Ben Watson was not even supposed to compete at the fourteenth round of the 2019 FIM Motocross World Championship, yet ended up standing on the overall podium for the first time this season. Watson was extremely strong in his return from a hand injury and reminded fans across the globe what he is truly capable of. That was covered in this exclusive MX Vice interview from the sandy venue, as well as many other hot topics.
MX Vice: When we last spoke in Indonesia, this was kind of a write-off for you. There was no chance you were racing here. It was a bit of a bonus just to be lining up. Fifth in the qualifying race was a nice little bonus too. Podium though? It should be a massive surprise but look at your times. Look at the qualifying race. Look at everything and it was kind of the normal Ben Watson, who is a podium guy in the sand. I don’t know. I guess it was shocking, but either way it was great.
Ben Watson: It’s just been such a weird weekend. Came in after Indonesia, back to Belgium, and flew directly back to the UK and just kind of sat at home on the couch thinking, “Can this season really go much worse?” Everything that I expected has just not happened. Things were just going from bad to worse. I just kind of sat down, took a few days rest and was like, “What do I really want? Where can I be better? What is happening this year?” I just sat down and just worked with myself.
I didn’t really speak to any of the team for a while and just kind of kept my distance. Lived a little bit of a normal life. I was just, at the same time, working mentally with myself. I came back to Belgium last Sunday, so I have been here a week now. We went riding straight away on Tuesday. I got to the track and started riding really good. I was with Jacky [Vimond] and a few of the other Yamaha guys, like Romain [Febvre] and [Gautier] Paulin. They said, “You look better than before.” It was like my first day back on the bike.
I was just taking it easy, but the way I was riding the bike was quite a lot different. I was so focused on being precise and how to ride a bike. Before I was just trying to go fast. Just go fast and then if I was not on the top of the charts and the times and things like that, I was just getting really angry with myself. I was thinking way too much about the result. I’ve come here and just been focused on enjoying my racing, building up slowly and just getting back in the groove of being in the MXGP paddock again. Germany was six weeks ago now.
I came here and didn’t have any expectations of myself. The team didn’t expect anything from me. I just went out there, had a laugh and came away with a podium. It’s a huge shock for me. I came in. I didn’t know I had the podium and then Romain and Jacky were just stood there… I had the podium. I just dropped the bike. I genuinely cannot believe it. I’m so happy. Not just for myself, but all the team and everybody who helps me. It’s all for those guys as well. It’s unbelievable.
You say you did not know if you had the podium. Was the fist pump over the finish just for third in the moto then? You were already stoked with that, let alone being on the box?
Yeah, exactly. I came over the finish, because the last GP that I did alright at was Latvia. I went 4-4 there and I was happy. This year has honestly been a struggle. I was happy with that. I was quite a way from Jago [Geerts], [Thomas] Olsen and [Jorge] Prado in those motos though. I kind of rode round on my own in both heats. I was quite a way from really fighting with them guys there. I came here and now Jago was really strong today and, unfortunately, got the bike [issue] in the second race.
I expected him to be way further in front of me. I had a good fight with [Calvin] Vlaanderen in the second one and I was just there mixing it with the guys already. I came over the line and I was 5-3. That was actually one thing. I wasn’t focusing on the podium or a result, really. It was just go riding. I was so stoked on that third place. I was just so happy to be back mixing it with people and riding how I know I can ride a bike.
Portugal and Mantova were tough, and you were over it, but maybe before that break it was still in the back of your mind a little bit? I guess that break was just like a proper refresh. Like you said, you pretty much hit rock bottom with an injury. The only way to go was up. I guess at that point you would have taken anything, which then changed your mentality completely, and here we are. A refreshed Ben Watson equals podiums and who knows what else for the rest of the season.
Exactly. I went home and just kind of sat down. I didn’t really know what to do with myself. Was a bit lost. I was just doing a lot of physical training still. I was doing my cycling with my brother a lot and just finding things to do. The main thing was just sitting down and saying to myself, “Where can I be better? What is going on this season?” The last season I came in and the guys signed me for a bit of a top-eight guy and maybe top five. I came away with fourth in the series. That was going through my head coming into this season.
I’ve set a goal to be better than I was last season. The team definitely expect a lot more now, because they saw what I showed at stages last season. I just came here and said, “I’m just going to ride my bike. I’m just going to go and have fun. The championship is over. If I come here and I finish tenth, I’m sure the guys will be quite pleased just to have me back and back in the race. I’ll be happy.” Now I’m walking away with a podium. It’s weird.
Another positive from your weekend is I focused on you out of the gate each time and both times the initial jump, I was like, “F**king hell!” I thought a holeshot was going to happen. Maybe if you had been right alongside Prado and closer to the inside that would have happened? Was the middle a safe option knowing that your starts have been a bit hit or miss?
Yeah, because I’ve not been riding on the bike for weeks now. The starts, I haven’t been working on them at all. I just went next to the box every time. Just a safe option. I knew that the guys to the left of the box were going to be fifteenth and backwards riders. Most of the time they are not really in the mix on the start, so I just was hoping that even if I had a mediocre start that it would kind of be clear around me.
