that I let it linger too long but only I know what a big deal that race was for me.
It sounds to me as if there wasn't really much you could have done to improve the second half of the season.

Sam Lowes:
Honestly I think the biggest thing I could have done is to settle for finishing sixth in a couple of races. If I'd done that in the middle of the season, looking how the end of the year went, I would have been in with a shout and would have taken away some of that pressure.

I went to the flyaway races having to win, and when you have to win you've got a different attitude to when you just want points. All sorts of problems raise their heads which wouldn't have been there otherwise.

It's simple really, unless you're world champion you're always going to look back and see if you could have done things differently. But a big benefit is that I think I've learned more about myself as a rider and a person last year so for me it was a useful learning season and particularly because I was in the Gresini team.

In the Speed Up team I don't really think I learned anything. It was a difficult situation and I would just literally ride the bike but last year with the Gresini team really grew me up a bit. With what I've learned there I honestly feel that if I stayed in Moto2 I would have been favourite to win the championship, but we've decided that I'm going to MotoGP and I can't wait to get started with that
How would you compare the Speed Up and Kalex chassis?

Sam Lowes:
I think in general the Kalex is a bit more forgiving and easy to ride though honestly at some tracks I would say that the Speed Up was actually better because the chassis was quite stiff. When the track was good and we had good tyres, it was easy to make up the lap times on the Speed Up but going for the whole race the Speed Up was less forgiving when everything wasn't perfect.

You might point out that I finished 5th this year and 4th on the Speed Up, but to get that 4th I think I got a little bit lucky because some people got injured and there weren't so many people being consistent. But this year it was a proper season so I think the 5th is more real and I would have been further down on the Speed Up.

The team helps so much because in general I would say that the Speed Up's capabilities are as good as the Kalex but you need to have the right people around you. If you've got the rider and team working together you can do anything, the Speed Up won at one race and there's no reason why it shouldn't be competitive at more. But when the team isn't working with the rider you're never going to get anywhere and I think there was a little bit of that the year before.
So you feel that Gresini is working in better harmony with you than what you experienced the year before?

Sam Lowes:
Sure I'd classify Gresini as a proper team where you work together and in a professional way. In the other team it was kind of... 'I think that's a back tyre... no, I think it's a front tyre...' you're just never going to get anywhere are you?

It did help me grow a lot as a rider though, you know, inside the garage and working with the team and that's important particularly when you're going to MotoGP. Just discussing things properly. When you start any conversation in life and the other person doesn't want to listen to what you're saying well, that's not going to work anywhere. Having a year like that teaches you about communication and how important that is.
Just to make things clear about you're contract, you signed with Gresini for three years right?

Sam Lowes:
That's right with last year being the first year and the next two being in MotoGP
Is that contract with Gresini or Aprilia?

Sam Lowes:
The contract is with Aprilia directly and I had a bit of a separate contract with Gresini for this year because I was also doing some Aprilia testing. But Gresini run the infrastructure of the team and Fausto is a really top guy and I get on with him really well.
It interested me as to why you decided to continue in Moto2 where so many previous champions have had problems when you had already proved yourself there with the Speed Up.

Sam Lowes:
That was also a lot to do with the bikes. This season just gone, the Aprilia was a brand new bike and to be honest, putting me on it would have been OK but I wouldn't have been any help developing it because I've got no experience.

In the end I felt like I had unfinished business and they felt that two experienced riders were going to help them so it just came about that I spent another year there and I got to do a bit of testing and I think it's probably worked out for the best. I'm happy about the way it's worked out because I can see that the bike is starting to get to a good level.

Last year the bike was quite late and they even skipped one of the official tests so it would have been difficult for me to start from there. It's got to be said that they've done a great job to get it from there to where it is now because literally by February just gone they hadn't even run the engine.

You've got to remember that I had a good chance of winning the Moto2 championship so if I'd come to MotoGP as the reigning champion it would have been the perfect situation. I've also had a year where I can get used to working with the people in the team so I think there are a lot of positives to that decision to stay in Moto2.
You've tried the MotoGP bike both earlier in the season and recently, what were your impressions?

