Watch an AMA Supercross Main Event and its now possible to spot three factory Red Bull KTMs in the premier 450 SX class. An unusual sight. Supercross is the second largest motorcycle racing series in the world thanks to stadiums (NFL and baseball, typically) full of fans and live TV coverage all within the biggest sales market for manufacturers. Last year KTM won the 450 SX division for the first time with Ryan Dungey’s consistency and completed their vast collection of all titles in the international offroad competitive calendar.
KTM boosted their 450 SX ranks for 2016 by giving 2015 East Coast SX Champion Marvin Musquin a path to ‘graduation’. The Frenchman has been with the brand since 2009 – in the US since 2011 – and has mixed style, success and injury frustration on the KTM 250 SX-F. After his long-awaited title last spring and coming within a whisker of the AMA Pro National MX Championship in the summer, Musquin is now trying to get to grips with the larger bike and the fastest Supercross athletes from around the globe.
In addition to his ‘rookie’ status Marvin, who will turn 27 in December, is also getting up to speed with his race form and fitness after an operation in the winter on a troublesome hand; a procedure he underwent in the wake of an immense weekend at Ernée, France and Motocross of Nations glory last September.
Has it been more difficult than you imagined to get going on the 450?
“Erm, I want to say ‘no’ because I expected everything that has been happening. I had a problem with my hand and wrist and was trying to figure out what to do right up until after the Motocross of Nations. We got it fixed, the tendons and membrane, with surgery and got a bad situation good. So I started riding the new bike quite late and was trying to recover and get more movement in my wrist and my fingers because I was tight and sore. Getting out to Florida for some riding helped me get good conditioning back. It has been a tough road as I was going to the physio every day. Mentally also. There are guys out there [on the famed and exclusive Aldon Baker fitness program] with a couple of years or more on the 450. I was doing well on the 250 and I know it is a big step. I have never been a huge guy with big muscles and have relied on my technique rather than conditioning. This situation has been better since I started with Aldon but I was trying to catch-up. On the practice track I was looking at Jason [Anderson] and Ryan [Dungey] and was like ‘wow’! I knew I would have a lot of work to get close to those guys and some days I am there and others I am not; I’m at least ten kilos lighter than them! It is good to have them as training partners and of course the Red Bull KTM Team behind me because it means I have everything I need to do well. I think I will learn every weekend. I have a good base set-up on the bike but I still need to improve and being so light we had to look at some changes.”
Is it like being a rookie again? Have Pit [Beirer, KTM Motorsport Director] and Roger [De Coster] told you to just do what you can this year?
“Yeah and that’s what Aldon says as well. In one way it is a good thing [not to have the pressure] but in another way it is not what I want. It is so easy to use excuses and for some people it might be useful … but I hate it. I don’t want to hear “it’s your first year so don’t worry … ”. I’m in the best team, so I have to do good. I know I am learning though and hopefully I will have fun and some good results.”
Can you describe the feeling of riding a 450 at the speed to be competitive in a 450 SX Main Event? What’s it like?
“The bike obviously feels heavier through the engine and getting into the turns and doing it all for twenty laps [250 SX is fifteen]. It is much more demanding on the body than a 250 and to qualify for the main event right away by going top four in the heat is pretty tough! When you are on the starting line and you look left and right then you see a lot of good guys but it makes me really excited. This is where I want to be; looking at the stadiums and the crowd … I’m excited.”
Do you think you would have been on the 450 earlier if it wasn’t for some injuries and bad luck … ?
“No, that’s how it turned out. I had a couple of injuries and missed a couple of seasons, but looking back I cannot say ‘I should have done this or that’. I went year by year and finally got a championship. Outdoors I was finally able to show my potential, get some wins and fight for the title [in 2015]. If I look at a guy like Ken Roczen then he is someone who every year took good results and avoided injury and moved up early. He’s a lot younger than me but in the end – when I look at my life – I’m happy. We live well and I love what I do. I’m finally in the 450 class and yeah, it is a little late but I just turned 26 and will keep going year by year.”
I remember seeing you race Grands Prix every week and you seemed very ‘at one’ with the 250, your technique was so effective. Can you reach the same level on the 450?
“When I moved to America I had the feeling that it was a bit tougher to be the same on the bike like I was in Europe and to be smooth. I felt like I had to be more aggressive. Maybe I’m wrong but I believed I had to push a lot more here and it was harder to do those nice things while riding. Maybe I should do more! I think I lost some of it here and that’s to do with the style of the racing and the training also. Here it [riding] is more like work instead of going out there and playing with the bike. I believe I still have nice technique and when I’m comfortable then I can show it.”
Lastly, how long it did take for the euphoria of the Motocross of Nations to pass? It seemed like the ideal weekend for any racer …
“At least two-three weeks! I was thinking about it every day for a good while. A few months have passed and I don’t have that so much now but I do remember sometimes. It was unbelievable. To repeat that weekend will be very, very tough: racing at the Nations with numbers 1, 2, 3, in France, we won the qualification and the relationship between Gautier [Paulin], Romain [Febvre] and Pascal [Finot, French Federation] was awesome. It was by far the best weekend of racing. I still regret the little crash I had but I got fired up with Barcia as we pushed each other.”
Photos: Ray Archer