Interview: Ben Townley
The great Ben Townley turned the clock back last weekend as he showed just what a brilliant talent he is by running with world champ Romain Febvre in the final moto, just like he ran with RC at the same event ten years before.
Townley, who won a MX2 world title in 2004 before winning GPs in MX1 the next season and finishing third against legends such as Everts, Coppins, and Pichon, was a favourite of the MXGP fans and media before going to America and winning a 250 sx title and running RV all the way in the 2007 US 250 Nationals.
Injuries subsequently prevented the talented Kiwi from achieving more in the USA or MXGP and BT retired battered and bruised two years ago.
But the bug never went away and Townley rode a couple of races this year and applied to ride for team NZ, fortunately they said yes and the NZ legend came back and showed the world he still has the stuff to run with the best, even as a retired racer!
We caught up with BT about his impressive weekend, and talked about injuries and riding styles. Ben also gives his verdict on latest NZ prospect, Josiah Natzke.
Ben that was a phenomenal performance this weekend, did it exceed your expectations or was that what you had been expecting?
It met my expectations. I had no doubt in my mind that if I rode to my potential I could do that. The biggest thing that I encountered that I hadn’t experienced before was that I always had the same mechanic and team, parts, everything was consistent. I left New Zealand three weeks ago and had a different engine, suspension then went to America and had a different engine, triple clamps, bar positions, then here on a different engine again. I had the same suspension but that for me was the hardest thing to get my head around. It takes time so I am really proud I am able to achieve this with these guys (Buildbase Honda team) they worked really hard to make me comfortable and all weekend we improved the bike.
How did it feel to lead in front of that crowd again?
It was pretty cool! I think the biggest thing for me was all weekend I was around French guys, on Saturday I was racing Paulin, the first moto today it was Musquin and then the final moto Febvre. That was pretty cool because on the start straight when you wind your way around the bottom, the entire way on the bottom it got louder and louder then when you went up the hill it got silent!
Febvre said he tried to pull away from you in that third moto but he couldn’t and it was his hardest moto of the day! That’s not a bad compliment for you!
Yeah he’s a strange character the way he rides. He doesn’t really do anything correct, the way he holds his arms, he doesn’t really do anything with good technique, he’s not the nicest guy to watch with all due respect! But he’s incredibly fast and you have to hand it to him he’s the world champion and it was nice to race him.
He rides on the edge so when he passed me I thought I will glue myself to this guy as much as I can then at one stage, I wasn’t riding over my head to stay with him, so I thought maybe this guy will make a mistake if I stay with him, but he doesn’t make any major mistakes, he makes little mistakes all the time but it doesn’t slow him down.
Just regarding your riding style, you had one of the best techniques yet somehow you got injured a lot, is that strange when other guys who don’t have the same technique don’t get injured.
Yeah it’s strange, it was something I really learnt about myself when I retired as a professional was my mentality. I rode with great technique but I rode with 100 per cent mental effort all the time whereas I should have maybe ridden at 98 per cent a lot more and I still would have got the job done. But I guess hindsight is a great thing!
Coming into these couple of races and Glen Helen and here (mxon) did you have to do much to get into the shape you needed?
I’ve been retired as a professional for maybe two years now, so I had to apply in New Zealand to race the MXoN first of all. My first race since my retirement was in March in New Zealand, they selected me to race so I thought “ok” and I dropped quite a lot of weight but I have three kids, a business and we were building a house so I did as best preparation as I could but I’m not an athlete anymore. The biggest thing for me is that I am really proud of what I achieved when I had so many things going on. Its the middle of winter in NZ too so it’s not the best preparation for what I achieved.
Do events like today, with Suzuki still looking an MXGP rider, tempt you into a comeback?
No I have a great job with HRC, I have had that now for a year and we are talking about renewing that. They have a great role for me that I really enjoy. Days like today are great and you really enjoy it and you think what could be, but life is a lot different for me now. I think I am a lot more content with it now.
Just finally, I spoke to NZ prospect Josiah Natzke at the Spanish GP, he is very talented, lived on his own in Belgium and you are coaching him, how do you see his future going?
It’s not an easy question to answer for me. He is extremely talented, he has an incredible opportunity, I don’t think you could have a better opportunity and I am pretty disappointed on how his season went to be honest. He has me, he had Stefan, he had Harry Everts, KTM, he’s got everything that a kid could ever have and he couldn’t get the job done so I don’t know.
I believe if he really wants to make it happen then he has to dig a lot deeper and look at himself because there are so many outside factors that are 100 per cent non-questionable so he has to look at himself. He is racing the kids class as well (emx125), a lot of people get all exited cause he is doing well but he is racing in a babies class. At the end of the day, for me he really needs to step it up if he wants to achieve what people like myself, Josh and the King brothers have.
Are you going to keep coaching him next season?
Yes I am but not to the level I have. It takes a lot of effort to help someone to achieve what he wants to achieve so he’s got to show me that he really wants to achieve what his goals are before I can help him to the level I have been.
Interview: Jonathan McCready
Pic: Paul McCready