Sam Lowes:
I'm lucky that I've got a bit of experience with electronics from Supersport because that's the big thing when coming from Moto2 where we don't have any.

For me, the bike's at a great level, I can't compare it to anything else but for me it's quite easy to ride and it's easy to understand what's happening underneath you. They're actually not too far away. I just need a bit of time to change my riding style to make it more suitable for the bigger bike.

That's why it's so valuable for me to have Aleix [Espargaro] as a team-mate because he's just come off the Suzuki. OK it's not the best bike in MotoGP but it's a great all round factory bike and he can use his experience from there to help us.

As far as I can see the team have already made great progress and the bike is already competitive. At the end of this year it was already running consistently in the top 10 and that's quite an achievement given how new the bike is.
Aleix was already running within about a second of the leading bike in tests I believe...

Sam Lowes:
I think there's more to come. The bike's got a lot of power in the straights even when compared to the Honda or Yamaha - we're not far away on top speed. We just need to be able to put that down easier when coming off the corners, that was Aleix's comment when getting off the bike.

For me the bike always felt decent, but it's always going to do that when coming off a 120bhp Moto2 bike. But I'm pleasantly surprised that it's so easy to ride. I thought it was going to be a lot more physical and hard work. I thought it was going to be a bit of a beast but it's not as aggressive as you expect, in fact maybe we need to make it a bit more aggressive to get where we want to be. I'm sure they'll get there though.
It's interesting that you mention WSS - do you think those kind of electronic strategies transfer over to a MotoGP bike?

Sam Lowes:
Well when you're on a Moto2 bike it's a bit like riding a stock bike and whatever you do goes straight to the track. When you ride a bike with electronics it's kind of in your hands, but it's not in your hands if you see what I'm saying.

When I ask for 80% in Moto2, that's what it gives me, on the MotoGP bike though it could give you 40% or 50% depending on what the strategies think is best. It gives you a different attitude when riding. You get used to the bike being controlled a bit more, particularly when going into the corners. The WSS bike prepared me for that change in attitude.

It's important for me because you might say that my style going into corners is a bit crazy and in Moto2 I can control that with my hands, in MotoGP though it's controlled electronically.

It's also a different way of working with the team and talking to them where in MotoGP you'll come in talking about that kind of thing, whereas in Moto2 it's all to do with the settings on the bike because that's all you've got. In WSS I had a lot more electronics and that helped me with that kind of communication. A lot of the other lads from my year like Rins or Zarco haven't had that experience and that's a positive for me.
Can any of that 'all-action' style transfer into MotoGP?

Sam Lowes:
Maybe a little bit. The big bike has a seamless shift gearbox which is so impressive when you ride it, but that changes the character when you go into a corner because there's less inertia change as you backshift. The bike will be a lot smoother into the corners but lets see, maybe we can get it to back in a bit.
...and the bike has a full seamless gearbox?

Sam Lowes:
Yeah that's right, up and down the box and a little button to get to neutral that you can't use when you're riding. We're also using Ohlins suspension and Brembo brakes.

I'd say it's got all the bells and whistles, the engine's new for this year and there'll be a new bike coming. You don't get on the bike and think that you're struggling in a particular area. It's almost there.

But that's MotoGP and all the other top classes, you're looking for hundredths and thousandths which I think we can do. You can see what they've done in a year and we'll also be turning up at the tracks with one year's data. Last year we had none and I think having a starting point will help.

Also this year had quite a lot of 'funny' races where Friday would be wet or the conditions would be changeable, when the conditions were more predictable we did better. Next year we can start on Friday where we finished this year.
The bike seemed to make a noticeable step up mid-season, was that due to a new chassis?

Sam Lowes:
At the start of the year, even at the races, they were experimenting with different chassis and for a while the two riders had different ideas about which direction to go in. But at a certain point near Misano they both agreed on the same chassis and direction and that's where the step forward came. It's positive that we made that step, but also positive that both riders felt they should go in the same direction. Having both guys going in the same direction means that bike is a more understandable commodity.

If you've got different opinions you can end up with almost two different bikes and now we're all working in the same direction
...nd what level of bike will you be starting next season on?

