Motorcycle racing is no stranger to sibing rivalry, if the two-wheel bug is in your blood, it’s likely that it also runs in the family.
Home-grown competition has been seen across the paddocks on numerous occasion with the likes of Sam and Alex Lowes, the Laverty trio, Pol and Aleix Espargaro and of course, Marc and Alex Marquez but it’s also common on the other side of the garage too.
Davide and Roberto Brivio and Francesco and Giacomo Guidotti have all had impressive and long-standing careers in the MotoGP paddock so what’s it like working with, or at times against, your sibling in such a high-profile and demanding career?
Having worked their way up to the premier class, Matt and Mark Lloyd can currently be found at two of the youngest but most-promising teams on the MotoGP grid - with Matt working alongside last-year’s vice-champion, Franky Morbidelli, at Petronas SRT while Mark is at KTM with rookie race winner, Brad Binder.
The British brothers, however, share a long-standing history across multiple paddocks having both been involved in racing since the mid ’90’s.
Matt: “I was always into motorsport as a kid. In 1994 my brother and his mate Darren North raced in the Superteens championship, which was then a support race at British Superbikes, I used to go along with them for the weekends, sleeping in Daz’s Renault Traffic van. The year after, Darren entered the British 250 Championship racing for Mick Walker and again in ’97 on a 600.”
Mark: “I wasn’t very good but enjoyed the mechanical side of things so that’s what I concentrated on. When he [North] moved up to 250GP at British Championship I became his mechanic. My big break came when Neil Tuxworth rang and offered me a job working at Honda Britain with Philip McCallen back in 1996.”
Matt: “At this time I’d decided I wanted to do this as a proper job and wrote letters to teams asking for work. In April ’98 I had an interview with Tuxworth to work at Castrol Honda World Supersport team. I didn’t get the job but he said if anything came up in the future he would give me a call. Later that year Neil stuck to his word and asked if I would be interested in a new British Supersport team that Honda UK were starting up. So on the 2nd January 1999 I moved to Louth to start my career in motorcycle racing.”
Matt describes himself as “fortunate over the years to work with good riders and great teams” and he’s not wrong. Working with Joey Dunlop, Jim Moodie and John McGuiness in just your first two years on the job is certainly an impressive introduction to the industry.
“In 2002 Colin Wright gave me a chance to work in the World Championship, for James Toseland at GSE Racing - achieving his first podium and first win in WSB. I learnt so much from Colin in those 2 years, not just working on a factory bike but how to be part of a great team and everything that goes with it. At the end of ’03 GSE pulled out of WSB, I called Havier Beltram at Honda as they were expanding and got a job working for an unknown Japanese rider called Ryuichi Kiyonari on a full factory fireblade. I was with Kiyo for 4 years winning the BSB Championship twice in 06 & 07!”
Three further years in BSB, alongside Cal Crutchlow, Karl Harris and James Ellison followed before Matt returned to the world stage with Ellison and Simon Buckmaster’s PTR WorldSSP squad, staying on for 2012 alongside Jules Cluzel.
“I’d say it was one of my favourite seasons. All the team got on so well, it was just a bunch of mates traveling the world working on motorbikes, to finish second in the championship was just a bonus!”
Throughout this time his brother, Mark, had been forging his own path in world championship competition, first with Castrol Honda in World Superbikes before moving to Grand Prix racing with Repsol in 2004 - alongside the likes of 2006 Champion Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso. As his partnership with HRC continued, with placements at Gresini and Marc VDS, the now 46-year-old’s time in the GP paddock would eventually prove just as beneficial to his younger sibling.
Matt: “My brother overheard a conversation that a new Moto2 team was setting up with Tady Okada, who I had previously worked with in BSB. I emailed him to show my interest and got the job - my break into the MotoGP paddock - and an enjoyable 4 years at Idemitsu Team Asia. Towards the end of 2015 I heard that Marc VDS would run a two rider team in MotoGP. After a chat with Michael Bartholemy in Motegi, I got my first MotoGP opportunity, in 2016 with Tito Rabat.”
Mark: “I worked with Matt in 2016 at VDS. It was strange at first, difficult at times but I enjoyed it, as an older brother I was still looking out for him, but he’s a very capable and good mechanic, I do prefer that we work in different teams now though.”
