On-Track Off-Road issue 214

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KISKA.COM Photo: R.Schedl

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AMA-MX

HOT PROPERTY Jett Lawrence’s influence over American moto continues to grow and expand. The likeable Australian’s success at round ten of twelve in Indiana sees the HRC kid lead the AMA 250MX championship and further stardom beckons Photo by HRC



MX

HAVING IT EATING IT Something different. Swedish electric bike brand, Cake, recently held a one-off promotional event that saw a host of invited racers head to a remote island southeast of Stockholm to put the firm’s newest ware through their paces. The Kalk INK bike – one of two for off-road competition models, benefits from Öhlins suspension and a unique design to accentuate performance. How long before these bikes make an impression in inner-city or urban-settings for racing? Start the clock right now. Photo by www.ridecake.com



MOTOGP

BALANCE, POISE(D) Fabio Quartararo’s control and skill for a fifth victory of 2021 MotoGP at Silverstone might have been his most emphatic performance yet this season. The result and subsequent points gap means he inches closer to being France’s first-ever premier class world champion in what is the 73rd season of Grand Prix. Love the body position and dynamics in this photo Photo by CormacGP





MotoGP

SILVERSTONE - UK Round 12 of 18

MotoGP 1. Fabio Quartararo, Yamaha 2. Alex Rins, Suzuki 3. Aleix Espargaro, Aprilia

Moto2 1. Remy Gardner, Kalex 2. Marco Bezzecchi, Kalex 3. Jorge Navarro, Boscoscuro

Moto3 1. Romano Fenati, Husqvarna 2. Niccolo Antonelli, KTM 3. Dennis Foggia, Honda

STANDINGS 1. Fabio Quartararo, 206 points 2. Joan Mir, 141 3. Johann Zarco, 137 Blogs by David Emmett, Neil Morrison, Adam Wheeler. Photos by CormacGP/Polarity Photo


ONE HAND

MotoGP - SILVERSTONE



MotoGP - SILVERSTONE



MotoGP - SILVERSTONE



MotoGP - SILVERSTONE



MotoGP - SILVERSTONE



MotoGP - SILVERSTONE


MotoGP BLOG

WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM YOUR RIV A championship lead of 65 points is a lot. With just six MotoGP races left (probably, nothing is certain until the season is finally over), a run of third places would be enough for Fabio Quartararo to seal the 2021 MotoGP crown. It isn’t over until the final flag falls, of course, but the Frenchman could fail to score in two races, and still lead the championship by at least 15 points with four races to go. That would still be a solid, if not quite comfortable, lead. How did Quartararo do it? The Frenchman has been superb in 2021. Five wins from twelve rounds, and three more third places to add to the points tally. His consistency has been his strength, finishing outside the top seven only once, at Jerez, when he developed arm pump. And he was leading the race and looked to be on course for another victory when his arms locked up and he started losing a second or more a lap. Without the arm pump, the chances are Quartararo would be leading the championship by 88 points

instead of 65, and it really would be all over bar the shouting. Consistency is a two-way sword, however. It is a truism that you win championships on your bad days. The points you score when you can’t win can be the difference between taking a title or missing out altogether. That’s where Quartararo has excelled this year. And that is also where his rivals have fallen down. Compare the riders in second, third, and fourth. Joan Mir trails Quartararo by 65 points, Johann Zarco by 69, Pecco Bagnaia by 70. Of the three, Mir has the best record against Quartararo, finishing ahead of the Frenchman in five of the twelve races so far. When he’s finished behind Quartararo, he’s finished in ninth twice, and had one DNF. Even when he has classified ahead of the Frenchman, he’s only been on the podium once. Mir is neither maximizing his score on his good days, nor cutting his losses on the bad ones. Johann Zarco’s podium record is better than Joan Mir’s but only

just. The Pramac Ducati rider has four second places, but is equally poor when Quartararo finishes ahead of him. Two eighth places, eleventh, and a DNF at Austria. Pecco Bagnaia is in much the same boat. Like Zarco, he is on the podium when he finishes ahead of Quartararo. The problem is he has only managed to do that three times in twelve races. And on his bad days, he has done very badly: eleventh at the Styria Grand Prix, fourteenth at Silverstone, and a crash at Mugello, in the wake of Jason Dupasquier’s death in practice. Bagnaia’s factory Ducati teammate Jack Miller has been doing his good days better, winning two races and taking third place at Barcelona. But the Australian also has three DNFs to his name: he has crashed out of a quarter of the races this year. That is a lot of points he has thrown away. This MotoGP grid is unquestionably the strongest we have ever seen. And that is one of the factors making it so hard for Fabio Quartararo’s rivals to


BY DAVID EMMETT

VALS... make a dent on the Frenchman’s lead in the championship. There have been thirteen different riders who have scored podiums this year, and apart from Fabio Quartararo, with eight, nobody else has managed to get on the box more than four times. While Quartararo keeps taking home the trophies, his rivals keep getting in each others’ way. They are stealing points from each other, and not taking enough points off the Monster Energy Yamaha rider. Where has Fabio Quartararo’s consistency come from? For a start, the 2021 Yamaha M1 has made a big step in consistency. The 2020 bike won four races last year, demonstrating that when the bike was right, it was very good indeed. But there were too many races where the conditions were not perfect, and the teams couldn’t get the bike inside of its performance window. When that happened, they were nowhere. This year, the M1 has a wider operating window. When the bike isn’t perfect, Quartararo and his team can still find a way to make it work. On their bad days, they are

no longer scraping to get into the points, they are still in the fight for the podium. The biggest factor, though, is Quartararo’s laser-like focus. Despite the chaos on the other side of the garage, with a new crew chief for Maverick Viñales, then Viñales being sacked, and now the prospect of being joined by Franco Morbidelli for the rest of the season, Quartararo’s gaze has never wavered from the task of going fast. Week in, week out, he and his crew find a setup that works, or is good enough to be competitive. He has every reason to be distracted. But if anything, the chaos has helped him focus more. A lot can happen in six races, of course. But in the twelve MotoGP races we have had so far, Fabio Quartararo has shown he can take it all in his stride, and still come out on top. He is going to be a hard man to beat.


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C a s u a l A p p a r e l C o l l e c t i o n

Photos: R. Schedl, H. Mitterbauer

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MotoGP - SILVERSTONE


MotoGP BLOG SBK BLOG

FLAWED PERFECTION Mentioning the name ‘Romano Fenati’ usually provokes a response, and not always positive. The 25-year-old is an older statesman of Moto3 and one with a chequered past. The Italian is by far the most successful racer in the division with 13 wins and 29 podium finishes from ten full seasons. For all the baggage that comes with Fenati and a name that has become synonymous with the phrase ‘anger issues’, his 2021 British Grand Prix was a work of art. Fenati fronted Free Practice 1, 2, 3, Q2 – for Pole Position - Warm-Up and then fronted every single lap of the 17 at Silverstone for his second victory with the Husqvarna, and under the stewardship of another polarizing figure not unfamiliar with controversy: Max Biaggi. Considering the class can often have up to five different leaders in one race, Fenati’s

dominance is highly unusual. For all of championship leader Pedro Acosta’s combative rookie excellence so far in 2021, the Spanish teenager has yet to stamp any authority like Fenati on Moto3. In fact, you could argue the category hasn’t seen such prolificacy since Joan Mir was rampant in 2017. Acosta and title-rival Sergio Garcia were not able to master the idiosyncrasies of Silverstone with its flowing eighteen-corner layout, wide strips of asphalt and fast pace. It favoured experience, and it was telling that Fenati and runner-up Niccolo Antonelli (25 years old and 10 years in Moto3) were the standouts with Dennis Foggia (four seasons in Moto3) making the podium; only exciting 2021 debutant Izan Guevarra was the anomaly as the Spaniard pushed to

disrupt the proven and capable Italian trio. It could be argued that Fenati is still in a phase of career regeneration. His infamous ‘road rage’ front-brake grab of Stefano Manzi’s Moto2 machine at Misano was midway through 2018. The incident prompted widespread damnation both inside and out of MotoGP. Intense scrutiny of his gross misjudgement even forced Fenati to announce a temporary retirement, suffer rumours he’d face serious Italian court action and was sacked from his team as well as dropped from the contract he’d already secured for 2019. It was the most visual and sensational of several previous hullabaloos, one of which included his ejection from the VR46 Academy.


CREATED THANKS TO

BY ADAM WHEELER That Fenati swiftly found a way back to MotoGP and Moto3 once the furore had faded, suspensions had been completed, apologies declared and promises made, is testament to his undoubted ability. In the summer of 2019 Fenati redeemed himself in a sporting sense with an impressive damp weather success at Red Bull Ring. He joined Biaggi and Husqvarna Motorcycles for 2020 and his temperament remained stable through some occasional roughness in the Moto3 pack and even the bizarre scrape that saw teammate Alonso Lopez take him out at Le Mans. Echoes of the Fenati ire echoed this year with a double Long Lap penalty for both him and feisty rookie Adrian Fernandez in Assen for an alleged altercation in pitlane. Romano was still clearly a man you don’t want to cross. Fenati’s rule at Silverstone was an accumulation of his lessons both in MotoGP

and life. “I changed a lot of things,” he said in the postrace press conference and in response to a question about his character poised by colleague Simon Patterson. “I’m not another person…but [I would say] I am calmer, and I have learned to analyse things more.”

WHAT FENATI ACHIEVED IN THE UK WAS SOME FEAT. WHEN HE CLOCKED THE QUICKEST LAP DURING SUNDAY MORNING WARM-UP THE CHANCE OF WINNING THE GP AND SEALING THE PERFECT WEEKEND DANGLED TANTALISINGLY ON A STRING... There is also the question of how he managed to make the difference in a contest where technical performance is so equal between Austrian machinery and the Hondas and where a tow and a

slipstream chute is almost essential. The parity of Moto3 and (sadly) the overdue spate of serious accidents when riders fall in close company have been some of the louder talking points in MotoGP this season. The ritual allocation of sanctions and penalties for slow riding and tow-hunting in practice has made a mockery of the qualification process. Fenati was somehow able to breakaway and use his technique through Silverstone’s many turns and kinks to set consistently aloof lap-times by his own accord. The display of superiority was rare and very welcome as the usual multi-rider bedlam took place for tenth position instead of the podium. Fenati had been searching for effective braking balance and corner entry acumen for some time with the Husqvarna but the 2021 setting of the FR 250 GP was evidently more potent than the previous


MotoGP BLOG SBK BLOG

season where he surprisingly won in Misano but that was his sole top three. Silverstone was his first win but it was also his fourth podium appearance of 2021 and brought him to within 69 points of Acosta in the championship while sitting in 3rd. He may have embraced resurrection and a second chance from the paddock but whether Silverstone means another dawn for his career a deeper purple patch of results in 2021 is still very much in question. Fenati tends to veer from extremes: when he’s good then he’s a podium ‘cert’ when he’s struggling then he’s barely in the top ten. This might not demonstrate enough consistency for other teams and another attempt at Moto2, even if gossip is floating around that could be set for promotion in 2022 and has perhaps outgrown Moto3. Then there is always the risk of Romano’s

‘Mr Hyde’ lurking around the corner. For now, we can appreciate what he achieved in the UK. It was some feat. When he clocked the quickest lap during Sunday morning warmup the chance of winning the GP and sealing the perfect weekend dangled tantalisingly on the string. Clinching a hectic Moto3 race is demanding enough as it is without the prospect of also trying to complete the ‘set’. Afterwards I asked him if the pressure intensified because of what he’d done throughout Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning. “Yes!” he grinned. “Every session first and then the race? We had to be first! But I’ve learned to manage pressure and it was OK for me. On the grid I smile a lot with my team and the pressure come out.” Perhaps, in Romano’s case, it is just as much about the age as it is the mileage. Photo by Polarity Photo


MotoGP - SILVERSTONE


MotoGP BLOG

BACK IN BLACK Some might think him brash. And his claims over the weekend may have been taken the wrong way. But Aleix Espargaro had a point. On Sunday’s evidence, Maverick Viñales will be hardpushed to come in and become Aprilia’s number one should he, as it is widely expected, race this year. “It’s not going to be easy to beat me,” said Sunday’s podium finisher. “(Maverick) will have to suffer a lot to stay at my level.” There were a few grumbles when Espargaro was talking the talk at Silverstone. Ninth place overall and a pair of top six finishes prior to Sunday didn’t exactly spell out he was among the best riders in the world. His sterling third place on Sunday aside, look a little deeper, and it was clear that not only has the Catalan been riding well but the Aprilia is among the more competitive, consistent packages on the 2021 grid – a fairly monumental feat considering its past struggles. On average, Espargaro has come home 8.6s behind the race win-

ner in 2021 in the races he’s finished. That’s a huge stride when compared to the average gap last year (17.2s) in the races he completed and in 2019 (25.9s average). For further historical precedent he finished less than ten seconds off the race winner seven times this year. Prior to 2021, an Aprilia mounted rider managed that on just four occasions in the entire four stroke MotoGP era (2002-to present day). A few years back, it was tough to know what to make of Aprilia’s presence in MotoGP. From Espargaro’s first race with the factory, there was always potential. But any good results had to be balanced against unreliability and regular blow ups, by outspoken criticisms and rider mismanagement. Even its entry in MotoGP – technically an ‘independent’ team using Gresini’s grid slots – didn’t make a great deal of sense. In Scott Redding’s infamous outburst in Austria, 2018, “There are so many things that … in a team of this level should not be happening,” was one of many incendiary lines that stood out.

