Interview: Tinus Nel on running his Vangani Motocross team

Tinus Nel might not be a regular in the MXGP World Championship paddock anymore but he’s got a wealth of experience as he ran his Vangani Motocross team which stated up in 1997. Only three years later the team made the jump from racing in South Africa to all around the world by contesting the World Championship. Over the years, Nel worked with some of the very best riders and he has some cool stories to tell.

We caught up with Nel to discuss running his Vangaini Motocross team.  We have lots more content from Nel coming as he shared lots of stories with us as he looked back on his time in the Motocross world so keep an eye out.

Gatedrop: Tinus, you started up the Vangani race team in 1997 I believe. What was the reason behind starting up a team? It’s a lot of hard work so I imagine, due to your passion in the sport?

Nel: I actually kind of started in a small way in 1996. I was passionate about motocross from when I was about 13 and a school friend raced, but my parents would never allow me to race. So I kind of raced vicariously through having a team. It started when the local supermarket owner told me his son raced, but it is a bit expensive, and I offered to help a bit. Then when we went to the track, I saw another rider that was quite good, so I thought let’s start a little team then.

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I was a big Honda fan, and approached them to purchase bikes, but their MX allocation had been sold out. Then a few weeks later they phoned me back, and said they would arrange bikes for me if I helped to get Grant Langston onto Honda’s (he was on Kawasaki at the time). Langston had a full deal, but they wanted cash as well to help him get overseas. I thought about it for about a minute, and said “ok, let’s go”. So I went from nothing to pretty much one of the most prominent teams in South Africa in a manner of weeks.

Gatedrop: Three years later the team decided to have a go at the World Championship. At that time what made you think the team was ready for the next step?

Nel: We took Grant Langston to a European Championship race in Asti, Italy. He was only 15, but qualified well and scored some points. Then we went to the Coupe De L’Avenir in Jamioulx in Belgium later that year, and Grant tested for a Kawasaki team headed up by Harry Everts. He got selected, and was teamed up with Steve Ramon. I continued with my team in SA, and in 1999 took on Tyla Rattray.  We took him to the Junior World Championships in Gaildorf that year, and he finished third.  After thinking a bit whether he should go onto 125 in SA or go for an international campaign straight away, we opted to move to Germany. He was teamed up with Gareth Swanepoel then. They did European Championships first, with a GP here and there, and a year later, in 2001, they started qualifying for GP’s.

The team launch in 2001 when Tyla Rattray and Gareth Swanepoel were under the awning. Joel Smets, Colin Dugmore and Heinz Kinigadner attended the event.

Gatedrop: You worked with a lot of young riders at the time who then went on to have big careers. You were clearly able to help the riders – what sort of things did you focus on?

Nel: I’m not at all a riding coach nor a technical guru. The main role I played, I think, was to provide a fiendly, non-pressure environment for them. You have to remember that these were teenagers that their parents had sent to me halfway across the world. I wanted to take care that I handed them back in more or less the same condition. It was important for me  that we minimize the impact of the culture shock for them.  So that meant a maximum support structure in good times or bad, lots of opportunities to remain in touch with their families, and more than just racing. If we went on a long trip, for instance, I would try and find time to make it educational as well, and have them see some of the historical, cultural, and other highlights of the places we were. (Tanel Leok did NOT want to go to a Salvador Dali museum in Spain, though).

Building confidence was a big thing too. European-based riders get used to the opposition and the pace throughout their development curve, but riders that come from far away have a far lesser idea of what to expect. Tyla and Gareth were just slotting into things in the DM (German championships)  and Inter DM (Now ADAC MX Masters) series in 2000. Gareth had had a few results, but Tyla was not quite in the mix yet. The DM series was strong, with riders like Cedric Melotte, Josef Dobes, Kadlecek, Daniel Siegl and others in there.  One weekend there was a non-championship race at a track called Fischbach, a lovely semi-sandy track. All of the same riders were there, but because it was a non championship race, Tyla felt no pressure, and he rocked out a podium finish. The cork was popped after that, and from then on he was regularly in the hunt for top ten, top five positions in the DM.

We will have more coming soon from Tinus Nel soon, stay tuned.

Interview: Andy McKinstry

Main pic:  Tinus Nel with Evgeny Bobryshev, Shannon Terreblanche and Jeremy Van Horebeek!