Whilst Adam Sterry and Conrad Mewse were rising to prominence on the world's greatest stage earlier this year, Ben Watson was nursing an injured foot on the sidelines and watching any momentum that he had slip away. Watson started the season with an impressive haul of points, despite some questionable machinery, but did not have a shot at building on that after sustaining an injury at the Argentine fixture. Now riding the wave of an ‘orange' boost, Watson has his sights set on making a splash again.
MX Vice: It has been a while since we last saw you on a bike, so explain everything you went through with the injury. At first it sounded like there was a chance of you being back sooner than this…
Ben Watson: Yeah, it has been a crazy journey. When I crashed in Argentina I was, of course, taken straight to hospital. It was really difficult as there was not one person who could speak English; I was the only patient in there! After my x-ray we had to get Google Translate out, so they could type what they wanted to tell me into the computer. The only thing that made sense to me was “three metatarsals broken" and “cast on for four weeks." I was fairly happy with that, to be honest, and not too down about it, because I was in a lot of pain and thought it was worse than that.
I flew straight home on Monday morning; I did an internal flight in Argentina, went from there to Washington and then from Washington to London. When I arrived home I went to Harris and Ross to get a CT scan and that was it. The surgeon told me he was ninety-five percent sure that I would not race again this year. He told me the ins and outs of what I had actually done and, as well as the three broken metatarsals, I had partially dislocated and totally shattered the navicular. That week I had surgery with two plates and around twelve screws.
A couple of months later I had one plate and the screws removed, but now I am finally back on a bike and getting into it properly after a lot of hard work from myself and everyone at Harris and Ross.
Is everything back to normal now or do you still have a way to go with the foot?
I am still doing two days a week at Harris and Ross, but I am back riding. I have no problems with day-to-day things nor is riding an issue. We are just working extra hard now to put the final pieces together and make sure left matches right with strength etc.
This year has obviously slowed your progression down a bit. I am sure you thought you’d be talking to factory teams at this point, right? How do you feel about going into another season with Hitachi Construction Machinery KTM?
It has a little bit, but I am also thinking that it hasn’t. After seven months of not riding, I didn’t feel like I had missed one day when I first got back on a bike. You do not forget how to ride a bike, no matter how much time you miss. It is just your bike fitness and strength. I’ve kept on top of that over the last four months though, so I am feeling stronger and fitter than ever. I think that break has done me good. The longest that I had ever been off a bike, before this, was three weeks.
I have really had time to think about how much I want it and getting back on a bike. I have been so focused on the little things that you forget about just going riding all the time. I’m not disappointed at all; I want to thank the whole Hitachi team for sticking behind at the lowest point of my career. I feel lucky to have a full Grand Prix ride for 2017 with almost everything that I want and need. Jake and I are well ahead of where we were preparing for this year. We work well together, will be pushing each other to the max and hoping for a great 2017 season.
Watching [Adam] Sterry get on a factory bike now, you must think ‘that could be me’ a little bit? Do you feel pressure to get to that level by this point next year?
Okay, yes, I feel that could have been me. Again I’m thinking about what I’m doing and just focusing on what I have got, not what I could have had. I’m very happy for Adam; he has been a good friend and I hope he has a great season. My aim is to be on a factory team this time next year, yes, but I won’t put any pressure on myself. If I am having fun riding and racing, then I’ll be happy.
Going back to KTM with the team is almost like going home for you, so I’m guessing you are happy about that? You never really got going on the Husqvarna…
Yeah, I am really looking forward to new colours again. We have some great people aboard next year, including Contract Furniture Group who supported me so that I could go to the flyaway races this year. The bike is the same, okay, but it still feels like a change. I didn’t have the opportunity to get going properly [on the Husqvarna], but I had an eighth at Valkenswaard. That was my only race without standard engines and suspension, so I would have liked to know what results I could have had. I crashed and hurt myself though, so that was that.
On both bikes you have had quite a few mechanicals, so does that worry you going into another year with the team? Does it hurt your confidence at all?
I have had a crazy amount, yes, but that is out of my hands. I do not go into too much detail with that side of it, as I know that the team will always do what they can and do the best to get the bike as good as it can be. I just have to forget about it if I have a bike problem and concentrate on racing; everyone has problems and it is a part of the sport.
You'll spend another year in the British series and should enter as the heavy favourite. It sounds like there will be less GP-level guys next year though, so do you think it’ll be useful for you to do it?
That is my goal, yeah. I want to be the British champ without a doubt. I have won lots of races, but now it is time to push and make it a championship. There will be less [elite riders], yes, but that is mainly because factory teams are based in Belgium a lot of the time and it is too much to keep going back and forth. I still think it will be very useful though, especially after seven months out. I want to get plenty of races in and I think the British Championship will be great. The tracks are always good and there is some good competition out there.
Most will forget, but it was almost two years ago now that you dominated the first British round at Hilton. I guess you expect to do that a lot in 2017?
Yeah, that is the aim. I hope to get as many wins as I can. I have got goals set and I hope I will be achieving them at each round.
Interview: Lewis Phillips | Image: ConwayMX