But the hiring of CEO Massimo Rivola – formerly of Ferrari in Formula1 – at the close of 2018 was a first step in organising the factory and garage. For one, it took some responsibility away from Romano Albesiano, the technical brains behind the RS-GP, but clearly not adept at man management. There has been some canny recruitment from there, with Aprilia taking on engineers from Suzuki, Mercedes and Ferrari in the past two years. On the smart recruitment, Albesiano recently said, “Part of these people came back to Aprilia after going away for a few years. So, we’re talking about people that have grown up with Aprilia. There are some difficulties. Generally, people coming from the car world have a different mentality. We got intelligent people that immediately understood the difficulties of developing the motorcycle. The melding of this culture is super positive for the company. We really made a big step in the strength of the group and the level of the group in the last two years. It’s been impressive.”


And the redesigning of its engine – Aprilia brought out a 90-degree V-four for the 2020 season, replacing its previous 70-degree V-four – was always going to take time to adjust and refine. But that, coupled with aerodynamic refinements has pushed the RS-GP forward to toward becoming a genuine force. The aerodynamic freeze introduced during last year’s lockdown meant its far from perfect package in Qatar could not be improved. Performance suffered heavily as a result. This year’s offering has been a sizeable step forward, as have improvements to the RS-GP’s engine. In Austria, Espargaro detailed just where this year’s machine is stronger than 2020. “This is another bike, completely another story. The stability of this bike is a lot higher. You can brake a lot harder without collapsing the front tyre, which was my problem last year. In the acceleration phase you see how big are the wings, so the downforce helps me have more power with less wheelie. Also, the engine performance in much stronger.” “In the last two changes we made

major changes to the engine, for layout reasons and for power output,” said Albesiano recently. “(When) you make a change you sometimes to one step forward then two backward. At the end we managed to keep the same level of engine performance. Finally, we have two or three seasons in front of us without major changes on the bike. we know the performance of a racing bike comes from refinement, generally not from revolution. I’m quite optimistic for the future.” What has been so impressive about 2021 is Espargaro going alone. With the greatest respect to Lorenzo Savadori, this was always going to be a tough year, putting a rider with a best finish of 4th in WorldSBK up against the very best across tracks he doesn’t know. Keep in mind the confusion over Andrea Iannone’s drug ban and Bradley Smith’s decision to reject a testing role for this year, and he has been achieving these results without elite riders around him. Maverick Viñales’ conscription will only push the project further forward.

BY NEIL MORRISON


MotoGP BLOG

It’s fair to say the events of the past month show that Aprilia means business. And, as impressive as Espargaro has been in 2021, the cold, hard facts remain that Sunday was just his third podium ever in 275 grand prix starts. He has never tasted victory in any category, let alone championship success. Viñales, for all his flaws, has, and can absolutely be counted among the fastest riders in the world. It’s a huge coup. Espargaro’s performances, Viñales’ signing and fact Aprilia has a really solid base mean things should only get better from here. “We’ve reached a good level of performance in all circuits,” said Albesiano back in Austria. “We focussed on some weak points in the past and now we have fixed them. We have a good base for stable development in the future.”

Yes, it’s taken a while. But there is so much to admire in how the Noale factory has transformed itself from the whipping boys of the class to regular podium contenders. And with Aragon coming up – Espargaro’s favourite track and a layout that lends itself to the RS-GP’s strengths – who is to say the podium potential ends here?


PRODUCTS

KTM A clutch of items from KTM’s Powerwear collection. Firstly, a KTM-themed version (entitled ‘Flash’) of Alpinestars’ Supertech M10 helmet. The lid has gathered good reviews for fit, ventilation and the specific construction of the shell (that comes in four sizes) that features a three-layer composite and multi-density EPS polymer for maximum energy absorption. Including MIPS, the M10 has also been crafted for the best in balance and weight to reduce forces on the posture of the rider. Many more benefits and details come with the helmet that took the company more than five years to develop. The RB Speed Racing gloves are part of the Red Bull collection that makes the most of KTM’s vast racing tie-in with their principal sponsor. The gloves are leather, with TPU knuckle protection, double material in sections with accordion stitching and wrist width adjustment. The ‘fit for screen’ fingertip is also in place. The Women’s Fletch padded jacket is pretty cool, made of polyester and distinctive for the Red Bull lettering on the hood edge. The men’s Fletch Sweater is 40% cotton and 60% polyester and is a slightly different take on the normal orange/blue scheme. More photos, more items and full pricing can be found on the Powerwear section of www.ktm.com

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ENJOY YOUR RIDE


FEATURE

“YOU NEEDED BALL


LS…”

By Adam Wheeler. Photos by Henk Keulemans

AUSTRIA AND MotoGP GENERATE PLENTY OF TALK BUT IT’S ALMOST THIRTY YEARS SINCE GRAND PRIX TREMBLED THROUGH AN ALPINE VALLEY AT SALZBURGRING AND ONE OF THE LAST GREAT ‘SPEEDBOWLS’ FOR BIKES.


FEATURE

T

he recent Styrian/ Austrian MotoGP double-header in August marked half a century since the series started yodelling through hillsides in both Salzburg and Spielberg. After the 1971 inauguration at Salzburgring - a looping circuit less than 10km east of the city - Grand Prix throttled through the 4.2km venue every year bar 1980 (when it was snowed-off), and 1992 and up until the fifth round of 1994. It then ventured to the previous incarnation of Red Bull Ring (‘A1 Ring’) in 1996 and 1997 and – after the location underwent a vast 70-million-euro revamp in 2015 – has been regularly to Spielberg from 2016 onwards. Red Bull Ring has subsequently fascinated and scared both riders and fans on an annual basis. The proximity of the armco and the nature of corners 1, 2, 3 and 4 at the venue have prompted repeat comments and discussions for the last half a decade and upon each visit. Turn 10 was an issue until reparative work tweaked the trajectory to make the curve tighter in 2016. Red Bull Ring has also had a strange ability to attract controversy on and off the asphalt with spectacular crashes, public apologies by manufacturers, suspect brakes, tyre chunking and rider/team disputes.


Red Bull Ring might be one of the most talked about circuits in MotoGP but the challenge and imposing nature of Salzburgring makes it pale in comparison.

spectators in this natural setting. In the old days it was always the tradition that the bike races were at Salzburgring and the F1 was in Spielberg. I went to the track by bicycle from my house many, many times. I almost grew up there. They used to have open days for racing bikes on Wednesdays and Thursdays. It was impressive because it was open from 12-5pm and there used to be such a big amount of people, whether it was national or international and world

LEITNER: “THE TRACK IS NOT ESPECIALLY DIFFICULT BUT WHAT IT DOES PROVIDE IS TEN RIDERS WITHIN THREE TENTHS OF A SECOND!” Salzburgring not only boasted a wonderfully looping layout imposingly encased by guardrail but the submerged locale meant it was flanked by steep hillsides. This geographical limitation constrained safety aspects but provided an echoing amphitheatre for the crowd. It was a homing point for fans and riders, often of all levels. “I saw my first race there were I was ten or eleven,” remembers Mike Leitner, Red Bull KTM Race Manager and former GP rider. “In those days you had 100,000

championship level riders. Names like Toni Mang and Reinhold Roth would show up. You’d be on a 125 and suddenly you were mixed with GP guys and you could see the level and the difference.” Salzburgring was a product of its age, where haybales and catch fences were considered advancements in safety. Giacomo Agostini howled around to the first 500cc GP win and in an era where tracks featured train lines, little run-off, telegraph poles among other hazards. “This was the standard of racetracks at the

MotoGP IN AUSTRIA/SALZBURGRING

In a similar way to the oval at Indianapolis, the roadside surroundings at the TT and the former tree-lined enduroesque course for MXGP at Namur, there is something captivating about the speed and spectacle of race machinery around an Austrian Grand Prix track.


FEATURE


One of the riders that responded best to the mental challenge of Salzburgring was Jorge Martinez. ‘Aspar’ triumphed four times in the 125cc class, in 1986, 1987, 1988 with the Derbi and the last, in 1990, with JJ Cobas. “That win was one of the most beautiful,” he smiles from the confines of his own race truck at Spielberg. “Like Red Bull Ring now, the rain could change a lot at Salzburgring. I remember being on the grid in 1990

and the track was wet but looking like it was starting to dry. All the riders had put on the intermediate front tyre – they still used to have them in those days! - and a slick on the rear. At the last possible moment, I decided for rain tyres. I broke away and had more than twenty seconds on the rest of them but by the last lap Loris Capirossi passed me on the uphill. The track was still a bit damp in the final corner and it’s there where I took the win. I could not lose that one after leading all the way! I have good memories.”

SPEED & DANGER

“If the bike was working right, I’d try harder through there than most places because it was usually a frustrating run up the hill, where I’d be doing everything to hang in the draft of the Hondas. In corners like that, if you did them better than the guy who was either in front of you or behind you, either you created a passing opportunity for yourself into the next right-hander, or you eliminated a passing opportunity for them. It was dangerous but it was great. There was a fascination about that 160 mile an hour left/right with the dip in it at the top of the hill. It was awesome, it was fun, it was good.”

Fahrerlagerkurve: a fearsome and stretching right hander that followed a swervy left-

Schwantz’s peer, Mick Doohan, has also famously praised this segment of the

“The circuit was - how can I say - not especially difficult,” he adds. “It was dangerous… but I really liked it for some of the banked curves and fast chicanes.”

MotoGP IN AUSTRIA/SALZBURGRING

time,” Leitner says. “Salzburgring was not outstanding, let’s say. For all categories, especially the larger ones with the faster bikes, the uphill section and the Fahrerlagerkurve were quite tricky. It was not a good place to crash but, at the time, you were riding on many other circuits with similar situations. This was the way of racing in that era and I’m happy it changed.”

right kink that was deadly but a particular thrill for some of the GP elite. “The reason I liked it so much was that you were leaning on the grass through the left and the guardrail on the right, probably certain death if anything were to go wrong!” 1993 500cc world champion Kevin Schwantz told esteemed writer Mat Oxley. The Texan rider won three premier class GPs at Salzburgring in 1989, 1990 and 1993. “There was guardrail everywhere, so you were running in a tunnel. You knew if you made a mistake it was going to cost you.”


chicane through the first turn but the exit on that section was straight into the mountain side. If you came off, there was nowhere to go.”

FEATURE

Leitner was watching the Grand Prix in 1977 and a dark day for the Salzburgring. “I remember a horrible crash between [Johnny] Cecotto and Dieter Braun, and Hans Stadelmann died [in the 350cc race]…it was a very bad accident.”

Salzburgring lap and experience. “My all-time favourite corner,” the Australian told Oxley. “I know it was dangerous but to me it was everything racing is about. You’re in sixth gear at over 300ks. [the bike is] breaking loose and sliding at close to top speed. To me, riding a bike like that at those speeds is why I liked racing.” Leitner felt those Turns 9, 10, 11 in a different way on the 125. “Yeah, it was fast but with the corner speed on the 125 it was really fast!” the Austrian recalls. “You’d come up the hill full in sixth gear and you’d go into the left still in sixth and then you’d catch fifth and turn full-on. When you got it exactly right, it worked perfectly then it was really nice. I really liked it.”

That stretch was also the place where Leitner had his biggest ‘near-miss’. “It was on one of those training days,” he describes. “I had a big one when the engine seized just on that moment of the change-of-direction. I got lucky. Generally, for racing at Salzburgring you always had to know where you were on the last lap because in the 125s you had to be in the right position coming up to the top. The strategy was to make sure you were not the leader coming out of Nockstein. You wanted to be 4th or something like that and use the slipstream up there.” “It was really dangerous,” Aspar exhales. “Not so much on the downhill. They put a

Aspar needs a moment to think of a track that rivalled Salzburgring. “In those years Assen was really technical, and it was dangerous because the track asphalt was right next to the grass and there was no run-off whatsoever: if you made a mistake then you crashed and there were a lot of those ditches and dikes around,” he says. “Luckily the subject of safety has changed so much. When Dorna came to the sport in 1992 the safety of the circuits really progressed in terms of the runoff, the asphalt, the curbs, the paint, almost everything. The key was to bring the riders into the subject of safety and give them an opinion.” Before that change Salzburgring held decent and painful memories for the Spaniard. A crash there in 1989 produced his most problematic injury but he laughs now when asked what was the more useful asset in Austria: a fast bike or big balls? “A bit of both! With the 125 Derbi the bike was pretty fast.


FEAR The race-winning average speed at the 1971 500cc Grand Prix at Salzburgring was 172km/h over 45 laps and 190km distance. In 1994 Mick Doohan took the NSR500 to victory by 12 seconds at 194km/h. In ‘94 there was no other circuit that produced a higher rate of velocity. Was there anything that came close to the sensation? “Not really, it was special in terms of speed, particularly the upper part,” Leitner says. “Perhaps Le Castellet

[Paul Ricard] the first corner after the mistral straight. You needed balls to keep on the throttle.” How did riders approach the prospect of Salzburgring? With all that gas-guzzling action for the right hand and steely nerve for the steel track boundaries? “I never thought ‘I’m going to a dangerous track’ because if you think this way then you are already ‘losing’,” Aspar claims. “As a rider that was my way to think of the things. If you know there is risk but you can enjoy it, then you are ready to win. If it’s not that way – if on Monday or Tuesday you think ‘I’m going somewhere dangerous and I really have to watch out in that corner’ - then you are already giving away tenths of a second.” Salzburgring is now home to domestic race series’, mainly cars, and track days. Further east the Red Bull Ring is likely to be the home of MotoGP for the foreseeable future and the problematic Turn 2 is already

slated to be chopped into a chicane. The debate over the suitability of tracks like the principal Austrian courses continues, although full accountability for accidents is not always so clear-cut. Talking on the eve of the second race in Austria, Red Bull KTM’s Miguel Oliveira gave a balanced view. “These fast areas - where you can cause a crash - can probably be avoided more from the rider approach-side than the track layout,” the Portuguese explained. “For sure the layout doesn’t help because here [at Red Bull Ring Turn 2] you come from a very high speed, you brake at an angle and you go into a very slow corner, one of the slowest of the championship. But a situation where you would have crashed or clashed with another rider can be avoided more from rider behaviour than track layout.” Salzburgring, at least for motorcycles, has been mothballed since WorldSBK was the last FIM-sanctioned visitor in 1995. There was gossip at the Grand Prix three weeks ago that Red Bull money could somehow take an army of diggers to the site, and the rasp of bikes – now four-strokes instead of the familiar din of two-strokes at Salzburgring – could be heard again. Apparently Red Bull tried to acquire the site in 2016 but the deal fell through on account of a disagreement with local landowners. “You hear many rumours always,” offers Leitner. “I know it was the wish of a lot of people that Salzburgring would come back on a different level. I would be super-happy if this could happen.”

