As one of Yamaha’s best motocross Grand Prix riders of the modern era, New Zealand’s Josh Coppins brought a lot to the manufacturer and the Italian factory team through his results, determination and professionalism.
His dominance on the YZ450FM in his first season in blue in 2007 will not be easily forgotten and the Kiwi was so close to his dream of a world championship title that year only for a shoulder blade fracture to rob him of the crown four rounds before the end of the campaign.
Coppins, now 38, retired after that final achievement in almost 20 years of competition at the highest level and now forms a tight bond with former team CDR Yamaha in Australia and heads up the Yamaha New Zealand racing project.
A few questions were put to Coppins about the state of the sport today.
Your thoughts of MXGP?
“Things have obviously changed a lot and for the good. I’m really impressed with how the paddock and the teams are organised. It brings back some memories. It always amazes me how quickly people can move out and in of the sport; there are a lot of familiar faces but also some new people as well.”
So can you give us a quick update on what you are doing?
“I work for Yamaha and run their race team in New Zealand. I work together with Craig Dack Racing in Australia and we share riders. We have one Kiwi and one Australian. Sometimes two Australians. I also help the Yamaha Factory team in Japan and their rider comes to New Zealand for training and testing. I do a lot of roles within the team. Sometimes I’m driving the truck, doing the admin, taking care of the sponsors, mostly I coach the riders. Our season is relatively short. It goes from October to March but the winter is busy with sponsor-related activity and I also do other things for Yamaha like testing, motor shows and other stuff. The market is small and because racing is expensive I have to diversify.”
You sound busy and like you are still travelling quite a bit but just in one continent.
“Sometimes I do wonder what I have gotten myself into! But I really enjoy it. People often ask me: ‘do you miss racing? Do you miss the feeling?’ but I am going racing all the time through the other guys. I don’t miss it. I guess because I am still absorbed in it and in a strange way it almost feels better winning with the other guys than when I was winning myself.”
“I guess it is because of the amount of effort you put in, ordering parts and working with the riders on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes even cleaning their bikes for them. There is a lot that goes into it. When you are a rider then you are quite selfish and only look so far. It is a good feeling.”
Is that cliché true of stopping one part of a sport and finding another that you never really knew about?
“Yeah. You are very selfish when you are a top rider and an athlete. It is all about ‘you’ – which it has to be – but I see it from another angle now. I really admire the teams I rode for. I like to think I was a good rider and pretty easy to deal with. Even working with the Japanese is a whole other level with production bikes, sales and all sorts of stuff. It is a real eye-opener but it has been good for me. It has been a good transition from being quite a high-level racer to getting my feet back on the ground and understanding basic business.”
How often are you in Japan then?
“Not in Japan so much but I go to America quite a bit. I will be in Japan later in the year. I spend a lot of time in Australia.”
You seem like you are still in pretty good shape. You could probably grab that YZ450FM right now and do some good laps.
“I try [to stay fit]! But it is difficult. I still ride regularly and I will get to a good level and build some fitness but then I won’t ride for a month because I’m away or something else happens. I then start from scratch again. It is frustrating and I miss riding when I cannot do it. I still enjoy it but I have to admit that I’m not super-excited to be out racing anymore. I do some small local events but the rest doesn’t bother me.”
Are the fans in your corner of the world enjoying having you back? I know you won the Aussie series after leaving GPs and you must still be a big name there.
“I think so. I’m trying to interact with those people because a lot of them are customers for our brand. Like I said the market is small in New Zealand so I am dealing with customers on a day-to-day basis either leading them to the dealerships or trying to change them to Yamaha. I think I have a lot of knowledge and I can help them. That role spreads me a little thin and then in Australia it is a step up and I’m working with quite a few of their riders and I think they appreciate that. The results are coming as a result of our work and its very rewarding.”
Apart from a season in 2010 you’ve been with Yamaha since 2007. Even though you were pushing for a world championship in those early years did you ever envisage having the career that you have now?
“No. I always planned to set-up back in New Zealand with a workshop and tracks but I never saw myself as a ‘company’ person. I was an athlete. I wanted to win, and win at all costs. I really found my home at Yamaha and I am enjoying every minute of it. I never expected to be so loyal and passionate to one brand. It is strange and it came pretty quick. I guess through the relationship I built up with Rinaldi meant that I had a lot of respect for Craig and CDR Yamaha. Then it just grew from the marketing people in Australia.”
Could you be tempted back to more of an international position? Maybe back in MXGP or working in the AMA?
“Yeah, definitely. The short answer is ‘yes’ but I still have things to set-up in New Zealand to make the whole show better. I still need to learn more. I need another year or two to get things working better. Who knows whether an international role would work out, but I’m also very happy doing what I’m doing. If anything it is a bit ‘unfortunate’ that I want to live at home – due to the distance – but the market is so small there.”
Jeremy Van Horebeek’s foot injury recently meant that the YZ450FM is just sitting here in Holland. Is there a small part of your brain that says ‘hmmm; I’d like to give that a go‘?
“No, not at all! Especially seeing the pace now in MXGP: it is so hot at the moment and the level is impressive. Those days are done. I retired in 2012 and it seems like a long time ago. It feels like it was a whole other chapter of my life. I really have no inkling to compete again at that level.”
© Photos from the 2007 GP season by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
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