Alex and Marc Marquez made history in Montmelo by becoming the first brothers to win Motocycle Grand Prix races on the same day. The Marquez brothers may have made history but they are just two siblings currently plying their trade at the highest levels of the sport with the likes of Aleix and Pol Espargaro, Alex and Sam Lowes as well as the Hayden and Laverty brothers proving that the paddock is littered with fast families.
Is there an inherit advantage from having a racing brother? Talk to any of the riders fortunate to have family to call upon and they are all adamant that the gain is significant. For some the gains come from being able to talk about what’s happening on the bike, for others it’s about the competition of racing each other from an early age with another key advantage arguably that someone else can forge the family name and fast track the younger brother’s early career.
Having someone that has had to navigate the pitfalls of a career is always an advantage. Whether you’re a top level motorcyclist or in any other career a mentor plays a pivotal role in your early development. Speaking to numerous brothers within WSBK and MotoGP and it is clear that having an older brother racing gives siblings the chance to avoid making the same mistakes and focus instead on some of the key elements that make up a successful rider.
Motorsport is the same as any sport where the body needs to be trained for competition. In some cases having an older sibling gives an advantage by allowing riders to tailor their training to what the future holds and use their brother as a guiding light. In other cases, such as Nicky Hayden’s, the key can be just riding bikes as children and making sure that you don’t get beaten by a younger brother!
“Growing up and riding together on dirt bikes in the back yard is great competition,” said Hayden. “I liked it because I had one brother who’s a little bit older that I was chasing on a bigger bike and I had another brother following me that I wanted to make sure didn’t pass!”
Hayden and his brothers all raced when he was younger with his father, Earl Hayden, travelling the US with his racing offspring to compete in dirt track races and then short circuit racing. Of the Hayden clan Nicky, Roger Lee and Tommy have all raced in AMA Superbikes with Roger Lee joining Nicky on the MotoGP grid twice at Laguna Seca. With such experience on hand Nicky admitted that it’s also important to be able to call on them when times get hard:
“There’s time where you have an injury and between the three of us one of us has probably experienced it. It’s nice to get advice from a brother because you can understand each other and it’s a great advantage. You see it in other sports where there’s a lot of brothers.”
While the Marquez brothers stole the limelight in Montmelo the circuit is the home of the Espargaro brothers with Aleix and Pol having grown up just minutes from the track in Granollers. The Espargaro’s are separated by two years but their careers have been very different with Pol having enjoyed factory machinery in 125’s and then a championship winning Moto2 career before moving to MotoGP as a Yamaha rider. Aleix had to graft for his chance on the more competitive Forward Yamaha this year following years riding uncompetitive machinery in 125’s and 250’s.
The elder Espargaro brother however has shown his speed this year and he admitted, like Hayden, that when times are tough the main benefits of having a brother who experienced the same problems can be the biggest advantage of racing siblings:
“It’s nice to see Pol on the track and riding, it’s different to other riders,” commented Aleix. “When everything is good, like this year, we can sometimes not see each other for a couple of days but if we have a problem then we will meet and talk about it. It’s really good to relax and work out the problem.”
For Pol the biggest advantages were that, until this year, he would have Aleix in his pit garage during practice and qualifying quickly able to point out areas to improve and focus on for the next lap. Racing together in MotoGP now makes that impossible that but riding similar bikes allows them to compare their data, along with the other Yamaha riders, and for both to learn from the other:
“In the middle of qualifying, for example, he was with me and he would tell me what I am doing wrong and that I am losing time in T2 or T3,” said Pol. “Right now we have the data but not as much time to speak about it so I have to learn by myself where I am losing time. After practice I see what I am doing wrong but not immediately during practice. So in that respect it was good to be with my brother but now I have to beat him! Tomorrow will be a difficult target because he will be so fast at the start.”
For younger brothers like Pol another key advantage is that they receive “hand me downs” from their older brothers as they progress through the ranks. Initially it is likely to be a new motocross bike and equipment and that progression is key to allowing the younger brother to speed up their development.
“I was always so happy to be racing with my brother because I could always take my brothers bike! My father would buy my brother a bike and I would take his old bike. It made my life easier because my brother would say that the bike needs to be ridden in a certain way and it was easier [for me].”
Like the Hayden brothers the Laverty’s feature a trio of racing brothers with Michael racing in MotoGP, Eugene in WSBK and John having won the Privateers Cup in BSB. The brothers all cut their teeth in school boy motocross and the gap from oldest and youngest, Michael to Eugene, is five years with Michael making the initial move to racing in the UK and paving for the way for his brothers.