MotoGP IN AUSTRIA/SALZBURGRING

The JJ Cobas not much but it had a great chassis. I won with both. In ‘89 I made Pole Position but in a wet warmup I crashed and broke my thumb and my collarbone. It was the most damage I’d done to myself as a rider. I also had crashes at Donington Park at 230ks and Nurburgring at over 200 but didn’t really hurt myself. Austria was costly though. I broke the hand in eight places and needed two plates and eight screws.”


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FEATURE

THE REALISATIO MOMENT


ON

By Adam Wheeler. Photos by Ray Archer

FOUR TOP MXGP ATHLETES TALK ABOUT THE TRANSITION FROM PASTIME TO PROFESSIONAL AND WHEN CHILDHOOD FUN TURNS INTO A JOB


FEATURE

T

he World Champion, the runner-up, the rookie and the contender: we asked HRC’s Tim Gajser, Monster Energy Yamaha’s Jeremy Seewer and Ben Watson, and Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Romain Febvre for their ‘origins’ stories and some of the decisions and directions that help them emerge from groups of hundreds and even thousands of youngsters that dreamt of climbing to the top of the motocross pole. All four riders might be at the top of MXGP but their backgrounds and the family situations are quite different, from the full motocross ‘immersion’ that Watson enjoyed thanks to his racer father and brothers (a vaguely similar case for Gajser) to the more unconventional routes for Febvre and Seewer. There was a crucial phase when the talent and the determination – not forgetting the fondness for riding and competing – had to turn into a more serious pursuit. It was this period that involved lessons and compromises to try and accelerate to the peak of the sport. STARTING AND TIPPING POINTS Tim Gajser: I always, always wanted to go with my dad

to the track from a young age. I cannot even remember the first few times; I only count on the stories from my parents. I know we were travelling around Europe when I was a few years old because my dad was doing several European Championship and world championship races. We went on a holiday to Croatia and I rode a Honda 50 that belonged to a friend that was the same young age. I was just buzzing and jumping around and my father saw that. He saw that I was interested, put me on the bike and that was it. He never really had to push me to do it, in fact I was pushing him. I wanted to ride every day. I would ride all day and would cry when he told me to stop. Ben Watson: I’m the youngest of three brothers and my dad was racing professionally. When Nathan and Ryan were old enough they had pit bikes and were messing around after school. When I was born I’m sure I was sat on a bike before I even knew what it was. I learned to ride at the same time as everything else! Riding was a very normal activity. It was completely fun at the beginning. I used to do hours and hours after school, and we’d just burn fuel. Jeremy Seewer: I didn’t really want to ride as a kid. I was one of those cautious ones


FEBVRE: “EVERY DAY YOU HAVE PRESSURE. YOU ARE SAYING TO YOURSELF ‘AM I DOING THE GOOD THINGS RIGHT? AM I DOING THE BEST TRAINING? AM I EATING RIGHT? AM I RESTING ENOUGH?’...”

Gajser: When I was a bit older, six-seven, I tried a few other sports as well. Motocross was like a game. It was just riding, and we’d get a lot of snow in the winter which meant not much time on the bike. I played football and learnt to ski. I did some Judo. I was quite good at most sports. When I won my first European Championship in motocross, in 2007 and the 65s, everything became a little bit more serious. I decided then that I wanted to be a professional racer and try to follow the dreams I was having about being the best rider in the world. I was seven or eight around that time. I still remember my first ‘interview’: it was for the school magazine. I was in the first or second grade. I was national champion then, so they knew a bit about me and that I was doing OK in sport. There were a couple of questions and the last one was ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ and my answer was ‘world champion in motocross’. So, I had the idea very early! I didn’t actually remember this interview but I went back to the school recently to give some motivational talks to the kids and they presented me with this magazine in a frame. Really nice.

Romain Febvre: My dream was to be world champion. It wasn’t to be a professional motocross racer. I just wanted to be champion. I never thought I could ‘earn’ with motocross. My Dad never taught me about being a Pro or showed me that it could be a job. It was only a hobby until the point where the first contracts started to come in and then the chance to earn money came along. Even then the desire to be world champion was bigger than anything else. When things are going well – and you can be 18 years old or 29 – then this life doesn’t feel like ‘a job’ and you can enjoy things a lot more. Injuries and bad moments, really bad ones, make it very much like a job. Watson: It started to become more serious when you get to things like the European Championship. You have to travel, and you have to give a lot to try and be the best. The idea that racing could be something more than fun happened quite early for me. Compared to my brothers I

MXGP ORIGINS

that thought ‘oooh, that looks dangerous’ but as soon as I was on the bike then I was different. I was fine and had a lot of fun. That kept going through 65, 85…riding always gave me a big smile. The moment you start to compete internationally, even on something like a 125, then that fun goes to the side.


FEATURE

was winning on the 50 quite a lot and was being invited to America, Lorettas and the Mini O’s. It was quite serious but it also wasn’t because you still don’t know at that moment if you will make it. An American brand called Cobra wanted to get into Europe and they picked me to ride 50s. My Dad had contacts in the industry so we had help. He won the Weston Beach race five times so we were racing there and when we moved around we had a big camper because he had to work on four bikes at events!

We were lucky in many ways… but we had to make it work. We’d roll-up and the bikes would still be dirty and there would be plenty of other kids on new, shiny equipment and the good gear. My Dad was pretty good for set-up and suspension and he didn’t really care what the rest looked like so we had a name for being a bit scruffy…but I always seemed to do pretty good. Seewer: Timed Practice, stopwatch, results: as soon as that all becomes more important, then the fun is


Febvre: My parents never showed me ‘this is what you have to do’. I mean, they were putting every effort possible into my racing and, sure, they wanted me to be successful but they were nothing like other racing parents. My Dad didn’t have a racing background, and I think that helped me in a way. They just wanted me to have fun at national races, nothing more. There wasn’t a plan or goal to reach a certain level or to be a Pro. My Dad had his own car repair garage and had to manage that. Maybe at European Championship level I started to practice a bit more but I still didn’t have anyone saying ‘do this, do that’. It was fun and still

natural. I was at school until my first European title and my first year in GPs when I was 19-20 years old. I was busy at school also. I had a different path to other riders who had stopped school and were full-time with motocross or were already in a team. I was doing the European Championship with my father and a few close friends who helped prepare the bike. I could train a little bit…but school got in the way. It wasn’t like I didn’t want to be good - I was running and taking care of myself - but I also had other hobbies. I was doing BMX, perhaps more than motocross! We’d get out of school and head to the skatepark. In fact, before I was racing at European level

MXGP ORIGINS

different. I was actually scared of missing school and missing tests but my parents were the ones that said ‘come on, we can ride and race and make it work’! I did a multi-year CNC engineering apprenticeship later that ran into my first years in MX2; there was never any doubt of doing it and there was not a single day where I was racing and studying where I thought ‘this is a mistake’. It was really tough sometimes and I was on the limit. I actually got sick a few times because I was not sleeping enough between racing and studying. But…no regrets at all.


FEATURE if someone said to me ‘shall we have a race?’ then I would prefer to do it in BMX rather than MX. Seewer: I was always quite relaxed and took it all quite sequentially. We went from one year to the next. I was not stressed about ‘making it’ in this sport. I didn’t really care for some reason. I always did my best and I had a really good background from my parents of studies, which meant I cared about motocross but I was not freaking out or worried about other guys. I was doing my thing and taking it one step at a time. That process seemed to work. Having a back-up plan can - or might - make you perform less, and there are other guys that might have just one chance and they have to go for maximum. For me, I always wanted to do everything perfectly. I was not going to try anything by halves and I’m still that way now. I think it might have been better this way than the opposite, where you have a lot pressure as a youngster and you get injured. Other interests help to take pressure away. WHEN IT ALL GETS A BIT MORE SERIOUS Gajser: I don’t really remember exactly but I would say it was around the change from

85s to 125s. That first year was in 2011. The EMX125 series was following all the MXGP races. We were in the same paddocks and riding the same tracks, so it was a big step for me. The tracks were much, much rougher. I started to train a little bit more, I’d run more. Before then racing was a game. I’d never been to a gym and my dad wouldn’t let me because I was still growing. When I was on the 125 I stepped it up. The training started to get more intense. Before, at the track, I’d ride ten laps, stop, ride another five laps. I was still playing around but then it changed and I was doing two 25-minute motos and that would be it. I was 14 years old and turned 15 at the end of the season.


MXGP ORIGINS

SEEWER: “TIMED PRACTICE, STOPWATCH, RESULTS: AS SOON AS THAT ALL BECOMES MORE IMPORTANT, THEN THE FUN IS DIFFERENT...” Febvre: Being a sportsman is sometimes difficult to explain. People say, ‘you are lucky, you are doing what you love’ and that’s true because motocross was my hobby but it’s not as easy or as nice as you think. The pressure is always there, even when you go home. Every day, all week you have that pressure where you are saying to yourself ‘am I doing the good things right? Am I doing the best training? Am I eating right? Am I resting enough?’ It is always in your mind. People who have a normal job or timetable can go in the front door and switch off. Even when we are on holiday at the end of the

season we are thinking about motocross. People only see the good things. I know some ex-riders who are working now, and they say to me ‘it’s much easier to work than to have a career’! Watson: It’s not that it stopped being fun because if you didn’t enjoy it then it would be hard to arrive to this level. Of course, when you start earning money then you have to make sacrifices. I left home and moved to Belgium when I signed for Kemea [Monster Energy Yamaha MX2]. It was still touch-and-go whether I would be ‘somebody’ in the world

championship in 2017 because I missed a full season in 2016 with a broken foot. In 2017 Roger Magee [Team Principal of the Hitachi KTM UK fuelled by Milwaukee] gave me another chance and I finished 15th. It wasn’t anything special but I won the British Championship and had a bit of glory there and I think that helped because it gave that winning feeling and increased the motivation a bit more. Signing for Kemea and making the move to Belgium for 2018 is when it felt like a real job. Before then I wasn’t really earning anything where I thought ‘this is my job’ and ‘I need to commit’. I mean, I did


FEATURE what I could, but I was still at the stage where I thought ‘can I make a go of this? Or will it be something where I tried my best but I’ll need to find another direction?’ In 2018 when I was getting some good GP results I thought ‘I can keep going’. The first year in Belgium was a case of winging-it. I learned a lot and it was strange experience. It’s interesting to look back and see the steps and the sacrifices you make. You have to give to get back but being with Kemea was eye-opening because Hans [Corvers, Team Owner] and the team did everything they could to let me do my job. Everything was laid out on the table. I knew what I had to do from morning to night and every day. I only had to put my trust in Jacky Vimond [trainer] and the guys.

Seewer: We need to find every small thing to be the best we can be…and that’s work! Every piece counts and the pressure of that takes some of the fun away…even if it is still fun on the whole. Febvre: Handling the pressure can get easier with experience, and you can manage the good or bad moments better. I don’t feel it is so heavy now. Having other things, like a kid, helps put the focus on something else. It helps with the switch but it would be tougher without experience. KNOWING A CHANGE WAS NEEDED Gajser: I remember back in 2013, that was the first season where I tried a couple of MX2 GPs. My focus was on

EMX250 but I didn’t finish a couple of the races as we had some problems with the bike so we decided to enter the last GPs of the year. In the first one I didn’t even get any points. I was like ‘shit!!’. At that point I really doubted whether I would ever make it in the sport. I was so far off everyone. I knew then that I’d have to make some changes if


GAJSER: “I HAD TO GET GOOD RESULTS TO GET THE ATTENTION OF OTHERS. THE GOAL WAS TO GET A TEAM TO TAKE ME UNDER THEIR WING. WHEN I SIGNED WITH HONDA THEN MY LIFE CHANGED A LOT...”

I wanted success. I had to get fitter and better everywhere. 2013 was a big year. It was a big lesson and put me ‘on the ground’ to see where I am and how difficult the world championship actually is. It was a big step from the European Championship to GPs then…I don’t think that is really the case now. The guys who are winning in EMX250 now can

Watson: I couldn’t have reached this stage if it was not something I wanted to do. It was fun for me all the way through to EMX. Then you get to the point where you think ‘it’s either this lifestyle or another one…’. For me it was 2013-2014 because that was the time when I started training. My Mum had been pushing me with the school because she knew if I suddenly wanted to stop then I’d need options and when I was seventeen I did one year in college on a bench joinery course, which worked out well because it was three days a week and gave me time to get to the races and do the training.

Seewer: I did a couple of GPs in 2012. Bastogne [Belgium] was my first one. Out of nowhere I had some fantastic results. OK, I trained for what I was doing and was working when I could in the evenings, but nothing like nowadays. Then we had a few GPs at hot places: Lausitzring [Germany] was a boiler and Maggiora [Italy] also and after those races I’d completely fail at the next one and I’d get lapped. I thought ‘what’s wrong?! I know I can ride a bike…but I’m destroyed’. That made me realise that I had to work and a few years later I became really good in hot weather. Febvre: I was racing only three years in MX2. I would say the last one – with Jacky Martens and on the factory Husqvarna – was the first season when the pressure and the obligation came. I was with Jacky in my second season and it was the first time where I felt it was like a real team. It was a big step, but I was still learning and I was not the top rider. The team was careful not to put pressure. I was young and

MXGP ORIGINS

switch and immediately slot into the top ten and even top five. The speed is more similar. Back then there was a big difference. Why? The 23-year age rule means that guys can be a bit older and stronger and stay – or even go back – to EMX250. The level goes up.