After one season working alongside each other, Mark was recruited by the ever-advancing KTM project, a journey that continues into 2021 as chief mechanic, in charge of Binder’s RC16’s.
Mark: “I love working for KTM, the bond we have as a team is very strong, it’s a great atmosphere and everyone looks out for one another. It is tough at times but we all get through it together. Working with riders like Brad is great, he is so hungry and determined and it is a pleasure to work and help him as much as I can.”
For 42-year-old Matt, having stayed with the Marc VDS squad until its decision to leave the MotoGP grid, 2019 saw him follow his former rider to Petronas.
Matt: “I am Franky’s chassis mechanic, so I basically build and maintain both of his bikes over a race weekend - mainly the front end, front wheel and setting changes in a session, take care of the carbon brakes and maintain the callipers. On back-to-back races I also drive one of the trucks with Calum. We have 6 guys for each rider in Petronas.
“Along with myself, Ben Fry mainly works on the rear, swingarm, shock, ride height and real wheel. Stuart Miller concentrates on the gearbox and clutch. Calum Willey is our tyre and fuel guy, Andy Griffith is the data guy and all led by Crew Chief Ramon Forcada.
“There is the same number of guys on Valentino’s side. Also there is 3 Japanese Yamaha engineers, a spare parts guy, logistics coordinator, truck drivers, rider coach, press guy, team manager, team director, team principal… in the MotoGP team there is about 25 people all looked after by our travel coordinator, Heather.
“Everyone mucks in setting the garage and trucks up on a Wednesday and taking it all down and packing up on a Sunday after the race. The whole team including Moto2, Moto3 and hospitality is getting on for over 55 people!
“It’s such a pleasure working with Franky, he is super cool and calm, never gets in a fluster and just chips away from FP1 to get the best out of the bike for the race. He works so methodically with Ramon and Andy to make setting decisions and a plan for each session.
“He hangs about the box if we are working late and puts the tunes on the speaker. The whole team is a great place to work, everyone gets on with each other. 2020 was hard going with a compressed calendar - the last part was 9 races in 11 weeks - you spend a lot of time with each other so it’s essential that we do get on so well.”
So how does MotoGP compare to working across other paddocks?
Mark: “I would say it’s more professional, with more personnel and factory support - of course there is more money available and bigger budgets.”
Matt: “You definitely get the wow factor in the MotoGP paddock, even after 9 years I still get impressed when you walk in. Each year the trucks, the hospitality, motor homes get bigger and better and all lined up perfectly by the IRTA lads, it’s pretty special.”
Having made similar, yet still individual, career choices over the years, the Lloyd brothers now find themselves in the same paddock but working for opposing teams, so how do they find the situation, is there much rivalry or do they remain supportive of each other?
Mark: “It’s good, however some weekends we don’t see each other as we are too busy or our pit boxes are far apart. Normally Yamaha mechanics finish earlier than us so Matt’s often back at his hotel before me!
“I would say [we’re] supportive, of course you want your rider and team to win but I am pleased if Franky has a good result and pleased for my brother, as I know how much work goes into a GP weekend.”
Matt: “It’s great to have him there. Although some races I literally don’t see him all weekend. You are there in your team, doing your own thing, however, we always see each other on the grid or in pit lane just before the start of the race, fist bump and say good luck. Before 2020, with the restrictions, we would try and have a beer in the hospitality if we were finished early enough.
“We have only worked together in the same team for one season, in 2016, and only in the same paddock since 2013. Prior to that we were both in WSB in 2002 and shared a podium at Assen, he won the race with Colin Edwards and I was 3rd with James Toseland.
“Obviously you want your rider and team to win but I’m happy when my brother’s rider gets a good result as I know how much time and effort goes into it. In Brno last year Franky led most the race but finished 2nd to Binder, it was Franky’s first MotoGP podium so I was really happy for that and happy for Mark and all the KTM lads’ first win. It was pretty special to be 1-2 on a MotoGP podium!”
While the brothers are working and travelling to the same events throughout the year, the options remain limited for them to spent much time together, even before the pandemic restrictions, due to their locations.
Mark: “Very rarely we travel together, he lives in Louth so flies from Humberside, where I fly from Heathrow or Stansted. Each of our teams organise the transport and often we are on different schedules.”
Matt: “We sometimes have the same flights for the long hauls so will travel together, with Craig and Johnny who work with Mark at KTM, Johnny gets a rental car and picks us all up on route to Heathrow.”
