Interview: Tinus Nel reflects on his favourite races as team manager

In part two of our interview with Tinus Nel, he reflects back on his favourite races during his time in the Motocross paddock with the Vangani Motocross team. As you can imagine, the South African has plenty of memories and was kind enough to share them with us.

In case you missed it, you can find part one of the interview here, were Nel reflected on running his team. We will have more coming from Nel soon as he has even more stories to share.

Gatedrop: When you look back, what races stand out for you and why?

Nel: As you can imagine, over this many years there have been a few, and I’ll have to work hard to limit them. I’ll list them in order of appearance:

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– The first was only a regional race in South Africa, but it meant the world. Tyla Rattray was on an 80cc Honda in my team, but wasn’t the leading rider in the class in South Africa then. Wyatt Avis was. Wyatt was a few years older than Tyla,, which is not a big thing when you’re 18 and 20, but it is relatively bigger issue when you’re 13 and 15.  Wyatt was a big mental bugbear for Tyla, and even if Tyla got the holeshot in a race, he would kind of  “race to the back” till Wyatt had passed him. That day in Shelley Beach, which, by the way was a beautiful track with a view over the ocean, Tyla stalked Wyatt, passed at the right time and took the win. In the second race, Tyla got into the lead early, and just went for it.

– The second memorable race was also at a regional in South Africa, at a track called Eshowe. This was just before the Junior World Championships at Gaildorf, a race that the Avis squad had announced was theirs for the taking.  Conditions were a bit blubbery, a bit like we were gonna come up against in Gaildorf, and Tyla took the win. On that same day, Grant Langston won his first GP at Hänchen in Germany, so it was a double whammy.  Grant’s dad and I were in telephonic contact throughout the day. My phone bill those days was sometimes getting up to R40 000 (£2000) per month, ahem.

– Tyla’s third at the junior world championships at Gaildorf.  We had no idea where we slotted in at world level, and he was all googly-eyed because James Stewart was there.  Conditions were atrocious, with deep mud, and we literally had to scrape almost 20kg of mud off the bike after each session.  He rode sensibly and finished third.

– Richard van der Westhuizen winning the South African 80 cc title in 2000. I wasn’t actually there, but had a running commentary from Tyla’s mom (phone bill). Richard had sustained a greenstick fracture during qualifying for the junnior worlds, where the lower arm near the wrist was bent terribly out of shape.  The hospital near Gaildorf had said it was broken. Everyone was sitting at the house all morose, because he had the final round of the SA championships comping up in a few weeks’ time.  I said to his dad that this was probably scant consolation, but I had seen Grant’s arm look just the same when someone had landed on him in the air, and it wasn’t even broken. So off they went to the hospital in Pforzheim and, yes, it wasn’t broken.  Richard could do no training at all before the final, and barely made it through qualifying. He gritted it out, though and took the title.

– Of course the series of firsts for all the riders – first Euro qualifier, first Euro points, first GP qualifier, first GP points, first GP podium, first GP win, and the World titles.

– Spa 2000. Grant was locked in a fierce tussle for the world title with James Dobb and Mike Brown, but there were signs that he was getting sidetracked. At the start of the first race, Dobb but Grant down off the start, and Grant’s comeback ride through the pack was something to see. That incident flipped a switch in his head, I believe. Dobb himself said that Grant should have thanked him for that, “because I lit a fire in his belly.” That was the year I think where they put a lot of lime on the track to keep dust down, and many riders suffered burns in unmentionable areas. I think Mike Brown actually flew back home to the States to have it treated, if I remember correctly. A year later, Spa was also the scene of Tyla’s first GP qualification, so in a sense, I hold good memories of the track.

– The first GP of 2002 at Valkenswaard. The pre-season had gone miserably for us. We had two early races, a Belgian Championship at Mons and a winter race at Lommel.  We kept joking before the races and said surely we can’t have bad results from three riders at two races in a row, but sure enough, there it was. We went into the GP with our backs against the wall, not even certain if we’ll qualify.  Then Tyla came out swinging in the qualifying race with a nice holeshot, and qualifying comfortably. In the main race, Ben had the cracker up his backside, and rode to second, his (and our) first podium, with Tyla well in the hunt too. But for a mechanical problem, Tanel would have rocked well into the points too.  All of a sudden, the entire KTM top brass was there in the tent, wishing us well, promising bigger support, drinking our tea, etc.

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Ben Townley’s podium at Valkenswaard 2002. The team and Townley’s first podium.


– Probably my finest racing memory was the German GP of 2002 at Teutschenthal.  All three Vangani riders, all of them 17 and younger, were in the top ten, and we outscored the factory KTM team that day. My favourite racing photo of all time is from that day too.

Tyla Rattray and Tanel Leok at Teutschenthal which hosted the German GP in 2002. Pic: Massimo Zanzani

– Tyla’s first GP podium at Genk. It was one of Ben’s crash and burn days, but Tyla took up the slack.  He was in a big tussle with Patrick Caps and that day we exhibited what we knew was in him.

– Ben’s GP win at Uddevalla. The volcano was juddering, and we knew the big one was coming. Still the last few laps of that race probably represent the longest extended period I spent without breathing.

– Ernee in 2003. Not only did we have the Everts magic, but after much wrangling, Tanel also got to ride in both the 125 – and 250 classes that day.  I had always said he’s gonna raise eyebrows on the bigger bike, and he did indeed qualify very strongly.

– Matiss Karro’s 125 Junior World championship win in 2008 in Heerde.   He was up against tough opposition, including Glenn Coldenhoff and Ceriel Klein Kromhof on his home track, and he just rode the wheels off the Suzuki, never faltering, never succumbing to the pressure. A special day too.

Nel with the Karro who just won the Junior World Championship

– Tyla taking the MX2 title in Faenza. It was a huge battle between him and Tommy Searle, and a cool head was called for, which fortunately, he has. There is a massively telling photo from that race which is one of my favourite. Tyla is crossing the line, being doused in champagne by his team. Next to the track, in the crowd, you see me filming him, and if you look back to the start line, you can see Tanel Leok taking a pause from preparing his gate for the MX1 race to see his friend take the title. Special, special moment.

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– Shannon Terreblanche’s 10th overall at the MXGP of Lommel in 2009.  Shannon is a very underrated rider, and if a few things had gone a bit differently, might have made more notable impact on the world scene.

– Tanel’s GP wins. The one in Ireland I did not see, but the one at a sloshy Faenza I was right there trackside. Tanel has also had a couple of memorable MXON rides which were a joy to witness.

There will be even more stories coming from Nel soon!

Interview: Andy McKinstry