FEATURE good but I lacked experience. Good results mean expectations and I was getting on the MX2 podium more and winning some motos.

but, in the end, it still seems like a hobby. I’ve always said that as long as I enjoy racing then I will race. If you don’t enjoy it then you won’t be successful because you are not happy.

THE JOURNEY

Seewer: You notice it when kids come to the circuits now. If you talk to them then it’s like they cannot move anymore! It makes you realise how big the journey was because I was one of those kids! It’s a bit sad that the human brain works this way and you get used to situations so quickly because this level and life is normal to me now. Sometimes you need to remember that this lifestyle is unique and special and people dream of what we do. It’s a long journey and you have to go through a lot of things.

Gajser: I think about this many times and, of course, I have many memories. There were some difficult days. I came from a modest family. We didn’t have a lot. The only choice was to be successful because we couldn’t afford to keep racing and not make progress. I had to get good results to get the attention of others. The goal was to get a team to take me under their wing. When we did that at the end of 2013 and signed with Honda then my life changed a lot. I could really start to live my dreams. I had everything I needed from the team, and in 2013 I saw where I needed to be better and what I had to do. From that point you just try to learn from the mistakes you make and think ‘this year I need to do better than the last’. That was the goal, and it still is. Even if I have won titles and many GPs that process goes on and on. You only stop learning when you die. It’s also important to not forget the reason why you are here and that’s to enjoy something that you really like to do, and what you love to do. Motocross for us is a job; we earn money riding dirtbikes

Watson: Even now after some good results the people that message me are ones that I was racing against ten years ago. Looking at the ‘Next Generation’ [documentary series] video and around the GP paddock now there is only one name here from the hundreds that wanted to make it. Knowing this makes everything worthwhile.


MXGP ORIGINS


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FEATURE

WESTERN PROMISE TALKING WITH THE ‘OTHER’ SPECIAL SPANISH TALENT IN MXGP

By Adam Wheeler. Photos by JP Acevedo



FEATURE

22

-year-old Ruben Fernandez became only the second Spaniard to hold aloft the MX2 red plate as championship leader earlier this season. The 114 Motorsports Honda rider has caught attention and fans for his uncompromising style; the shoots of which were evident in 2020 but have found an even more potent filter with the surprisingly competitive CRF250R. The furthermost western tip of European mainland is not the most conducive territory for unearthing and developing world-class racing talent. Spain’s Galicia region is renowned for rugged beauty, maritime industry and sumptuous seafood cuisine but it has also been the unlikely breeding ground for two of the standout motocrossers in MXGP. The ‘cap’ of the Iberian Peninsula above Portugal has seen Jorge Prado and Ruben Fernandez work their way east to the border and up the chain of European and World Championship motocross. One is already a double MX2 world champion after his family relocated to Belgium when he was 12 and the other is now making his own in-roads to MXGP with his first podium finishes in 2021. Prado’s story is known both inside and outside the sport: a prodigal talent forged with Trials roots, a prolific motocross race starter, resident in Belgium and then Italy and a Red Bull KTM stalwart since puberty. The other scraped his way into recognition and seized the one chance he had to follow his friend and rival’s path. The pair are split by two years with Fernandez the elder.

While Prado jumped on the fast-track due to his clear potential (and ranks alongside Jeffrey Herlings, Ken Roczen and Christophe Pourcel as a once-in-ageneration teenage tearaway), Fernandez had a longer route to prominence. It included his speed on a 125 that was impossible to ignore, a stint learning his lines as part of the well-funded F&H


Even in this age of cheap flights and ease of mobility don’t underestimate the power and influence of a young person leaving their roots. In the course of our chat, Fernandez revealed some of the

unseen rigours of trying to make it as a motocross professional. It is an old and familiar story of a fish-out-of-water and culture shock adversity but that doesn’t mean it gets any easier for kids to deal with. He might be a five year ‘veteran’ of international competition at 22 but Ruben is still finding the most effective way to tune his approach for results.

SPAIN’S NEXT BEST: RUBEN FERNANDEZ

Kawasaki team and his feistiness on a YZ250F Yamaha in 2020 where his speed was sometimes choked by the durability of his equipment.


FEATURE “Ruben is great but he does have that Spanish style of not wanting to start too early in the morning!” smiles 114 Motorsports Honda Team Manager Livia Lancelot. “He needs his time. But he is working, and that’s what I want. I understand that everybody is different, and you cannot ask everybody to work the same way. I understood his way and we’re doing what we can based on that. I won’t ask him to go for a run at 7am because I know it won’t work. We created a good relationship between him and the staff on the team and he feels good. I think that shows on the bike. It’s really important.”

“I TRIED THE BIKE AT ARCO DI TRENTO AFTER THE LAST GP OF 2020 AND I COULD EASILY COMPARE BECAUSE I’D BEEN RACING THE YAMAHA A FEW DAYS BEFORE. I FELT THAT THE HONDA WAS A BIG IMPROVEMENT. IT WAS A ‘WOW’ MOMENT. MY CONFIDENCE WENT UP...” Friendly, accessible and ‘listo’, Fernandez is one of the most exciting sights in MX2 and his tall physique could make him a powerful presence in MXGP. Like many rivalries (although this one is amiable) the Spaniard could resume track battles with his countryman in the premier class. It is indeed a long way from Vigo, Galicia.

“My Dad used to ride…so it’s a bit of a family thing and my two older brothers also raced,” Fernandez says. “We all started in regional championships. There are two-year age gaps between us so the eldest is four years old than me.” Were they quick? The eldest, Fran, stopped quite early, mainly because our family couldn’t afford for all three of us to race as we were moving up the categories and the levels. It was his own decision because he saw it was complicated. My other brother, Sergio, only stopped two years ago. He was fast and more or less the same speed as me in training. I was the one that obviously went furthest with the sport. Did you ‘suffer’ a bit as the youngest? Erm, no, not really. It was different all the time. In the beginning of course I was not the fastest or the best rider. When I was racing the 65s then I’d fight with Sergio quite a lot. We crashed together many times in regional championships, sometimes on the last lap. I remember leading one race and he crashed straight into me to make the pass! He was the one that had been winning and that race I was leading. Neither of us wonThat must have been difficult at home afterwards… It wasn’t that bad. We both wanted to win and we were so young and having fun. We left everything on the track. When I changed to 85s then I think this was the time when I started to stretch ahead of my brothers and was being a bit serious about riding. I really started to improve from then.


How was that situation for you and your racing? Jorge Prado was lucky enough to get some backing from KTM… I used to fight all the time with Jorge in regional and Spanish championships on 85s. When we arrived at an age where we needed to progress and look at the Europeans then he had some good sponsorship and was able to get outside of Spain. He developed a lot because of the international races. I was still at home in the Spanish championship. When I was old enough for the 125s we were already thinking about how we could race a 250 because I was starting to get big for the 125 but my Dad told me to hangon because there was an EMX125 round in Talavera de la Reina and the Junior World Championship in Madrid as well. It worked out well that year. I remember going to Talavera: it was already difficult to make that trip and get the licence and entry for that race. We had to rely on the

SPAIN’S NEXT BEST: RUBEN FERNANDEZ

Talk about your parents… My Mum decided she wanted to stay home and raise the family because the economic situation at home, in our area, was pretty good around the start of the century. It wasn’t an easy job for her because we were four noisy kids – my brothers and my youngster sister - that were difficult to control and always fighting. That’s how it is between brothers! My Dad had a small company working on welding and building materials but when the crisis hit Spain hard then many of the factories he was working with started to close. The construction industry in Spain stopped completely and the work dried up. It was difficult at home…but, somehow, we made it through. It didn’t recover that well but the family continued to go forwards. It’s complicated. He doesn’t have that much to work with anymore.


FEATURE

help of a few friends. When we arrived we were asked to pay a 200 euro deposit for the transponder; we didn’t know about that! Luckily the boss of Yamaha Auscio [European Championship team and Spanish dealer] gave us that money. For that race I had the mindset of just making the qualification cut: that was the goal, and it would have been a big achievement because I’d never done a European round. I ended-up making the second best time. [Stephen] Rubini was first, I was next and Prado was third. I was like: ‘wow!’. The motos didn’t go great because I crashed at the start of one but I had top-five speed and that prompted one of our sponsors – the one that made some stickers for us – to pay 2000 euros so we could make it to the next two rounds: Matterley Basin in the UK and then France. At Matterley I had a great race. I started outside of the top twenty and made my way through the field to 3rd. I passed Prado with two laps to go and went to the finish line just behind [Maxime] Renaux. I was 4th overall. It was a big improvement and I was really happy.

That’s when you were being noticed by Grand Prix teams…? Yes. F&H Kawasaki came along asking for my contact details. That was pretty cool but I wasn’t getting my hopes up; you know how these things work. But I was a bit shocked when they came back and said they wanted me to do the next European races for them and that I should come to Holland to try the bike. It was a big chance, a big opportunity. I’d never been to Holland, but I knew it was the place to be if I wanted to be in the European Championship. I remember clearly how new and different it felt to move there. In one of my first training sessions [Jeffrey] Herlings was there riding the same track. It was crazy for me back then. How was your English at the time? I didn’t speak it! Life was pretty difficult for a while. Jorge’s dad [Jesùs] was the one who acted as the intermediary and translator between us at Matterley and also helped us in Holland for the first few days. The races and riding were going pretty well with F&H. I made pole position at the Junior World Championship and fought for the podium and even the race win in one moto. That led to the


Ray Archer

five-year deal with them. It was all about being in the right place at the right moment. I was really lucky and I’m still really thankful for what the F&H guys did for me. They are like a second family. I was four years with them and even stayed at their house for a while. Very lucky. But I used that base to work very hard. The last two seasons in MX2 were not easy but now I’m in a good spot. Were you on your own in Holland? Yes, that’s why it was difficult. I was sixteen and couldn’t communicate. I was lodging with another family and felt pretty alone. I just used to say ‘yes’ to everything! The family would say “Ruben, all good?” I’d say “yes”. “Do you

have any problems”, “yes”! Step-by-step my English got better and I was working and training and improving. The culture change was still tricky to handle, even up to the later years. It also got to the point where I needed to grow as a rider, so I came out of the team and found myself in different situations – a different brand and Italian team – that helped me progress even more. I was learning all the time and being even more independent. The last two years with Yamaha were tough but the experience was very good. You do seem quite independent; there is no entourage or hangers-on around you… I think so. In F&H I followed everything

SPAIN’S NEXT BEST: RUBEN FERNANDEZ

“I FOUND THE MENTALITY THERE WAS ‘TRAIN HARD, TRAIN HARD, TRAIN HARD’ BUT I THINK NOW THIS APPROACH IS A LITTLE OUT OF DATE. YOU NEED TO TRAIN SMART. EVERYBODY IS DIFFERENT. FOR EXAMPLE, I WAS NOT RECOVERING AT THE SAME RATE AS MY TEAMMATES. LOOKING BACK I THINK I WAS TIRED. BUT THE VIEW FROM THEM WAS THAT I HAD TO TRAIN HARDER BECAUSE I WAS NOT FIT! IT MADE THINGS WORSE...”


FEATURE they told me to do: the riding, the physical preparation, everything…and it didn’t work that well for me. In my last year I over-trained. That affected me mentally and was probably the main reason why we parted ways. Even though I was in a really good position and was treated so well by F&H, personally I was not in a good situation. So, with Yamaha, I was doing more of the job in my way, how I wanted, and using what I had learnt. I was working a bit with David Philippaerts at one stage and I still like having someone there advising me – not telling me what to do – but giving some tips and help. I then like to analyse, try the suggestions and see if they work for me or not. It’s kinda like what I have now with Livia. I like to have a second point of view. I do what I think is best for me.

You hinted at some mental troubles; what was the problem? Yeah, I trained too much. I was then going riding and trying my best but the times would not come. It was weird because then the team would be like ‘hey, you are three seconds slower than your teammate, you are not pushing, you are just playing around’. I did not know what was going on. It was my first time feeling that way. I promised them I was doing my best. It was like that for seven weeks. Each day I would think ‘today will be a good day, I’ll be fast’ but the pitboard was not as good as I thought it would be. It was hard because I was questioning myself. I wanted to know what I was doing wrong and how I needed to improve. You start over-thinking a lot and getting lost. The situation with the team is also not good. There were not many happy faces. I know I was doing my best,


Jorge Prado said coming out of Spain accelerated his development. There have been other Spaniards who have tried to follow but have not made the breakthrough like both of you have. Is it down to just individual cases? Or is it just tougher because of the location of Spain?

I think it’s the same for every Spanish guy. Jorge had it a little easier because he moved with the whole family to northern Europe. By ‘easier’ I mean that he was in a different country but the home life was similar. The parents were still there. It’s like he wasn’t away - even though I’m sure it was hard for him to adjust to many things as well – and the move was less aggressive. Most of us have had to move alone and deal with everything alone. Do you feel quite nomadic now? Can you be happy in Holland, France, Italy or whatever it takes? I always miss Spain, that was especially the case in Holland. It was a bit easier in Italy. The character and the culture were similar in some ways. This year is great. I’m thirty minutes from the Spanish border in France. We’re by the beach and the sea. There is a big movement of bikes and young people so I feel more like home.

SPAIN’S NEXT BEST: RUBEN FERNANDEZ

but how can you explain it? I found the mentality there was ‘train hard, train hard, train hard’ but I think now this approach is a little out of date. You need to train smart. Everybody is different. For example, I was not recovering at the same rate as my teammates. Looking back I think I was tired. But the view from them was that I had to train harder because I was not fit! It made things worse. I needed to breakaway to fix things physically and mentally, even if that meant having difficulties with other teams and not having a bike or material that was as strong.


