Interview: Ben Watson reflects on his home GP, the 2023 season and Beta
Young British talent, Ben Watson has now had three years racing the MXGP World Championship and has been under three different factory awnings – Yamaha, KRT and now with Beta a relatively new manufacture in the Motocross world. Watson has had some good rides with the Italian brand and knocking on the door for top ten results – something that is very tough with the level of MXGP.
Heading into 2024, Watson will be with Beta yet again and hope to make even more improvements in a bid to become a consistent top ten rider and even more on his good days.
We caught up with Watson after his home Grand Prix at Matterley Basin.
GateDrop: Ben that’s the end of your third season racing in MXGP over, just how would you reflect on the season with Beta?
Watson: It has been a mixed one. Very up and down, I mean I signed with Beta knowing that we are in the development process knowing I’d be doing a lot of testing work, not jumping on a bike that is race winning ready. Of course everything is possible and we work together to build the best package that we can. I feel like we have pushing inside the top ten quite a lot, that was one of the goals at the beginning of the season. You know, when I have had a bad race it has been a little bit too bad, I could have been more consistent on some occasions but overall it has been not bad, not bad.
GateDrop: You’ve been a Factory Yamaha and a Factory Yamaha rider in MXGP, when you signed with Beta and had your first ride on it, what did it feel like on that bike, was it totally different?
Watson: Of course, I’ve been on aluminium chassis going onto a steel frame, that was the biggest thing. I think going from any bike, making that change it is going to feel completely different. It took some time to get used to but I definitely think that suits my riding style and body a lot more. If we can keep working on some small pieces here or there, the potential is there to have a really good bike.
GateDrop: Just on the bike, do you feel it is better now than at the start of the year? Also I remember Jeremy Van Horebeek in his first year was doing good but on sand it wasn’t very good, it looks much better in sand now?
Watson: Definitely. I had some really good results in the sand this year. I was top ten in Arnhem and also Lommel, I had some strong rides. We have definitely improved in sand I think compared to previous years but you know, I don’t know what Van Horebeek had in the past so it’s one of them. On the hard pack I think it’s more down to myself than the bike, it has never really been my strongest point, I tried to work and spent quite a lot of time in Italy so I think with another winter there we can improve on the hard pack.
GateDrop: Just on the level of MXGP, I don’t think people realise how fast it is sometimes, they might see you finish fifteenth and think it isn’t great but everyone is flying. How hard is it to battle with those guys to get top ten and it seems starts are so important…
Watson: Starts have been everything, especially when the tracks are the conditions of today, very fast and not very technical. There were only a couple of corners on it here today with some ruts. It is almost speedway style who has the confidence to control the bike with the rear end. In one moment it is technical in that way because who can push to the limit in the safe way. I am not the biggest risk taker so I was losing some time but in the few places that were technical I tried to gain there. I feel I was good in some places and bad in others today, I feel like if they ripped it up more, not only today but a lot of other tracks too…
GateDrop: Or even just leave it overnight after the first day of racing?
Watson: Yeah, leave the technical parts and if you have some flat parts, rip it up again and get some water in there. When it is flat like this, you don’t have many passing opportunities, that is why the racing was close and tight this weekend and also in the past. The top 15-20 are only like a minute behind the leaders, when you compare it to somewhere like Lommel or Arnhem you’ve got a minute between the top six or seven. That is because it is technical and you can make a mistake at the start of the race and still get a position you deserve because it is possible to pass.
GateDrop: I remember when you signed with Factory Yamaha for MX2 and that was the first time you left the UK to live in Belgium but I think now you are in Italy with Beta. What is it like being there, have you settled and does it feel a little bit like home at least?
Watson: Yeah, I’ve been in Belgium for five years. This year I haven’t really had a solid base, I’ve been a little bit UK, a little bit of Italy and then the majority of the time in Belgium. It’s one of them, I try to do as much as I can for the team because they don’t have all the resources to be following me around the world with a bike. I have probably spent more time than I would have liked in Italy especially through the winter because when the weather is tough in Belgium, the tracks are very technical and heavy going. I feel during the winter it is good to get some heavy hours in on the sand. This time I spent a lot of time in Italy with the nice weather, it isn’t hot but it is easy tracks, very hard pack without any ruts or bumps. I feel like that is a chance I want to make for next winter, to spend more time in harder conditions.
GateDrop: And just on Italy, having spent a lot of winter there last year, what’s it like with the language and doing basic things like ordering a meal for example? Have you picked up any Italian even?
Watson: No, for me it is really difficult to focus on one language I’d like to learn. The majority of the time I am in Belgium where they speak Dutch and the mechanics, a lot of them are Italian. If I was Dutch, the first language I would learn is English and if I was Italian, the first language I would learn is English. Here in the team, the suspension technician is from the Netherlands and when everyone comes together in meeting we speak English. It has been difficult because for example my mechanic almost didn’t speak any English when we started. It was a little bit of a worry trying to communicate properly and if you want to make a change but they have all worked hard to keep the communication up and it has been good.
Interview: Andy McKinstry
Images: Nigel McKinstry