In the first heat I had a nice jump, then I was really hanging off the back. I stayed too straight. I should have cut across along the start straight, like Prado does, and just kind of closed the gap on the guys. I got to the corner and I was riding along the bank, so quite a lot of guys just snuck up the inside. I kind of learned from that for the second moto, then the jump was not so good. The initial jump off the mesh was nice, then the first meter or two meters out of the gate on the sand were not perfect.
The bike really hooked up down the straight. I was wheelieing almost the whole way. I tried to cut across a little bit more and there were just a couple of guys I think, so I came out around seventh or something. That’s good enough. One massive positive for me this weekend was the first laps in the races. I went from seventh I think to fourth in the second heat, something like that on the first lap. That has been a big issue for me previously, so I’m really happy about that.
Was there any pain from the hand or any race conditioning missing at all? I was watching your times closely thinking maybe it was going to happen. When [Maxime] Renaux got you in the first one I was like, “Okay, maybe this is a bit of a decline?” Then you picked it back up, got him and actually I think your times were strongest in the second half.
I tried to push from the first lap and get myself to the front, then settle into a rhythm for the rest of the moto. It’s absolutely brutal out there. There is no way you can sit doing real fast lap times every single lap pushing. Well, not me anyway. I had a good position. I was settled. I tried at one stage, I think after two or three laps, I was in a nice position and then I said, “Right. Settle down, get in a nice rhythm and just pace yourself a little bit.” At that point, as soon as I did that, I just lost my rhythm completely. I went too slow and then I was going into the holes.
I had a few real bad laps, then Renaux passed me and I got a little bit beat up mentally thinking, “This is going to be a long moto.” I just picked myself up and started getting in my groove again. Came back to Renaux and passed him. I put the hammer down for a couple of laps as soon as I passed him and broke him. I was able to just settle in and ride my own race for the rest of it. Towards the end, I started building and it was getting better and better. I was happy about that. The second race was the same really. I pushed on in the first laps hard, then I came through real strong.
At one point I had a real good fight going with Vlaanderen. I passed him and then he directly passed me straight back quite hard. I think he did what I did to Renaux. Put the hammer down for two laps and broke me a little bit. That was difficult for me, because I had a bad corner with one backmarker. I almost crashed. I was like, “Just get through this moto.” At that point I settled down and he was a little bit faster than me, so he broke me at that point. I managed to get a nice rhythm going.
Then on the last few laps, Vlaanderen was much further away from me in second and fourth was far away behind. It was like, “Right.” The last few laps I just really took it easy and I was not really going to get another position. Then the guys behind were quite a way behind. Those last few laps I was doing a bit of math in my head thinking, “Am I on the podium?” They didn’t say anything on the pit board at all so I was like, “No, I don’t think so.” I came in and then Romain and Jacky were there. It was emotional.
Two things you just made me think of. In the second one, [Darian] Sanayei and [Michael] Sandner screwed you when you lapped them. I don’t know if that was what you were talking about, but they screwed you. Second of all, halfway through the race I started doing some math. I whipped the calculator out and there was a four-way tie for third overall, even with Jago still in it. I started looking at your pit board thinking, “They are going to tell him, because he can get Vlaanderen and maybe this will do it.” I was watching and watching. Would that have actually helped to know that?
Yeah but, like I said, in the break I learned not to think about results. This has been a problem over this season. I was just like, “Ride my own race. If I pass Vlaanderen, I pass him. If I don’t pass him, I don’t care.” This is just a comeback race. I don’t care. I could see him there. I was fighting with him and pushing. I passed him at one point, but he passed me back. When he started gapping me, I didn’t know if they were going to say, “You need Vlaanderen for podium” or something like this.
I actually think it’s been a lesson to all the team as well. Don’t put any pressure on him. We don’t care if he’s on the podium or not. They didn’t put anything on the board about a podium once, so I was just focused on my race and my riding. I think Jacky may have even spoke down to them and said, “Don’t put anything about a podium. We don’t care. If he gets it, he gets it. Happy days. He’s earned it from just his riding then.” So, no. There was no information about what was happening. That’s why it was like a shock when I came in and they were stood there waiting for me.
Happy days then. Everything is good. Onto Imola. Everything should even be a bit better there. Hopefully you can do this again, but I guess with your new mentality then a fourth would be good. Either way this is all positive for the rest of the year and those dark days are kind of behind you!
Yeah, definitely. My hand is feeling really good. I was actually just really struggling with blisters this weekend, because with only a couple of days on the bike it’s like your hands get soft straight away. That’s been a big struggle for me this weekend, the hands were burning through the moto. Where I broke it is perfect now. I don’t feel anything actually, so that’s a real big positive. Going into Imola I’m just going to go and enjoy it again. Have fun. No pressure now. Championship is over. I don’t care.
Focused on just building myself as a rider. Just getting better and working for next season. We’ll start fresh. That’s all part of building, getting up there and developing as a person. You just learn through the bad times. Maybe if I didn’t have a terrible year this year, or the hard weekends that I have had, then maybe I would not be a better person for next year, let’s say. I don’t know. We need to just see. Stay positive and just enjoy it, mainly.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: ConwayMX