2017 was a big year for Gautier Paulin after two difficult years at Honda but the stylish Frenchman produced on the Ice One Rockstar Husqvarna!
Looking much more at home on their 450, Paulin won a GP and was consistent throughout the season to earn third in the world championship and show everyone he is still a leading contender at the top level.
Paulin then lead France as team captain to their fourth MXoN victory on the spin and his fourth win in a row – and he even had a hand in choosing Christophe Charlier as the MX2 rider!
It was a great end to a very good season for Paulin who now wants to step it up and really challenge for a world title in 2018.
MX Mag’s Tom Jacobs caught up with the dedicated, honest and articulate Frenchman to discuss his season, his journey to MXGP and his goals for 2018.
Gautier, how does it feel when you are standing on the podium in Matterley – what goes through your mind at that moment?
Going through your mind is great achievement, we won a world title for our country, for my team. It’s an achievement for country and the Motocross of Nations is one of the biggest races people follow, it makes all the riders excited. The track was awesome, the rain was there but they did a really good job with the track. When you are on top of the box it is always a great feeling.
Is that feeling different to winning a GP that you do by yourself?
It is different. At the MXoN you need to share with the other riders (teammates) you help them, and especially me as captain with the French Federation there is more organistation and I try to make this work around the athletes and make it easier to go racing. It’s been a few years now and after a few years we start winning. We won’t always win, we know that, you don’t get used to it, every year you try again. But it’s working and it’s my job to share with the riders and it makes a good atmosphere in the team.
Sometimes you don’t ride individually, you can’t just ride at your own risk if you get a bad start like at a GP. When you are racing as a team, if the team is winning ( and you get a bad start) you don’t risk everything yourself when you are looking at the bigger dream (winning as a team). It’s a different feeling to share a win than individual, but it’s a cool feeling. It’s the end of the year and in France there are so many good riders, so if you are part of the team it means you have had a good season and you are strong. I enjoy riding that event.
You made a great point that you are captain so you feel responsibility for the atmosphere within the team and to do more?
Yeah we ride to ride together two to four days within the year, this year it wasn’t possible but we tried to make it have have a good collaboration with the French federation. They put a lot of effort in and this year it was too tough for any GP athlete, to fit everything in the programme it’s tough. It’s good to make history. As a race you always enjoy.
Did you consult on that with Pascal to put Charlier on, does it get political with riders not getting on with the federation?
There is some history with that (politics). But talking about Christophe, I was in the US and they start talking about riders and no-one had Christophe on the tablem, but I knew Christophe was a factory rider for Husqvarna the year before in motocross and was a factory rider this year in Enduro, so I knew he would have factory support. I told them I would choose the best bike for MX2 which is KTM or Husqvarna and Christophe was the best profile. I said that is who I would choose, they were confident in what I said and they made it happen. But it was the federation who decided.
What did you take away from your time at Honda, what did you learn?
I learned a lot on the life, a lot about myself. It was a big experience. Starting with the best trainer in the world and doing everything I could to make it happen but in the end I wasn’t totally fitting the bike.
How is that when you first ride the bike and it doesn’t fit what do you do?
As a rider you always start something and believe in the best, it’s determination. I was working as hard as I could, working with the best trainer, working with the best plan. I hurt myself really bad and came back to make podiums and winning again. This is all I had, I bad moments and it wasn’t easy but this is behind me and I totally erase that part of my racing. The only goal I had was to sign with Husqvarna and this year was my comeback and we have a strong base to work from for next year.
How is it working training-wise with the team? Do you work as a team or individually?
I have my trainer, I work still with Aldon a bit. I work with the team too and do some training with the team – testing together on the bikes.
You have been through the ranks in the sport? What is the worst piece of riding advice you hear?
Sometimes you see the kid doesn’t want to do it and it’s just the passion of the dad.
How certain in your mind were you that you could make the transition from BMX to motocross?
When I started I had to learn how to use the clutch! So I was not certain I was just certain I was going to have fun. I was riding until the tank is empty and I just thought about motorcycles, I was doing everything by myself within four years I was pro and I felt good achieving that. it is nice when you achieve things, better cornering, better jumping learn the skills and I didn’t get injured in that period. My first injury was in the world championship. I was feeling good but it was a lot of dedication, I couldn’t ride much I was just riding Saturday and Sunday my dad was working. But lots of dedication, I wasn’t hanging out with friends I was just thinking about riding, this was my goal and it paid off.
Were you a good student or just good at sport and focussed on being a pro athlete?
It was sport and becoming a pro athlete, I as only thinking this way. At school I had good facilities, I was in a private school, it was really strict. From 8 to 12 from 1 to 5 we were sitting there and it was hard for me to sit there and concentrate. I could have stayed at school but when the teacher asked me want to do I said I wanted to be a racer and they would say, ‘this is not work.’ They would try to break your dream. But I think it’s good to be educated in schools, I can read and write well and when I went to MX1, I passed a course to become a MX teacher.
