The third one
By Adam Wheeler
KTM reigned supreme in 2023 MXGP and the MX2 class for the seventh time in the last eight years but the season was about more than Andrea Adamo as Liam Everts also made the grade with the KTM 250 SX-F. Here the likeable and sensitive Belgian tells us about some of the trek to the top.
Just in case there was any confusion, Liam Everts also races with the #72. The 19-year-old Belgian was a recognizable part of motocross racing’s most famous family since before he could walk. His father, Stefan, carried him onto the podium as a baby when he won the 2004 Irish Grand Prix. I wonder if the ten-times world champion (he picked up his eighth title that day at Ballykelly) could have foreseen his son winning Grands Prix himself one day as he stared down at the two-month-old in his arms.
It’s hard not to wade immediately into the mythology and fabric of the immense Everts dynasty when we sit down to talk with Liam. After all he is the third generation to have tasted GP success and a future world title is very likely; indeed, he came extremely close in 2023 in his first year as a Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rider and only his second full term in the MX2 world championship. Everts was only 48 points behind Adamo coming to the Italian round and the penultimate fixture of the season but a crash in the second moto at Maggiora sucked the momentum away from a charge that had involved 8 podiums and 3 wins (compared favorably to Adamo’s 11 and 2 for the term). Still, Everts and his somewhat surprising progression to the status of MX2 victor had been one of the stories of 2023, and he scrubbed away his MX2 disappointment as well as reaffirming his caliber with a superb performance for his country at the jam-packed Motocross of Nations at Ernee to end 2023.
Liam, by his own admission, is not quite a generational talent like his dad. But he is studious, obviously a hard worker and there is versatility with his speed. He has shown he can adapt to tracks, conditions, and circumstances. He makes mistakes but then also knows the high value of analysis and then consistency. If he doesn’t have the aura of a record-breaker then he definitely has the mettle of a championship-campaigner in the making.
Good looking, multilingual, accessible: Everts is already a mental ‘lion’ for wanting to apply himself and achieve in a sport where he has to wear his name – that name – on the back of his shirt. True to cliché; it is a hinderance as much as a help. Stefan’s presence as a guiding force is also a long and imposing shadow. To his credit however Everts senior knows well the delicate balance between factory team, rider and external input. He has his own personal experiences with Liam’s grandad Harry (who is still also coaching) to call on.
Liam’s progress has revived media interest in his home country at a time when Belgium’s presence at the top of the results sheets had dwindled to one or two riders. His earlier potential had earned a works KTM 250 SX-F for 2023 and his advancement means he will be one of the main title favorites for 2024. Name or no name, he is following the right trajectory to make his own mark in MXGP.
Liam, even though the crash in Maggiora must have hurt, 2023 must be regarded as a success…
Yes, it’s been a breakthrough year but also because there were a lot of new things and a new team. It was a very professional environment. Even the overseas Grands Prix! I didn’t do those in 2022 due to injury. It feels like everything ‘blew up’ a bit. I had a couple of difficult weekends but then it built up, and the first win came. From there things started to flow. 2023 has also been the hardest year for me so far; just in terms of working with my dad, growing up as an adult, to live alone and to find out what I want from life. It’s been tough mentally to get the balance right.
Adapting to being a factory rider must also be a load to handle…
It was hard for me in the beginning because I’d missed the podium a few times in 2022 and I didn’t really have any ‘big’ performances. I had potential but didn’t really show it. To wear these colors and then finally take that first trophy was such a big relief for me. I showed that I could do it, and that I belonged here. It was like a little ‘freedom’. I could then just ride the bike, and that was it. I think 2023 was very much a learning year and to get things set-up for the coming years.
You mentioned living alone for the first time. How big of a change was that for you?
The biggest one yet. After Arco [Trentino Grand Prix] I moved into an apartment in a pretty big city close to home, Hasselt, around 15 mins from my parents’ place that I visit a lot. It’s really nice, and nice to have that ‘alone time’ and to switch off the mind, not always talk about racing with Dad. To be alone and figure things out by myself.
Your style has a very measured approach. There is a lot of potential but you always seem to be calculating. If you compare to Sasha [Coenen, all-action teammate and countryman]-
Ha! There its’ a very big change! Yeah, I think you are right. I mean, I am not like Lucas [Coenen, Sacha’s twin] for example, who is clearly a very big talent and comes in and wins a GP in his first year. That’s not me, and I accept that. But in my eyes what I have – that some riders don’t – is my constant growth. I keep on learning and I keep on improving. I still see how I can gain so much in so many ways. I want to, and I am willing, and hopefully that will be beneficial to my results.
Are you a big believer in the mental side of the sport?
Yes. And the biggest gain I can still make is the mental side. It’s a big point for this winter.
Is that about having more direction? Or more belief?
I think the main thing is the pressure I put on myself. There is nobody harder on myself than me. I very rarely make excuses. If I’m the problem, then I accept it. I will say it to people around me “this is my issue, I’m not good enough”. Some other guys might blame the bike. There is a lot to be done on the mental side.
What does ‘confidence’ mean to you? How do you define it?
I think it’s about building belief. Look at my practice sessions. I am barely near the top five but for qualifying I know I am a top three guy and that sense of belief has grown so much that I don’t really care about the [hot laps] in practice any more. The power of a 20-minute moto means much more than a fast lap, which a lot of people can do.
You are closely welded to your Dad but when you see the impact Joel Smets has had and people like Aldon Baker in the U.S. are there techniques and other experiences you want to discover?
Erm, not really because I think my Dad has a lot to give to me, and I feel that I have a lot to learn from him. This year was a big change for getting the balance right after the race, and for him to tell me which points were wrong. He was very direct with that! And we’ve been working on this. Also on my side, we’re still working it out. So, I’m not really curious about how the others work because I very focused on what I’m doing now and what we are doing as a team.
Many riders have walked that line with their Dad for when the coaching stops and the paternalistic side starts…
It’s very difficult. At times…I don’t really have a Dad…but we do so many things together. And so many are really nice, like riding some enduro. It’s a very different father-son relationship to the usual.
You joked after your first win that you had another 100 to go. Like it or not, your life and career so far has been surrounded by expectation…
It is very hard to deal with that. This year I started performing a bit to get recognized in the press at home but that’s not really part of my character. My Dad is very different. He likes the attention and I’m still very much learning that I’m becoming a bit of a figure, also in my daily life. I have to accept it, even though I find it difficult [attention] because I appreciate a ‘normal’ life and do my own thing.
It’s going to get bigger; you are already an important draw for Belgian motocross fans…
I think my personality, and how I show myself to the fans and how I deal with them is very important and I try my best with that. Sometimes it is hard to weigh it all up; I’m only 19. There are some things that you cannot prevent from going wrong. You just have to go through them.