Viewpoint: Carl Nunn

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The Grand Prix of Great Britain at Matchams is looked back on with fondness by most, thanks in part to the track that ticked countless boxes. The fact that there was British success on the day obviously did not hurt either. Carl Nunn romped to the win in the first MX2 moto on that day, then led the second one too before a crash restricted him to fourteenth. What does Nunn remember from the weekend that will go down in British motocross history? MX Vice editor Lewis Phillips caught up with the former Champ KTM rider to discuss the weekend and pivotal points from his career.

MX Vice: Amazingly, the first (and only) Grand Prix at Matchams was 15 years ago exactly. What do you remember from that weekend? It was obviously an amazing one for you, but there was some heartbreak in it as well. 

Carl Nunn: The main thing was that we had been in Japan [at Sugo] the weekend before, and I had an absolutely shocking race there. I did not even score points. I struggled to even knock on the door of getting points whilst on a factory team, so it was just unacceptable. I do not even know why – I was just banging my head on the wall the whole weekend. Flyaway races were never that good for me anyway, even though I did have a good one in South Africa a little while later. We obviously went to Matchams, that being the home Grand Prix. Everyone was buzzing about the track, because it looked amazing before we even went out and rode.

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Ray Archer

It turned out amazing too – it just rode brilliantly. I cannot remember what I got in time training, but it must have been quite good. I was confident going into the heat and had a decent gate pick as well. I holeshot the heat race and won that, so I got pole. Qualifying was never a strong point of mine but when it changed to heat races, instead of times, it definitely suited me better. I just got my head down once I got out of the start [in the heat] and the crowd was buzzing – I believe we actually had good weather on the Saturday too. Everything went well. I got pole position and was buzzing that evening.

I felt confident as well, like I said, because the track was great and everything about myself felt perfect. Knowing that I had pole on Sunday morning was just a good feeling. You do not have to rush down to the line and start prepping your gate. If anyone is in your way then you just tell them, and then they have to move over [laughs]. That is pretty cool! We did go down to look at the gate on Saturday night and stuff, because I had a good start in the heat on Saturday. I holeshot the first race on Sunday. I remember that [Andrew] McFarlane and [David] Philippaerts were really pushing.

Both of those guys were pushing hard, and I remember them being there for pretty much the whole race. I may have got a little bit of a gap at the beginning and then they kind of reeled me in. I just stuck with my lines and the rest is history, I guess. There was a bit of rain, but the track did not get wet. It was just perfect. Getting the win in the first race was massive for me – it had been five years since I won in France. Generally, if it has been that long then no one expects you to win again. I remember sitting in between the two motos though and I was just… I was not physically tired as such, but I was mentally drained.

I was completely and utterly finished. I was wondering what on earth was wrong and people were saying jet lag. I do honestly think that was the first time I really experienced jet lag, because I just had nothing. I could not get up and walk about. Once I sat down in the camper to have a cool down and a drink, I just started thinking about how tired I was. I could have shut my eyes and instantly fallen asleep. It was not something that I had experienced before, but I just put it to the back of my mind. I just thought that it was only one more race and I could do it.

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Ray Archer

I think I took the holeshot again in the second moto, and rather than just settle I went all out for the win again. I actually watched it recently, but I thought I had stalled it on the first lap. I think we had done a few laps from what I saw though. I remember going into a corner that had rollers leading into it, and it was just a stupid mistake on my part. I had my foot on the rear brake as I entered the corner without even realising. I lost all of my momentum, then went to get on the gas and all of my revs had dropped because my foot was on the brake. It just stalled and was fully my own fault. I hold my hands up – I knew exactly what I had done straight away.

I fell down, then my bike would not start and everyone went by. I pushed the bike up the next jump face to bump start it on the landing of the tabletop. I was way back. I just rode as hard as I possibly could, because I knew that every position would be a bonus. I came through to fourteenth and was just one point away from getting on the podium. It was such a perfect weekend that was destroyed by a stupid mistake, but no excuses. I definitely felt like I was absolutely finished between the two motos though. If I had just settled in after getting the holeshot instead of going all out for the win, it would have been a lot easier to make the podium.

