Sebastian Tortelli has seen and done it all in motocross…he won his first World title at the tender age of 16 in 1996 and still holds the record as youngest ever world champion. Two years later was perhaps Sebastian’s best ever season, winning the opening AMA supercross of the year at the LA Colesium, he also won the 250 world championship after a titanic battle with Stefan Everts that came down to the last moto in Greece.
A permanent move to America came in 1999 and despite leading the 250 National championship for 3 years in a row, injuries always prevented him from winning the coveted title. Sebastian retired in 2006 after dislocating his hip in Portugal after returning to the GPs for KTM, but his legacy remains that in his prime he was fastest rider in the world – on his day neither Ricky Carmichael nor Stefan Everts could touch him.
We spoke to the always friendly but very determined Sebastian about his career including his titanic battle with Stefan Everts and taking on Ricky Carmichael in the USA.
Sebastian, what was it like to be World Champion at sixteen?
I think when you are that young you don’t realise it, I was still in school, i had no time for nothing, I was riding and I was in school no time in between and my life was wide open. There was no time for thinking so when I became World champion it was somewhat normal because it was like ‘ok that’s what I’m doing and just going and going and going, not thinking.
When I got my second championship I had to work really hard for it and that made a world of difference because now I was two years older and you realise what a true world championship is, the world that is invlovled and what is on it. What happens is when you are young you just go for it and don’t think about anything which is good in a way because that is how you climb the ladder top get there but you don’t get the full experience.
What was the best year in your career?
My 250 championship in 1998 is still the best, it was awesome up to the last moto, the last race it had never been done before.
Did you ever doubt you would win that championship win Everts had a lead in the series?
No otherwise I would not have won it if I stopped believing, I won my championship not in Greece but the week before in Switzerland.
I remember You had a tangle with Everts there…(Tortelli took Everts down)
He didn’t back off, I had the inside … sorry! ( laughs) That is racing, if you’re on the inside – the outside guy needs to let it go. It’s a championship, everything counts at that level ,when he saw I didn’t back off he knew it was going all the way to the last moto. It showed that I was not ready to give up.
Did you feel the pressure with it being so close in points at the final round?
The pressure was the same for both of us. In the first moto in Greece I rode very badly, one of the worst I ever rode and he did the same as me. But because we both rode bad, Pit Beirer finished second and I won. So after that we went to last moto tied so it was basically may the best man win.
There was no holding back, if you’re the best you’re going to get it, if not too bad for you, but right now you have nothing to lose a and everything to gain. So we went at and it was wide open, Stefan started first and I started third, Tallon Vohland was second and on the third corner I yelled so hard at Vohland that he knew I was behind him! He moved over and we raced from there for twenty minutes.
I knew Stefan pretty good and at that time after 20 minutes he had a weak time for a couple of laps, so I waited for 2o minutes to try to pass him when he was weakest because after those couple of minutes he was strong again so I just waited to that point. So at 20 minutes I was like ok it is time to go, it is now or never.
How did it feel to be crowned 250 World Champion?
That was good but after I passed him and he crashed the last 20 minutes of the race it felt like everything was going wrong on the motorcycle, I was thinking please don’t break! Then when I won everything just came out, that was awesome. It was against all the odds, if you asked on the morning of the GP who would be champion, and the TV did ask all the pro riders – they all said Stefan, then after the second moto they all say Sebastian!
You went to America the following year and where leading the championship until you got hurt..
My speed was amazing outdoors the only thing was the first year I got entangled with Henry when I was leading the championship, I was good in points, I was comfortable, then Henry took my front end into a jump and I dislocated my wrist and that is when everything went south. That year I was the fastest by far, the second guy behind me was Albee and he was not even close but I got injured and that is the sport.
But I think even if you are World Champion on a 450 you still need to do your classes when you go to the US. You need to go to the 250f and do Supercross and learn it. Even outdoors go back down to the 250 and learn because not only do you need to learn new tracks but you need to learn new riders and if you start at the prime it is too much information with the lifestyle, the tracks, the travelling. If I had to do it again that is what I would change.
Of course that is the thing is missing that I wanted badly, that is the plaque that is missing on my wall!
You beat Ricky Carmichael at times and had his speed what was the difference for him to win the title?
He got better as he went and stronger, a lot of things put together made him a little bit faster. I was able to ride his speed but he got a little bit better through the middle of the season than I was. The last year in 2005 on the Suzuki when we were teammates I was always faster than him so he was getting a little bit anxious, I could see in his riding and everything that everything changed because he had a challenge and then one week before the race Suzuki gave me a stock bike and I went practicing and crashed my brains out so I was out.
You came back to the GP in 2006 and raced Stefan Everts again, how did that compare to 1998?
I think Stefan was very strong that year, it was his last year and his last chance to compete with me. He came in more ready than I was and i still a little bit new on the KTM and had to adjust completely to the bike, he was on the bike that he knew. I was fast I was right there and we had good battles but I was not strong enough compared to him. His speed was there and I was lacking a little bit of toughness compared to him, he was broader and I was a little bit on the thin side.
How would you compare your relationship with Everts and Carmichael?
I have tremendous respect for both of them. I think European guys have a different way of working, not working work wise but mentally and everything we think and act differently than in the US.On that side I was definitely closer to Stefan. In the US when you come here things are not the same because we are not raised the same, it was very, very business related, the sport was very high and there was a business side that you don’t feel as much as in Europe.
Article by Jonathan McCready
Image courtesy of JT Racing – http://www.jtracingusa.com/rider/sebastien-tortelli/