Interview: Rafaël Coenen discusses the Coenen’s journey to becoming GP winners

Image: Nigel McKinstry | Interview: Andy McKinstry

What a journey it’s been for the Coenen’s, Sacha and Lucas have been on a unique path as twins trying to make a breakthrough in the sport and ever since stepping foot into the GP paddock to contest the EMX125 series in 2021 they have been revelations.

Sacha being small has always had to play catch up to his twin, but this year and especially the last two GP’s where he has taken the win, he has started to figure out how to stay at the front.

We caught up with father, Rafaël to discuss their journey so far and more. You can watch, listen or read below:

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GateDrop: Rafa, so, let’s start at the very beginning. Twins, start riding motocross. For some families it can be very hard to give the same focus to both, but you have obviously been able to do a very good job of it. What was it like at the very beginning when you were trying to push them up?

Coenen: When we pushed them up, that’s when we changed country. When we came from Belgium to France, we made a big step. For the family it was quite difficult because we were only three, Sacha, Lucas and me. So, we needed to do everything, so it was quite difficult.

GateDrop: At the very beginning, if you look back at the EMX65 and EMX85 classes and look at the results, they didn’t really do that much. Was that a conscious thing, not to push them too hard too soon? A bit like what Stefan did with Liam as well?

Coenen: No, the only thing that we’ve done when they were quite young, is only do do these good competitions with the good riders, and not local competitions. We went to a high level, but it was not the best results, we take experience with that.

GateDrop: Ever since they’ve got in the GP paddock in the EMX125 series with BUD Racing, they’ve seemed to improve a lot. Do you think racing in this paddock every weekend and racing different tracks all around the world helps?

Coenen: Yeah, it’s also good. The competition in the EMX125 series is quite high, because all the riders want to win. You have 60-70 riders in the beginning of the season, 60-70 riders, so you need to qualify, you need to be in the top twenty, because mostly they are working with two groups, so that was quite pretty sketchy in the beginning… But it was going on the right way, so it was quite good in the beginning.

GateDrop: It’s quite unique, because obviously they are twins, we’ve seen brothers do well before, but the fact they are twins, they’ve been on the same journey, just how would you reflect on the journey they’ve been on so far?

Coenen: The only thing that to me is a little bit disappointing, because if they are both on the podium, then it’s quite good. We enjoy that but if the other is off it then it’s quite disappointing because one is crying, that’s quite difficult sometimes.

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GateDrop: And being a father, when you are looking on the podium, and they are both on the podium, how does that feel? It must feel amazing.

Coenen: The feeling, for me, it’s normal. It’s their job, it’s not my job. We are apart of the family, but we’ve done it.

Image: Ray Archer

GateDrop: Did you ever think you’d get this far when you started out with them all those years ago? I don’t think anyone really expects it at the very start…

Coenen: In the beginning, we didn’t… The first time, we were not saying, hey, we will be world champions or we will go for the title. We do our best and we see where we’re going. And it’s growing, since the 125, the 250, and now in MX2. We make good steps, and now we believe that we can be right in front. Of course, I think we can make it.

GateDrop: Lucas, obviously, coming into this season, he was a title contender, let’s say. He certainly has the speed, so you must be happy with the speed aspect… Just mistakes here and there, but overall, so far, he’s having a solid season…

Coenen: We have quite problems with the setup. He’s done a lot of work now, and we are just also looking to have a better bike for him. The advantage that he has is that he’s a tall guy, a strong guy, and that he can improve on those things. With Sacha, we had a lot of problems with that, and so we try to improve on this bike. Of course, it’s not so easy.

GateDrop: Just on Sacha, obviously, he started the season slower than Lucas, but the last two GPs, he looks like a different rider, to be honest. So smooth and so in control. He must be delighted with that progress from the last two GP’s?

Coenen: I think we worked a lot on the bike with Sacha, in the setup. After Argentina, we tried to manage some things on the bike. We’ve done it with KTM, we did a good job, and so now we find some solutions on every little thing, and we’re making steps, and it’s looking better and better.

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GateDrop: Obviously, Sacha, at the start of the season, and of course last year, he’s quite small. He maybe hasn’t got the strength yet, but as that comes, he should improve even more, and he’s already winning GPs. It’s scary, the potential he has…

Coenen: Yeah, I think so. Everybody sees it. He’s in front, he’s riding in front, he’s improving, he’s changing also. Of course, if you win a GP, it gives you a little bit of wings. It’s quite normal.

GateDrop: For the rest of the championship, what’s your expectations for both of them?

Coenen: For Lucas, it’s quite normal, He wants to win the championship and we hope that he can win it. There’s still a long way to go and still 10 GP’s left, I think. With Sacha, I think if he can end in the top five, it’s quite good. That was the expectation from the beginning of the year, winning a GP and top 5 at the end of the season. So, we are still working, and we need to improve.

Image: Shot by Bavo

GateDrop: On the level of MX2, it’s quite high. We’ve seen a lot of riders on the podium. If you get a bad start, it makes it difficult to come through, but I think Lucas has shown, even with bad starts, he can come up through a pack, which is quite hard to do…

Coenen: The problem is, this track is quite… You need to start in the front. If you’re not starting in the front, it’s quite difficult to come back. You see it with Kay and with Lucas also.

There are a lot of lap riders also that are not so good, and there is a gap, I think, around 35 seconds between the first one and the last one. So, it’s quite… It’s maybe a little bit too much, because some things are very sketchy.

GateDrop: Just the sport in Belgium, there used to be a lot of tracks. Is it difficult now to be in Belgium? There’s not that many places to ride, compared to what there used to be. Where do you spend a lot of the time with the guys?

Coenen: With the guys, we are a lot in East Germany. We also also in France and in Spain a lot. Because these tracks you can start in the morning, and not in the afternoon. That’s a problem for me in Holland and in Belgium, that you start always in the afternoon, and then you make long stays. I’m doing nothing in the morning, so for me that was the only advantage when we’re going to France, that it’s easier for us to train.

GateDrop: And it’s quite sad what’s going on in Belgium. There’s not that many tracks. To live there, it must be disappointing to see the government not support the sport?

Coenen: Yeah, but… Yeah, this is a problem for the government.

GateDrop: Last question, plans for the future? Are you planning on being in Europe again next year, or still all up in the air? Have you got a preference between Europe and USA?

Coenen: You must ask KTM, I cannot answer this.