In spite of smaller budgets, fewer staff, and lesser-known riders, the Motul Pirelli Sherco Off-Road Team has managed to amass an impressive track record here in Australia in recent years. And they’ve done it across enduro, desert racing and extreme/hard enduro series and events. So, how has this team been able to punch so far above its weight? What role do key industry partnerships play in the process? How much technical information is shared with Sherco’s title-wining teams in Europe and the USA? And is all that racing success translating into more bike sales at dealerships?
We threw these questions and more to Derek Grundy, Team Manager for Motul Pirelli Sherco Off-Road Team, and he came back with some very candid and interesting insights…

TM: What are the primary objectives of Sherco’s racing programs under your management, Derek?
DG: As far as Mojo Motorcycles (the distributor of Sherco here in Australia) is concerned, our Motul Pirelli racing team does act as a moving billboard for the brand. But it’s also the best possible way for us to test Shercos in the harshest of Australian conditions and provide feedback to the brand’s head office in France. Without a doubt, there is a massive element of passion for us on the racing side and that extends all the way through the company. So while there are a number of things that can be taken away from our racing efforts, the goal remains the same as the riders themselves – and that’s to achieve the best results we possibly can when on the track. Unlike in European markets, where every enduro and trials brand is really well represented, Australia is a market where bike sales are dominated by a select few manufacturers. We are really starting to buck that trend and our consistent podiums across a number of years and many events and classes certainly plays a part in that. You have to have full confidence in your machinery to tackle the national-level events that we do and also to publicly go toe-to-toe with much larger teams. But we do it because we believe the bikes are every bit as capable and reliable, if not more so, than every other brand on the market. And so far, so good!

Like several European brands, Sherco’s enduro models are available in standard and up-specced versions – the ‘Factory’ bikes, in Sherco’s case, which are actually the brand’s biggest sellers here in Oz. Does that stat in itself indicate that Sherco’s racing efforts are paying dividends?
Absolutely, mate. We can’t ramble on enough about the value for money that our Factory models provide, especially when compared to equivalent up-specced models on the market. Riders know a great deal when they see one, and our racing efforts provide proof that all those upgrades on paper are not just bling; they’re logical upgrades that will benefit every rider, even at the highest level. We bolt on a few additional parts to a stock Factory model in order to prep them for hours of abuse from professional riders, but you’d be amazed how little we actually need to do. And I’d argue our race bikes are the closest to stock out of all of the race teams in the paddock. If you buy a Factory model Sherco and get your KYB suspension tuned for your weight and riding style, you’ll be 95 percent of the way to one of our team bikes.

Sherco’s biggest-selling model in Australia is the 300SE Factory. So it’s no coincidence that your ‘strike’ rider in the AORC, Jonte Reynders, is racing that model, right?
Yes and no. The 300SE Factory is our best-seller, but competing in the E3 class against Daniel Sanders means you are going against one of, if not the, world’s best enduro rider. And while Jonte Reynders is having a spectacular year in that class (even taking a few test wins away from Daniel) and has an incredibly bright future, we could have potentially jumped into E1 if we simply wanted to chase a class win, so to speak. Unlike other teams, we don’t necessarily have the resources to put a guy in each class and hedge our bets on someone taking home a title, so we can then run ads about being a class winner late in the year. We know 300cc two-strokes are big-time sellers in the Australian market and classes aside, we wanted to prove to riders of all calibers that we had the fastest 300cc two-stroke in the Australian off-road scene and that our brand is reliable at the highest level – both of which, quite frankly, we’ve done with ease. We have the fastest 300 two-stroke in Aussie enduro and it’s surviving these brutal events time after time without a hiccup.

With the Sherco team’s involvement in enduro, desert racing and a bunch of hard enduro events in Australia, you’ve got more than a toe in the water when it comes to racing these days!
It’s easy to pay close attention to the team’s results when you are so close to it, but I do feel that sometimes our fantastic results get lost in the years of competition. That’s the nature of the beast, but we have taken multiple class wins across every major event in Australia since we started in 2015, and more often than not we stand on the podium at the end of events and championships. We’ve fallen just short of the top step a few times, but I’d be confident in saying we’ve landed on major class podiums with the same regularity as Yamaha or KTM/Husqvarna, who have riders and staff on full-time salaries and operate with serious budgets. This isn’t to say we aren’t well supported – we most certainly are – but the level of investment is certainly different and I’d say what I’m most proud of is how our riders and team have performed at the highest level. We are absolutely invested both financially and emotionally when it comes to our racing efforts and welcome the challenge of full schedules and gruelling events. The journey – quite literally thousands of kilometres – is its own reward, and the fact that we are achieving great results keeps us plenty hungry for more!

In that short time, the team has also managed to attract the support of several reputable brands, too.
Absolutely. And it’s critical to surround yourself with great brands and products when you are trying to bat above your average, so to speak. Because we don’t have the overheads associated with the bigger teams in the paddock, we can be really honest and discerning about the partners that we choose to work with on the team. Without a team full of mouths to feed, we can focus on working with brands that create products that are going to genuinely help us be better, and not every team is in this position. Sponsor money is always helpful, but I’d personally vouch for every single product run on our team bikes. Motul and Pirelli are the naming rights sponsors and while I could conjure up a sales pitch for the reader – whoever reads that stuff? [laughs] – anyone who knows their bike well will know how great the products from both of these guys really are. They are staples of the moto industry and we are incredibly grateful for their support. Australian Motorcycle & Marine Finance are also a massive player in our operation and they provide us enormous peace of mind when we are travelling across the country with a van full of race bikes and gear. Critically, I have to use this platform to thank Chad from Chad’s Offroad Setups as his guidance and prowess in the workshop has had such a direct impact on the fantastic run of results we’ve achieved. Having KYB suspension on our bikes from stock is an enormous advantage, but Chad’s technical knowledge – not only with suspension but across the board – has played a massive part in the team going from strength to strength. I won’t tire you with the end-of-day podium speech, but just know that when you run a team of our scale and can still compete with the bigger outfits, every product you run can’t just be a cash grab. It has to genuinely help us be better. All of our team supporters provide this for us and we can’t thank them enough for contributing to our program and the results we’ve achieved thus far.