FEATURE I can even watch some of the Spanish channels on the TV because we’re that close! It might sound strange but it’s a ‘connection’. I can also take my car there and if there is the chance to go home then a seven-hour drive is not too crazy. I feel better than ever and it is working so good with the team. In the last issue of the magazine we looked at 114 Motorsports and whether building a Honda MX2 team would produce a competitive bike. You were quite honest about your concerns but you still opted for the contract… Yeah, I was worried in the beginning because I thought ‘the Honda might be too small for me or maybe I’m too big and the standard Honda is not famed for having the most powerful engine’. I had doubts. But I knew Pere Ibañez was working on the engines and he was someone with a lot of experience. Obviously, we had a chat before I signed and he was confident with the work he was doing on the bike. I trusted him. He’s been in and around the GPs for a long time and won a lot. He’s good at his job. I knew Giacomo Gariboldi was behind the team and the structure and riders like Mitch Evans and Hunter Lawrence had been able to take good results. I believed I could really work with this team and make some progress. I tried the bike at Arco di Trento after the last GP of 2020 and I could easily compare because I’d been racing the Yamaha a few days before. I felt that the Honda was a big improvement. It was a ‘wow’ moment. My confidence went up. It might not be the best bike still compared to some of the factory ones but everything about it is done internally and we don’t have the same budget as them obviously but even so we’re doing a super-job. The engine is competitive to fight in the top five and

we’ve already seen that in some races. We are using standard Showa suspension but it works really good and I feel decent with it. We’ve created a good bike and a good way to work. Prado is a very smooth and economic rider but you are very expressive, aggressive. Is that your style or are you still work-in-progress? It’s been many years like that! My starts haven’t been my strongest point and it feels like I’ve had to always come back through the pack. You need to be quick on the first laps especially and be aggressive with passes to get near the front. Jorge has always made good starts and then you just need to be conservative and limit mistakes but I’ve needed to race the opposite way! Sometimes it goes wrong because you need to take a bit more of a risk and work a lot more. I’m a big guy so that doesn’t help me with the starts but it does when it comes to putting myself about on the track. It’s a different skill. Obviously, there is more to chance but I guess it is more entertaining! It almost goes without saying that I would prefer to start at the front but it’s like this at the moment. Your first GP podium came at the opening round in Russia. That must have been a really nice moment for you and the family… Yes, it wasn’t a big surprise because I knew I was riding well in the Italian and Spanish championships. I was feeling strong with the bike and my riding and in myself. In the first race of the season you are always a bit nervous because you don’t know what to expect and you don’t know how the other riders feel and how fast they might be. I knew I could do it though. I just needed a couple of starts. I


Why? To avoid mistakes? Pretty much, but we knew there would be a lot of races in a short amount of time. It would be important to stay calm. I’ve had some good races but without the results we wanted. So, it means you have to keep cool and always work on how to get better. Russia was still a milestone though. I worked a lot for that first podium. It was a release of weight. Lastly, the connection with 114 Motorsports to HRC means a very interesting route into MXGP. It must feel far away but your performances have brought the possibility of a factory CRF450R closer… Obviously when I came here I also thought about that possibility and that comment was also made to me when I signed the contract. I’m getting a bit closer but I have a competitive bike right now and I have to make the most of it.

SPAIN’S NEXT BEST: RUBEN FERNANDEZ

was close to the podium the year before but to get 2nd overall was cool. Before the season people always ask ‘what are your goals?’ and I’d always said ‘win the world championship’ but this time I wanted to show my feet were on the ground and I wanted to start 2021 by making podiums. You cannot go straight to the title without any podiums. So that happened and then we had the red plate and it opened my eyes. It became more possible than ever. I don’t think anybody expected me to be where I am today. Together with the team we agreed just to look ahead in the short-term and not worry about any overall position.




MXGP SBK BLOG BLOG

THE LAST BOOT STRAP? As 2021 moves on and the talk of how KTM will restructure in MXGP continues to swirl there is increasing momentum surrounding the ‘willhe-won’t-he?’ decision to be made by Tony Cairoli and whether the ninetimes world champion will hit the kill switch on a Grand Prix career that has almost reached two decades. The first reaction to Cairoli’s potential retirement is the question ‘why?’. Even though he will be 36 before the end of the current campaign he’s clearly still fast enough to win in MXGP. I’ve drawn parallels between Tony’s career and that of his countryman Valentino Rossi many times but in 2021 the similarities between the two sportsmen have noticeably divided. While Rossi has struggled to be competitive in MotoGP this year, Cairoli is still very much in the running for a tenth world championship. He claimed the British Grand Prix for his 93rd GP success (just 8 away from the all-time record) and been on the podium four-times from the seven rounds

to-date. He is 4th in the MXGP standings but just 5 points from 2nd and only 18 away from Tim Gajser and the red plate. Rossi’s Duracell-like passion for motorcycle racing has finally waned in 2021 but Cairoli’s verve seems consistent and intact, perhaps because he has stayed in a tried-and-trusted team surrounding with Red Bull KTM, whereas his MotoGP counterpart was forced to switch to the Petronas Yamaha set-up at the end of 2020. It’s the team environment that could be the key to the future. KTM have fielded the greatest Grand Prix line-up in MXGP for the last two years:

Cairoli, Jeffrey Herlings and Jorge Prado have a phenomenal fifteen world titles between them. Both Herlings and Prado have contracts to remain on Austrian machinery for at least another two terms after 2021. Cairoli’s deal was a one-year renewal signed in 2020. It’s obvious that this roster is not sustainable over the long term. Tony has raced under the stewardship and in the collaborative confines of Claudio de Carli’s crew since 2004 and has enjoyed all his success with the largely Italian set-up. It seems unthinkable that he would breakaway to another brand and operation for what would be his final season or two (at


CREATED THANKS TO

BY ADAM WHEELER the most), coupled with the fact that there are simply not many other factory saddles that would rival the resources of Red Bull KTM. There are fewer more iconic and important athletes in KTM’s racing history. Cairoli not only brought the factory their first title in the premier class in 2010 but he did so with an experimental motorcycle – the KTM 350 SX-F – and then delivered another five crowns, the last in 2017 with the KTM 450 SX-F. It’s hard to imagine KTM ushering him out of their structure. So, there is this to bear in mind. On the other hand, Cairoli has weathered some of the tougher parts of the sport since 2016. Nerve damage after a pre-season practice crash, two knee problems and a badly dislocated shoulder have taken their toll. In that time though he has still found the resolve to finish 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 10th and 3rd overall. He is the second oldest rider in

MXGP, just a month younger than Kevin Strijbos. Cairoli has made sound investments with his earnings, he oversees the Malagrotta track/training complex close to Rome, he has his own prominent RACR lifestyle brand and involvement with the Neox agency business. He has stayed loyal to sponsors like Red Bull, Airoh and Sidi throughout his career. In his personal life he

“ROSSI’S DURACELLLIKE PASSION FOR RACING HAS FINALLY WANED IN 2021 BUT CAIROLI’S VERVE SEEMS CONSISTENT AND INTACT, PERHAPS BECAUSE HE HAS STAYED IN A TRIEDAND-TRUSTED TEAM SURROUNDING WITH RED BULL KTM...” has a purpose-built house close to the Italian coastline west of Rome and a young son, Chase, together with wife Jill.

If Cairoli does decide that 2021 will see his final Grand Prix gatedrop then he will be departing Grand Prix in arguably the most competitive era of MXGP and one where he was still able to set the reference for consistency and occasionally - outright speed. There are few better ways to exit the stage. And, of course, there is still the chance that the gold number plate will be his again come the autumn.


MXGP BLOG

Photo by Ray Archer


PRODUCTS

PROTAPER A reminder that ProTaper make a diverse and reliable series of grips for their innovative handlebar products. From the MX Pillow Tops (13.60 dollars with an exclusive traction ‘pattern’ which they describe as ‘gel-like’ and help reduce vibration and pictured here in blue, orange and red incarnations as well as a ‘lite’ version) to Tri density (15.60 with three different compounds in half waffle or diamond patterns and shown here in green,

white and yellow) as well as dual and single density options and Race Cut and 1/3 options as well as micro units. Not forgetting the excellent Clamp-on grip system (29.39 dollars) wares that remove the need for awkward glue and wiring. Click on the video box here to watch how this cool solution could change a tiresome aspect of bike prep. All come in high-grade synthetic rubber and material.


SBK BLOG BLOG MXGP

CREATED THANKS TO

ALL IS NOT LOST There is nothing quite like the Motocross of Nations. Fans call for change so often, yet the MXoN has stood the test of time and unites enthusiasts from across the world. The endof-season celebration got disrupted by the coronavirus, like many other events, but will still be run on the final weekend in September. Hurrah! The core event remains the same, with just one minor difference: it will be run in the middle of the season. But such a minor change to the successful formula has resulted in utter chaos. High-profile stars like Tim Gajser and Romain Febvre have withdrawn from the race, nations are struggling to piece three-rider squads together and fans are locking horns over the relevance of the event. Purists are up in arms over guys pulling out, citing that tradition ultimately trumps all, and there is undoubtedly a case to be made there.

Triumphing at the Motocross of Nations ensures that your name is inscribed in the record books for the rest of time. This is where the water gets a little mirky though, because only a select few have such an opportunity. A rider like Romain Febvre is indeed forgoing an opportunity to win the Motocross of Nations for the fourth time in his career (the first time since 2017). Team success is a step too far for guys like Jeremy Seewer and Tim Gajser though – their respective countries cannot construct a competitive trio. The only reason for them to travel into Mantova, Italy, is for individual glory and there is no financial incentive. Bragging rights are a pleasant bonus but are insignificant in comparison to the rewards that could be reaped in Grands Prix.

Six-figure bonuses are on the line, as is the rare chance to clinch a world crown. You cannot count on such a golden opportunity arising again! The world title is prioritised in a normal season, with the Motocross of Nations acting as a pleasant season send-off once the real work is done. Each rider would love the opportunity to race the ‘Nations with a care-free attitude before bidding farewell to the paddock for six months, but the playing field changes significantly when another GP is set to go off just seven days later. Disruption reigns in every corner of the globe and the MXoN is no exception. “The thing is that I love the Motocross of Nations,” Jeremy Seewer told us before opting out of the Swiss team. “I am sorry to say that, for me, it just does not make sense. I think the value of the race will not


BY ADAM WHEELER

BY LEWIS PHILLIPS even be half of what it deserves to be. Having that many races in the same area… It will be bam, bam, bam afterwards and three busy months. I do not think that I want to spend my energy on that. It is called the ‘Nations, but the value will not be the same. My teammates are not on a high – I would prefer to just focus on getting where I want to be in MXGP.” There are a handful of elite riders who are eager to take the plunge, like Jeffrey Herlings and Antonio Cairoli, so the event will feature some star power. The hope is that Team USA will indeed send a team, even though rising infections are beginning to strike fear into decision makers across the world. If they can send a squad, which is their intention, then that is enough of a reason to get excited. Seeing those riders is what separates the MXoN from a traditional Grand

Prix, which is more important than in recent years with the way that the calendar has been constructed. Having a Motocross of Nations with just a few of the leading riders is not uncommon, believe it or not, but that is typically spurred on by injuries and contract situations rather than scheduling conflicts. The 2015 edition, run at the fabulous venue of Ernee in France, is a perfect example, yet everyone remembers it as one of the most memorable events. Jeffrey Herlings, Antonio Cairoli and Ken Roczen did not take to the track that year and, realistically, there were just two nations that were competitive. It did not impact the end product in the slightest though and that is a notion worth clinging to as the 2021 Motocross of Nations edges closer.


PRODUCTS

www.fxrracing.com


FXR RACING FXR riding gear is a serious option for riders looking for the best compromise with fit and long-lasting wares but for 2022 they have also been busy with the design board. After featuring their ‘Helium’ line recently we can now show-off the ‘Podium’ collection as something altogether livelier. As FXR themselves state: ‘Vice, Tropic, Magma and Acid combos bring serious heat to the starting gate’. They also sum-up the appeal of the range: ‘The Podium Collection blends premium durable materials together with breathable Omni-Stretch inserts for prolevel performance at a mid-level price point.’ The pants in particular have 600 denier construction with omni-stretch thigh panels that flex and move with the rider. Riding gear is progressing enormously, and to the point where most garments are light, ventilated and tough but each brand has its idiosyncrasies with dimensions, comfort, washing and the look you want to portray on the track or through the woods. FXR’s experience in winter and outdoor sports mean they are serious contender for excellence in off-road and their 2022 vision means you won’t go unnoticed.



ULTIMATE KNEE SAFETY

X-FRAME HYBRID KNEE BRACE

The X Frame Hybrid uses a unique technology that offers a medically certified knee brace with a CE impact protector. A separate modular design allows for a lower profile, which makes for better comfort and great riding.

THE SCIENCE OF THRILL

LEATT.COM


PRODUCTS

FLY RACING Fly Racing’s highly rated Formula helmet gets some re-worked designs and colours for 2022. The Carbon model (689.95 dollars) comes in Prime, Axon and Solid (white or black) schemes – shown on the opposite page - while the ‘CC’ version (489.95 dollars, a composite shell of carbon, fibreglass and DuPont Kevlar at 1.34kg compared to the Carbon’s 1.29kg) has Driver, Rockstar and Solid editions. The ‘CP’ (289.95 and a polycarbonate alloy shell) is the entry point choice. In terms of protection then the Formula’s construction, Conehead tech and use of Rheon cells is a proven measure to combat the effects of concussion (compared to a standard helmet). The Formula ventilates pretty well and the ‘CC’ comes with an exhaustive list of specs, for example the expanded Polypropylene (EPP) chin bar, which Fly says ‘creates an additional element of impact mitigation, and is used in the chin bar for its superior damage resistance, and energy absorbing properties’. The Formula is rightfully at the peak of Fly Racing’s 2022 catalogue.


www.flyracing.com


AMA-MX

Photo by Kawasaki


AMA MX - IRON MAN

LAST GASP?

