We appreciate it when one of our close media contacts in Europe personally calls us up to offer us something like this.
Journalist Geoff Meyer, from the wonderful MXlarge.com web site, interviewed Kiwi legend Ben Townley ahead of his 2016 MXGP campaign.
Read it and enjoy …
Back in 2005, Ben Townley had the world at his feet. A world MX2 championship in his pocket, one of the most popular riders of that era, and a new contract to race in America. Everyone knew this young New Zealander would be a success in a series many people at the time said was the toughest in the world.
Wind forward 11 years, and, without his adding to that 2004 MX2 title, Ben Townley is back in Europe. His American experience littered with bad luck, injuries and disappointment. Did he want it too much? Or was he just one of many riders whose career would never reach its full potential?
Back in September of 2015, Townley, riding for his beloved New Zealand, rode a brilliant MXoN weekend. Coming close to beating the nearly unbeatable Romain Febvre and finding the speed and consistency that seemingly he had set aside in retirement.
Now back under the wing of his former mentor Stefan Everts, people are starting to believe that Townley can make one last shot in the world scene and capture another world title. It won’t be easy as his former rival in America, Ryan Villopoto, found out in 2015. But if anyone has the determination and resolve to make it happen, it’s BT.
We caught up with Townley yesterday and asked him about his preparation and what he expects from the 2016 season.
MXlarge: Ben, first up, Ernee 2015, was that a little like covering old ground? Returning to 2005?
Townley: No, not really. I first and foremost wanted to ride for New Zealand and secondly it was a box I needed to tick if I wanted to race in 2016. I wanted to go there and tick that personal box for myself and that was important for me.
MXlarge: Obviously when you raced here in the early 2000’s, Stefan Everts was a major part of your learning process. How important is he in your return?
Townley: It’s the biggest part of my reason for being here, and part of Suzuki. There are three key staff members at Suzuki that I believe can help me, and offer me the best advice there is in the paddock. Starting with Stefan, I have a good relationship with him. He stopped racing a long time ago, and he has worked with some young guys at KTM. If will be different, I am 31 and a work in progress, some things won’t change for me, but other things I want to work on and I need to. With Sylvain, he is synonymous with this brand really isn’t he? He has a lot of experience with the bike and somebody I will rely on to help with my set-up. Then there is Harry and he has seen everything and can help me with my riding. The team also has a lot of experienced technicians and I believe this is the best spot for me.
MXlarge: Kevin Strijbos and yourself couldn’t be more different. You are intense and want to win every time out and Kevin is more relaxed and maybe reserved. Stefan mentioned you guys want to help each other. Do you think maybe you can learn from each other; it is like if you combined you two that that would be the perfect competitor.
Townley: No, it’s not something we have thought about, but as a team with the new structure and what Stefan has set out as the goals for the team, I think it’s working really well. We spent a couple of weeks in Spain together and it worked out really well, and I expect that to continue throughout the season.
MXlarge: You are somebody who wants to win all the time and it hasn’t always been a positive for you. Have you looked at how you want to go into the season, those first few rounds?
Townley: Absolutely, it is something we have looked at and we started on it a long time ago. It was one of the first things we discussed. Regards to the first couple of rounds, actually the first five rounds, we have set some goals, for those fly away races. Being realistic and building a good platform and building a good base for the season and make sure one foot goes before the other. Clearly from the Motocross of Nations, it isn’t about the speed, but getting the whole programme together.
MXlarge: Looking at Ryan (Villopoto) last year. He started slow, then got that awesome win in Thailand, but he really struggled, it wasn’t that easy. Did you learn anything from that?
Townley: I haven’t learnt anything from his racing, probably more about his pre-season and build-up, there was a lot to learn from that. You have to be in touch with the European way and not expect to bring anything to the table, especially for me, with what I have been doing. Clearly these guys know what they are doing and I need to listen to them and the can help me get set-up as best as possible. They had Clement Desalle last year and he had the red-plate, so they know what they are doing.
MXLarge: That slowing down to be more conservative, that is obviously a mental thing, is that going to be part of the battle to tell yourself to slow down, you don’t have to win this thing every time out?
Townley: As I mentioned, we have started working on that and applying that to my practicing. It’s quite interesting the comments you make about my racing, because you would have to look pretty hard to find a video of me racing and getting injured in a race, and I am sure you will find it’s never happened. A lot has it to do with away from the races, clearly when I have been behind the gate I have done well. The biggest problem has been getting to the gate and that is a lot of what we are working on. I haven’t raced an entire season since 2010 and a little in 2011 and a tiny bit in 2012, and I didn’t race in 2013, and 2014 and then the end of 2015. It’s about me getting my feet wet again and doing it in a measured approach. It’s going to be fun for me going to these International races and I am excited about the travel and going to these countries. It will be all new to me.
MXlarge: I love the first part of the season, going to Qatar where everyone is really chilled out and it’s nearly like we are all on holidays together, then going to Thailand where the culture is really different and exciting. Obviously when you raced in America it was pretty much of the same wherever you went. Do you think that is more interesting now, being that you are over 30 and might see things differently?
Townley: For sure, I am looking forward to the culture and experience. I think a lot of people in the paddock might not like the travel, but I am used to it, I come from the furthest away point on the planet to be here, so I don’t mind the travel and at the age I am I am really looking forward to soaking it up. When I was young I didn’t care about the old buildings and the food. It comes with age I guess.
MXlarge: I read somewhere that you missed your family as soon as you arrived in Europe. How difficult is that?
Townley: That is tough, it’s the hardest part for me. The fact I have to be away from them, it’s such a wonderful time with young kids, and even though the world is so much smaller now with all the skype and whatever else, it’s still difficult and it doesn’t allow you to experience the things you do on a daily basis. It is a busy time of the year which helps, with testing and riding. I won’t hide it it’s the hardest part for sure. I get to go home for a week after Thailand, then after Valkenswaard, I go back between that and Argentina, then when we get back from Mexico they are coming here anyway. I am really looking forward to being a family again until the end of the season.
MXlarge: You and Josh used to live together in that house in Belgium. Have you driven past that old house much?
Townley: Yes, a few times, times have changed haven’t they. Life goes and that was a great time in my life. It is funny I know this area pretty well and it is easy to fit back in.
MXlarge: It’s a great calendar in 2016, with some nice overseas races and obviously two rounds in America. Is there anything you are really looking forward to this year?
Townley: I wouldn’t say there is one track I am looking forward to. I would have preferred to go back to Isle of Wight in England, I loved that track. More than anything I am excited about the spectators and the atmosphere. I mean St Jean in France with the spectators on the bank, I am looking forward to Talavera and I really want to be part of Team New Zealand at Maggiora, I have never been to those two famous tracks. I am generally just looking forward to the GPs, it’s a great atmosphere and a big build-up. We arrive on Friday and don’t really race until Sunday afternoon. It’s a different type of a racing scene compared to America with a one-day format and it’s just wide open on the Saturday and racing in Australia is similar to America. I am going to enjoy that experience. My mum and dad will be travelling with me the whole season in Europe and I look forward to that.
© Words by Geoff Meyer, www.MXlarge.com
© Photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
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