Posted on Wednesday, July 6, 2022 at 10:59 PM.
As one of the most decorated riders in the history of the sport, Antonio Cairoli was greeted with open arms by American fans when he decided – with his 37th birthday approaching – to retire to participate in the first four events of the US Motocross Championship. After collapsing with the top riders in the US Championship unabashedly, Antonio Cairoli returned home to continue his role as an ambassador and tester with Factory KTM, putting his experience to the service of teams to put it to good use. MXGP. Tony relives his American experience.
Antonio, you’ve been to the US with only a month of preparation. It’s not huge, do you feel a lack of preparation?
Sure, and I knew it was going to be tough to be competitive, but I was also a bit surprised because the top five would have been, had it not been for a few bugs along the way. I was still there: 7, 8, 5, 6, 4, 4. At the end of the stay I was very happy with the speed at which I went.
I’ve spent nearly twenty years on the GP tracks, it must be an exciting adventure…
It was really cool and since everything was new, I had to learn the tracks, the surface, get to know my opponents and set the pace during qualifying, it was fun, that’s for sure.
Also drive a 2023 SX-F 450…
It was a great experience riding the new bike. The engine is just as powerful as my factory bike from last year, but we didn’t have much time to work on the new suspension and frame modifications. We trained during the races and during the few days I was shooting in between events. After two races I started to feel a lot better and was happy with how the bike felt.
The plan was to do the first two rounds and eventually you were signed up for four races.
It was great to be able to do those four races. Doing the first two was the plan from the start, but we stayed for two more events where I saw that I was getting a little better over time. We were already in the US and it didn’t cost much more to stay for two weeks to do two more events. We knew we would have to make a tough decision after these four races, but I based on my feelings. I was getting better every time, but performing the whole season was very difficult for me after so many years of focusing on the world championship. Looking back, I should have been a part of the program from the start. It could have happened at that moment, but with the preparations I went through, it would have been too much effort to do the entire tournament.
Finally, it was like stepping out in the middle of a beautiful party.
Yes, it was a bit so. It was a good experience and we did well until the fourth heat, where I had some problems in the first heat, I crashed and hurt my knee a little bit. I knew it was my last race and had I fought for the championship I would have done my best, but I wasn’t in the top 10 and didn’t want to take the risk. I was just there to enjoy the races and not crash and get hurt.
What aspects of the AMA Championship did you find easier than the MXGP World Championships?
I loved setting up the slopes. The team of guys who really cared about the trails listened to the riders and spoke to their best after every session. If we had any recommendations for some parts of the track, they corrected them right away. I also loved the Day One format. It was more intense and everyone was going faster from the start.
And what was more difficult?
The starting grid was different, but so was the pace shown during the temperatures. The first laps are pretty fast because I think guys are used to riding like this in Supercross. The first two laps are very fast and the players are aggressive, it’s different from MXGP where everyone is put into the first laps and then the speed picks up. It was a bit difficult to adapt to the fact that most of the racing was done from the start, you had to adapt to that variable very quickly.
How did you receive the American fans?
It was crazy! The fans have supported us a lot and encouraged us a lot. I have seen many Italian flags around the slopes. It was really nice and I wasn’t expecting such a warm welcome. This was another really interesting aspect of this adventure.
Finally, you can race against Ryan Dungey and an ex-team like Ken Rosen, as well as the entire group of American drivers. You usually only meet these passengers in a limited number, once a year at MOTOCROSS DES NATIONS. how did you find it ?
Racing against drivers who didn’t get the chance to compete with them was another special aspect of this journey. Everyone has their own style, and of course at the UN we only compete against a couple of American runners. Here there were more than two! The start of the races was good, but it was also tough because you had to get used to the other riders. It was great to see the former competitors get back on track in the States.
Multiple world champion and one of the most successful motorcycle racers of the modern era, Tony Cairoli, talks about his recent “rookie” outings in the 2022 AMA Pro National series in the US.
When Red Bull KTM Factory Racing MXGP icon Tony Cairoli announced he was stepping away from a full-time FIM World Championship competition last summer, one goal remained in sight: to run a round of the world’s most competitive national motocross series, the AMA Pro Nationals.
