Interview: Matiss Karro looks back at 2008 – World Champ!

Matiss Karro has had a good career in the Motocross world but many people tend to forget that in 2008 he actually won the 125cc Junior World Championship. Coming from Latvia as a youngster isn’t easy but that day Karro beat Glenn Coldenhoff and Ceriel Klein Kromhof in their own backyard to lift the championship crown. Another top rider competing that day was Steven Clarke who’s another strong sand rider. On the same day, Jeffrey Herlings also won the 85cc class to become Junior World Champion as well.

We caught up with Karro to discuss the title he lifted back in 2008 – a great racing achievement for the Latvian.

Gatedrop: Matiss, back in 2008, it was a great year for you as you became Junior World Champion in the 125cc class. Going into the event, do you remember the hype, you must have been very excited going into the race?

Karro: 2008 was a really nice year for me because I was really ready for the season and prepared for it really hard because I knew I could be good rider in the future, it was a big dream what I wanted to achieve. At the beginning of the season I was on the Honda 250cc, I tried a couple of GP’s and felt really good. Thanks to Tinus Nel, one of my good friends who helped me out, sorted out the deal with me for Beursfoon Suzuki, a Dutch team. I remember at 2008, Lommel GP, I felt really good there on the Suzuki and I remember the first moto, I was running in the top ten but 2-3 laps before the finish my fuel ran out, a DNF which meant no points. In the second race I didn’t have the same feeling and I think I crashed which meant I scored no points. That ended up being lucky because if you score points at a GP you can’t race the Junior World Championship.  A couple of weeks later we had the Junior World Championship, I was really buzzing for the race, I knew it was going to be in sand and back then I really preferred the sand and I felt really good in it.  I knew I could do a good race at Heerde so I got ready for it with the team. With a free mind I went there to the race and I managed to win, it was really surprising for me.

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Gatedrop: Can you just talk me through your races, from what you remember?

Karro: There were strong riders there, the Dutch riders were there and they’re always good at their own tracks. They feel really good in the sand, Steven Clarke was there and he’s also a really good rider and he was another strong in the sand. It was a good race, I remember on the Saturday I felt good and showed decent lap time, I was towards the top. Sunday, in the first race I remember I finished second place and I knew I couldn’t push too hard because you can have a little crash and lose the day, I remember running in second and having that feeling. I thought to myself, calm down and just finish second, there’s a second moto. With the way I was riding in the first moto I just knew I could win, I believed I could do it and win the Junior World Championship.  For the second race, I remember prepping my gate, I was so focused and knew what I had to do, I wanted to win.  I remember when the gate dropped and I knew who my competitors were and I needed to race, I squeezed them from the start. I got the holeshot and was leading the whole race, it felt so good in the deep sand. Of course there were a couple of sketchy moments (laughs) but I was so full of energy. I was just a 16 year old kid that really wanted that win. I remember during the last couple of laps, Steven Clarke was closing in, I knew I had to win because if I finished second I’d have finished third overall I think. I had to win and I manged to hold him behind me and that was it, I got the win.

That was one of the greatest feelings of my career, I remember thinking, “this it is, this is my title”. My closest friends were around me, my family, my old trainer from Latvia who’s a really tough guy, he never shows his feelings. He taught me some lessons about being tough but that was the first time when I saw my trainer drop a tear for me, I saw his feelings and I just remember thinking this is the best feeling I can have for now. It was just amazing and it’s a really good memory, then I knew I could be a top guy and achieve my dreams, you just need to believe and work on it.

That year I also rode Lommel and Lierop GP’s, I finished seventh at Lierop which is also really amazing. Back then I really loved the sand and I was really good at the deep sand tracks. The bike was so good as well and I was just a young gun not afraid of mistakes, I was just floating around the track and feeling free. Standing behind the start line I had no worries about what’s going to happen. Battling with all the factory riders at Lierop and finishing seventh was also really impressive for me.

Gatedrop: Coming from Latvia as a youngster, how did you find that, was it tough?

Karro: You know, to come from Latvia, okay it is a European country but now it’s easier. From West Europe there seems to be more respect for the Eastern European riders. Now it’s a little bit different but back then no one really looked at the Eastern European riders because the factory teams and set up, they look at the market to see the best riders and where they can sell the bikes. An Eastern European rider really had to show amazing skills and results to be in a team, like Tanel Leok, he was pretty much the first guy to be a factory rider and he showed the best results. It was difficult for us in Latvia, in winter we have snow and we always had to travel to Italy, Belgium or the Netherlands for training at weekends. All the time travelling and those expenses, okay, you can say it’s more expensive now but even back then my family didn’t have the most money, we always looked for sponsors who could help us travel around and also believe in me. It was really difficult but we had a dream and we wanted to achieve it so we were ready to put everything in to be there.

Some tips from some pro’s like Tanel Leok and Tinus Nel who helped me out find some sponsors and got me a place to stay in Belgium. It was better for the expenses and he also helped me find a team. Those little things and there were so many people I want to thank, I can’t tell all the names who were there because there were so many. Everybody involved helped me a little bit and we put all this together and there I was. It wasn’t easy but that was the dream and I wanted to do this. I believed after the World Junior Championship and there were teams who were interested to have me as well, it was a little bit like the kids dream was coming true.

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Gatedrop: At the time, what did you think of the level? You beat two talented Dutch kids in their home backyard, one of which is now a factory rider and winning GP’s.

Karro: I was a youngster, just 16 years old. At the GP’s there were guys like Tyla Rattray, Rui Goncalves and some other big guns racing in MX2 and as I was a young kid, I never really thought about how high the level was or thinking I should be afraid of them, no, no, no. I was always a fighter and I was ready to take the challenge and ready to beat those guys. I wanted to beat them and then when I looked at the results and some big names were behind me, okay, it was only a couple of GP’s but still, it was amazing. It was only sand and some guys don’t like sand, there’s a lot of excuses but if you are a pro you have to be a the top at every GP. If I could beat those guys I was “Yes, I am the man” (laughs).

Of course at the Junior World Championship you have all these youngsters going for the title and everything but I never really looked who was there. I knew the Dutch guys and the locals, I knew they’d be good at their sand tracks but I was ready to take this race and never really thought about the level. I just wanted to enjoy the race, I was there and just wanted to show the best result. I felt good and everything came together so I won the title.

Gatedrop: Going into the event, did you feel you were one of the favourites or were you an underdog for the event?

Karro: I don’t know really if anyone knew me. In the 2006 Finland Junior World Championship, I was in the 85cc and I was close to winning that day but I had some other problems. Maybe some other riders knew I was there who also done some Junior World Championship rounds, Dutch or ADAC championships. I believe people knew I’d be racing there but I don’t know if they expected me to win the Junior World Championship. We weren’t friends with many of the riders, we were kind of at the side. My dad couldn’t speak so much English so we didn’t contact any other riders. Maybe we were the underdogs, maybe not.  I don’t know, you need to ask the other people if they knew about me or not (laughs). I had the good result and then they saw me, I believe then people thought I could be a good rider.

Gatedrop: What were your expectations going into the event, did you expect to win – maybe you surprised yourself a little that day?

Karro: It was a surprise for me but I was ready for the race, I knew what I wanted and that was to win this title.

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Interview: Andy McKinstry