Hamish Macdonald: Another World Enduro Title!
What is it about Sherco and Anzacs? Sure, South Africa’s Wade Young has won or podiumed at a host of hard enduro events in recent years, and a bunch of Frenchman have claimed class and/or World Trophy wins at the International Six Days Enduro (ISDE). But Aussies and Kiwis have done especially well for the French manufacturer on the international stage. Australia’s Matt Phillips kicked things off in 2016, when he won Sherco their first ever Enduro World Championship title (in both the E2 class and EnduroGP/Outright). And now a sensational young Kiwi by the name of Hamish Macdonald has followed Phillips’ footsteps with back-to-back world title wins for Sherco – the 2019 Youth 125 World Enduro Championship (the under 21 class) and the 2020 Junior Enduro World Championship (the under 23 class).
Seeing as we haven’t had the chance to speak with the fair-haired Kiwi flyer during the past two years, we figured it was about time we sat down with “HammyMac” for an insight into how he’s quickly become the most successful off-road racer to come out of New Zealand since Stefan Merriman (who we often claim as an Aussie) and Paul Whibley, both of whom were at their international racing peak many years ago.
TM: First up, Hamish, congrats on this year’s Junior Enduro World Championship title win. How does this title stack up against last year’s Youth 125 World Enduro Championship win?
HM: Thanks a lot. Ahh, you know, it’s crazy to think three years ago it was all just a dream. Just to come over to Europe and race was a goal for me. Now I’m flying home as a two-time world champion. It’s mad! It’s such a lovely feeling. I don’t know how to describe it. Winning two championships in a row is magic. Last year I learned a lot and I’m really happy with my consistency and results this year. In fact, that consistency was my strong point this season. I know I’m fast, but others can be faster than me depending on the terrain.
You did things in style this year too with four GP wins and three second places. Enough to wrap up the EJ title with one round to spare in Portugal, in spite of the hard-fought battle with your Sherco teammate, Theo Espinasse.
The weekend in Portugal was brutal. I’m comfortable riding in the mud and rain, but that didn’t make conditions easy. I found my flow early on and just rode my own race. To be honest, I was a bit gutted as I’d made some mistakes during the season’s first few races that cost me the wins there. It would’ve been nice to iron them out early in the season, but I kept my head down and I knew that I could beat Theo if I rode like I’ve been riding lately. And I did just that. It created some tension in the team truck, that’s for sure [laughs].
Did you expect to do this well in your first year in the EJ class? And did the continuity with your Sherco team play a key role in that immediate success this season?
Comparing times last year, when I was on my 125, I knew that I had the speed for top five in EJ. I don’t want to sound cocky, but I knew I had the speed to win it. It’s one of those things where if you’re confident about your fitness, how you’ve been training and you’re feeling good on the bike, then you’re set for a good year. Behind every win, there is a dedicated and hard-working team that is just as important as the guy on the bike. So a big thanks to CH Racing, as these guys are an incredible team, passionate as only Italians can be; my Sherco Factory Racing bike, which was flawless again; and my family and friends who continue to support and encourage me. Thanks to all of you. Now it’s time to head home and face that two weeks’ isolation!
Sherco has made big inroads into other brands’ market share here in Australia, but is the French brand gaining momentum in NZ too?
Sherco is crazy-big in Europe now, which is great to see, and everybody seems to be loving the bikes. It’s good to see Sherco pushing hard in Australia, and it would be awesome to see more Shercos in NZ, but it’s such a small market for any motorcycle manufacturer to commit to.
It’s been a tough year for everybody, especially racers with an itchy right hand. But you’ve managed to keep yourself busy during the Enduro World Championship’s break by racing nationals in both Germany and your homeland of New Zealand too, right?
The plan at the start of the year was to solely race in Germany for the world championship. But then Covid came around, so I flew back to NZ. Sitting around doing nothing at home affected my motivation, however, and being young and in my first full professional year, I thought, ‘You know what, I have an opportunity here to do as much as I can’. So I did. New Zealand scheduled some races, thankfully, so I entered them and won the national championship. Then I flew to my home in England and raced there. I missed some races, but I still managed to claim the E2 Championship. Racing in Germany was going ahead by this time, so I booked my flights and flew back and forth between England and Germany for the world championship. It was the longest back-to-back racing I’ve ever done: eight consecutive weeks! I’ve won four championships this year and only missed the podium once, so it’s been a pretty successful year [laughs].
Back in NZ, you raced Sherco’s 300cc two-stroke and 300cc four-stroke? What conditions/terrain does each model best suit, and which do you think is the most versatile machine for an Average Joe racer or trailrider?
I rate the 300 4T over anything. It’s the perfect bike for NZ and its conditions. Go and buy one!
How difficult has it been to navigate all the Covid travel restrictions to get to these countries and race?
It’s full of unprecedented circumstances, uncertainty, and frequent rule changes. The biggest thing, for me, is having to self-isolate for 14 days (depending on where you’ve come from). So, as you can imagine, that’s not possible for a racer. I’ve had multiple tests upon arrival to help enable me to again leave the following week and, thankfully, it’s all gone smoothly and without a problem.
You’re the first Kiwi enduro racer since the likes of Stefan Merriman and Paul Whibley to win on the world stage? And that’s been 10-15 years! Why aren’t there more New Zealand riders taking on the premier enduro series in Europe and/or America? Because there are plenty of Kiwi MX riders (and other extreme sportspeople) doing well overseas.
Yeah, it’d be great to see more Kiwi enduro riders. Or even Australian riders come here. From our side of the world, we just jump straight in and get on with it because we don’t know anybody and we get the job done. It’s great to see fellow NZ riders winning also in MX and GNCC. Courtney Duncan has just won her second WMX title and Rachel Archer has kicked ass in GNCC!
Did anyone else ever tell you that you look like you come from Finland?
Haha! Yeah, all the time.
And when the hell are you going to pop over to Oz and ride one of the Transmoto Enduro Events? Or an AORC? Or Finke? It’d be the Anzac thing to do, cobber!
When Aussie races aren’t flat-out desert races, I’ll come do some [laughs]. Nah, I’ve seen a lot of good AORC races earlier this year, and I’d love to come and race a Transmoto event. Maybe get Six-Day back in Australia?
Lastly, mate, what’s plans for next season? We know you’ve already signed with Sherco, but what class do you intend to race in? And what do you aspire to? A third world title on the trot? Back-to-back Junior and Senior titles, as Matt Phillips historically did in 2013 and 2014?
I have to move up into the GP classes next year because I won Juniors this season. It’s a rule. I’m pretty confident I can get a top five overall and hopefully run with the big boys. It’s nice to look at my times from this season compared to them, and at some races I was already inside the top five. So it’s a start! Yep, I signed last year for two years with Sherco, so 2021 will be my second year. At the moment, the plan is to race the E2 class on the 300cc four-stroke again, but I’d like to test Sherco’s 250cc two-stroke first and then make my decision after that – probably early next year.