MOTOCROSS AND GIUSEPPE LUONGO: 25 YEARS TOGETHER AND MANY MORE TO COME

The Belgian Grand Prix’s date is an important mark in Giuseppe Luongo’s history, as the President of Youthstream will celebrate his 25th year in the promotion of motocross. During his successful career a lot has changed in the sport as Mr. Luongo is the key personage who made both the revolution and the evolution in Motocross.

This interview will go through the highlights of Mr. Luongo’s wonderful life and career.

“I was born the 9th of April 1960 in the South of Italy, in Latronico. It is a really beautiful area in the middle of the mountains of Basilicata. My parents had a big farm there: as a child it was great to be raised in the middle of the nature. We left and moved to Prato (near Florence) when I was 9: my parents decided to take such a step to provide me with better schooling.”

-How did you meet Motocross?

“Well, actually I was first attracted by football. I started to play quite seriously, but when I was 15, my sister gave me a Motocross bike (Fantic Motor 50cc) for Christmas: my passion suddenly changed from football to Motocross. At first, I was not able to ride the bike, but I started practicing a lot: when I was done with my school duties, I was always on the bike.”

-Did you race?

“Yes, once I left school and started working as a loader, I also started racing.”
-Any special memories of this time?

“Sure, I have many but I think the very best one is when I and my friends Luigi Zompetti and Massimo Matteoni went to our first race. It was 200 kilometres away… we had our bikes and fuel but we had nothing to transport them. An uncle of Luigi’s had a car with a tow bar, so Luigi’s father asked him to use it. Then he borrowed a trailer from another friend, and brought everything to the race track on Wednesday before the race: we did it so early because the uncle needed the car. Luigi and I went there with a scooter; actually we were in the middle of the field three days before the race, and nobody was there! We had our bikes and our fuel, and we were at the race track: it was definitely a step forward, even if we did not know how to carry everything back home! But we would have thought about that after. The three of us slept in a tent, it was March, and it was incredibly cold. Unfortunately I did not have a sleeping bag with me, and it was so cold that my teeth were chattering. Having his warm sleeping bag, Luigi turned to me and asked (very politely) “Can you please stop your teeth from chattering? I cannot sleep”. There were many stories like this one.”

Giuseppe Luongo and his friends at one of their first Motocross races
-When and why did you stop racing?

“I had a massive accident when I was 17, and broke three vertebrae: doctors forbade me from racing for the rest of my life. I should have stopped, but my passion was so strong that three months after I had come out of the hospital (I was still in plaster), I was on the bike again.”

Giuseppe Luongo after his accident on the bike
-How did you enter the World Championship scene?

“When I was about 23, I started following the FIM 125 Motocross World Championship. Luigi, Matteo and I were big Michele Rinaldi’s supporters. From that moment I started riding less and less. Through Réné and Angela Liekens I became good friends with Pekka Vehkonen, Eric Geboers and Jim (Diamond) Gibson. It was at this stage that I thought about organizing a huge event to celebrate all the Champions, the weekend after the last 125 World Championship race. I was only 23 years old, full of dreams but having neither money nor experience: some people thought I was crazy, because it was almost impossible to have all the Champions together. But I spoke with the President of my Club, Mr. Mario Lucchesi, and I told him about my idea – he liked it and gave me the green light. He even told me that I could do the whole work, and that he would have financed it. In 1983 I left my job, and began to work full time to organize this event in Ponte a Egola. It was a real success – about 20,000 spectators, all the Champions were present, and the press was positive.

That occasion opened my eyes, and I decided to transform my passion into my job.

I organized this event until 1985, and I was involved in the FIM 125 World Championship, representing some manufacturers and taking care of Team BIEMME (owned by Mr. Lucchesi) with riders Jan Postema and Mika Kouki.

In 1985 I created my own company GLO, and organized the Supermotocross in Italy and two International races of the Trofeo Industria Conciaria.