IRON MAN - IN Round 10 of 12

450MX 1. Eli Tomac, Kawasaki 2. Dylan Ferrandis, Yamaha 3. Cooper Webb, KTM

250MX 1. Jett Lawrence, Honda 2. Jo Shimoda, Kawasaki 3. Justin Cooper, Yamaha

450MX-POINTS 1. Dylan Ferrandis, 439 points 2. Ken Roczen, 389 3. Eli Tomac, 368

250MX-POINTS 1. Jett Lawrence, 414 points 2. Justin Cooper, 403 3. Hunter Lawrence, 319

Blogs by Steve Matthes & Mike Antonovich Photos where credited


Photo by Yamaha

Photo by HRC


AMA MX - IRON MAN Photo by Align Media

Photo by Yamaha


Photo by Yamaha


AMA MX - IRON MAN


MX BLOG

WINDING CLOCK Just two rounds to go in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships and we saw a big swing in the points in one class at the last east-coast round in Crawfordsville, Indiana. The two tracks that are left are both in California and represent quite a switch from what the racers have been dealing with for the last few months. We’ll see some riders going through the motions for sure with just two rounds to go…but there’s still a lot at stake for more than a few. Honda’s Jett Lawrence had a perfect day at Ironman MX, fastest qualifier in both sessions and two moto wins. With the 4-4 from Yamaha’s Justin Cooper, Lawrence went from 3 points down to 11 points up with four motos to go. It was pretty much the perfect meeting for the Australian and with him winning at Pala (the track for the next race) earlier and having raced Hangtown before, things look good for him and a first championship.

Of course, Cooper could have a lot to say still but his points lead has gone bye-bye and things went south for him ever since a late moto crash at Washougal. Sources tell me he’s battled a thumb injury since then, and a couple of weeks of being sick as well. Yes, you’re thinking what I’m thinking in terms of does he have COVID-19 but Cooper wouldn’t say that, just that he’s been sick and it’s been affecting his practicing during the week which then hurts him on the weekend. By the way, we’ve seen COVID rip through the paddock over here with Suzuki’s Max Anstie and KTM’s Marvin Musquin missing Ironman due to positive tests and a few other riders that either didn’t race or were rumored to be under the weather raising a few eyebrows.

There is no mandatory testing for the riders or crews so it’s more of a self-policing thing but yeah, it’s not been all smooth sailing here lately as the world’s issue affects our little sport. So, with Cooper not feeling well and Lawrence surging, things are getting even worse for the Yamaha man. Any help he could be hoping for from his teammate, Jeremy Martin, for the final rounds has gone away. Martin crashed while chasing down Jett in moto one and broke his wrist that was already needing some surgery after the season. Bummer for J Mart as he’s shown lately to be the only rider capable of winning races lately other than Lawrence or Cooper.


CREATED THANKS TO BY ADAM WHEELER

BY STEVE MATTHES It’s hard to see how Justin Cooper can turn this momentum around going into tracks that Lawrence has either ridden on before or has won on before but hey, you never know. That’s why they hold the races right? In the 450MX class, if Yamaha’s Dylan Ferrandis either ties or scores one more point than Honda’s Ken Roczen, he’s your 2021 450MX champion. After his 1-2 day at Ironman, Ferrandis is poised to become the first foreign-born champion since Roczen a few years ago. Also, the first champion for Yamaha since Grant Langston (more on him in a bit) in 2007. He’s been so steady all season long, the perfect match of speed and fitness. Anybody that’s paid attention to the series wouldn’t deny he’s been the best rider.

Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac unbelievably won his FIRST overall of the season in Indiana with his 2-1 scores. ET’s second moto was vintage Tomac with his speed and aggression as he desperately tried to get by KTM’s Cooper Webb as he saw Ferrandis closing. Tomac took off with the win and on a track that he’s had some ups and downs on, grabbed the main prize. What a relief for Tomac as he’s on his way to Yamaha for 2022 but I’m sure wanted to do better for Kawasaki than it’s been.

vaccine for COVID so that puts the riders and crew members at risk of some new EU restrictions for travelling or even for getting in and out of Italy. So, things are on hold for now to see what exactly is going to happen at governmental level. If there’s any type of vaccination requirement to travel to EU or whatever, then Team USA will be out of the race. If there’s no rules, then look for Husqvarna’s RJ Hampshire, Honda’s Chase Sexton and GASGAS rider Justin Barcia to represent the USA at Mantova.

*** *** Team USA was expected to be announced a couple of weeks ago but that was delayed as the Delta variant of COVID-19 begins to surge everywhere and put us back to where we were earlier this year. The American attitude in the pits is mostly one of ambivalence (or worse!) when it comes to getting the

Speaking of vaccination, the outdoor series lost its TV analyst in Grant Langston as NBC, the network that puts on the races, had a crew member test positive for COVID and because Langston, a World and National champion, was not vaccinated they asked


him to get tested and then miss this weekend’s race to make sure he didn’t contract the virus. It’s a company policy, like many other companies have done over here, to help prevent the spread as well as for insurance reasons. Langston declined to do that and quit the series which of course triggered a massive scandal. The TV crew got Jeff Emig, who used to do the series, on short notice to fill in but Langston will be missed, no doubt about it. Some of the comments about GL’s decision really caught a lot of people by surprise and also, of course, sparked debate on everything and anything political in the paddock. Just another thing that the series had to work through and I’m sure the powers that be are just muttering “two more…just two more”.

Photo by HRC


AMA MX - IRON MAN


MX BLOG

DECISION DAY FOR TEAM USA By all accounts, the AMA will make its final decision regarding Team USA’s presence at the 2021 Motocross of Nations on Wednesday, September 1, a situation that’s entirely dependent on potential declarations by the World Health Organization and European Union. If the WHO recommends or EU mandates that all travelers coming to the region from America be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Team USA will sit out the MXoN. However, if international travel without a vaccine is still permitted, the riders and necessary support staff will go to Mantova, Italy. It’s a matter of a “yes” or “no” answer. The AMA’s work for this year’s race started in July when brief meetings with prospective riders helped determine which factory operations would back the effort. “With all of the travel regulations and everything, we weren’t sure. But after talking at the AMA offices, this is an important event for us and our US riders, so we are fully committed to

sending a team for 2021,” said AMA Director of Racing Mike Pelletier at RedBud. “We didn’t know going-in how the reaction was going to be, especially after the last two years that we’ve had. The riders are into it, a lot of the OEs are into, we’re going to field a team, and I think we’re going to have a great team.” There were some early issues, including Kawasaki management’s hardline stance against the race, a view made more indisputable by Adam Cianciarulo’s injury and Eli Tomac’s looming departure, and a cross-country move to Florida that Monster Energy/ Star Racing/Yamaha cited as the reason for Justin Cooper, Jeremy Martin, and Aaron Plessinger’s absences.

Fortunately, Honda and the KTM Group pledged their full support of Team USA and helped the line-up, which should be RJ HampshireJustin Barcia-Chase Sexton, take shape. Although the likelihood of the MXoN has always been questionable, due to its placement in the MXGP series and the expected absence of world championship contenders, Team USA has remained committed to the cause. Many of its staff have played a part in the record-setting 22 wins or experienced the emotions of the recent losses, and almost everyone sees this year’s situation as an opportunity to try new things. Provisional plans call for the group to stay in large rental homes near Mantova instead of a


CREATED THANKS TO BY ADAM WHEELER

BY MIKE ANTONOVICH hotel and for their pit areas to be near each other during the race weekend, which they hope will improve communication and morale. “One big thing I think for this year is that our outdoor season finishes two weeks prior, instead of a month prior,” stated Pelletier. “It’s right in the middle of the MXGP season, so they will be full-swing and going. Having that shorter break for our riders will help them stay in a rhythm from the outdoors, training-wise, so they can hit the ground running better than they have in the last couple of years.” An American has not touched the Chamberlain Trophy since 2011, a ten-year dry spell that has inspired many to examine the differences between US and European motocross. No loss was more impactful than RedBud in 2018, when

Eli Tomac, Justin Barcia, and Aaron Plessinger overaggressively charged into the muddy conditions as their counterparts plotted smoother lines and saved their energy. Infront Moto Racing has done everything within its means to make sure the international event happens, from finding a suitable location and promoter that’ll put in the work to encouraging teams and high-profile riders to participate. Every time the race seems to be on the ropes or rumors of its cancellation intensify, the organizer announces another team roster or the sale of tickets to the general public. A plan to pay world championship points has been scrapped and prompted Gajser-Febvre-Prado-Seewer, among others, to sit out what they now perceive to be a high-risk, low-reward occasion.

As much as I’d like for the Motocross of Nations to run as planned and with Team USA included, it looks unlikely. The atmosphere, fueled by the camaraderie of people from all parts of the planet watching the very best racers, would be lacking and could even make the purest moto fan consider putting an asterisk next to the results. Either way, we’ll find out soon enough.


MX BLOG


PRODUCTS

SCOTT SPORTS We featured Scott’s new ‘Amplifier’ in the previous issue of OTOR but the technology has now been official released and the potential and performance of the injected, pre-curved lens is a major forward step for the clarity and contrast of their Prospect model. Scott state: ‘through years of research we have learnt that our eyes are better at perceiving certain wavelengths than others. By controlling what is let through the Amplifier lens, we can control how the external environment is perceived.’ The patented lens treatment has already been used by Scott in their ski products but now the technology has been able to filter through to motocross/off-road. Amplifier has been available since mid-August and the distinct ‘rose’ lens can be seen in two different frame/strap designs and for the same price as the regular Prospect (less than 110 euros).

www.scott-sports.com




FEATURE


NOT JUST HOT AIR? AIRBAGS IN MotoGP HAVE BEEN ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT SAFETY DEVELOPMENTS THIS CENTURY BUT WHEN (WILL?) THEY COME TO MOTOCROSS? By Adam Wheeler, Photos from Alpinestars


FEATURE

R

ider safety in world championship competition has come under further scrutiny in recent months but in the last half a decade several upgrades for protective potential have appeared. Grand Prix road racing has been able to count on an advanced helmet testing protocol by the FIM (a scheme that has yet to touch off-road, despite motocross helmets arguably leading the way with innovation) and mandatory airbags for the last three seasons. Perhaps the most significant implementation has been the airbag: an independent, re-usable unit that works with complicated hardware and software algorithms, and sensors that pulse with readings every two thousandths of a second. It fires in just over twenty-five milliseconds and covers most of the upper torso for effect against landings and impact. Alpinestars, Dainese and Ixon shield their riders in MotoGP, and Alpinestars have started to spread their Tech-Air to other parts of the body such as the rider’s hips. It first surfaced in 2003, so is almost two decades in evolution. What about its use in other racing disciplines? Alpinestars have been testing an off-road airbag for more than six years by asking

Polarity Photo


“We had 52 riders across bikes and quads using the system this year. It propels the programme and it’s no secret that we are looking to use this system everywhere to offer more protection to the riders we look after. For the motocross system it is something we’ve had in development and we’ve had on-track - but as far as being visible then we’re still working on it.” THE RIGHT CLOTHES Common sense would dictate that motocross and supercross riders are far more active on the motorcycles compared to their road racing cousins. The comparative absence of traction and the fact that the bikes are far

“EVERYTHING FROM THE HARDWARE AND THE SOFTWARE NEED TO BE CONSIDERED FOR THE SPECIFIC USE. YOU COULDN’T PUT A MotoGP SYSTEM INTO MOTOCROSS, SO IT NEEDS RESOURCES AND COMMITMENT...” “We were involved with [former Dakar winner and Race Director] Marc Coma gaining data acquisition until we reached the stage when a system was active at Dakar two years before it became mandatory in 2021,” explains Alpinestars Media Manager Chris Hillard.

looser on dirt means that an airbag CPU has far more analysis to do regarding a rider’s behaviour and the onset of a crash. The bag’s capability to then deploy and reset and be completely dependable in terms of functionality is also essential. An MXGP rider might fall or run off track several times in one moto.

AIRBAGS & MX

MXGP and SX athletes to wear a small sensor with their body armour. The obligatory use of chest and back protectors since 2016 is one of the few progressions made and enforced by the FIM. Motocross is a difficult discipline to decree what a rider should and shouldn’t wear simply because of the freedom he/she needs and the physical demands of the sport. Alpinestars had made enough development with their off-road version of TechAir for it to be tested more rigorously in Rally. It was the basis for the organisers of the Dakar, ASO, to state that airbags would be compulsory for 2021. Firms like Helite, from France, also created their own garment.