I would imagine that winning the first moto would go down as one of your career highlights, if not the highlight. Perhaps leading that second moto was an even bigger thing in the moment though, because the realisation set in that you could go 1-1 at your home Grand Prix. Do you remember there being that rush of emotion?

You obviously sit on the start and want the holeshot. If you do not want the holeshot, then you should not be there. I got the holeshot again and thought, “I’m in the lead again!” I was possibly running a little bit high on the first moto. That mistake that I made, dragging the foot on the rear brake, was just absolutely ridiculous. I do not drag my rear brake anyway. I just had my foot in the wrong place, because of mental fatigue or whatever. I guess that I was putting more and more pressure on the brakes as I hit those rollers, which stalled the bike. It was gutting. It was nice to know that I got the first race.

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Ray Archer

It was not like that one was easy either because, like I said, Philippaerts and McFarlane were on me the whole time. It was a good battle as well. Looking back, is that a highlight? Yeah, of course. For sure. Was it my best race? I do not know if it was. It was definitely a moment to cherish, I guess. The ones in France were a different story really – that was unexpected. I had not done it before. I won both of those races, so I was possibly thinking that I could do that again at Matchams. Being at home would have made that even better as well, but it was not to be.

Had you been to Matchams as a practice track before the Grand Prix? I ask, because everyone goes crazy about that race. It is weird to think that a practice track was transformed to become one of the greatest British Grand Prix tracks ever in the eyes of most.

Yeah, but you have got to look at the place. It has got everything. It has not got massive hills, but it has ups and downs. It was not a flat area. Not putting anything down, but I guess that was like the end of the era of having tracks that were in decent locations. Tracks that had a natural infrastructure, if that is the word, and then creating whatever is needed around where you are. It was the beginning of the jumpy tracks and stuff like that, but it was not particularly fast like it is nowadays. Everything is really fast now, and shorter as well it seems. We had the Isle of Wight in the same year and that was an amazing track as well. Those two were definitely standout tracks in that season.

What you are up to now then? The last thing that I heard was that you were working with some younger guys in Britain, so is that still happening?

Yeah, I have had an academy for the last couple of years now. I have got guys who work with me regularly. Some started at a very young age on 65s and 85s, then there are other guys who started a little bit later. I have got two groups and they train together every other weekend throughout the winter – the groups alternate through the winter. I have the older riders, who started with me at a young age and are now stepping into the adult ranks. Sam Nunn, Callum Mitchell and guys like that. It is good to see those guys entering into the MX2 class in the ACU British Championship and starting to score some points, which is cool. That is where they all want to be, so it is nice to see them get to that point and get up there.

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Ray Archer

A guy who you raced a lot, Stephen Sword, is back in the Grand Prix paddock as a trainer now. Could you see yourself doing a full season of GPs as a trainer or are you not into the travel thing nowadays?

I have to be honest here: I just do not see myself doing that. I did a year of schoolboy rounds with my riders, but unless the guys are really asking me to be there then I do not feel like I am helping as much as I want to. You have to have the feedback from the riders and stuff like that, but I know it is different at the Grand Prix level. I had it with Graham Noyce, Jeff Walker and guys like that who came with me. That can help. Graham was definitely a big help with line choice when I won in France. Graham is a bit special with his mental approach as well – there is just one way and that is flat out.

I felt like I needed to know more but the way he put it was, “Get the holeshot and f**k off.” That was what he used to say [laughs]! That will stick in my mind forever. He was very clever with line choice and would see things for me, which was great. The Grand Prix season is so long now with a lot of flyaway races. I can get my fix through the youth riders who I am working with and watching them progress from club riders to a national level and then into the adult ranks. I have got enough going on to keep me busy, put it that way.

I don’t want to keep you too long, and we have covered some positive points here. It is always interesting to find out what you look back on as regrets or what you wish you could differently, whether that be a specific race or taking a certain deal. Is there anything that sticks out in your mind? I imagine there are a few things.

