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Ben Watson arguably had the best race of his career on Sunday – he came within a second of taking his maiden moto victory in the MX2 division. The race also included his second holeshot of the season, so there were plenty of positives to take from the Grand Prix of Lombardia. All of those are dissected in this lengthy MX Vice interview from Sunday evening. Everything is talked about! This chat was first posted as an MX Vice post-race podcast, presented by FLY Racing.
MX Vice: Great day. Close to your first moto win, as well as the overall. I feel like today kind of ticked all the boxes. You missed out on the win, but starts were good. Speed is clearly there. Intensity was there at the beginning. I don’t really feel like there is anything left to doubt in a way. In that respect, a perfect day.
Ben Watson: Yeah. It was difficult. This morning in qualifying, I felt real good in the free practice. I was having fun playing on the jumps and stuff. I did quite a good time, but then it got to the qualifying timed session and I just tightened up. I was like, “I’ve got to do a fast lap now.” I knew the starting position was crucial here. I went too much on it. [I was] too focused on trying to really get a good lap and then I got arm pump. I honestly cannot remember the last time I had arm pump. The track was rough and had some water from the rain overnight. It was a little bit slippery and tricky.
When you just go out there on a rough track, to find the flow is quite difficult. I was thirteenth in the end, I think. Not good at all. Then in the first race a few guys went quite wide on the start and it left a couple of spaces open on the inside. I just took one of the open gates and I was about five or six from the inside. Theoretically, it was good. My qualifying did not really matter as much in the end anyway. I took a really good jump. I was in the front and I kind of closed off to the left. Down the straight was deep and I lost quite a bit of speed, but my jump was so good I was ahead of everybody. I turned in second or third, I think.
That was a good start. I just really in myself did not feel good at all. I had no energy. I just didn’t want to be on the bike. Going up to the jumps I was just sitting down on the take-offs. There was no intensity in my riding. I was riding around thinking, “If this was in training I’d be pissed off after.” I came back and was down in sixth. I felt like I was quite lucky to get sixth. In the second race again the same thing happened on the start, where there were a couple of spaces free on the inside. I just took one of them and managed to take another holeshot, so that was really good.
Two in a year is crazy [laughs].
Yeah. Two in a year, for me. I led for a good three laps. I felt good. There was no pressure, nothing. I was just playing, having fun on the jumps and just riding my own race. I was actually loving it. That’s the first time I have led for a while like that. Jed [Beaton] was riding really good – he put a lot of pressure on me and passed me at one point. I changed in two or three corners and dropped onto his lines. I think that was just the difference, because after that I just rode my own race. There was not really any opportunity for me to retake the lead, but I was just kind of there and on his back wheel for the whole race.
It’s a little bit annoying, because it’s difficult to pass out there and he got around me on the start. I think if I found some lines and was a little bit more open on the track, maybe I could have found that half second I needed in the beginning of the race not to lose the first spot. I cannot complain. Second and another podium. That’s been a long time coming. I’ve had to wait about a year in-between every time. To be back on the box is a really good feeling.
I think the most impressive thing about you and Jed is that you were both going for your first moto win ever, so there was a lot of emotion and pressure. Neither of you faltered or flinched once. Every single lap, your lap times were identical. I was thinking it was going to be about who was going to crumble first. There was just none of that at all.
Yeah. It was really strange, because the track is so unpredictable. You can be feeling good and then, boom, it bites and you lose traction or whatever. We saw that there was a lot of mistakes again today. Jed put in a solid moto – he put pressure on me in the beginning and got past me. I did not make a mistake or anything. He just made the pass happen. I didn’t make any mistakes when he was behind me or in front. It was strange that we both… I think we can both be happy after the race, but he got the win. He’s the better man, but I was still really happy.
It is just happiness, isn’t it? There was not one part of you coming off the track that was like, “Fuck sake, I should have won that.” Pure happiness with this.
Yeah, definitely. Now it’s my third podium, so of course every time you get one it is unbelievable. Of course I’ll assess what went on through the day, speak with the team and do all of that stuff still. There are always points to improve on and work on. When you make it happen and finish second in the race, you are doing something right. It was… I don’t feel like a long time coming, but during the training I’ve been feeling really good on the bike. It’s just not being replicated in the race day. I was getting a little bit frustrated. After the first race I did not feel like I rode myself. Then after the second one it was like, “Finally!” Just managed to get a good start, ride my own race and mainly have fun on the bike.
