Interview: Khoun-Sith Vongsana discusses his career, French MXoN wins and more
There’s no doubt that Khoun-Sith Vongsana had lots and lots of talent – the French rider has some nice memories and posted some good results in the MX2 World Championships but never really hit the heights of his full potential.
Vongsana never had a coach/trainer, something which seems to be getting more and more important and never secured a top ride in the paddock even though he had two great offers when he was battling for the EMX250 championship.
We caught up with Vongsana to discuss his career and much more – he doesn’t hold back!
Gatedrop: Khoun-Sith, how did you get into the sport and what age were you when you first got on a bike?
Vongsana: I started at 5 years old. My dad was a big motocross fan, and we’ve been to a local motocross race. Between the races, Nicolas Aubin was riding and I didn’t know it was possible to ride so young. So after that I asked my parents a bike all day long, and I had to wait until Christmas to got a PW50.
Gatedrop: When did you think that you could go on to have a good Motocross career?
Vongsana: Everything came naturally. I always had decent results from local races to the French championship. I grew up racing Pourcel, Aubin and plenty of other good riders, it helped us to reach the level we used to have. We are all from not a rich family, so we had to be good at the weekend. Our parents sacrificed everything for us. But at around 12/13 years old, I realised it was really possible.
Gatedrop: In 2007, you contested some rounds of the EMX250 championship, what’s you memories from that season? You had some good results!
Vongsana: Yes I had some great results. I was riding for KTM France and we didn’t plan to race the whole European championship. I won the opening round if remember well. The first half season was great, I led the championship and I felt really good. The team manager (Eric Bernard) was more an Enduro guy, and he used to be team manager for both teams (enduro and motocross).
For the furthest away rounds, we used to go just me and my dad with a van, no mechanic. From here we had some bike issues which cost me a lot of points. I started to lose my confidence, the team told me they couldn’t finish the championship because they didn’t plan the budget for that. So I found a deal with Jacky Martens to finish the championship, but the bike was so much different. I rode really bad at the end of the season, I DNF’d 4 races due to bike issue (I even broke a bike behind the gate, at the 15sec board) and I ended up 3rd at the championship. It was really hard to swallow.
Gatedrop: In 2008 you moved up to the MX2 World Championship – I believe you had some good offers from teams but you ended up with BUD Racing. How did that deal come about?
Vongsana: Exactly. When I was leading the EMX2 series I had 2 good offers. One from Molson Kawasaki and an other one from factory KTM. I was really happy with the KTM, so I didn’t want to switch to Kawi. So, I had a 5 years contract with KTM on my hands. The first season with KTM Silver Action and a factory bike, and the rest of the deal with the factory team.
I had no one who took care of my contract, so we used to manage it with my dad. It was a huge mistake because we didn’t know anything from that part of the sport. So we asked Pit Beirer if it was possible to go in the US if I had good results in Europe. On the same time, I didn’t dominate EMX2 races anymore, so he never replied. Molson had signed Paulin, so I didn’t have any good offers on the table anymore. I was thinking about racing one more season the EMX2, but I didn’t really want to. Then Bud racing called and I had no other solutions, so we found a deal quickly.
Gatedrop: How was your time with the BUD Racing team?
Vongsana: It was a really hard time, probably the most difficult season ever. The world championship was new for them and for me. So we made huge mistake. They took a trainer from cycling who never trained in MX. I quickly knew it wasn’t the best move. We started sport at 7:30am and finished at 9:30pm and it was non stop. I was exhausted on the bike, and when I told that to bud racing’s boss, he disagreed. I had some big fights with that trainer.
When we used to go to motocross training, I always had bike issues. It was a nightmare, really. Testing was also really bad, when I liked something on the bike and my team mate not, they went always my team mates way, even for me. When the season started, I had no more energy and the bike was really slow. The team organisation was horrible. For an example, at Valkenswaard, I broke the engine in the qualifying race so I went to the last chance with the spare bike. When I sat on the bike, I felt something wrong right away on the shock. I pushed on the back of the bike and the shock was broken. I didn’t ride at all with this bike, so I don’t know how it was possible. I tried to go through, but it wasn’t possible to ride with a broken shock in the Valkenswaard sand.
This race reflected my whole season. I had way more bike issues in one season than my whole career. For the next season, they fired that trainer and took Vimond. They also took mechanics from Molson and changed a lot of things. It looks like it was much better.
Gatedrop: You then moved to the SRS Honda team, Honda’s aren’t known to be the best 250cc but you had some good results. How was that year for you – you ended up leaving the team. Why was that?