In addition to Supermotocross, in 1986 the FMI (Italian Motorcycle Federation) entrusted me with the management of image and sponsorship for the World Championship events in Italy. After the success of Grottazolina and Gallarate, I organized the Motocross of Nations in Maggiora –it was won by the American “Dream Team”, Bailey, Johnson and O’Mara- that is still recognized as one of the best races in the history of Motocross. I was pleased to receive a warm International recognition from all foreign National Motorcycle Federations, riders, sponsors, journalists and public.”

-It must have been an exciting moment for you.

“Yes, it really was. I remember I went to RAI (the Italian National Television), and I was dressed like Che Guevara, with a collared sweatshirt and a beard. They thought I was a bit crazy, because I was asking them for 15 hours of live television coverage per year. But when they saw my ideas becoming real and the sponsors supporting my project, at the end of the year we had 25 hours of live television coverage! Italian Motocross was living a moment of glory.

Together with the FMI, we created the Internazionali d’Italia in ‘87. This four round series was held at the beginning of the season, when all the Champions from every category were racing to train, to prepare their bikes, and to test their skills before the World Championships.

In 1987 I also renewed my contract with FMI giving me image and sponsorship rights for the Italian World Championship events. In 1987, I organized 25 events in total: the best ones were the El Charro Stadium Cross de Paris and The Masters of Motocross. The one in Paris was the first race in Europe that Bob Hannah came to, and it got two and a half hours of TV coverage from the most important channels in France: it was a record for this sport. Roger De Coster’s statement about the event was significant: “The most beautiful main event of Supercross ever seen in Europe so far”. The Masters of Motocross was a four round series which received a lot of enthusiasm and approbation around the world, and all the top riders from Europe and the States were there, attracting many people to each event. The Masters of Motocross was a new concept: Champions from World Championship and American Championship came together in a series including Motocross, Supercross and beach races. I will never forget this time!

1988 is a really important year for me: it is the year my son, David, was born. That year I was living in the Principality of Monaco, and there I created the company ‘ACTION’ for the management of International events. More and more countries wanted the Masters of Motocross and the four round series grew to six. A few years before, it was just a dream! But at that time I had provided Motocross with a large TV coverage and with sponsors such as Chesterfield, Camel, Philips, El Charro, Diesel, Agip Petroli, Grana Padano, UFO Plast, Bieffe Helmets and many more.

Giuseppe Luongo with the riders at the Masters of Motocross

My main goals were the expansion and the development of the entire world of Motocross, so I focused not only on sponsors and media, but also on the quality of the facilities and the circuits, on welcoming and entertaining the public, on safety and efficiency.

In 1989 I started the Supercup (an European evolution of the Internazionali d’Italia) and created Team Bieffe Suzuki, which was officially presented in the Hotel de Paris in Montecarlo. Team Bieffe Suzuki took part in the 125cc World Championship with Suzuki factory bikes, and with riders Dave Strijbos, Pedro Tragter and Stefan Everts (this was Stefan’s first employment), and in 1990 we won the 125cc World Championship with Donny Schmidt.

1991 brings a lot of memories back. Our team won the 125cc World Championship for the second time with Stefan Everts (it was his first title), and after seven years of hard work the Masters of Motocross finally got the official recognition of the FIM and began to be held in Italy, France, Holland, Spain, Montecarlo and Japan. The series had a following of 200,000 spectators and it was broadcasted in 15 countries, with the most important broadcasters being TF1 (France), RAI (Italy), TVE (Spain), VERONICA TV (Holland), FUJI TV (Japan), ESPN (USA). 1991 should have been the real ascent of Motocross, but it turned into the beginning of an incredible fall, due to strong political moves against the Masters of Motocross, and to my mistake of involving Nelson Piquet and other people around him in Motocross.

After this experience I decided to quit, and started to manage part of the Monaco Football Club and the advertising of AGS Formula 1 team.