We have talked about intensity a lot in interviews over the last three years, so I feel like we just need to give a little nod to the fact that after the first lap you had a two-second lead. Even watching, before I saw the gap, I was like, “Oh, the intensity is actually here right away this time.”
Yeah. That’s what I meant when I got the holeshot and then I was just having so much fun. I was scrubbing and just feeling like I was in the flow. I was just in my own race. When I got the holeshot in Latvia, I was tired and after a few corners I was back to second. This time I just had so much fun out front. With a track like this, it’s not usual that we have a lot of jumps in the GPs. Here you have quite a few scrubby jumps, and places where you can hop into the turn and just play with the bike a little bit more. That’s kind of my style. I just tried to enjoy the moment and that is sometimes the problem with me. I get a bit stressy, I get tired and I’m sitting up in the corners. It’s nice to have that intensity in the beginning, but not really feel like I did something crazy. I was just having fun, just riding my own race and it came naturally.
Do you have any idea what happened to the watering people before the first moto? I don’t know if their tap broke and they could not turn it off. I don’t know if maybe it did actually rain and I was blind to it. I watched you come out on the sighting lap and I was like, “I didn’t realise the sand was that heavy. The bike sounds like it’s actually properly pulling through something.” Then you hit this big load of slosh.
I pulled onto the track for the sighting lap in the first one. Went down the straight and they had ripped it up deep, because the landing of the finish goes onto the start they obviously have to work on it every time. I went down and thought, “It’s deep.” I went down the straight into the first corner and I shut off, and I almost went over the bars. I went into the handlebars, because it was just deep slop. I was wondering what the hell was going on. I went down the pit lane straight and then every bump was just puddles. I was just thinking, “Man, it’s not even hot. The sun’s not out. Just chill. There’s moisture in the dirt and it’s sand. You don’t need to water it.”
It was like we were in Indonesia and they were expecting 45 degrees and ridiculous sun.
Yeah, exactly. It was so, so wet in the beginning of the track. Then at some points on the back of the track they’d not even touched it. It was just dusty. I don’t know if there was a problem or by the time they got to last section they had run out of water, maybe. It was way, way too wet after the start section and pit lane there.
Going straight into Wednesday, all good and all happy. Nothing really you need to change. You’ll look at stuff but there’s nothing where you are like, “Right, I need to fix that?”
Yeah, no. If it ended like it did after the first race I’d be a little bit, not like wanting to change the bike or the set-up what I have. It would be more in myself, just trying to work out why I’m not replicating what I am doing in training. Just find if it’s a bit of stress or pressure. The team do not put anything like that on me, but sometimes I just don’t feel really myself on the race day. I’m not going to change anything with the bike. Just try to watch the races back and see if I can see anything that I can improve on. More stuff like that. I’m definitely not going to change anything crazy, like a sprocket or the suspension even. We do small tweaks sometimes between the sessions, but never anything crazy. I’ll stay positive, enjoy the moment of course, go into Wednesday and try to do it again.
Your starts were much improved in Latvia. I think you changed the sprocket and stuff. Same set-up here? The ground is similar and so is the start length. Is that why your starts were good today or have you actually progressed since then?
We made that change, quite a big one, in Latvia. The thing with the clutch and the sprocket, and we have stuck with that throughout. The problem was in Latvia we were not sure with the clutch change if it could handle heavy conditions. We stuck with it and went through the training with it, of course, and everything was good. We have been on that set-up since. I took a holeshot and had a couple of good starts. In Faenza I also took a lot of risk going on the inside, but I feel my starts were good and I was top three a couple times in Faenza.
Now here, I was third and had a holeshot. We have definitely improved on that. I knew I could get a good start, but it was just making sure every single thing was perfect and then it would work. Whereas now it’s a little bit more forgiving. If it’s not amazing, I can still get a good start and I’ve been showing that. That gives me a big confidence boost. Of course, you see how close the racing is at the moment. It’s a big, big part of the race.
Interview: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: Ray Archer