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Discussion: Ben Watson

Ben Watson opens up about teething issues at KRT, discusses Trentino turnaround.

There is no denying the fact that Ben Watson has had a tricky start to his time with the Kawasaki Racing Team. Through the first four stops, he had broken into the top ten just once with a tenth place in moto two in Patagonia-Argentina and was floundering in thirteenth in the championship standings. The Grand Prix of Trentino, the fifth round of the 2022 FIM Motocross World Championship, was not trending in a great direction either, as crashes in both qualifying and the first moto put him in an even deeper hole.


Interview: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: Ray Archer


Finishing sixth in the second moto, after a great start that put him inside of the top six on lap one, was a big step in the right direction and something that all involved can cling to going forward. Will this catapult him into the top ten on a regular basis? It is likely that could still take some more time, based on the insight that he shared in the exclusive MX Vice interview below, but at least issues have been identified and addressed. Watson is not one to hide away and wore his heart on his sleeve throughout the ten-minute chat below.

MX Vice: The second moto was much better, so hopefully this is a catalyst to turn this thing around. You have a bit of momentum and have reminded yourself that you can do it. I feel you needed just one ride or result to turn this ship around.

Ben Watson: Yeah, definitely. It has been a horrible year so far. You know, I was struggling when I started in the beginning. Yeah, I do not know. I did not really know whether it was myself or the bike. It has just been continuing all through the year. I have been very up and down, honestly, and struggled with multiple things. I just keep it to myself. It is like that and that is motocross. I made the decision. Honestly, even after yesterday, I came here in 2020 and won the overall. I finished second overall here too and even had some solid results on the 450F last year. I came here  not even really feeling it. I just know that something is not right with me at the moment. I had quite a good feeling in the beginning yesterday, but the times were like… I was fifteenth like two seconds from first. It is just stupid how close the times are. I had quite a good feeling, but I was just down. I left after the qualifying race and was just like, “I do not even know what is going on myself.”

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Ray Archer

I have had some problems. I had some blood tests a few weeks ago and I have a chronic pneumonia in my lungs, but it is from when I had COVID-19 before. I have been on some antibiotics over the last week now and hopefully I can clear all of that out to get back to myself. I have been feeling really shit on the bike and off of it. Everything has been horrible. It has been a horrible year so far. I know that they changed the track around, but I know that I can ride fast here. I had a good start in the first race today, but then I braked way too late and just missed the corner. My start was not that great in the end and then I had a huge crash on the second lap – I went over the bars on a jump and hit my head quite hard. I was just sat on the floor. I had rung my head and was thinking, “What’s going on?” I was debating pulling off. I did the first lap to just get back into it. I am not one for pulling off, so I just carried on and actually had quite a good feeling in the end.

I was around top-ten pace, but I was obviously miles back after the crash. I decided to go with the scoop in the second one; I saw a few people had it in the first race and the start was real deep. I thought that I could gain a lot on the start and might lose a bit on the track, but I said to the guys that I wanted to stay with the scoop after the sighting lap. I just went for it for the start and came out of the gate real good. If my qualifying was better then I would have holeshot easily! I pushed on late again – I did not want to brake first – and went a little bit wide. I was like fifth, I think, and rode an easy race without making any mistakes or pushing over my limit. Physically, it was pretty easy here. It is not the most physical track anyway. Yeah, I just kind of followed. A few guys came from behind and it did not feel like anything special. I just felt like myself riding around.

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Ray Archer

Did your illness, which I guess is like a lung infection, surprise you? Had you been feeling a bit gassed at the end of motos and on training days? Did you already know that there might be something going on like that?

No, I had COVID-19 really bad when I was at home in December. I was in bed and could not even do anything. I had a cough like you would never imagine. It was horrendous. I said to my grandparents, “I honestly think that if you got this you would probably die.” It was horrible. I had this cough for like three weeks – COVID-19 hit me for like a week and a half but then the cough just carried on. Yeah, in the end it got so bad that it was over a month before I was feeling normal. Physically I did not have any issues though. I got back on the bike at the end of December and honestly felt fine. Still now, it has not been a case of getting gassed at the end of motos.

I have just had no go about me. I have just had no fight or intensity. I said to the team that I did not know if I was overtraining, because I felt like we had done some good training and a lot of riding through January. I said that I honestly did not think that I had done too much; I just had no motivation though! Honestly, I am quite over going riding at the moment. The last few weeks have been like that. I wake up in the morning at the races and just think, “This is heavy.” With this whole situation with [Romain] Febvre, it is real heavy on me. There are like fifteen guys here just for me.

