Two events into his debut year of senior class EnduroGP competition and 21-year-old Brit Steve Holcombe already holds a 13-point lead in the Enduro 3 championship standings.
Showing impressive speed from the get go Holcombe marked his international debut as a Beta factory team rider with a 2/1 Enduro 3 class result at a dusty GP of Morocco.
Facing completely different conditions at a muddy GP in Portugal one week later, he secured a double E3 class win while also topping the overall EnduroGP class standings on day two. Not a bad professional debut by anyone’s reckoning…
Steve, congrats on your first EnduroGP victory. Did you expect to be this competitive so early in the season?
Steve Holcombe: “No, I certainly didn’t. My main goal for 2016 was to finish on the end-of-the-year podium in E3 and to get one or two day wins. Beta gave me a great opportunity this year to be a part of an awesome team and to learn from two experienced and highly professional riders. To have three day wins and to be leading the E3 class after the first two rounds is beyond my expectations. It’s been an amazing start to my first season as a full-time rider.”
You had a nearly perfect weekend of racing in the Portuguese mud. Even Matt Phillips the morning before day two predicted you’d win EnduroGP. How comfortable do you feel racing in these conditions?
“Wow! It’s great to know Matt put his bet on me. I have huge amount of respect for him, he’s an awesome guy. I truly enjoy riding in muddy conditions. As is the case with any UK rider, you have to get on and learn to ride mud. You’d soon become miserable if you didn't! More often than not when we race and ride in the UK it’s wet, but not always super muddy. I feel comfortable in any conditions really as I have a great set-up and feeling with my Beta, which gives me great confidence. Having said that, I’m less experienced on hard-pack and rocky terrain because it’s difficult to find any enduro courses with that terrain in the UK.”
After such a great start to the season, do you believe you can now fight for the EnduroGP championship?
“To be fair it’s not yet one of my main priorities. I’d prefer not to get too carried away with things. I’ve made a great start, but my main focus remains to keep fighting for the E3 title. It’s very easy to get mixed up in the GP results during the day and lose focus on what’s really important – for me that’s the E3 title. Don’t get me wrong here, I’d love to win the EnduroGP title – I’m sure all riders would – but it’s a long season and the guys I’m fighting against in EnduroGP have a lot more experience than I do.”
Did signing a contact with Beta at the end of last year mean you didn’t get any other offers?
“No, that certainly wasn’t the case. I was fortunate to receive interest from a number of teams but obviously I decided was to stay with Beta. Being a part of the Boano Beta team last year was fantastic. I got on really well with everyone in the team and they supported me with all they could. I owe Jarno and the team so much. But it’s been awesome to move onto the Beat factory team. I’m excited to be working with such an awesome bike and an incredible team of people.”
You’re fortunate enough to have two former World Champions as teammates. How are you getting along with each other, do they help you with advice?
“I’ve spent time training with both Johnny (Aubert) and Alex (Salvini) and currently I’m living at Alex’s house in Italy. It’s great to see how these two world champions train and go about their racing. I have learned a great deal from them both, and am still learning from them. I’m very grateful to them both for letting me train with them. It’s fun to be at the races with them both.”
Why did you choose the Beta 300cc two-stroke machine for the season?
“At this stage of my career it’s the perfect bike. It’s incredibly easy to ride and the perfect tool for the job. Moving into the senior classes for 2016 was my big change. I wanted to be racing a bike that I knew and enjoyed.”
Let’s take a small step back in time. Don’t you have any regrets for not contesting the season opener last year? You could’ve been the Junior World Champion…
“It would’ve been great to ride in Chile. But I prefer to look at the positives from last year, and not wonder ‘what if’. It was a long way to travel and would’ve cost me a lot of money. I was still working more or less full-time then so I made my decision. That can’t be changed now. With how the year panned out it would’ve been great to fight for the championship with Jamie (McCanney) and Giacomo (Redondi), but I’m more than happy with finishing third. Besides, that’s what catapulted me into 2016.”
Coming from a schoolboy career in motocross, what is it that made you switch to enduro from a relatively young age?
“I raced motocross from the age of six up until the age of 14 and then decided I needed a change. I took part in some three-hour races and then at 16 I entered my first British Enduro Championship event. The main reason I stuck with enduro is the challenge and the adventures you can have. And the great people you meet along the way. The scenery we see and the terrain we ride on are just incredible. Very few people see, do, enjoy and achieve what we do on a daily basis. I enjoy riding motocross but it doesn’t take me very long to get bored. In enduro each lap is different and you need to ride smart and think fast. For me, that’s exciting."
Finally, in which areas do you think you can improve?
"I'm still fairly young and there are lots of areas where I think I'm able to improve. That's why I'm a little surpsised but excited to be in the position I'm in now. 2016 is a learning year for me. That doesn't change just because I've had some good results. Experience only comes with time, so I just need to keep competing to improve that."