The 2004 World MX2 Champion Ben Townley hasn’t had the best start to his return to Europe.
Having had a terrible winter, the New Zealander came into 2011 missing the first round in Bulgaria and then struggled in round two in Holland, before taking a time out from America and Brazil and returning in France.
France saw his riding improve, but a crash on the Sunday wasn’t the way he wanted to end his weekend.
For Townley it got worse as he missed the Grand Prix of Portugal after retiring during the Saturday qualification race and then deciding to miss the Sunday program. It’s been a tragic return for Townley and one he hopes will start to see improvement once he returns to the track.
First it’s more time off and then hopefully returning with the same fire and determination that saw him win an FIM World Championship in 2004 and also battle Ryan Villopoto in the 2007 AMA 125cc Championship.
Europe-based journalist Geoff Meyer, from the fabulous MXlarge.com web site caught up with Ben a little over a week ago at the Grand Prix of France and contacted BikesportNZ.com to offer us this interview.
Of course, since this interview was done Townley, has announced that he has decided to take more time off to prepare himself for the challenges ahead.
Q: Ben, can you tell me how you are doing?
Townley: Well, pretty much since I last saw everyone, which was the Tuesday after Valkenswaard I decided, would take some time to get more prepared. I mean I pretty much was taking it a bit the same as when I came to Glen Helen last year. I mean then I had also had an injury in the off-season and it had all gone pretty easily. I underestimated the whole head injury and the whole winter was a disaster and I underestimated that and I found that out when I got to Valkenswaard. So I thought I would just take some more time and my team has been outstanding and letting me appear and do what I need to do.
Q: What did you do in that time off?
Townley: We spent some time in Belgium riding and testing and did a race and then did three weeks training with Jake (Nicholls) and that was awesome.
Q: Watching you ride around at Valkenswaard was painful enough, that had to be one of the lowest points of your career. How was it?
Townley: It was tough, very tough, but at the same time I made a conscious decision I want to win again and I am not in that position now, so I have made the step in my mind what I can and can’t achieve at the moment. Already in France I had seen what that has done to me. I enjoyed going out to ride, the bike is so much better already than in Valkenswaard.
Q: You have always been a guy who is really into his racing and totally committed, really in a zone and intense. You felt you needed to make changed to your battle plan?
Townley: That is the hardest thing to do, to make that change was really tough, but in order to achieve what I want, next year let’s say, if I don’t make those changed and gradually build it up, instead of having success sometimes and the rest of the time disappointment, then I need to make this change. I don’t want to just win race here there and everything.
Q: You have to take that intensity away then?
Townley: A little bit, but it’s more intensity in the mind, pushing yourself in positions that I don’t need to be in and that I control myself. The riding and training won’t change much at all, just the mental intensity.
Q: I was speaking to Jake Nicholls and he mentioned that you have been doing some boxing training. How was that?
Townley: Actually it’s something I have never done. When I was in Europe I trained with one guy the whole time and then I went to America and I was training with Aldon Baker for most of it, but also John Tomac, but because my career went pear shaped there I never got on track there.
Q: So you are trying different stuff?
Townley: Now I am back in Europe and I am actually in a different situation, which means I can do different things and mould Ben Townley’s program more. I am not in the Championship race this year I can try some things and do what I want to do. The Boxing is something I looked at in the past and I considered it might have a good affect on my riding. It’s amazing the mental concentration you need to do that. If you are going left and right, that is easy, but then you start to add things, it takes a lot of mental capacity to get it correct all the time. I explained it to Steve the guy who helps Jake, when you are on the motorcycle it just happens, I don’t even have to think about it, so learning something new where you have to switch your brain on to do something, it’s like people say you never forget to ride a bicycle, when you learn something new it takes a lot of mental capacity and it’s not like I am 13 years old trying to learn this. It has been good and I have been enjoying it.
Q: Is it scary a bit, knowing somebody is going to smack you in the head?
Townley: I haven’t got to that stage yet, I am not that far into it, just doing the learning stage, learning to use my feet and hands and my mind, to piece it all together. It’s a lot harder than it looks.
Q: Going into Portugal, how did you feel?
Townley: The weeks before Portugal went really good for me, I mean I was meant to be in Europe in early February, but I didn’t arrive until just before Bulgaria and I was settling in. The weather has been just amazing. I mean I can’t remember any time in my career in Europe that I wished it would rain. I’ve been praying for rain because it’s so dry.
Q: It seems like the AMA series and the FIM series are so different, two totally different Worlds with different circuits and mentalities. How do you find that now you are back here in Europe?
Townley: That is a whole article on its own. The whole infrastructure on how they prepare the tracks, the layout of the weekend. At the Gransd Prix you ride six times, in America you ride twice. You are at a Grand Prix for three days, while you are at a National for one day. The whole scale of things of the event is so different. I always looked at why American riders find it so hard coming to Europe, but now I start to see that. Just for example, when you go to an American event you fly to just about every event, and you are in on Friday and out on Sunday and back to your home. With the Grand Prix series most people are on the road for three weeks. There are so many different elements. A circuit like St Jean d’Angely the development of the lines is so different. That is something that is tricky and you have to adapt to it.
Q: It seems like a lot of the American circuits are prepared in a similar manner. While the Grand Prix circuits are very different. How do you see that?
Townley: In America the tracks are not very different, you have a partial sand track and I call that partial sand track, and the rest are all very similar in conditions. While over here we go to France and its hard pack and tricky, then the next week we might have a deep sand track, which is real sand. For the set-up it is so difficult. I mean riding so much over the weekend is really needed to prepare your bike and get it set up correctly. There is so much that goes into it, it’s so different.
The Saturday in France it was a technical, tricky circuit and I was so glad to have the Saturday to prepare for that track. Bike set-up and it’s so different to Valkenswaard. You can’t just look at the track; I mean the bike setup is so different. We have a lot of help from Pro-Circuit with the bikes, and I am happy to have their support, but I am also so happy to have people here that know the tracks. It’s been a huge change for me. It’s been a bigger step than I thought it would be. You easily get set in your ways and I was in America for five years and because the first year went so well, I was happy with my performance and I was quickly set. Now coming back to Europe I have had to readjust that.
Going back to what I was saying before, I was in some sense lucky my winter was terrible, because had I been fighting for a Championship the pressure would have been terrible. I am just able to work it out and go into 2012 ready.
Q: You often see the FIM World Championship guys who race in America struggle for a while, it took Tyla (Rattray) a year to get himself sorted and that seems to be the way it goes for most going to America. How did you find it?
Townley: I call my first year 2007 because I was injured in 2006 and I adapted straight away. I mean I think America has more simplicity to it, and for English speaking people it’s easier dealing with your team, the whole situation is easier in America. I mean South Africans, Australians, New Zealanders, for them it’s much easier racing in America in my opinion.
Q: What is the plan now?
Townley: Right now it’s about having fun, getting the fun aspect back. Of course I want to achieve results, but I want to focus on getting good starts and we see in the next months what goals I can set.
© Photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com