Vongsana: It was a great season that ended up badly. I worked my ass off for that season, because for me it was my last chance. The Honda wasn’t the fastest bike, probably one of the slowest. But the team worked really good on the bike, and we did a lot of testing. The bike wasn’t the fastest, but good enough.
I felt really good on the bike, it’s very important for me to find back that good feeling. I had decent results in the top 10 and a moto podium. Half was through the season, they fired me saying I wasn’t working good enough. I tried my best but I had no trainer, no one to help me. So, some races wasn’t as good as we expected.
Gatedrop: For 2010, you secured a factory ride with TM. What were your thoughts on that bike?
Vongsana: Pretty similar to BUD Racing – not even one day of testing. The team manager used to say that the bike was faster than the Factory KTM. From here, I knew it would be hard. I struggled with the bike and I was out of the points every single weekend. So after 3 races, we decided to end up our collaboration.
I found a deal with Silver Action, with just priZe money for the top ten, it was the week before the French GP. TM didn’t want me to ride and my mechanics used to have my license. They didn’t gave it back to me, and we found a solution with Giuseppe Luongo on Friday evening. I was 4th in the first moto but I stopped the engine and I ended up 7th. The bike was so much better, even without any testing. I had decent results in the top ten, and before Lommel, the team manager disappeared with the team’s money. From here, I didn’t want to race the world championship anymore.
Gatedrop: When you look back on your Motocross career, have you any regrets? Are you happy with what you achieved?
Vongsana: For sure I’m happy with what I achieved. Even if I expected more, I have no regrets. I gave everything I had. If I would have signed that Factory KTM contract for the 2008, my career would be probably different. But it is what it is, I have no regrets.
I would have liked to have seen what could have been if I had a trainer I trust, if I worked with great trainer like Georges Jobe or Yannig Kervella. I met Olivier Bossard (founder and owner of Bos suspension) a couple of years ago. If I could change something, it would be to meet him at the beginning of my career. He is a person I trust, he has a great vision of the sport and overall, of the life. He could help so much and probably change my career. But today I’m glad to call him a friend. One of my biggest regrets is to never race in the US.
Gatedrop: What races stand out the most when you look back at your racing career and why?
Vongsana: For sure my podium in 2009 at Turkey. I started in 3rd, passed Osborne half way through. I had a great ride in the first heat. In the second one I had a bad start and I unfortunately missed the podium for couple point. But it’s a great memory, I got there on my own. Paulin had Vimond as a trainer, Musquin had Kervella, other riders had trainers or people to help them. I spent my weekend on my own, nobody to tell me where I could improve, or someone to help me to wash my helmets for example. I was 18 or 19, and I’m proud of that.
Gatedrop: What’s your thoughts on the sport now?
Vongsana: Overall it’s good. I mean, it seems to be good. When you’re at the circuit it’s always different. So from where I stand now, it seems to be okay. But I don’t understand why some tracks are still there. They’re bad to ride, they’re not well prepared so they’re not fun to watch. And I think theere’s too many races in Europe. It’s getting boring. Honestly, I almost never watch MXGP. I watch results and highlights, that’s it. I’m more excited to watch the US races. Even if European rider are better at outdoor now, some euro tracks really sucks – we all know they do it for the money.
Gatedrop: The French have had so much success at the MXoN recently. You must be proud! The FFM seem to be doing a good job, did you get good support from them when you were a rider?
Vongsana: We have got to say we’ve got lucky (laughs). But I’m happy with that, it’s a part of racing. For me the FFM didn’t make the best choice, but we were so lucky that we kept winning. When we were younger we used to have great support from them. We had training’s all together during the winter with Olivier Robert and it was really great, I have good memories to those training but I don’t know if they still do these kind of winter training’s. It helped us to improve so much. When I used to race MX2, there were like 7 French riders in the top 12, it’s crazy when you think about it. You don’t see it anymore.
Gatedrop: When you look at the young French talent, who do you think has the most potential for the future?
Vongsana: I was impressed by Thibault Benistant when he used to ride the 125cc but it looks like he’s struggling now. I feel like the French riders are not as good as my generation were. They’re more lazy and for them, the most important part of racing, it’s to have more and more followers on Instagram. We used to race the French Supercross series when we were young, and it helped us to be better riders than other countries. Now they’re scared to race in Supercross, so the other country recovered that gap. I hope Vialle will win the championship, and I also hope Boisrame will be on the podium. I used to train him a little bit when he was on a 85cc and he’s a great guy, a hard worker. With De Reuver as his trainer now, he’s in good hands.
Interview: Andy McKinstry
Main pic: Nigel McKinstry