Yeah, there would be. I think about it a lot more now than I used to. I am a person who likes to say that I have no regrets. I cannot change it, so what is the point regretting it. I am still like that, but I do now think about things that I maybe did soon or too late more now. I think that I possibly moved to the MX1 class too early. The ball was rolling. Everything was going well when I was on a 125 in 2000! I got injured as well that year though and the year before too. I did not have a solid season, other than 1998. I possibly moved to that class too early, but then I was gelling well with the 250. I was just not confident enough at Grand Prix level.

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Ray Archer

I remember taking the holeshot at places like Valkenswaard and Ernee, but then I just suffered with arm pump around the 25-minute mark a lot. It was only one moto as well and I was always better in second motos anyway. Apart from at Matchams actually! The rougher it got, the better I was. The mental state in qualifying was never really my strong point, so I think I should have spent more time being able to ride out of control. That is what you have to do. When I was growing up and going through the schoolboy ranks it was all about being smooth, which does work. Smooth does not work when you need that all-out speed for one lap though. It is obviously a different story during the race.

KTM actually offered me a ride in 2000, but I stayed with Steve [Dixon]. I was happy with Steve! KTM were just becoming dominant at that time and it was not a proven thing yet. There were a lot of mechanical problems going on as well, but they still managed to win the world title every year for about 20 years [laughs]. I just looked at that and thought that my bike with Steve was good, plus I was comfortable in the team. My Dad looks back on that and says that me not doing that is something that he regrets, because he thinks he influenced me. I remember it clear as day though and it was my decision – I was old enough to know what was going on.

If he had told me to go with KTM then I think I would have stayed with Steve anyway. That is one thing, then Jamie [Dobb] went with that team and had great success. The one-moto format was never going to suit me anyway. The last moto was always the longest when we had three British Championship motos back in the day. Everyone would sit there and be like, “Here we go again. What is the point of this race?” Especially on a 125, because you would just eat roost off of 500s and get your teeth knocked out. It was horrible. I would always be strong in those races though, so the one-moto format did not do me any favours. You have got to deal with what you have got to deal with though and things change.

I guess that not taking the KTM deal is not too much of a regret, because you ended up on the factory team eventually. That box was still ticked in your career and I would imagine it was a much better team five years on then if you had gone there initially.

It was a strange situation with how that came around. I had gone back to MX2, just because I had a bad year on a Kawasaki in 2003. I wanted to go back to MX2, and a Honda team had started up. The bike was not the fastest thing in the world, but we had great suspension and it was a good environment. It was a privateer team and I think I ended eighth in the world that year. My first daughter was born that year as well, and I just thought that it was a good team so I would go again.

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Ray Archer

They offered me a deal and I took it, but then we got to December and the team folded. That was not great, because there are obviously never any rides about in December. KTM UK stepped up though, luckily, and spoke to either Austria or the guys in Holland, and they provided me with the 125. It was possibly the last full-factory 125. The 250F was so new at that point that they did not have enough bikes. Tyla Rattray and Marc De Reuver were their two riders, so they said I could have the 125. I got on the 125 and could not believe how fast it was.

It was unbelievable and I was like, “Now I can see what I possibly missed out on.” Tyla and Marc both got injured before the season started. I did a supercross in Cardiff on the 125, possibly one more and then the first British round at Canada Heights. I holeshot both motos there on the 125 against the 250s. Swordy passed though, but he was running strong that year. Both of the guys got injured, like I said, so they asked if I wanted to ride the 250F. I was like, “Yeah. Let’s get on that then!”

There was no practice bike for me to have at home at that time though, so I had to fly to Holland once a week to practice. They just did not have enough bikes available, but eventually one did open up and I could bring it home. Philippaerts got on that bike too through the fact that both guys were injured – he obviously really liked that bike as well, because he had a strong end to that season. I am sure he was winning races and it obviously set him up to eventually become a world champion.

Interview: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: Ray Archer

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