Ben Watson finally won a moto in the FIM Motocross World Championship on Sunday and in a dominant fashion too! Watson became the fifty-eighth different MX2 moto winner in history and also only the seventh British rider to pull off such a feat. MX Vice editor Lewis Phillips caught up with Watson following the day, where he ended up in third overall, to discuss everything that led to such a momentous occasion. This is a long one, but well worth the time. It does not get much more detailed than this!
MX Vice: I do not even know where to start! Let’s go with moto one first. You won, finally. It’s funny. The first win would normally be a shock, but this could have happened in 2018. It could have happened last year. I guess that in a way it is almost a relief to get it off of your back, and what a way to win too. You dominated. You were behind [Tom] Vialle, played it smart and then dealt with pressure from the front. That was a big one.
Ben Watson: Yeah, absolutely massive for me. When I crossed the line I was going crazy. The feeling… I cannot explain it. You cannot imagine without it happening to you. I came from 2018, getting my first podium quite early on in the season and then not getting on it again until a year later. I was riding well at times, but just having a few problems along the way. Coming into here I did not ride this week. I tried to take the stress away, because I know that I can ride good here. I’ve grown up in the sand, so it’s just natural to me.
It was not something where I thought, “I need to go train hard in the sand.” I just thought, “Let’s go and ride.” It’s been unbelievable. I did not have a real bad start, but the jump was just… I completely missed it in the first race. I just cut behind the guys and came out in second. I think I actually was not that far off the holeshot. I was decent in the beginning of the race for once. I just put solid laps together. After a couple of laps, everyone just settled into their pace.
I sat behind Tom for a while and worked out a few lines where I could gain time. It was just about midway through the race where he made a few mistakes. One time it was quite big and I just went for it. I made a mistake myself, but made it happen. I got into the lead and then I thought, “Was it a bit early or should I have waited?” He then dropped on the lines that were a little bit better and just sat on my tail for the rest of the race. It was like the longest fifteen minutes of my life.
For me too, really [laughs]!
Yeah, for everybody. My brother was talking about it too. After leading the race for fifteen minutes and then finally I was thinking, “Come on. Just keep clicking away and make your laps happen.” I was confident in my riding so I was not worried about him being faster and making a pass on me, but it was a matter of if I made a mistake. I had to really just keep my cool and go for it.
At any point were you proper stressing out or were you quite calm the whole way through?
No. I thought I would be a lot worse. When you are going for your first race win, have been leading for fifteen minutes and actually gone from second to first… I knew I was fast and that was the thing that helped me a little bit. Sometimes I get the holeshot and the guys are just on my wheel, then they normally make a pass within a couple of laps. Normally the first lap is where I’m a little bit weak, let’s say, but then this time it was the opposite. I was second and then I put the pressure on and made it happen going into the lead.
There was times where I was… The last lap especially, actually, because the pit board came out and it said that I had plus fifteen seconds. I was like, “Oh, he’s crashed.” Halfway around that lap again I saw one guy giving me the signals that I’ve got a massive lead. I was like, “Alright, he definitely crashed.” I took it easy through the whoops on the last lap, and I really enjoyed those last few corners and the last straight. I knew I had done it before I crossed the line. When I took the flag, it was just emotional. Really nice.
What about between the motos? Was that any different to usual? I’m guessing you could not relax like normal, because you were absolutely buzzing.
Yeah, I was buzzing. When I came off the track so, so many guys from different teams and people who you are not close to or anything are just so pumped for you. It took me like a half an hour before I got my kit off. I tried to enjoy the moment. When I could, I went to the camper and just chilled out on my own and got some food. I put my feet up a little bit and relaxed. I watched the MXGP race on the TV in there. It was good. I enjoyed the moment, then just a little bit after I got away in the camper and just focused for the next race. The feeling wasn’t different because, yeah, I had won a race, but I was focused on the overall as well.
You mentioned your start in the first race. The second one was similar, I thought. I thought your jump was really bad and then you just appeared in third out of nowhere.