In 1995 I organized two very important political festivals, but I was still away from Motocross. My friends Claudio and Guido Becchis (I really thank them for that) told me that since the Masters of Motocross ended, the sport had dropped a lot. They convinced me to return and build it back. We founded a new company, Action Group (AGI), to manage Motocross teams and events. I wanted to have a big comeback, and what is bigger than the Motocross of Nations? We called the Slovak Federation, and bought the rights for the ‘95 Motocross of Nations. After the excellent results of this event, Action Group started to have strong and close relations with all Motorcycle Federations of Eastern Europe, and the year ended well, thanks to the magnificent “Notte dei Campioni” (the Prize Giving Ceremony for all the Champions of the Italian Motorcycle Federation) in the Casino Valadier, and with the recognition of newly elected FIM President, Mr. Francesco Zerbi.”

-And how was your first meeting with FIM?

“The first time I met Wolfgang Srb was in Talavera in 1995. He was very firm with me, and when I told him that I was interested in the promotion of the FIM Motocross World Championships, he told me: “When you have a real plan to put Motocross on television, then we can talk.” And he left. At the end of the same year I prepared a plan for FIM: the concept was like the “old” Masters of Motocross with television and better images, but there were some improvements in the quality of the circuits, the accommodation and the comfort for the riders, the public and the media, and the goal was making a bigger show. Basically, in 1995 I proposed what we have today. FIM knew it was possible: they had already seen that it worked in the Masters of Motocross, and in ‘96 Action Group signed a contract with FIM to manage the television rights of the Motocross World Championship. For the first time the Motocross World Championship had a complete TV coverage of all the Grand Prix! Thanks to these accomplishments, FIM made an additional contract with AGI for promotional, marketing and calendar rights of the FIM Motocross World Championship.

1997 was the first year we fully managed the television, marketing, promotional and calendar rights of the Motocross World Championship. We reached our goals, and at the end of the year we signed a contract with FIM for the management of the Supercross World Championship.

After excellent results in running the Motocross and Supercross World Championships, and after my suggestion, the FIM entrusted AGI with the organisation of the FIM World Champions Awards and the Moto Winter Week. This prestigious Prize Giving Ceremony was held in Monte Carlo, at the Hotel de Paris, while the Moto Winter Week took place at the famous Italian ski resort of Sestriere, in 1999. It was the first time ever that motorcycling had such a great celebration of its Federation and Champions. All the Champions of every category and the FIM management council aside, at the FIM World Champions Awards there were many other guest stars like Ornella Muti, Anna Falchi, Ramona Badescu and Emmanuelle Béart, who made the evening change into a night to be remembered. We all still remember the Gipsy Kings playing live to finish this magical evening!

Thanks to the explosion of this sport and the fantastic moment of the stock market, at the end of 2000, after having made another glamorous Prize Giving Ceremony in the Salle des Etoiles (Monte Carlo), we sold our Motocross and Supercross business to Dorna.

2001 brought a few changes, one being the best of my life – I met my wife, Ursula. I spent a little time as Managing Director, then Vice-President of Dorna Off-Road (DOR), and after that I resigned to create a new company, Youthstream, together with my friends Luigi Zompetti, Eric Sevenet and Philippe Rahmani. The same year, Luigi and I created the company Marvelship as well, promoting and marketing luxury Motor Yachts of 80 – 105 feet.

With a lot of investment and experience, Youthstream welcomed the arrival of two new FIM sports in 2002: the FIM SuperMoto World Championship and the FIM Snowcross World Cup. Right from the first year Youthstream produced a very nice SuperMoto calendar, including seven countries – one of which was overseas (Australia). This young World Championship created an impressive media following and a powerful position, so that televisions broadcasted the events all around the world.

Many people will remember the stunning 2003 FIM AWARDS in Dubai, which were held in the famous Burj Al Arab and Mina al Salam hotels. FIM Champions enjoyed two days of racing in the desert with jeeps and camels, and exciting off-shore races. At the end of the same year we made a contract with FIM for the management of the FIM Motocross World Championship rights.

A memory of the 2003 FIM Awards in Dubai

Since 2004 Youthstream manages the FIM Motocross and SuperMoto World Championships, organizing a total of 26 Grand Prix all over the world.”

-How is the situation at present?

“We have seen a further improvement in the sports we promote, with a lot of important sponsors entering the series. Red Bull, Hyundai, Mormaii, Monster, Sidi, Lovemytime and many more are all great partners of ours and each of them correspond to a different market, meaning that the sport is touching more and more business areas.

