Tristan Charboneau interview

It has been a difficult first few EMX2 rounds for America’s Tristan Charboneau. A top rookie for Geico Honda in America last year, Tristan has not had an easy time of things getting the same momentum going in EMX2 this season.

Bad starts, crashes and a couple of bike problems have put into shadow the flashes of his undoubted speed, but after speaking with Tristan you sense he still believes that with some better luck and a better start he can still let his speed shine as he fights to make his name in the GP scene.

Based in France with Bud racing means a new bike, a new team and new tracks, so there has been a lot to adjust to but given time this kid could have a bright future in MX2, if he gets the support to get there.

We caught up with a still positive and determined Tristan to get his thoughts on what has been a frustrating season so far for the friendly and chatty American who says he would be happy to remain in Europe for 2018, but knows his results need to improve to get the teams believing in his speed.

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In a fascinating interview Tristan talks about what happened at Geico, his EMX2 rounds so far and his perspective on racing in America and the GP scene.

You had good results last year for Geico Honda in your rookie season before and after the injury, I was surprised they let you go!

I raced Hangtown and got ninth overall on my debut with a sixth in moto one. I got the holeshot first moto at Glen fell over and finished seventh, in the second moto I was ninth but crashed with two laps to go and broke my collarbone, didn’t know, so I finished the race barely with the pain and went 7-30 and for 15th overall. I went to the doctors the next week, got checked out and had surgery, and then a couple of days later they called and said, ‘sorry we can’t have you for next year.’

Obviously they hired Martin and they needed the room, but I was one of their best finishing guys and it kind of left me stuck. I can’t take it away from them , Martin is a great guy and an awesome rider. I felt like I didn’t do anything wrong there.

I came back from injury too early I think, I didn’t have much riding before I came back at Millville. I had terrible results at Millville, bad results at Washougal then at Unadilla with went 10-10 for ninth so that gave me confidence. At Washougal they told me they were parting ways with Smith and that they had a spot open again but that I had to prove myself. I felt like I had proven myself – but I went to Unadilla and got that top ten and never heard anything back, so I finished the season with them and came upon the Bud deal.

I was thinking I was going to be a privateer this year (in America) but the Bud deal kind of came out of nowhere so I decided screw it, if I can make a little bit of money, get experience riding in Europe, I’m going to do it.

The first few round of the European championship, I guess it was a bit of a culture shock, new bike, new team, living in France and then turning up at a fully hard-pack track in Italy! But you were going good that day until you had a bike problem in the second moto.

Yeah the first moto I think I qualified 14th or something. I got a terrible start because I had only practised a couple of starts on that gate thing or whatever it is. I made my way back to ninth. In the warm-up lap I did the double-double in the back and when I landed after the first double the bike just died and cut out so I coasted off the next jump and almost ate shit because the bike was dead in mid-air! I was on the back side of track, so I ran my bike all the way back to the starting gate from there, me and my mechanic fiddled with the wiring and it fired up first kick! So I went out in the second moto, again, another terrible start, I made it all the way to seventh place and started to feel it was going out, so I started to fiddle with the perch a bit, it wasn’t helping much.

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By the last lap I was in fifth place and I had five guys breathing down my neck, my bike was as fast as an 85 and I am trying to make this bike get to the finish line and I came up to the step-down and the bike just went completely out, no power or nothing. I was thinking – I just put in a lot of work there to come from the back get to fifth! I put it neutral, the five guys blew past me and I coast down the hill, made it to the mechanics area shifted it all the way into fifth, held it wide open and then it gave out, blew the seals and all that, so I just pushed it off the track and called it a day.

The next couple of round were sand in Valkenswaard and Latvia, neither really went your way, what are your thoughts on those two events?

Valkenswaard in practice I had clutch problems so I had to go to the LCQ and got second. I had gate pick 38 and the far outside gate, and you have seen he start at Valkenswaard, the outside is 40 feet behind the inside gate! So dead last start and trying to battle through all that sand, it’s close to a one-line track in terms of the fast line, so it was hard to get around everybody.

In Latvia I think I qualified eighth. So I started on the inside and with the 180 degree start that was perfect. I came into the first turn about third, I was set and I planted my foot to do the 180 and my foot got sucked right up into the back of that Kellett kid’s rear tyre/subframe, so it ripped me off the bike. I got going 40 seconds behind and made it to 21st!

The mechanic had changed my clutch before the first moto, but when I went off for the warm-up before the second moto the bike feels like it’s dead – the clutch had gone. One of the mechanics didn’t go back to get a new clutch because he felt we didn’t have enough time before gatedrop. So me and my mechanic fiddled with it and nothing really helped. So I lined up on the gate and got a bad start because of it, but I tucked around the inside and came out like eighth but ten minutes into the moto the bike was done!

So tough so far! Last weekend in France no points in the first moto but you were going well in race two around the top ten and finished 15th.

I qualified 30th, usually the top 18 qualify depending on if they are two groups so I qualified 16th or 17th. I was quickest in free practice, I did a 1m 59 there but then I don’t know what happened and in Timed Practice I did a 2m 01 but I qualified 17th so I thoughts that’s ok I’m in and I’ll get ready for the motos. I went to get my gear off and my trainer said to keep it on because I was in the LCQ! So it turned out they took the top 15 this time which put me in the LCQ, so I don’t how they could change it. They took the top ten in the LCQ so I got a mid-pack start got to the front in the first lap and checked out by 35 seconds.