FEATURE


TESTING, TESTING A motocross airbag could be a nice idea that is practically impossible. The sport is simply too ragged and unpredictable with a greater range of crash scenarios. A product would require a wide arch of performance parameters to be effective. If something could be somehow finalised, then firms like Alpinestars will have to follow the beaten path of

neck protection to ‘convince’ riders and elite level racers of its benefits. Airbags would need an open-minded attitude; a trait not commonly associated with the paranoid and performance-obsessed world of top level motorsport. It’s not only the athletes however that could theoretically hold doubts. “Airbags are being tested… but in the meetings we had with the manufacturers I was very reluctant about them for motocross,” says FIM CMS President Antonio Portela. “The airbag capsules could be used a couple of times in a race although it would also add weight to the riders – around three kilos – when the industry is trying to lower the weight of the bikes. It’s a paradox. On one hand the industry is spending millions but then we just add three kilos per rider! There seem to be too many ‘no’s’ surrounding it. For example, it might be harder for the rider to perspire which could increase body heat. Things will probably improve with time but at the moment it is complicated to say: ‘this is the solution’. We need data. They are providing a proposal without much of it.” “I think back to when we were gathering data for the MotoGP system and the early incarnations; it can be hard to get people onboard with

new technology because they might not necessarily see the end goal,” offers Hillard. “It is always a trade-off in racing between comfort, weight and all of these things but we are confident in the technology and the protection it provides. We’ll push to find the best level within that.” “They are still testing and apparently the results are OK and the riders are happy with it but, again, we don’t have any data,” underlines Portela. “OK, some critical areas of the body will be protected but what about the head and neck?” ‘ANTI’ AIR & NECK PROTECTION The technology and R&D involved with airbags has provided an asset for riders almost as advanced as the motorcycles they race. Their use has been highlighted with some of the scariest smashes for the likes of Marc Marquez as far back as 2013. In MotoGP airbags have been accepted and embraced as a general good, but there is much more scepticism for off-road. Referring back to the Dakar, neck braces were very in vogue for a discipline where riders carry along the bare minimum for the hours they are racing. The deployment of an airbag creates an instant problem for neck protection

AIRBAGS & MX

“Each discipline has different nuances and requires its own algorithm unique to that sport, so there is a dedicated team for this,” explains Hillard of Alpinestars’ work. “Data collection is key and understanding every point of that discipline versus another. Flat track is another airbag system that we developed an algorithm for, and now after two years active in the U.S. that is also now mandatory. Ultimately motocross is a different discipline to rally not only from time in the saddle but also what the bike and body are going through when making laps. It’s critical to make sure that what we deliver is at the very highest level, and that’s been the theme through all the different rollouts. Dakar has been a great proving ground to get the off-road system up and running but now we want to make sure we can offer premium protection.”


FEATURE and the alternative load pathway where the contraption needs contact with the helmet to displace the forces of an impact. “We don’t have an official statement as such but we do have an issue at the moment with airbags and neck braces in rally,” Leatt Moto Marketing and Athlete Manager Dave King told us. “Airbags have been made compulsory now but the problem is that when it inflates it pushes the brace up which could be dangerous. Without special test data we cannot comment too much on it and, at the moment, they are not integrating too well. Braces have been more or less banished in rally because of the airbag rule. We’re looking at it and working with some companies that have technology in air jackets. My personal opinion is that most of off-road is free-riding, trailriding, motocross and enduro and if you are in a motocross race and an airbag inflates then the race is done. You cannot ride around with an inflated jersey. I know there are systems out there for multiple use but I don’t think the technology is there yet to permit rapid deflation.” “When you consider some of the obstacles we have with the neck brace at the moment, will the riders then accept to wearing an airbag

jacket?” he adds. “Another issue is that the test data for air jackets isn’t there, similar to what the FIM are saying about the neck brace. Of course, we are a protection company and airbags seems to be the latest innovation so we are looking into it but it’s not a foregone conclusion that we will also head in that route. The challenge with motocross and enduro is to get the product to work really, really well.” Neck braces still remain a divisive form of protection. Blanket use at events such as the Loretta Lynn’s Amateur Nationals contradicts the declining popularity of it among leading Grand Prix and Supercross riders. Many of the myths can now be debunked in terms of the latest units causing more collarbone fractures and restriction of a rider’s movement. Leatt, the principal pioneers, claim to have third-party data and evidence of the effectiveness of braces and Alpinestars themselves also spent millions developing their own product. But, as King states, the growing possibility of airbags could create a new problem. “I think it’s been reported that the BNS system won’t work with an airbag


Riders are free to use neck braces in MXGP but the FIM are hesitating on making the protection compulsory in the same way they mandated airbags for Dakar. “There are conversations going on and the issue is not concluded,” says Portela. “Neck braces give the impression of being protective but we haven’t been given the data that those braces are really effective. They work on the assumption that those forces will be transmitted the way they think it will…but is it right or not?” So far, the FIM are remaining staunch over neck protection, despite the pro-activity even by neck brace creator Dr Chris Leatt himself. “What we have to do is find the right protection for the neck,” Portela insists. “I want to give the manufacturers some food to think because we need something that will not hinder the flexibility or movement of the neck but at the same time when there is a crash and impact on the helmet how can we divert that energy into a different material? It could be firm, it could be air but how can we disperse that energy? That’s the idea and they need to work on those things.”

Thankfully the governing body are not just sitting around. “We currently have a project to gather as much data and information as possible concerning accidents in motocross and what kind of rider dynamics, forces and other factors are involved,” Portela adds. “There are still question marks and we talking with the manufacturers to find answers.” WILL THEY BLOW UP? Knee braces, body armour, neck braces and helmet development to tackle concussion: motocross has been trying to innovate inside traditional protective means but the sport is overdue a game changer to boost safety further. As we’ve seen, airbags have inflated inside other racing divisions but for MX they might be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: something desirable but ultimately unobtainable. Currently the question still seems to be ‘if’ as much as ‘when’ they might first appear on racetracks and then eventually feed into the marketplace like Tech-Air has for road motorcyclists. Alpinestars’ latest TechAir 5 airbag for street weighs just under two kilos, which is already a significant reduction from their previous system we tested two years ago. For Alpinestars the journey has begun, even though they still cannot identify a timeframe when we’ll see Tech-Air make its

AIRBAGS & MX

system, which is true and there are discussions and decisions in process to make them harmonious, but we will always focus on what can offer more protection,” says Hillard.


FEATURE

last re-invention for motocross. “We’ve been on-track in motocross track. The system has been used in that environment,” assures Hillard. “We’re pushing and it is a project we’re committed to but it’s hard to put a finite date on it. If we can see it on-track before the end of this year even in some capacity [this would be progress]…but it’s already some years in the making.”

“As much as the technology and the intellectual property is something that we hold in the Tech-Air programme, it is not as simple as just transferring it through the sports,” he adds. “Everything from the hardware and the software need to be considered for the specific use. You couldn’t put a MotoGP system into motocross, so it needs resources and commitment regardless of any ‘pecking order’ from a business sense.”


AIRBAGS & MX

Speaking of business, the looking glass will be on Alpinestars when Tech-Air for MX does emerge. Will it be quietly filed as part of their product catalogue to recoup costs for the most safetyconscious hobbyist? Or will it have some fanfare as a genuine forward-thinking measure that attracts the interest of Grand Prix Pros? “Good question,” smiles Hillard. “In recent years we made the Supertech M10 helmet and Alpinestars was traditionally a company that didn’t manufacturer helmets but in a short space of time we managed to make what has roundly been reviewed as a very high-level off-road helmet. We come with a track record of bringing optimal products to the racetrack and so I don’t think this project is something we’d just ‘shoehorn’ or do to complete a circle of products. There are special characteristics of motocross that make it more challenging but at the same time the results we’ve had and our commitment to it means we want that upper body protection. If we look at Chase Sexton’s accident in supercross last year then it at least raises the question that if we had a functioning airbag then maybe the few months he spent out might have been reduced. We cannot know definitively but it raises questions and that’s what motivates us to try.”


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WorldSBK BLOG

DID HE LEAVE OR WAS HE PUSHED? The news that Scott Redding would race for BMW in 2022 brought more questions than answers. The Ducati star returned to form in WorldSBK this month but it was too little, too late to stop Alvaro Bautista returning to Bologna At the end of last year I wrote that Ducati’s decision to ditch Chaz Davies, just as the Welshman was finding form on the V4R, was the right decision. Replacing him with Michael Ruben Rinaldi was the perfect choice in my eyes...so long as Scott Redding went on to win the WorldSBK title in 2021. Ducati needed to back Redding and put all their title challenge eggs into his basket. The MotoGP exile was their best option after a rookie season where he finished runner-up to Jonathan Rea and outperformed Davies. He was the team leader and instead of having two riders potentially taking points off each other they could focus on Redding. It was smart management and gave Ducati their best

chance of winning their first crown in ten years. Fast forward to Navarra and Redding’s divorce from Ducati was confirmed. The Englishman, still a contender for Rea’s mantle, will move to BMW for 2022 and Ducati will replace him with Alvaro Bautista. Again, if Ducati can win the title in 2022 the decision will be justifiable but at this point in their Superbike careers what makes Ducati think that Bautista is a better bet than Redding? To the outside, it looks confusing. There’s always more to these stories than meets the eye and it’s easy to look at decisions in isolation and think that the athlete has all the power. They don’t. Teams and manufacturers

typically hold the keys. Look at the summer soccer saga of where England captain Harry Kane will play. Spurs held the contract and held him accountable. In racing the manufacturer holds the key. Unless you’re Marc Marquez a team will think they can find someone else to plug into your place. Ducati are a classic example of this. Scott Redding can be added to the list of riders who Ducati deemed dispensable. The first whispers of discontent for Redding came at Donington. His run of form had taken a downturn with 52 points from eight races and it was understandable for Ducati to start looking elsewhere. He had been outperformed by his teammate Rinaldi and fallen


BY ADAM WHEELER

BY STEVE ENGLISH adrift in the title fight. By all accounts Ducati lost their patience at Donington and made an offer to Redding: take a pay cut or take a hike. What’s more important to you championships or cheques? Twelve months earlier they had made a similar offer to Chaz Davies. Rather than an offer you can’t refuse it was an offer made to refuse. The 32 times race winner was offered a massive pay cut that Ducati felt would basically make it impossible to accept. When he then went to sign Ducati faced a dilemma because they had already signed Rinaldi. It gives an interesting insight into their approach to rider management though. At Donington the paddock talk was that Redding was being offered half his current salary. A still not insignificant sum of money

but how would you feel to be offered half your wages? It doesn’t matter if you’re a motorcycle racer or work in any other profession. Your worth to your employer is seen in the wages offered. Redding was never going to accept that slap in the face from the Bologna brass. Where would he go? Honda or BMW were the main options but with his manager Michael Barthelemy having a long standing relationship with the Munich concern this was always the leader in the clubhouse for Redding’s signiture. The move cemented BMW’s ability to open the bank vault but don’t expect them to suddenly make the step forward needed to win races. Why did Redding leave Ducati? He had no choice. Why did Ducati let Redding leave? Because they had options.

After Donington we started to see a return to form for Redding but it was too late. Assen, Most and Navarra have seen the Number 45 as the form man of the paddock but at the Czech Round we started to hear rumours that Bautista was sniffing around a return to the V4R. The Spaniard has endured a miserable two year tenure at Honda but has been heavily compensated for it. He’s in a position to ride for a below market deal that’s heavily incentivised. Very similar to 2019 he can make big money if he wins and you can imagine that the bonus is weighted further towards title wins rather than race wins. The form that Bautista showed when he jumped on the Ducati is what both parties are hoping to recreate. The Spaniard achieved success never seen before or since in WorldSBK...for 11 races.


WorldSBK BLOG

He then had arguably the biggest collapse in racing history as he threw the title away in a cloud of dust round after round. When he left Ducati it was in acrimonious circumstances. He’ll be returning as a massive question mark rather than a conquering hero. It could work out amazingly. It could be a disaster. It’s hard to see a middle ground because Ducati has, once again, backed themselves into a corner; win or bust. They’re now committed to Bautista and he’ll certainly enjoy more success than Redding next season but will it be enough to justify another rider change?

Photo by Steve English



TEST

THE BEST YET? DUCATI MIGHT HAVE BUILT THEIR FINEST MOTORCYCLE WITH THE MULTISTRADA V4. ROLAND BROWN GIVES HIS VIEW By Roland Brown, Photos by Ducati



TEST

T

here’s a familiar look to the Multistrada V4 S, whose beaky front end, upright stance and red paintwork echo those of the Multistrada 1200 that began Ducati’s pioneering leap into multiple-mode, manyroads motorcycling a decade ago. But this new adventure weapon is more different than it looks, and it arrives not to the traditional sound of rumbling V-twin exhaust but to the squeal of sacred cows being slaughtered in Bologna. It’s not just that this Multi follows the Panigale family in moving from V-twin to V4 layout for its 1158cc engine; or that like those super-sports models it has an aluminium monocoque frame instead of the old steel tubes. By dispensing with the desmodromic system of positive valve closure that has been a mantra since legendary chief engineer Fabio Taglioni’s reign in the Sixties, Ducati is moving into a brave new world. As with most things from Ducati, there’s engineering logic behind the decision. Slamming an engine’s valves shut mechanically aids control at high revs, which helps explain why Desmosedici missiles rule the MotoGP straights. But a streetbike like the Multi values midrange torque and


It’s not as though the Multi is remotely short of poke, producing a maximum of 168bhp from its 16-valve, 90-degree V4, which in most respects is based on the 200bhp-plus Panigale unit. It might be over 30bhp down, but that new valve-train design stretches major service intervals to 37,000 miles, further than some owners will manage before the four-year warranty runs out. In any case, Ducati does have a history of non-desmo V4s, although the plural is only just justified. In the Sixties, Taglioni designed a 1257cc super-tourer, the Apollo, whose 100bhp output would have outclassed its intended Harley-Davidson rivals in the States. Unfortunately the V4’s output was also too much for the rear tyre, and the project was abandoned after only a couple of scary prototypes had been built. The Multistrada V4’s chassis is thankfully far more capable, combining the aluminium monocoque with a steel-tube rear subframe and twin-sided swing-arm. The more compact V4 unit allows front wheel diameter to increase from 17in to a typical adventure bike sized 19in. The V4 S’s main advantage over the standard V4

DUCATI MULTISTRADA V4

low production and servicing costs above pure power, so conventional valve springs make more sense.


TEST


DUCATI MULTISTRADA V4

“HANDLING IS EXCELLENT, AND IMPRESSIVELY AGILE GIVEN THAT THE 19IN FRONT WHEEL, WHICH SHIFTS THE MULTI SUBTLY CLOSER TO BMW’S CLASSDEFINING R1250GS, MIGHT HAVE CAUSED A COMPROMISE. AT 243KG WET THE V4 S IS HEAVIER THAN ITS V-TWIN FOREBEARS BUT IT’S FUN ON A TWISTY ROAD...”