Sam Lowes:
At Sepang we'll be on a similarish one to the one that we finished last season on, with a bit of a step for the chassis and engine and for the first race there should be a further evolution. Looks-wise though it'll just look like an evolution of last year's bike.
Hopefully the fact that Aprilia didn't use wings significantly last year will mean that they don't have to make a big adjustment?

Sam Lowes:
Well, I've never ridden a bike with wings because we knew they were banned for this year so for me it's not a problem.

For Ducati though it may be more difficult and the bike may act quite differently. It's a great bike but they might have a few changes to make and that could be good for Aprilia.
Do you feel that the bike has the brute engine power of the Honda?

Sam Lowes:
Well, all I can say is that for top speed where you're getting the bike into 4th, 5th and 6th gear it's sound.

The power isn't the problem it's getting it down. Power really only kicks in midway through. Aleix's comment was that they needed a bit more off the bottom, but that's all electronics rather than engine
Does your Moto2 crew simply transfer over?

Sam Lowes:
No, I'll be basically working with Bautista's side of the garage from last year but that was already planned from before. The guys I was with last year will be continuing with Navarro in Moto2.

The idea was that Bautista's team already had useful experience with the bike. Midway through the season because we were working so well together I thought about pushing to have my team from Moto2 and I had some discussions with the team but in the end it made sense to keep the people with the bike. In our garage experience with the bike is at a premium because it's so new.
Honestly as an armchair fan I was a bit surprised to see you commit to Aprilia so early when the bike seemed to be so off the pace?

Sam Lowes:
Obviously when I did sign to ride it, it was still the old bike and in the first year it wasn't doing anything. For me though it was really important to go with a factory bike because it'll be developing all the time and you'll have the chance to improve.

If you sign with a satellite bike, it may be good, but you'll only get the bike at the end of the year and you'll always be a step behind.

When we were first in discussions I was promised quite a few things and it's been interesting to see how they've developed things, getting into the top 10 and getting into Q2 and all that. They really are making progress.

With Maverick when he signed for two years with Suzuki a lot of people questioned it and this year he won a race, I'm hoping that it'll be similar to that. Obviously I believe in Aprilia and feel they can be properly competitive in the second half of the season. Vinales had Aleix as a team-mate as a rookie and only beat him once in the first year so it's quite a good gauge for me to have Aleix here.

Honestly right at the beginning I couldn't help but be a worried by the results they were getting, but it's the improvement that's important and it's also nice to see that they're making stepped improvements race by race.

With me being in the team they would often let me know what they were doing and when you can see and understand how the improvement is coming about you start to gain confidence in the project.
Aleix sounds like a good team-mate to have then?

Sam Lowes:
Yeah, he's a nice guy, he's good in the team and speaks well in the briefings - he's sound. I'm actually near to where he lives at the moment so will catch up for a meal before we go back.

I think it's been good for Aprilia getting him after being at Suzuki, having been a top 6 guy in many races. Having him and a rookie in the team is the perfect combination.

Also the data sharing between the two sides of the garage will be transparent because the bike's so new, so that should help us along. At the end of each day we have our own private debrief and then we have one together, we share everything.

Obviously at the start that might benefit me, but once I get up to speed hopefully it can go the other way.
Also he makes the perfect target...

Sam Lowes:
Exactly that. Obviously they've employed him to try and get results right from the first race and they've employed me to build up, learn and get to a good level.

It's not that the pressure's off but he's got to have more than me, lets face it, he's got to perform hasn't he so that's good for me.

He really seems nice, maybe when we get to mid-season and I get closer on track our relationship will change, but now he's sound and happy to talk about anything.
How closely are the team coaching your style?

Sam Lowes:
Obviously with Aleix they don't say anything, but with me they help me a little bit because coming from Moto2 I'm having to make changes in my style.

In the days I've done so far they've just let me go out and ride the bike without saying anything to get a base idea of how I ride it and then if there are obvious things showing up then they'll push me in the right direction.

