INTERVIEW. Sam Lowes: “I’m calmer and faster than ever before”
Patience, focus, mental strength, control and confidence are some of the key factors playing a crucial role in helping Sam Lowes become one of the fastest and most competitive riders in the 2020 Moto2 World Championship.
British rider Lowes is competing in his seventh World Championship season this year and his sixth in the ultra-competitive Moto2 category. Racing in the famous livery of Team Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS, the 30-year-old has achieved three podiums so far this season and he currently sits in fourth position in the World Championship standings. After some difficult years, Lowes has given an exclusive insight into a new approach and work ethic that has helped transform him into a formidable challenger in 2020.
How does the Sam Lowes of 2020 differ from the past?
“The main difference is that I’m older and have more wrinkles than in the past! But seriously, when you start working with new people and a new project you inevitably change as an individual and professional. However, I’m doing important work on a mental and psychological level. Just like in everyday life, when you go through difficult times you have to look for the cause and its solution because, if you always do the same, you will always get the same results. I am in this process, analysing the areas in which I can improve and working on them. I would say that this year I am more focused on the really important aspects of a race weekend.”
You often say that you have changed the way you approach a race weekend, so what is your new method?
“I have more of a routine like stretching and meditation exercises that help me focus before I get on the bike. I have also changed the way I approach the weekend. I try to approach it in parts to focus only on the most immediate session to which I devote 100% of my effort and attention. Before, I only thought about the final goal on Sunday when in fact, to reach it, you have to have done a million other things right before. It’s like in football, if you want to win in the 90th minute, you have to have attacked and defended well in the previous 89 minutes. I go out in FP1 and then we analyse the data and results. Then we set new objectives for FP2. I go to FP2 and we repeat the process until the race. The final objective does not change, but the way to try to reach it does and it gives me more confidence.”
Could it be said that you are more relaxed and letting things flow more?
“You could say that, and I like the word flow, because that’s precisely what I’m working on. I try to flow and put myself in this relaxed and calm environment in my brain, so everything happens more natural. I’ve always been lucky enough to be a fast rider. Even if sometimes the results didn’t show it, the speed has always been there. However, there were other things that upset and distracted me. I’d get too nervous and look too much at the wrong things and that would snowball and get worse week after week if the results didn’t come. Now I only focus on the aspects that I can control, and everything flows, everything comes easier. Without a doubt, being on a good team and surrounded by the right people helps create the perfect environment to be able to adopt this attitude and mentality.”
How much would you say the mental state of a rider impacts on performance?
“I think that 70% is made up of speed and the team. The remaining 30% comes from the mentality of the rider. In my case, the last two years I was more nervous, under pressure, I was not focused, and as much as the speed was there, it was not working at all well. If you only have the first 70% you can’t finish the job.”
Your riding has changed and you’ve cut out a lot of mistakes. Is it all due to the change in focus and work on the mental side of racing?
“I think I’ve been helped a lot in this area by the team who know how to build the weekend. Now it is not all about being fastest in every session, but the team is more relaxed, and I can just think about riding the bike and being fast. I have a lot of confidence in our way of working and you can see this in the results on the track. When you are angry or pushing to make the lap time when you don’t feel good, that is when you make mistakes, crash and enter a negative loop. When you focus, trust your own ability, keep calm and work hard then it helps you and it can put you into a positive cycle. I knew that the mental aspect was important, but I was surprised by how much and it is definitely helping me a lot this year.”
What are the new routines you are doing?
“People who know me know that I am a person full of energy, I talk a lot and it is difficult for me to be still. That hasn’t changed, but I do meditation exercises, breathing and stretching while training my ability to master my mind to keep it in a calm state and focused on what I want it to be. And what I’m working on the most is when there are distractions, I’m teaching the brain to get back to a calm state and that has helped me a lot this year. For example, when the red flag came in Misano because of the rain, I would have become very nervous, I would have perhaps lost focus and easily made a mistake in the past. Instead, I knew how to stay calm, I focused on the job in hand and I ended up on the podium.”
Is there anything that has surprised you about yourself this year?
“I’ve been surprised by the way I’ve reacted to everything that’s happened this year. Coming to this team after a period of some poor results, there were some people who said I didn’t deserve it. And then I got injured in the first test, I had to miss the pre-season and then the first race in Qatar, so it was a hard time, but I’ve been competitive and returned to the podium. Since we returned from the lockdown in Jerez, I have been a little surprised with the way I have reacted to every situation. I knew that the speed was there, but I did not know if I could manage it as I have done, and I am happy. I focus on the things that I can control and change and my ability to handle outside distractions and mental stress has also surprised me. This season, despite being faster and fighting with the best, I suffer much less stress than last year when I was slower. I thought it would be the other way around.”
What are the goals for the final phase of the championship? Are they the same as those you set at the beginning of the season?
“When I signed with the team my first goal was to be competitive again. I’m not ashamed to say that last year I wasn’t. But now I am. At this point, the current goal is to win races again. In the last few races I have gained a lot of confidence. You can say in press releases or interviews that you want to fight for victory, but when I am alone and reflect on it, I really believe that I can win or fight to win. It has been a long time since I felt this way and for me that is something very important.”
And the championship?
“The desire to win the World Championship is always there, although I am aware that we are a little behind now because I missed the first race in Qatar with the injury and then there was the unfortunate mistake in Austria. There’s not much more margin for error but we have seen before that with a few good races you can recover quite a lot of points. You never know, you have to fight until the end, and that’s what we’ll do.”
Are you afraid of the pressure?
“There is no negative pressure when you think and believe you can do something. It only appears when you feel that people expect things from you that you cannot carry out. At this point, always with my feet on the ground, I feel very good. I missed feeling the pressure to win or to be on the podium. That feeling of being on the front row of the grid and knowing that you are going to fight for victory is a pressure I really wanted to experience again. I didn’t know if I could get back up to the level and to have achieved that is something amazing.”
What things do you think you can improve?
“I definitely need to improve the starts. I think my best one this year was from pitlane in Misano!”
But why is starting so hard for you?
“This year I started having a rear brake lever on the handlebars and while it has helped me a lot, the position of the clutch lever has changed, and I need time to adapt. It’s an issue that I have with most starts because it is not like I am good at them in practice and then make a bad one in the race. I’m working hard on it and it’s important to improve it because it will save me the extra effort of having to come back during the first few laps. Another thing I think I can improve is the way I release the brake. Sometimes, when I want to push hard in the beginning of the race, I release the brake a little bit too fast and that can unsettle the front.”
And finally, what score would you give yourself in this first half of the season?
“Wow, it is not easy to score, but I think I would give myself a 7.5. It would have been an 8 but I have not yet won a race, but I hope to give myself a good reason to award myself a higher score at the end of the season.”