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Ray Archer

Yeah, someone said to me yesterday that there were like ten guys in Argentina just for you. 

Yeah, exactly! I’m the leading Kawasaki rider and it’s hard. It is heavy. People from the outside do not understand the pressure that you are under. They slag you off on every social media that they can, just because they are sat behind a keyboard. They do not understand what it is going on. After everything with the team, we sat down and had a meeting. It was even with Kimi [Raikkonen]! I said that I needed to do something. We took tests and I had a couple of easier weeks. I got the results back that said it is like a chronic pneumonia, so it has been in my lungs since I had COVID-19. This is my only explanation. It’s not like I was getting tired through the races though; I was just lethargic. There was no intensity or fight. There was no want to go. We will see how I go over the next few weeks. I do not exactly feel better at the moment, to be honest, but hopefully I can have a few weeks… I am still going to have this week off from training and riding. I am on antibiotics, so I need to give it the best chance of getting rid of everything.

You know the problem with the lung infection and moto two was a positive step. Maybe it will not turn around immediately and maybe Latvia is not instantly going to be better, but this must give you confidence that your health could be at one hundred percent in a month? You can look back on the second moto today too, which came natural to you, and use it to give you a bit of faith moving forward. 

You can see the damage to your organs and stuff through the blood tests. I am on everything now to get sorted. They said it is going to take a minimum of two months to be one hundred percent. It is like what Jeremy [Seewer] was going through last year. You do not understand how something so small can impact you so much! You want to go out and race every weekend, because that is what you are paid to do and live for, but it gets heavy at the same time. It is mentally draining. It has been difficult. Now, I hope… The second race did not happen because I am on antibiotics or something. I just got a start and it gave me that extra drive. So much of it has come down to my mentality. Honestly, I have been so down and just over it. It is difficult if you do not get a good start or if three guys pass you in one corner. It gets heavy and has knocked me down a lot.

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Ray Archer

I was surprised that you got such a good start in the second moto. I thought that you would not allow yourself to get a good start, mentally, because you were so deep in that hole. When I saw you almost get the holeshot from the outside, it even surprised me. 

Yeah, definitely. I think that the tyre helped with that. Even the start in the first one was good, but I just lent back too early and got a wheelie. I had to grab the clutch and lost all of my momentum then. If you watch the video of the second one then I hold my body forward for a long time before coming back. Although it was deep, there was still a lot of traction and especially with the scoop tyre. It was like sand behind the gate. No, it is true. Mentally, the races before this, if I had a good start then the feeling in myself was not there. I had no fight. One guy would pass me, then two, then three and I would just drop back. I had nothing in me. I had no go about me. Yesterday, in the hotel, I was just on my own in the room and just thinking like, “This is so heavy.” I did not even want to go on social media, because of everyone’s opinions of you. No one knows what is going on with you. I am not going to sit there and post on all of my stuff with all of these excuses; I would rather just leave it be and not even look at it.

Speaking of social media, I saw a comment today that I think we do need to address. It just said, “Maybe it is time we all start asking questions about the trainer, [Kevin] Strijbos?” I think that is great. Seriously, is he doing okay? How has he been? How is it going?

If it was not for Kevin being with me this year, I think I would have just said to the guys that I could not carry on like this and need time off. I was so close to just saying to the team, “I am not going to ride anymore. I am just going to go to the races and do my thing.” I said that I did not want to go training in the week or do my physical training. I was mentally drained. It has hit me hard. I do not open up to anyone, to be honest. Kevin is someone who I have been really close with since we started. I knew him a little bit before, when we were racing together, but he is like a friend to me now and someone who I have just opened up to about everything.

“Honestly, I am quite over going riding at the moment. The last few weeks have been like that.”

With twenty years of experience, he knows the situation and has been one hundred percent behind me. Kevin is not there to tell me to brake later and go outside in a turn; he is just a support and someone who is behind me. Yeah, he helps and goes out onto the track to see things. It is me who is riding the bike and it is my decision with everything – he is just there to support and make me feel better. A trainer is not there to say, “You need to do this and this.” That is not how it works at this level. It’s to be a support, help, get your boots cleaned, organise you and take some weight off of your shoulders. He does everything that makes me feel good and knows what that is. I am really enjoying working with him and he has been a real big help.

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MX Vice Editor || 25