Twelve and a half years wrapped in Red Bull KTM colours means the 31-year-old Musquin is the longest-serving racer for the company, bagging two FIM MX2 world titles, a 250SX crown, Motocross of Nations glory and a seven-figure cheque at the Monster Energy Cup.
It’s been quite a career since his protracted move into the factory Grand Prix team in 2009 and the likeable Florida resident is still operating at the highest level, earning podium finishes already in the current 450SX supercross campaign.
We might be disturbing his post-training moment of tranquillity, but it is a rare occasion to get the Frenchman during some ‘downtime’ while the hectic supercross season is running … we caught up with him in the hyperbaric chamber.
Why exactly are you in a hyperbaric chamber?
It’s something Aldon [Baker, trainer] has at his house, in his gym. It’s a cool machine to help with recovery and I’ll do it after a workout or any time really. It’s good to put my headphones on and take a nap or listen to some music for an hour or so. It’s relaxing.
So, you must be in there a few times a week?
Well, at least once a week. The way the pressure works in here is like going to altitude.
How are you feeling generally? The biggest question around you for 2021 – after missing a year of racing – is about the time it takes to get back to the highest level of performance … ?
Good. I had the pace in some qualifications and was right there for the top three in some rounds. My speed has been pretty good. I missed 2020 Supercross with the injury and came back for the outdoors, which was slightly easier to do; I noticed how much of a totally different ‘game’ supercross is and supercross tracks are for any kind of injury. That question was one I had for myself: I thought ‘can I come back to my potential?’ and the good thing about being here in Florida with Aldon’s program is that I get to ride with Cooper [Webb] and Zach [Osborne] and we had RJ Hampshire as well. It was a good comparison and in the first few weeks I was not doing what I wanted to do, but that was normal. I wanted to get better every day and that’s how it turned out, both physically and mentally. I started getting closer to those guys and battling in practice. It was good because it was pushing me and gave me more confidence. I had two good months of preparation without any injury worries and went to Houston [round one] pretty excited. I knew I was capable of racing to my full potential for 20 minutes but, wow, the level [of the riders] going for the podium surprised me. At Houston the top 15 was inside a second in practice. Starts became so important. It was amazing to take third at the first race. I had a few crashes and mistakes in the other rounds.
Is that just the rustiness of being back in a race situation?
I think it is. The season has been so hard, especially if you cannot get a start. Bad times, bad gatepicks, bad starts, chaos on the first lap trying to pass: it all rolls into each other. So, it’s been frustrating to be in positions where I shouldn’t sometimes…but at the same time I’m showing decent speed.
The parity in supercross seems crazier this year. It’s similar to MotoGP and MXGP now where there is such a spread of riders that can win or be on the podium …
I feel it was like that last year already. I wasn’t racing but I was watching and the level went up. A few years ago – two, three or four – it wasn’t that close. If you look now then a rider like Adam Cianciarulo can qualify first but then in the Main Event he’s struggling. I feel like everybody can be fast for one lap this year. The tracks were quite basic in Houston and they started to get a little bit more technical after but some are – I don’t want to say ‘too easy – but….well, the bikes are close, the riders are close and everyone can do the same thing on the tracks. I really feel we need to look at the tracks of 15-20 years ago, maybe make the jumps steeper so we don’t go as flat, far and fast. This season is definitely tough. When you go back to the truck and you look at a paper that says you are P14 in qualifying then you start to go a bit crazy about it and think ‘I suck…’
Even with your experience I guess that could stress you out…
It does! But then you have to look at it a different way and see that you are just half a second from the top five. Still, it’s hard not to think about the position only!
Twelve and a half years now with Red Bull KTM. Behind the wins, titles and achievements is that something you’re proud of?
Yeah, for sure. I’ve always said KTM are like family. Especially in the way I moved to KTM. There are a lot of stories and it’s quite unique. Without their support I would never have done anything like I did. It was the beginning of my career and I was in a bad position in 2009.
I remember it well …
You do! KTM did a lot to help me, Pit Beirer especially, so I feel a lot of loyalty and always wanted to move forward with them and keep climbing. Moving to America was a joint project and goal, and we did that together. Of course, things didn’t always work out the way I wanted to, and I chased better results but I won a supercross championship and did my best to win races. In the 450 class I was right there for a few seasons and was close for the title.
One consequence of that long association is the fact that you’ve ridden different generations of the KTM 250 and 450 SX-Fs. Have you seen or felt much variation in the bikes over the last decade?
Yeah! At the same time I feel that I have done really well with those changes. When I first rode the KTM 250 SX-F in 2009 it was with the PDS shock: remember that?! I won one of the most prestigious GPs by winning both motos at Lommel [deep sand track in Belgium]. Nobody expected that. We moved to a new bike in 2010 and we did some great things but a lot of guys were fast on that bike, like Jeffrey [Herlings] and Ken [Roczen]. It’s a cool story. One strong example for me with KTM was the electric start. I know now practically every brand has them now but people were still getting excited about them only a couple of years ago. Man, my KTM 250 SX-F had an electric start back in 2011! That’s only one example of how KTM always try to improve and be ahead of the rest. They do a lot of work. Here in America we have the production rule for racing but they still push to provide the best bike for sale so we can race it.
Photo courtesy Simon Cudby
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Check back here later this week for part 2 of this interview.