With the combined resources of Red Bull KTM Factory Racing in Austria and the North American operation trying the long American calendar for cross-show and motocross, space has been found for record-setting Italians to travel to the US and join the likes of Aaron Plessinger and Ryan Dungey’s return for select appearances with KTM. The new 450 SX-F.
The arrangements were put together just in time for Tony to gain enough riding and training in Europe and his base near Rome to be able to fly across the Atlantic in reasonable condition to race. As one of the most respected racers of the century, the number 222 was greeted with open arms by enthusiastic American fans and showed his class despite approaching his 37th birthday by scoring a set of top ten results and trading them on the sidelines – and even inside – the top five. After the events in California, Colorado and Pennsylvania, Tony returned home to continue his role as ambassador and tester with the factory and to bring his significant experience to the current MXGP effort.
Tony, I went to the US with a month of preparation. It wasn’t much, did you feel it?
Sure, and I knew it was going to be very difficult to compete but then I was a bit surprised that the top five was possible, if it wasn’t for some bug. We were always there: 7, 8, 5, 6, 4, 4. I was very happy in the end with the speed I got.
You’ve always wanted to try the series and some of these American tracks are very well known. I’ve spent nearly twenty years on the Grand Prix circuits, so it must have been an exciting discovery…
Really nice and because everything was so new this meant I had to learn the tracks, the dirt, the opponents, and the speed of the engines. It was definitely fun.
I’ve raced a 2023 KTM 450 SX-F as well…
It was a great experience riding the new bike. The engine had the same great delivery as last year’s factory bike, but we didn’t have much time to work on the suspension settings for the new chassis. We were testing while we were racing and had been riding in between for a few days. After two races I started to feel a lot better and was happy with how the bike felt.
The plan was for one, then two and finally committed to four races. Was that too little or more than I expected?
It was fine to do all four. The plan was always to do the first two but then we stayed for another two years because I saw we were getting a lot better. We were already in the States and it cost us very little to stay another two weeks for two more races. We knew we had to make a decision after those four but I based on how I was feeling. I was getting better every time but doing the whole season was very difficult for me after so many years of focusing so much on the world championship. Looking back now, I should have been on the program from the start. It would have been possible at the time, but with the preparations I made, it would have been a very big effort to do the whole tournament.
Was it like leaving early from a nice party?
yes! It was so. It was a great experience and we did really well until round 4 when I had some problems in the first moto and I crashed and hit my knee a little bit. I knew it was my last race and if I was fighting for the championship I would have made an extra push, but I got out of the top 10 and didn’t want to risk too much. I was just there to enjoy the races and not crash and get injured.
What aspects of the series have been easier than MXGP?
I loved setting up the track. The track crew really listened to the riders and would have a conversation with the top players after each session. If we have recommendations for parts of the track, they will fix it right away. I loved the one-day format, too. It was more intense and everyone was going faster from the start.
What did you find most difficult?
The starting gate was different but also the pace of the engines. The first laps are very fast because I think guys are used to getting that from supercross. The first two laps are very fast and intense and this is different from MXGP where everyone will set the first laps and then the tempo picks up. It was a bit difficult to adjust to the fact that the craziest part of the race was at the beginning. You have to adapt to that quickly.
How did you find your reception by American fans and people who may have wanted to see you racing for a long time?
It was crazy! The fans were really supportive and cheering a lot. I saw many Italian flags around the bars. It was really nice and I didn’t expect such a warm welcome. It was another really fun part of it all.
Finally, you’re racing against Ryan Dungey and former teammates like Ken Roczen as well as a full American group. Usually, your experience with this opposition is in limited numbers once a year in Motocross of Nations. How was that?
Racing against people who didn’t really get the chance was another special part. Everyone has their own style and, of course, in the UN you only compete with two knights. Obviously there was a lot here! Therefore, the beginnings of the races were fun but also difficult because you had to “get used” to the others. It was great to see some of the old competitors get back on track.
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