That said, there’s been no racing since mid-March, thanks to the pandemic and its restrictions. So how do you ‘repurpose’ yourself in that uncertain environment?
Technically speaking, I also work as an Area Manager for Mojo Motorcycles. Mojo has several other brands that I’m fortunate enough to be involved with, and you could say that work has ramped up in other areas. But we’ve also been very conscious of doing what we can to provide for our sponsors while major national events are postponed. From a hands-on perspective, I’m still actively assisting our team riders, Jonte Reynders and Dalton Johnson. Fortunately, we are all located in Tasmania, where our state series is still running and is arguably more competitive than ever with plenty of national-level competitors. So we’ve had a lot of opportunities to work on further developing the bikes and riders. As things stand, Jonte is sitting atop the points here so I’m definitely still getting my racing fix and trying to tick those boxes to help him and the team be better. I’ve also been working closely with the Mojo social media team to ensure our sponsors are getting recognition in the downtime because those relationships are two-way streets and while understandably difficult, we really want to do all we can to support them through this time as well.

In recent years, Sherco has had a lot of racing success around the world with title wins in the Enduro World Championship, GNCC, ISDE and a bunch of hard enduro events. You’ve managed to kick a few title-winning goals in Oz in the past few years, too – both personally and as a team manager. Give us a snapshot of that, mate.
As I mentioned previously, our team and riders have definitely had a noticeable share of success in all major Australian Off-Road events and Championships. We’ve seen class podiums and major class wins for Sherco riders at Finke, Hattah, the AORC, National Enduro-X, Wildwood, Grassroots Hard Enduro events and plenty of one-off events and series in between. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone to see a Sherco on the podium or atop it domestically, but we’ve also seen them at the top or close in almost every major international event and series they’ve entered in the past few years. You’d have to blind at this point to not notice the World Championship wins, consistent Hard Enduro victories and GNCC podiums we’ve been enjoying, let alone our success in trials competition. The brand speaks for itself if you are willing to open your eyes to it. But with all that said, I’m not just a Sherco advocate. I’m also a proud Aussie and a big motorsports fan, so helping a young rider like Andy Wilksch achieving a gold medal at the ISDE or seeing Hamish Macdonald and Wil Ruprecht achieve awesome results in the EnduroGP is really satisfying. The same can be said across the board with all of the riders we’ve had on board over the years. We’ve taken a few guys who were very, very good and seen them through an important phase on their way to becoming great. It’s incredibly rewarding for me both personally and professionally to play my little part in helping them chase their dreams.

Do any of Sherco’s European- or USA-based race teams share technical information about their race bikes with you, and vice versa?
The CH Racing Factory Sherco team in Europe (who Matthew Phillips won his EnduroGP World Championship with) has been a great resource for me. So has Wade Young’s mechanic, Boubou, so there are definitely times where I’ve been able to seek out advice or assistance. But there is only so much you can copy and paste. On the whole, our program here in Australia is catered towards making Sherco’s range competitive in Australian conditions, and gathering data that can go back to France and help bikes reach Aussie dealerships, ready to tackle the Aussie bush. All of our race team development takes place here in Australia and it mostly involves me and Chad from Chad’s Offroad Setups, but we’ve also been incredibly fortunate to work closely with our team sponsors (and Australian businesses) to produce competition-specific race parts – things like our dry-break tank from Safari Tanks, which was something we developed together in order to be more competitive at Finke and Hattah, or the Force Accessories radiator braces that we run, which were developed here in Australia using our team’s feedback. Those are really cool experiences and mutually beneficial relationships built on the experiences and lessons we’ve learnt through seasons of racing at the highest level.

As a former racer, how difficult is it to build and develop race bikes you no longer race?
I don’t think you can end up as a manager of an off-road team if racing hasn’t been a massive part of your life. There is too much dust and dirty bike cleaning to get into this business without passion. You have to be a moto fanatic first and foremost. Growing up in Tasmania, support for my own racing efforts wasn’t necessarily great (at the time) and your peak racing years do pass you by quickly – hindsight is a wonderful thing, right? [laughs]. I’ve been lucky to have had some success at a national level aboard a Sherco in the Masters class, but like most bench racers you do wonder a little what you could have done with a little more effort, time and money. All this is to say that the race team is a massive outlet for me and developing the bikes for the young guys coming through is every bit as rewarding as riding them myself. Taking these young riders and putting in 100 percent to give them the platform to succeed is definitely worth taking a few weekends off the bike myself. That said, any excuse is a great excuse for me to ride (let alone on a tricked-out Factory bike), but seeing our guys and girls out on track doing their thing aboard a team Sherco is every bit as fun as sneaking in a cheeky ride myself.

With the Racing the Factory models combined, Sherco’s got 12 enduro models. Which is your favourite?
Look, the 2021 300SE Factory (two-stroke) sells itself at this point, so let’s look outside of that. The 300SE-F (four-stroke) was the bike I won my Aussie Off-Road title on back in 2017, and that model has only gotten stronger and more fun. But I think for pure fun factor, it’s hard to go past our 250SE Factory two-stroke. I’d say that’s the hidden gem of our fleet. You asked for one and you got three [laughs], but if you get a chance to ride any one of them, I’m sure you’d agree with me that it’s simply too hard to choose. They’re all incredible.