TEST

model is that its Marzocchi suspension has semi-active rather than conventional damping. Much is reminiscent of the previous Multistrada when you climb aboard, although the TFT instrument panel is bigger, the left switchgear has gained a joystick, and the wide, raised handlebar is slightly closer. Starting the engine (ignition is keyless) reveals that despite sharing the Panigale V4’s twin-pulse firing order the Multi is subtly smoother. It’s far from the snorting Bolognese brutes of the past, almost more like something Honda might have produced. It’s fast, of course, and effortless with it. The eyeball-rotating acceleration is aided by strong, smooth midrange delivery and crisp fuelling, which ever of the riding modes is selected. On the open road the Ducati’s distance-devouring ability is enhanced by good wind protection (although being very tall I’d have appreciated the easily adjusted screen being slightly higher) and a slick, quick-shifter enabled gearchange. Economy of around 40mpg is disappointing but still good for a range of about 180 miles.

Handling is excellent, and impressively agile given that the 19in front wheel, which shifts the Multi subtly closer to BMW’s class-defining R1250GS, might have caused a compromise. At 243kg wet the V4 S is heavier than its Vtwin forebears but it’s fun on a twisty road, and its comfortenhancing long-travel suspension is superbly controlled by the semi-active damping. The Brembo brakes – the V4 S has Stylema front calipers, another difference from the base V4 – give strong stopping in conjunction with roadbiased Pirelli tyres. The Multistrada’s Swiss Army knife style versatility and host of thoughtful features have long been key virtues, and the V4 S takes this to new heights. The controls and colourful TFT screen are neatly designed; there’s tank-top storage with USB socket to charge your phone (shame it’s not lockable); the seat is broad and not so high that most riders will struggle; there’s a rack, pillion grabhandles, and panniers that are stylish if not expandable. The Multi also pushes the high-tech envelope yet again by featuring not only radar-enabled cruise control but also a blind spot warning system that flashes a light in the mirror surround when a

vehicle approaches. That could be an asset every so often. And I found the cruise control, like that of KTM’s rival 1290 Super Adventure S, far superior to conventional systems on a busy motorway. Inevitably all this does not come cheap, but the V4 S is competitively priced with its boxer-engined target of comparable specification (at just over £21,600 in the UK as tested, with panniers, centrestand and Akrapovic silencer). For riders who don’t demand shaft final drive or genuine off-road intent, perhaps all this smoothy-chops V4 lacks is a little of the blood and thunder that its desmo V-twin forebears had in abundance. It’s not your traditional Ducati, but it sure is a brilliant allround motorbike.


DUCATI MULTISTRADA V4


FEATURE


FIGHTING FOR A FLAT-TRACK FUTURE JAMES RISPOLI AND LATUS MOTORS RACING REPRESENT HARLEY-DAVIDSON IN AMERICAN FLAT TRACK’S INDIAN-DOMINATED SUPERTWINS CLASS. By Matthew Miles, Photos by American Flat Track

O

ne year ago, James Rispoli was amassing first-place trophies—seven collectively, five consecutively—en route to winning the 2020 American Flat Track Production Twins Championship on a Latus Motors Racing Harley-Davidson XG750R. This season, Rispoli and Latus Motors Racing have made the leap to AFT’s premier class, SuperTwins. After 11 rounds, riding the lone XG750R amid a sea of Indian Motorcycle FTR750s and a pair of Yamaha FT-07s, Rispoli has recorded only three top10 finishes in main events, at June’s Lima Half-Mile, July’s Port Royal Half-Mile and August’s Peoria TT. At the Oklahoma City Mile I in June, Rispoli was lapped for the first time in his professional racing career. Rispoli is the driving force behind this new challenge. At the end of the 2020 season, AFT Production Twins No. 1 plate in hand, the 30-year-old Florida resident voiced his aspirations to team owner George Latus. “George was more hesitant than I was about moving up in class,” said Rispoli. “He wanted to stay in Production Twins, fight for another championship and build the team a little bit more before we moved up.”


FEATURE Rispoli aimed to race head-to-head with the toughest competitors in the toughest class. “I didn’t have anything else to prove in Production Twins,” he said. “I wanted to ride with the best guys. I wanted to race Briar Bauman, Jared Mees, Brandon Robinson—all the guys who have dominated the past 10 years. If I can beat them, that is an accomplishment I can take to my grave.” At the same time, Harley-Davidson was making changes. In November, the Motor Company restructured its racing program, capping, in large part, its relationship with Vance & Hines, for years Harley’s spearhead in flat track, as well as NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle drag racing. Harley-Davidson focused its support on motorcycle dealers, which includes Latus Motors Harley-Davidson in Gladstone, Oregon.


JAMES RISPOLI & FLAT TRACK

Latus runs a tight ship, professes Rispoli, who had a hand in development of the forsale version of the XG750R. (V&H remains the sole licensee, manufacturer and seller of the XG750R for the AFT Production Twins and SuperTwins classes.) “Latus has been racing for a long time,” said Rispoli. “They definitely know how to run a well-oiled machine, and we have good technical support behind the scenes. “Last year was easier, because we were winning all the time. Were we ready to move up to SuperTwins? On paper, we were. We had a really good plan.” That plan was sideswiped by the coronavirus and injury. “We couldn’t get parts, which caused a huge time delay,” said Rispoli. “Then, I got hurt.” In January, Rispoli shattered his collarbone at the Winter Throwdown, a preseason tuneup promoted by fellow AFT racer Cory Texter at Callahan Speedway in Callahan, Florida. “It wasn’t the old 14-day, plate it and you can ride again,” said Rispoli. “The bone was broken in seven places. I couldn’t ride a motorcycle for eight weeks.”

competing in Supersport, Superstock 1000 and Superbike, the two-time AMA Pro SuperSport champion flew home to Florida facing an unknown future. “I went through a rough patch,” said Rispoli. “I didn’t know what to do—I was lost. If somebody had told me, ‘You can ride the Harley, which we know isn’t as competitive as the Indian, and you’re going to finish last or second to last in the first five races,’ I would have bitten off someone’s arm for that opportunity.”

R&D all but ground to a halt. “Our off-season was going to dictate our season,” said Rispoli. “You can see how far behind we are. We’re still trying things.” Racing on dirt or pavement, in the U.S. or overseas, Rispoli is no stranger to adversity. “My career always has been, ‘You’re not good enough. You’re never going to make it,’” he said. “We somehow do, and the cycle starts again. All my big years have come after losing rides.” At the end of 2018, following five seasons in the British Superbike Championship,

Rispoli began putting his personal life in order. He earned a GED certificate and a real estate license in Florida. For the first time, he entertained the concept of life without racing. “For years, I only thought about one thing: racing,” said Rispoli. “Now, I’m thinking, ‘Live, breathe racing, but, God forbid, if I have an injury, I can instantly maneuver into real estate or other opportunities.’” Rispoli wasn’t ready to hang up his steel shoe. “When you roll off, it is very difficult to get that train rolling again,” he said.


FEATURE “I don’t want that. When I’m done, I can clap my hands, good job.” In 2019, Rispoli crisscrossed the country in a $1,500 van, given to him by a buddy, racing AFT Singles and Production Twins. “I was not begging but really relying on friends,” he said. “I don’t want to be there again. I want to be self-sustaining. “I’m in a real pickle with racing. I don’t want to stop, but I have business ideas. I know if I get a taste of that lifestyle, the money, I’ll lose focus on racing. I haven’t accomplished everything I want to do—and I don’t know if I will—but I still have a few good years.” Latus Motors Racing began this season with its AFT Production Twins-winning XG750R, updated with components developed by Vance & Hines. “The bike is the same as 2020,” said Rispoli, “except for the cylinder heads, camshafts and some exhaust parts. Essentially, we have what Vance & Hines had last year in SuperTwins. They also built a new throttle body; instead of a butterfly, it has a guillotine. And we were able to ‘twingle’ the engine, giving it a different firing order. “We ran that package at the Volusia Half-Mile I and II, at the Chicago Half-Mile, day one at Oklahoma City and at Lima. The lap times didn’t really change, but the bike feels different. “The modifications changed the character of the motorcycle, but it is hard to say if it is better or worse. Now, we are exploring other areas—forks, shocks, frames. We are turning over every rock to make the newer bike as easy to ride as the older one.”

RISPOLI: “THE HARLEY LIKES MOMENTUM—BIG BANKING, A WIDE TRACK AND A LOT OF GRIP. THAT’S WHY I EXCELLED WHEN I FIRST GOT ON IT. THE MORE BANKING, THE MORE LOAD ON THE TIRE. THE HIGHER WE ARE ON THE TRACK, THE BETTER.”


JAMES RISPOLI & FLAT TRACK

Rispoli likens the XG750R to a road racer. “The Harley likes momentum—big banking, a wide track and a lot of grip,” he said. “That’s why I excelled when I first got on it. The more banking, the more load on the tire. The higher we are on the track, the better.”

At OKC II, Rispoli started the main event fifth, first pick on the second row.

Dragstrips connected by U-turns are not the XG750R’s strong suit.

Rispoli was credited with 11th—dead last, 36 seconds behind winner Mees. Rispoli’s quickest lap, the second of the race, was 40.9 seconds. His slowest, Lap 15, was 43.8, a difference of 2.9 seconds. His average lap time was 42.5.

“The Harley’s biggest weakness is when it is sideways,” said Rispoli. “It doesn’t like paperclip tracks, with super tight corners and long straightaways.”

“That was a huge accomplishment for me,” he said. “But I could only race the bike for three to five laps, not 20.”

“We need to figure out how to replicate that time over 20 laps,” he said.


FEATURE “That’s been the biggest weakness, consistency. I have to ride on the fine edge, so mistakes are prone to happen. That costs a lot of time.” Intersecting racing lines also are a problem. “Last year, I was able to own the lap time in Production Twins,” said Rispoli. “Now, the Indians own the lap time, and I have to ride toward them. There is a big cross between where the Indians are able to turn and start their straightaway and where I am able to create my speed for the same lap time.“The Indians are good everywhere, but where they are exceptional, they are able to keep their drive, keep moving forward. Every production bike seems to spin or lose a little bit of drive. That’s where we need to close the gap.” Rispoli is optimistic a revised frame, first raced at Lima, will be a step in the right direction. “I’m not an engineer, but I know the feelings I get, and I know what I am seeing in front of me,” he said. “Most of the time on big clay tracks with some banking, the Harley is pretty good on entry, all the way to the middle part of the track. The more grip, the more load, the better. We’re trying to see if we can create more flex and if that works.” Latus doesn’t have the resources to build a new frame or a new swingarm every week. “We’re just getting enough data to say, ‘OK, this is what we want to try,’” said Rispoli. “We’re looking at smaller tubing, wall thicknesses, square tubing versus round, bracing. Where can we put the engine? Can we tilt it? And this is just phase one. “At Lima, we tried both bikes. We raced the new frame to get more data. A cushion track has a lot more bumps and ruts, so it is hard to figure if it is the frame or the track. Do we need more miles on it or do we need to put it aside? From where we started at the beginning of the year, we’ve thrown plenty in the bin. That’s the only way we can develop.”

In flat track, experience comes in short bursts. “You get four laps,” said Rispoli. “Then, you get another four laps. And another four. And then, you have to race a 10-lap semi against the best. You don’t have many opportunities to try things and go down a path. “We could have run a Production Twins bike this year and probably been a tick quicker than we are now, but in the long run, we would never get there. A Production Twins-based bike just isn’t enough in SuperTwins.” In a spec-tire class, rubber also plays a critical role.


JAMES RISPOLI & FLAT TRACK

“Dunlop helped us run the [medium compound] R5,” said Rispoli. “Before, we always struggled the first couple of laps; we couldn’t do anything until we got heat into the rear tire. Now, we can run the same tires as the Indians. That was a game changer. It definitely helped us get a little closer. “At some places, like high-banked tracks, where there is a lot of energy going through the tire, the R5 might get too hot, so you need an R7. Problem is, if there isn’t enough heat in the track when the sun goes down, we can’t build heat into the tire. So, everyone is trying to manage an R5.” If Rispoli can’t beat the Indians on a Harley-Davidson, why doesn’t he join the ranks of FTR750 riders? “Brandon Robinson, Jarod Vanderkooi and Sammy Halbert have swapped from HarleyDavidson to Indian, and all instantly have been competitive,” said Rispoli. “Those are the facts. That gives me a lot of motivation. I could have moved up to SuperTwins on an Indian, and I probably would be more competitive. “I believe I am as talented as anyone in the series. I’m a top-five guy every day of the week. But if we didn’t take on this opportunity, who would? We can’t have a one-make championship. We need diversity.”

Spectator support for the Latus Motors Racing program is strong, Rispoli acknowledges. “Harley-Davidson fans are loyal,” he said. “They don’t forget. They never waver. That gives me so much motivation to train, to not get discouraged. “You don’t blame the motorcycle 100%. You don’t blame the rider 100%. You don’t blame the team 100%. We’re a collective unit. If we have that mentality, we can move forward. “And the series can move forward,” added Rispoli. “If Harley-Davidson were finishing second or third every race, there would be a bidding war for riders. Now, it is take it or leave it. We need Harley-Davidson. We need Yamaha. For everybody.” Beginning with the Port Royal Half-Mile on July 24, engines designed specifically for racing must weigh 330 pounds, 20 more than production-based engines. Further, race engines must use standard flywheels without modifications. Maximum wheel assembly weight for race-only applications cannot exceed 35 pounds, 8 fewer than entries running production-based engines. “You have to give Indian credit,” said Rispoli. “They built a phenomenal motorcycle. Should everyone build race-only engines to compete with Indian? Should Indian homologate a production engine? If Indian leaves, then what? It is so tough. I would hate to be in the series organizers’ shoes.” Whether the latest rules changes affect the outcome on track, Rispoli believes he has found a home with Latus Motors Racing and HarleyDavidson. “George Latus has given me a second chance,” he said. “Harley-Davidson has given me an opportunity to be part of a brand, to win a national championship. This is the closest I have ever been to a factory. I’m an H-D guy. I’m Hogspoli.”


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