Sebastien Tortelli interview – racing Farleigh Castle World Vets

Sebastien Tortelli is a name well known to most involved in our beautiful sport of motocross. A two-time World motocross champion, in 1996 and 1998, once in the 125cc class, beating Paul Malin and once in the 250 class, beating Stefan Everts.

Tortelli competed in the Motocross World Championships from 1994 to 1998 and, competed in the AMA Motocross Championships from 1999 to 2005. He returned to Europe to compete in the 2006 FIM Motocross World Championship for his final season of professional motocross. Tortelli is notable for winning two FIM motocross world championships. He was one of the few competitors who could compete and beat both Stefan Everts and Ricky Carmichael in their prime.

Tortelli won the 1996 125cc motocross world championship in a dominating manner by winning 11 out of 12 Grand Prix races and became the youngest-ever motocross world champion at the time. He moved up to the 250cc world championship in the 1997 season and won two Grand Prix races to end the season ranked fourth in the championship.

Tortelli competed in his first American motocross competition at the opening round of the 1998 AMA Supercross season in the Los Angeles Coliseum as a relatively unknown competitor to American spectators. In one of the biggest surprises in AMA Supercross history, Tortelli won the race held in muddy conditions against top AMA competitors such as Jeremy McGrath and Jeff Emig. The victory marked the only supercross victory of Tortelli’s career.

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Tortelli signed a contract with KTM to compete in the 2006 MX1 class for 450cc motorcycles. He had a contract clause that guaranteed him a return to the AMA series if he could win the FIM MX1 title. He showed surprising speed at the opening round in Belgium when, he traded moto wins with Everts. However, at the third round of the series, he dislocated his hip at the Portuguese Grand Prix and had to drop out of the 2006 Grand Prix season. He announced his retirement from professional motocross in December 2006 at the age of 28.

Now, at 45 years old, Tortelli has built a strong relationship with the Stark Future development program and helps prepare the Stark riders for competition. In a venture that is creating the future for our sport, Tortelli has decided to come out of retirement and will race the World Vets Motocross event at Farleigh Castle, on July 20 and 21.

Q: Have you raced since you retired?

Tortelli: Not really. I raced Loretta Lynn after I retired, because some of the guys I was training in America after I retired were doing that race and they motivated me to join them there. I have done some smaller races for Stark, nothing too serious, just some events here and there.

Q: I saw your introduction video, very funny, but as a former World champion, do you take this return to racing in England seriously or its just for fun?

Tortelli: I race just for the fun of it. When you get to a certain age, you know you are not young anymore, for sure the next day when you are sore. I would say, last year or last two years I am riding a lot, developing the Stark, but since we started racing last year, I don’t have as much time now. I ride once in a while to give direction for the development, but mainly I focus on the racing side of things for Stark.

Q: I remember doing an interview with Jack (Brunell) after he won the Arenacross title on the Stark and it was run in America and Davey Coombs from RacerX told me, everyone in the industry in America read that interview. The Stark has created a huge interest and I assume you racing it at Farleigh in July will also create a lot of interest in the UK media and industry?

Tortelli: Well, probably the month before and get some time on the bike to prepare. The beauty of the Stark, it is very easy to ride and for me, I get less tired, so I know I don’t need to be in great shape to have some fun. A few of the guys racing that event motivated me to go and race. I want to go, have a good time with some old friends. Today I am taking things more for fun.

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Q: What I noticed when I got the images from Stark, you look the same as when you rode the Honda, or Kawasaki. You style looks the same, the look in your eyes is the same. Do you feel more comfortable on the electric bike than you did on your race bikes?

Tortelli: I feel super comfortable on the Stark. I am an old guy racing for many years, so I use the Stark foot brake, it is my natural motion, but I do ride with the hand brake doing trail riding, but I think your riding style, is your riding style, no matter if you are going fast or not. From the outside it looks like when I raced, but it isn’t. It is like riding a bicycle. My body is in good shape and the injuries I got haven’t hurt me too bad and I am still strong and don’t suffer too much. Riding is good for getting the morning aches away and its good medicine.

Q: Do you know who you race in your age limit, Jeff Emig maybe, Rob Herring, Mike Brown, or Billy Mackenzie?

Tortelli: I have no idea. I am 45, but the boys didn’t tell me which age group I am in, they just said come on over and let’s have some fun. (Seb will race in the 40-age group with Mackenzie (who is 40), while Dobb, Herring, Brown and Emig will be in the 50-age group).

Q: You still look in great shape and not a lot different from your racing days. These vet races, the Stark racing the combustion engines, I know a lot of the guys in the Arenacross mentioned they couldn’t hear the Stark bike and it put them off a little. Racing motocross, is faster and have you experienced that in your races you have raced, that riders you come up to pass are surprised you are there?

Tortelli: I did a few races where that happened. I didn’t get any issues, you have to look ahead, but maybe for these old guys, I need to put a horn on it and honk when I come around (smiling).

Q: As far as how you guys did with Jack in the Arenacross and the performance clearly really impressive. Jack is also racing right?

Tortelli: Yes, but he will race the 500 2-stroke, he is very motivated for this race. He has some old nice 500 Honda’s and he will race one of those.

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Q: You know Foxhill well, you won there on the 125 and the 250 in 1996 and 1998, but have you ever been to Farleigh Castle and if not, what do you look forward to about racing on this legendary circuit?

Tortelli: No, I have never ridden Farleigh, but I know it is an iconic circuit and what I like about it, it an old fashion track, with natural layout and todays track are too many jumps and short, but this old track, more natural, a bit narrow and you get less speed, but its good for an old guy like me.

Q: Do you know if you arrive with a big Stark set-up, or you just arrive in a small van to fit into the whole feel of the event?

Tortelli: At this moment, we don’t know. It hasn’t been decided, but I think we also have support from the dealer out there and its two months before the event, but will make a decision soon and we need to have the guys racing Supercross in France and Enduro guys racing, so we need to plan it all in. Obviously when you go to the UK, it isn’t Europe anymore, so it makes it a bit more complicated.

Interview: Geoff Meyer