It's not that they're trying to change my style completely but there are certain things you have to do on a bigger bike like for example you don't want to be going round the corner at 200mph, you want to get the thing stopped and get the power down as early as possible. It's all about power because on the Moto2 bike you have to keep the speed up in the corner because you haven't got the grunt.

It sounds easy talking to you now, but once you're under your helmet you can fall into old habits very easily.

They just help you and push you in the right direction in a positive way, they don't sit you down and say 'Your riding's shit' or anything like that.

When you look at the data you notice that every rider is slightly different and that's normal and why we like the sport the way we do, but they just help you to add some accepted good practice to your own way of riding.
Has the fact that you're now a factory rider in MotoGP made the whole thing more serious and more like a job?

Sam Lowes:
Obviously it's serious but I wouldn't say it takes the fun out of it. There's just more pressure to perform and less scope for off days.

When you leave pit lane though and you're on that beautiful bike it's fantastic. When I leave pit lane I feel like me. In a way the pressure's great because it means that you've achieved the great step of being in MotoGP and I'm really proud of that.

You've got to understand that getting to MotoGP was 100% an aim right from when I started racing and being on a factory bike is definitely another aim, so that pressure is part of success.

Now the goal posts have to change though to first being competitive and then getting close to Aleix. I think Aprilia did a great job last season and will surprise a few people this year and I'd like to do a bit of surprising as well.
I've talked to quite a few up and coming riders like Niki Tuuli or Kyle Ryde and one of the most commonly mentioned examples of a great career path is yours. Are you aware that you've become an example to young riders?

Sam Lowes:
Not really, but I was just happy to come from Supersport and do it my own way. When I got the ride with Speed Up some people said it wasn't great but I just knuckled down and then got the Gresini ride and now to MotoGP. I like to think I've done it my way.

There's not many riders who've come from winning the WSS championship to winning in Moto2 because it's a difficult way to do it. Yeah, maybe I've been lucky with some of the opportunities but I do feel that I made my own way and I'm proud of that fact.

I saw what Nicky Tuuli did, coming into Supersport and doing so good and if what I did has opened up his mind for going from that to doing well in Moto2 then I'm happy. For me, when I did well in WSS I though that basically everyone who had gone from WSS to Moto2 had done shit so if what I did has given other people a belief in that route then everything's possible.

It's really nice to hear comments like that though and it kind of means that I've done something right
Now with riders like you and Cal, WSS has almost become a legitimate way into the GP paddock whereas GP team managers don't seem to pay so much attention to WSBK despite there being riders as good as Johnny, Chaz or Tom...

Sam Lowes:
I think the problem is that the way you ride a Superbike now and the way you ride a MotoGP bike now has become very, very different. But the way you ride a WSS bike when compared to a Moto2 bike is a more natural progression and once you're in Moto2 you can then progress to MotoGP.

It's all about corner speed with WSS and Moto2 you have to keep that up and even in MotoGP you have to keep running the corner speed, though you also have to pick the bike up which is a bit strange. The Superbike you just put it straight into the corner and then pick it up and get on the gas because of the electronics and Pirelli Tyres.

Johnny Rea had a go on a Repsol Honda and make no mistake I think JR's great and could do well in MotoGP, but because he didn't make an instant impression he wasn't picked up. I think people are quite hard in this sport, it's totally results driven and good results are forgotten very quickly.

I'm not trying to big myself up but I got pole position in Aragon, won the race by 5 seconds, fastest in every session - a perfect weekend and you get so many messages saying how good you are. Then I crash out of Japan and Philip Island and then suddenly it's all 'Lowes should be sacked' and all that.

Being at that level is tough and when things go wrong even for a short time it's really so hard. You're never as good as people say when you win and you're never as bad as people say when you lose, that's what my brother says and I agree with him.

You've got to be strong in your head and remember what you've got underneath you and where you are. I want to do great this year but I'm not going to win the world championship. I'm not being negative but I'm not an idiot either - you've got to have realistic goals.
...and the goals are?

Sam Lowes:
My goal os to be top rookie because there are four great riders starting in MotoGP, and in the last six races to be with Aleix
That sounds more than realistic, thanks again Sam and looking forward to the season.

Sam Lowes:
No problems and thanks a lot.


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