This is something that each feels helped the others in their development with Eugene having raced in Grand Prix for two years before moving into the World Supersport and Superbike paddock and he admits that having Michael and John race before him allowed him to showcase his talent much easier than they could:
“The biggest advantage of them racing was that they opened doors for me,” commented Laverty. “It happens in racing where people realise that if that guy is fast that maybe these other guys are fast too, you just have to look at BSB and the influx that came here to WSBK where one guy came and was fast so then you looked at who used to battle with him. That happens in racing and it was helpful for me coming through because John and Michael had to work harder and ride pieces of shit and not really knowing the way. Once people realised that they could ride they thought that maybe they could give their little brother a chance so I got some doors opened for me a lot easier than they did.”
John, who now acts as an assistant and observer for Eugene, echoed those thoughts when talking in terms of how his career progressed:
“We did school boy motocross together and I always thought that was a good thing to do because it gets you used to doing three races a day,” said John. “Three starts becomes your normal train of thought and it becomes simple once you’ve got used to the basics. That was a big thing for us and then we progressed from motocross into circuit racing. Michael was the first to start in 98 and then myself and then Eugene. I suppose that having brothers to pave the way makes it easier for you, maybe that’s where Eugene being younger has benefited a lot. He’s seen us do things right and do things wrong and learned from that.”
For John’s current role as a trackside spotter the advantages are similar to what the Espargaro’s gain at Grand Prix level, complete trust that there is no ulterior motive in what is being said. When asked about the role that John plays on a race weekend Eugene was clear that the biggest advantage that he provides is that he gives an added depth to debriefs and uses his feedback in addition to the telemetry:
“It’s a big advantage because data can be very misleading in bike racing,” said Eugene. “In car racing it’s pretty much a sure thing because the driver is in a fixed position whereas often I have to speak with the engineers and they say that they can’t see the problem that I’m explaining but that’s because I’ve reacted and moved by position to compensate for the problem. That usually happens because the rider will move around and compensate so having someone out on trackside that sees it in real time is a benefit.”
For the eldest Laverty the challenges of his career clearly helped open doors for his younger brothers and it’s something that Michael clearly takes pride in. The PBM MotoGP rider had a winding road to MotoGP with British championship racing mixed with a year in the AMA championship before finally getting his break with PBM last year.
“We’re a close family, my brothers are my best friends, and we have each other’s best interests at heart,” commented Michael. “We grew up together looking out for each other and I’m glad that we stayed true to that. Eugene’s been very successful but there’s no-one happier than me to see that success. It’s been good growing up together and it’s nice to see his success. I think that we’re all similar talent wise, there’s some differences between us, so it’s nice to see the success that Eugene has had with factory teams and you can think that if I had that shot I could do the same because I know our similarities.
“It’s been good for sure and it’s helped us for sure. I think that Eugene would say the same and that he got opportunities younger than us probably because of the ground work that I did. He’s younger than us but that meant that he was able to learn from our mistakes and what took me five years he could do in one year. He was always at the track even before he went circuit racing and could learn from me so that meant that he could shortcut some of the work. I was probably a benefit to him in that way and it meant that he could jump into it a lot faster.”
Eugene Laverty’s teammate in World Superbike is Alex Lowes with the reigning British Superbike champion the twin brother of World Supersport champion, Sam. The Lowes brothers are famous for the intense rivalry between each other and their ability to spur each other on and this competitive nature is something that both admit helped make them successful. For Alex the key was that both were always competing with each other, whether it training or racing. This forced both brothers to dig deep in long sessions in the gym or when racing each other.
“I think that the single biggest thing is that anything that I’ve done in my life I’ve always had someone to be against,” said Alex. “If you go training on your own and you run five kilometres you’re always going to be faster if someone is close to you. We’re always at a pretty similar level in everything so we push each other a lot without really knowing it. It’s helped a lot with racing as well because you’ve got someone that you trust and relate to so well that when they’ve got those experiences that you can learn from them so that definitely helps.”
Last year was an interesting season for the Lowes brothers with both competing for their respective championship honours and the ability to lean on other and learn from the other’s experience was something that current Moto2 racer Sam felt provided a key advantage for them both:
“Racing is a funny thing,” commented Sam. “Until you’ve been put in certain positions, like both of us fighting for the championship last year, it brought us closer together because we could talk about how we’d think, ‘Tomorrow I can’t make a mistake, I can’t crash.’ I had it at Magny Cours and I called him and having the same emotions, whether it’s twins or friends, it brings people closer together. We’re very close anyway and he’s my best mate as well as my brother.”
The similarities between each riders feelings on the advantages of having a “racing family” are clear. The ability to have a soundboard for any issues that you’re having on track, the possibility of one brother opening doors and the competition from an early age with each other have clearly played a role in allowing each rider to reach the highest level. In other sports such as football, tennis or golf we have seen numerous siblings perform at the highest levels and at the moment in motorcycle racing we are seeing the same occur.