What is that extra bit you need to beat Herlings and Cairoli next season and be world champion?
Better starts, better speed, better cornering. I need to improve everywhere.
How do you go about that, that is a lot?
It is day and night dedication to what you do. This is the only way to get up to the best in the world. Even if I become world champion it will still be the job again to improve. We need to improve also on the bike and I think we have done that already with testing we have done.
What areas are you improving on the bike?
The starts, suspension and power. The bikes change a lot every year with rigidity, the spirit of Husqvarna, they are really behind the racing and they can react and change things really quick. You feel as a racer they are really behind you. From racing they sell, I ride a stock bike at home, they are strong and come from the factory bike.
What do you think of the new start pad behind the gate?
I think it is good, it is more professional. I think we need more attention on it because sometimes it is full of mud and slippery. At the MXoN you would spin on the gate and there is not much you can do. But it was the first year in GPs and I think it’s a good choice.
What do you really believe in? That you have an inner conviction for?
Hard work. When people say you have so much talent, I don’t believe in talent. In BMX people said I had so much talent but I was every day on my bicycle, talent comes from hard work.
What do you think talent is?
Of course when I see Usain Bolt running, he has a better ability to run than me, this is a fact. But talent there are a bunch of athletes in motocross that are talented but they are having their dream and trying to achieve it. You need a bit of luck in life, things need to go together but every athlete and manufacturer is working really hard. Talent, this is my vision of the process.
If you could go back to a 16 year old you and give advice what would you say?
I don’t regret anything on what I have achieved. the story behind me is what makes me who I am today. I have been with my wife for ten years, I am 27 years of, I have a great family, I am doing what a love for my work and I am always trying to achieve big goals and taking care of my body everyday with workouts, this is what I love. You can always do better, you can always do worse. you have to take what is coming, we don’t know what is next.
How is it working with Antii?
He is a hard worker, he works as hard as a racer it’s good to have him on my side. he is a great person, I have known him a long time and it is a great relationship.
A lot of people don’t know Kimi, how do you work with him?
He is a a lot behind motocross, I like his spirit. He loves motocross, he likes to ride motocross and he can have a team and I think that brings a lot to the motocross paddock. I believe this team is the best one and to bring that spirit of F1 and motocross. it’s great for motocross and we need to thank him for that. He is a good rider!
You wanted to go to America, do you regret not doing that?
It was more dream of racing because you always want more. I follow what is going on and riding MXGP, it’s turning around really good. I like supercross and this is what I wanted to do but more and more the series is getting more professional in MXGP, and with 19 rounds it’s not possible anymore. I definitely like what I do. I like the sport (supercross) but living there is a different story. I am where I am and I have chosen to stay here, it’s not that there was no teams ( ind the USA), I had many opportunities to go but I want to stay here.
Do you still ride BMX?
I ride some BMX, I just do it when I want, sometimes I don’t ride for a year, sometimes I ride two or three times a week.
Do you feel your height is an issue on the 450?
I have had that on a few bikes but on this bike (Husky) I feel really good.
Is it important to have the team working together and be a leader in the team?
I am just myself. I try to be true and honest, I am honest with my crew. I train hard and I am a lot on the bike. The mechanics from January to May they have no life, I have so much respect for them. The best way to thank them is to win and never give up. The relationship is true and real, that is how I am and how they are with me.
Is there a quote you live by?
There are many quotes I like for inspiration. There was one I had at the KTM dinner yesterday, ” work hard in silence and have success make noise.”
People tend to expect riders to come back at 100% after they are injured but how difficult is that?
There is a quote when you are injured that it makes you stronger – but it doesn’t! There are always marks from every injury and it’s hard to come back. You come so your positivity and determination are stronger but injuries take a toll on your body.
If I got injured what advice you would give me?
You need to listen to your body, you need to give your body time. We try to speed up the time but sometimes you need to wait. The mind and body are separate. I have been doing everything sometimes to come back quicker but you just have to wait sometimes on the body. Motocross is a tough sport, I have a lot of respect for Valentino Rossi, the way he came back from his broken leg, but in motocross he couldn’t do that – there are things you cannot do.
When Jorge Lorenzo broke his collarbone and came back and raced straight away he said he would never do it again because it was hard to concentrate at those speeds with the pain killers.
It comes down to the determination and the goal you want to do. He wouldn’t do it again but he did it. Sometimes you have to do it.
If you could do anything or have toy?
I would like to drive a rally car or F1, or something like drive a helicopter.
Any last words?
I think motocross is going in the right direction. Hopefully there will be more tracks opening than closing in the future and people will have more respect for motocross and bring it a good image.
How do you feel about electric bikes?
I feel good, you could just ride in your garden with your kids, it would be amazing. But we will be nostalgic about the noise of a four-stroke!
Interview: Tom Jacobs