Interview: Tom Vialle

In November 2020, and at the culmination of just his second season as an MX2 Grand Prix rider, Tom Vialle became Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s ninth different FIM MX2 World Champion and delivered the 13th gold number plate for the KTM 250 SX-F. For 2021 the Frenchman is hoping to be the brand’s fourth double-champ since 2009! Still just 20 years old, Vialle is now the de facto team leader in MX2 and will be looking to expand his collection of eight Grand Prix wins, all taken in Red Bull KTM colours. 

Even though society was very much in the grip of the pandemic, how was the winter as World Champion?To become world champion felt like the best thing ever and it really sunk in during a month of holidays where I just stayed in France to be with family and friends; which was really nice. I didn’t do so many interviews or much travelling because of COVID-19. There were a few things we missed like the traditional FIM Awards and the KTM Christmas party in Austria. It was a shame but at the same time it was a very easy and relaxed time before starting to train and think about 2021. 

You must have welcomed the break because 2020 was an intense season of many races in a short space of time and a close duel with Jago Geerts…Yeah, for sure. The last part of the season was really difficult because it felt like a lot of races, but there was extra pressure because of the COVID situation around the championship. We were doing a lot of testing and I was trying to do things as safely as possible but mentally it was extra weight. It was a good battle with Jago and when he made a couple of mistakes in the middle of the season I kept really focused and did my best. 

2020 must have shown how every mistake and every point counts: it was a close-run contest between the both of you up until the last few motos…Yes, very much so. The goal was to be world champion and not to win every GP. I knew I had to learn to accept 2nd or 3rd on the podium, lose a couple of points but then focus to win or gain them back the next weekend. It was not easy! It was my first year fighting for the title and it was important not to over-think things. When we came to Lommel [the penultimate triple header] I was already thinking about the championship at this point and being careful to ride a bit more safely. 

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So, will you carry #28 or #1 in 2021? And are you ready for a different challenge of defending the crown?I want to keep #28 so that’s what it will be! For sure 2021 is a bit different, but then again I spent most of 2020 with the red plate so that kind of pressure is the same. Don’t forget that when you are riding you don’t see the red plate! Everybody wants to beat you, but I think I had some of that last year as well: I kinda like being in that position. In 2020 it was mainly me and Jago so it was difficult to take points from him and to feel a bit safe with the lead. It only happened when he started to make a few mistakes. I think in 2021 there will be a few other riders even if [Thomas Kjer] Olsen and [Ben] Watson moved to the 450s. We’ll see. It’ll be an interesting year but I believe Jago will be the first guy to beat. 

You are leading the team again but with 2021 being your third year in MX2 is there even more work to do with development now?Yeah, we have been working a lot with the KTM 250 SX-F and developing the race bike. I’ve actually been riding with our new engine recently, which will help us a lot in 2021. I feel good on the bike. With Rene [Hofer] we’ve been working through set-ups and made good progress. 

Do you have one eye on the MXGP class? If you win again in 2021 then you’ll have to move up for 2022 regardless…Sure, we’ve been thinking about this a little bit because, like you said, if I win again this year then I’ll be on the 450. We have seen with Jorge, who was a double MX2 champion – even if he had a hard 2019 winter with his broken leg – that he was able to be quite fast and at the front in MXGP. Olsen looked good as well in his first pre-season races with the bigger bike. When you change the motorcycle then it is like a ‘reset’: it’s a new machine, new year, new category, new rivals so it brings new motivation, let’s say. I’m really focused to win this year and we’ll see for the next.

Interview: KTM

Image: Juan Pablo Acevedo