The popularity of both Motocross and SuperMoto is increasing thanks to the great passion of the fans who come to the event in crowds and also watch the sport on TV and through the Internet streaming. We recently saw some amazing events such as the latest Red Bull FIM Motocross of Nations in Budds Creek (USA) and the FIM SuperMoto of Nations in Pleven (Bulgaria) which have been the peak of a fantastic 2007 season.

Now more than half a million fans come to the races, more than 900 hours of television are broadcasted all over the world with more than 700 million television viewers and more than 250 journalists following the World Championship at every Grand Prix.”

-From 1983 until now you have worked with the best riders in the world – for you, who stands out in particular?

“Thinking of World Championship races, Motocross of Nations, Masters of Motocross and International events that I have attended, I can say I had the chance to work in close contact with most of the riders who helped making the history of our sport. Pit Beirer has such a strong desire in whatever he does and a huge passion for life, he is really a personage. Stefan Everts has impressed me for his talent and his strong will: he is surely the greatest rider in the history of our sport. Andre Malherbe has a big place in my heart, he is really a gentleman and a big example of our sport. Rick Johnson, Jean-Michel Bayle and Ricky Carmichael have all to be greatly admired. I have worked with many other big champions, but the ones I mentioned are very special because they are more than great athletes: they are great men.”

Giuseppe Luongo with Jean Michel Bayle (right) and Rick Johnson (centre)

-You have met a lot of important people in your life: apart from the sport champions, who impressed you the most?

“With my work and my private life I have had the privilege to meet a lot of important people like Adrien Brody, Micheal Douglas, Sharon Stone, Ornella Muti, Olivier Martinez and a lot of others connected to the show business.

Politically I have met Prince Rainier of Monaco, Prince Albert of Monaco, George Bush Senior, Lech Walesa, Jörg Haider, Umberto Bossi and other Ministers from many different governments.

I have had the pleasure to meet also Kenneth Lay (CEO of Enron) and Magic Johnson.

People who impressed me the most were Prince Rainier of Monaco and Lech Walesa: they made me feel respect for them – they were simple but I felt their strength and power. In the show business I really like Adrien, because he keeps both feet on the ground and he is simple in his private life.”

From left to right: Wolfgang Srb, Lech Walesa, Giuseppe Luongo
-Who inspires your work?

“I believe everyone has their own idea and manner of managing their work, but one strong example of good sport management is Bernie Ecclestone. People say many things about Ecclestone, but one thing is sure: he is the man who invented the way of managing sport, even now he is 10 years ahead of everyone else. Not all the things he does for Formula1 can be applied to Motocross, but there are many principles that can be used.”

-Everybody talks about your relationship with FIM.

“Yes that is right, I have a very good relationship with FIM, actually like Mr. Ezpeleta, Mr. Flammini and the other FIM promoters. FIM owns the rights that we manage as promoters. The agreements are very clear: we have to care about the promotion and business, and FIM makes sure we work in the right way, by controlling sport and fairness.”

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Giuseppe Luongo with some of the riders who made the history of Motocross (from left to right: Michele Rinaldi; Eric Geboers; Jean Michel Bayle; Giuseppe Luongo; Roger De Coster; Dave Thorpe)

-What is the secret to your success?

“Be positive, and keep thinking “It is possible”, even when things are difficult. It helps a lot to believe in the great potential of our sport.”

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The 25th anniversary celebration at Lommel
-Is there anybody you want to thank?

“Sure. First of all I want to thank my parents, for having educated me with sane and straight principles, my wife Ursula, who divides everything with me and gives me all my power, my son David, who is a very good boy and is succeeding with his future in sport. And thanks to my partners, Luigi, Eric, Nikos and Philippe, to our directors, Guido and Mireille and to the whole FIM management (especially to the CMS President, Dr Wolfgang Srb) who gives us the possibility of being here, and also to the spectators, especially the ones facing muddy and difficult conditions: they are always there to support their riders and let our sports live.”

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Giuseppe Luongo in between his wife Ursula and Youthstream’s Vice President Luigi Zompetti