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So in the main motos, bad gate pic, terrible start again obviously – I’m good at that! I’m good at getting terrible starts but good at slithering through people in the first few corners. So I was up to around 18th or 20th and I was behind Natzke, and he tossed up this rock, it was huge, and it hit me right in the face.

I didn’t think much of it and just shook my head but when I landed off the up hill jump blood splattered everywhere inside my goggles. I rolled down the finish, I couldn’t see so waited until everyone passed. I went into the mechanics, wiped my face down, peeled a piece of the rag off the off, slipped a pair of goggles on and when I pulled back out onto the track I was just in front of the leaders, so nearly a lap down. My mechanic told me I pretty much yanked them, so I made it back to 26th from nearly a lap down. So I thought it was a pretty good performance but again not a good result!

Second moto and another bad start from Tristan Charboneau! I tucked in behind everyone and floated my way through some on the first lap to 25th then got up to ninth or tenth and then fell and went back to 15th.

What were your expectations when you came over of the class and how has it lived up to or differed from what you were expecting?

Well I raced in Europe in 2013 at the Junior world cup, so I kind of knew how the tracks weere and how they groomed them and all that. I had a little bit of expectations as I had practiced on tracks in the Czech Republic back then and they are as hard-pack as anywhere so I knew kind of how the practice tracks would be and what I would be dealing with.

Competition-wise these kids are fast! Even those little younger kids that are on the 125s, I give them props, they send it! My teammate Brian Moreau (in EMX125) when you put that kid on a 250, out here (France) me and him are almost identical when we are pushing it. All these kids are really fast, any guy that comes from America, you have to get used it. The same as a European guy going to America, they have to get used to it with the terrain and all that.

My expectations, if I knew the guys were going to be this speed, which I figured, I was thinking top five, but with all the problems I’ve been having and my good starts, it’s set me back a lot obviously with trying to get a ride next year. It’s difficult right now just with the problems and everything on top of that.

Sanayei was on Bud Kawasaki last year, Covington came from EMX2 as well now they are doing well in MX2, is that a similar route your see yourself going down and do you speak to those guys much?

I’ve known Sanayei since I have started racing, me and him grew up together in Washington. So we have been close and always went to the races together since we were on 50s and 60s so I have known him for a long time and I can talk to him about anything. When the Bud ride came upon I talked to him about it because he had the same ride last year, so we talk bout this and that.

I don’t really know Covington, I don’t think we have ever had a conversation! They are both great riders and Covington as a rider, from when he came over here to where he is now it’s insane. In America he was a decent B and A guy in the amateurs then he came over here and he just blossomed to one of the front running guys constantly. Obviously you have to work your way into that and Darian, it’s first year in MX2, and he’s a top ten guy!

I was looking around and I know the EMX class is a really high competition, at Valkenswaard Rubini didn’t qualify n EMX2 and at Ernee he got a top ten in MX2. So I was looking at that, and it is also different as a rider, unless you are in first place constantly you are usually the speed of the guys in the pack of that class. There are things that come into play. I feel that if you threw me into MX2 right now, riding with the faster guys, and I was that speed before… but I’m happy in EMX2, hopefully I just won’t have any more problems!

Is it a one-year deal or do you know what the plan is going forward?

Well I’m on a one-year deal with Bud, so pretty much after the last EMX race that’s pretty much it for me and go back to America and try to pick something up over there. But if a team here that has potential that will take me in and have me as part of the family, I will stay man, I like it here.

Some of the English speaking guys like Natzke and Sanayei are now with British teams based in England, is that type of set-up appealing since you don’t have the language barrier?

Yeah, some people speak a bit of English around here but it’s difficult. I am ready to go to any team so that I can keep doing this as a career, I soaked up what happened last year and was going to race as a privateer, you can’t quit. With the results I’ve been having I am not sure I am much of a sight for the teams in MX2. Maybe they have seen the speed I have been carrying from coming back from nearly dead last in every moto!

You raced a lot of the US Nationals last year, you have raced in EMX2 on some of the GP tracks how do you compare the two scenes?

Track-wise in America you have places like Unadilla that are just constant ruts all the way across, and Glen Helen with the hills. There are a lot of tracks with hills too here in Europe but they don’t groom the tracks at all unless there is a major kicker in the face that is going to kill somebody!

In AMA they groom the tracks so they are brand new every single time you go out and that is what I was used too so coming over here, so that’s hard, I’ve had to learn the rough tracks. I have always been told I am better on the rough tracks so hopefully that will start to help me.

Atmosphere, the fan base how hyped it is, the AMA races are really hyped coming into them as a rookie. You would show up with all the fans and do the autographs. But then you go to Europe or whatever country the race is in that country’s fans are just screaming! It’s so much bigger with all the fans.

I love having the people coming to get autographs and all that but it’s hard because you don’t understand what the little kids are saying, so you sign whatever you have and say ‘Grazie’ or ‘Merci’ so the language barrier is different. But I think the fan base in MXGP is way bigger and it brings a lot when you are on the track even if they are cheering for the French guy behind you! I think that is the big difference and then you have the track prep.

The tracks have a lot of variety, do you feel the whole experience is helping you as a rider even if the results aren’t showing your potential?

The experience is great, it helps you improve as a rider and as a person. It makes you think faster with having more bumps, more ruts more pot-holes and trying to dodge some huge rock! I have learned little tiny things every time on the track, there are a lot of things to experience here coming from the USA side of it.

Interview: Jonathan McCready
Images: Nigel McKinstry