Yeah. The problem is that this is a heavy, heavy sand track and it’s got a little bit of moisture in there. It’s tough for the clutch. We have had to change something this weekend to make sure that I do not have any problems. I have had to sacrifice a little bit on the start, so I am just not used to how it’s reacting at the moment. The most important thing for me is a good qualifying position. If I’m on the inside of the gate, I’m safe. I knew going into the second race, after what happened in the first one, that I could just totally mess it up and I’d come out in the top five. I wasn’t too stressed about that. I think I know what we can do if qualifying is not perfect on Wednesday, because the clutch was perfect after both races. That’s not really an issue, but we are just doing it for safety. We will see.
What about the crash? It looked like a weird one and actually a bit of a heavy one.
Yeah. I cannot really recall what happened. I think I took a tear-off on the exit, because I was right behind [Maxime] Renaux. I was sat down obviously at that moment. I just got like a kick and lost my left hand, so then all my weight went forward and I ended up just going over the bars. It was quite a big crash. I hit my head and the bike came down. I was shook up for a couple of corners. Luckily, the bike stayed running and I just got up. It took me one or two laps to get back into it. I was not riding really on my rhythm like I knew I could after that. Towards the end of the race I started feeling a little better again and got in that groove. I just could not make enough. I got back onto the back of [Thomas] Olsen and [Roan] Van De Moosdijk, but just not enough.
Yeah, I thought those last couple of laps of the second race were really impressive. You closed in on third and fourth quite quickly, I thought. I’m guessing you knew you needed both of them for the overall? You just looked like you were flowing again.
Yeah. With the bike and everything, I just felt really good all day from the first proper laps in free practice this morning. I just had a real good feeling. I was playing with the bumps. Normally I’d go out and be like, “This is going to take a bit of getting into.” I did not attack it straight away, but I just had a good feeling when I went on the track. That set me up for the day really, because qualifying especially was pretty good for me.
Physically I felt really, really good at the end of both heats. First one I felt perfect at the end and even in the second one I felt really, really strong still at the end. That’s a big bonus. The hard work has to be done many months ago for that. It’s not something you can just decide you want to change and go for it. It takes a lot of time. I’m happy about that. We’ll be fully focussed for Wednesday now.
Your speed in the waves was unreal. You were easily the best MX2 rider through there both motos, no matter what. Was there anywhere else on the track where you felt like you were better than the guys around you?
Yeah. The waves was my favourite section.
Honestly, it was good to watch. Every lap I was like, “I better watch out for that, because that’s actually insane.”
Yeah, it was definitely my favourite section. Still to get it good every lap was actually impossible, because there were no lines through there. It was just a mess. Some of the lines were going left and you see guys high-siding through there. It was just like a bonsai. If it had some lines I think it would have got a bit harder underneath and you would have been able to get the double-double out at the end. I just tried to use my legs in the beginning of them, like really flow through and gain the speed. On those last two I just tried to double out. That was a big key.
Sometimes I saw Olsen and he was a good gap ahead, then I think one lap I got it [the waves] really good and I was just on his tail right away. I thought, “Next lap I need to go for it again.” Then you come around next lap and it’s a mess. If you go through one deep line, you lose all your momentum and then it’s real hard to get the double out. When you bounce, then it’s difficult to make speed. There was not really anywhere special where I was making time up like that on the rest of the track. It was more lines. I feel like I had a few good lines today. That helped me more in general than one section, like the waves. I was happy with that.
Going into Wednesday, it’s only two days away. Is it going to help you not just knowing that you can win, but knowing that you have won round here? I feel like even coming in today, I feel like you knew you could win round here. You were fast here last year. You are always fast on tracks like this. Knowing you have actually done it, is that going to change things a little bit?
Yeah, because you know when you are coming through. You have to go in steps. I do not expect to just go and stand on the top of the box without winning a race. Now I’ve won a race and my next goal is first overall. That’s all I’m going to be thinking about now, not like to get on the podium. I’ve done that enough times. I know what I can do. A lot of positives from today. Physically it’s a big one, because you see on the end of the race some guys just fading. Like Renaux passed me on the first lap, then at the end he was a good few seconds slower. It’s not because he was not riding good. I think it’s just because… It has to be physical, because in the beginning he was fast and strong. That’s a big boost. With only two days to recover, it’s also a big part of it. It’s all about getting the rest and rehydrating. All the normal stuff. I’m really excited for the next one.
Interview: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: Ray Archer