Mark: “2020 was of course different, as a group we had to stay in our respective bubbles so we had less contact with other teams and mechanics etc. We missed meeting up for a drink after work.”
Both KTM and Petronas are relatively new teams, in terms of the MotoGP paddock, so how have the brothers found the progress and development made with their respective machines and teams as a whole and what do they see as the next step?
Matt: “The progress of the Petronas Yamaha SRT team has been incredible really. When Johan Stigefelt and Wilco [Zeelenberg] were forming the team in 2018 with the backing from Petronas you knew it was going to be special.
“Nine of us came from the MarcVDS team, so [we already] knew each other, knew how we worked, so we hit the ground running. Fabio [Quartararo] was phenomenal in 2019, taking podiums and poles in his rookie season, Franky having front row starts, and being best independent team in the first year was amazing. All eyes were on the team in 2020, especially Fabio, and with two wins in the first two races and Marquez out, he was the championship favourite.
“The progress of both riders in 2020 was highlighted by both taking three wins each and ultimately Franky finishing second in the world championship. I guess the next step is to win the world championship as an independent team in only its third year.”
Mark: “At KTM, as a team it’s been a rapid rise, although Mike Leitner put together a very experienced crew and this helped a lot. Regarding the bike, at times it has been slow but as the results show last year, the bike is getting better. The next step for me is consistency, put solid results together each weekend and ultimately fight for the title.”
With over two decades of experience under the pair’s belts, who do they feel is the most talented rider they’ve ever worked with and who did they find the most difficult or challenging?
Mark: “Of the old school I would say John Kocinski back in 1997, Nicky Hayden was very talented but had to work at it harder to get the results.”
Matt: “Every rider I have worked with is talented in their own right and deserve to be doing what they do, but I’d have to say Franky. We all know he is good, he is a Moto2 world champion and how he approached last season super impressed me. He didn’t have a bad season in 2019 but was massively overshadowed by Fabio. He didn’t get a ‘2020 factory bike’ but his work ethic, mainly away from the track was fantastic and just got on with what we had, and how he approached each race showed in the results.
“I’ve enjoyed working with every rider and learnt so much from everyone. I’d probably have to say Tito Rabat was challenging, not in a really bad way, he is such a nice lad but in 2016 I think he had 29 crashes in the season. The 2016 RCV wasn’t the easiest of bikes to ride for a rookie.”
Mark: “Johan Zarco, to be honest. Deep down he’s a nice guy but he just didn’t gel with the KTM and that led to a lot of stress and hard work for very little reward.”
And who do they see as the most promising up-and-coming rider in the current paddock?
Matt: “We try and watch the Moto2 and Moto3 sessions, and obviously keep an eye on the Petronas STR riders. Jake Dixon impressed me last year, it’s a shame he got injured when he did. If he keeps the progress from last year and makes another small step he will be a regular podium finisher.”
Mark: “In MotoGP, I am biased but Brad Binder! To win your third MotoGP race, you have to be very special.”
As a new season in MotoGP competition approaches, the brothers reflect on their personal highlights of 2020 and what they are expecting from their respective teams in 2021.
Matt: “The highlight of 2020 was definitely Franky’s win in Misano. It was my first MotoGP win and at Franky’s home race, made it even more special. We were racing there the weekend after so didn’t need to pack down the garage so everyone relaxed and enjoyed the moment. That night the whole team – with all the Covid restrictions on site - went to a small pizza place owned by Dani Pedrosa’s old mechanic, Denis. Denis organised some music - his mate plays dance tunes on pots, pans, oil drums and scrap metal - the atmosphere all night was fantastic.”
Mark: “Brad Binder winning at Brno and taking KTM’s first MotoGP win. It was massive for the company and the team, it was nice too as Matt’s rider Franky was second so it topped off a great day!
“With the regulations the way they are I think we can hit the ground running [for 2021], we have two riders who know the bike very well, some updates to test and evaluate, and a great team who is learning all the time, so regular top-six results with podiums and wins is the target.”
Matt: “On our side of the garage we have the same crew for the third year, which I think is a really good thing. If we work like we did in 2020 there is no reason why we can’t get some great results and see where we are at the end. Having Valentino Rossi in the garage will be pretty special, I think this is another positive for Franky and they will work well together to achieve the best results for the team.”