By John Minert
MXA INTERVIEW: MICHELE RINALDI
Photos by Massimo Zanzani
Between racing and team managing, Michele has been on World GP circuit for over 30 years.
MXA: How did your racing career turn into a team manager/owner career?
Michele: I started many years ago as a rider. I raced for about 14 years, moving from 50cc bikes to 125cc and 250cc two-strokes. I never rode four-strokes. I started with a TGM, which is an Italian manufacturer. Then, I moved to Gilera, a better known Italian manufacturer. Then, I raced Suzuki for the last six seasons of my career, from 1983 to 1987. When I stopped I was twenty-nine and I had a shoulder injury that was giving me continuous problems. At the end of ’83 Suzuki Japan stopped racing in the world. They offered to release me to continue with someone else, or they would provide the materials and parts but I have to provide my own mechanic and everything. I wasn’t looking to start my own team but the bike was good and I had a good relationship with Suzuki so I did it. In 1988 I started my own team with Suzuki, keeping the same motorcycle but replacing myself on the team. I kept the mechanic, truck and sponsors. My first rider was American Rodney Smith. I stopped with Suzuki in 1991 and now I have been working with Yamaha since ’92.
Has your job position changed in all the that time?
was team manager and team owner at the beginning. I wanted to be an
entrepreneur so I called and offered to run the team for Yamaha Motor
Europe. So my team was named Team Michele Rinaldi from ’92 until ’98.
From ’99 it was the Yamaha Motor Europe team and I was working for them
offering my services. After ’99, I was not in the position to choose the
riders and decide the classes. Together with Yamaha Motor Europe we
share opinions and we make plans and strategy. But it was a big change
for me because I was working for a big company and not for myself
What’s the advantage of being a privately owned satellite team versus a pure factory team?
You have more opportunities to gain knowledge from outside companies. If you stay within the company you need a big budget and many personnel focused on your activity, and motocross is not the primary focus normally for the Japanese. So having this [private] type of team is a big opportunity. It’s a big risk, more complicated for the team, but we are happy to have it.
When looking for future talent, how early do you start looking at young riders?
Unfortunately, we can’t start looking too early. Because then you need a bigger budget and more opportunities to offer. You cannot just look at a rider because then everybody is going to look at the rider. You should be in a position to immediately offer something good. This is the big difference in having a bigger budget and a long-term strategy. MX1 comes from MX2, and for MX2 you absolutely have to start looking at European Championship riders. Then we see if there is an opportunity to offer them the chance to stay in the European Championship maybe for one more year and then move to MX2, or just go straight to MX2.
The team is already rushing to prep for the 2013 season.
What will you do during the off-season?
For us the off-season is even more difficult than the GP racing season. First we have to decide the specification for the bikes and the strategy for the GP racing season. The mechanics, team managers and riders figure this out. This is maybe the most intensive part of the season. We work a lot on the bike because Yamaha Motor Corporation in Japan only supplies the motorcycle. We do all the tuning, modification and preparation and that’s a lot of work. We have to be on time with testing and developing the prototypes and deciding on the specifications for the final racing parts. Then the quantity we need for the season. This is difficult for us because our manpower is limited. From August to January or February we have to work a lot.
Which tracks do you normally test at?
Normally we test on the dyno first. Then we go to our private test track with a test rider. If it’s an internal engine part or something you can’t see we can go to other tracks. If it’s not possible to let anybody have a look we have to stay at our private track. Then the next step is to test with the GP riders. If you continue with a rider [from the previous season] then you can go testing but if you are still waiting for a new rider, it can get very complicated. But, I think this is the same for everybody.
Will you preview any new tracks that are added to the GP series before the season?
Many of tracks are known, but many aren’t. It’s not like the US; many countries are completely different, and it depends where you go. First you have to know what kind of track surface and design it will be. Then you have to talk with the promoter or when possible, with the track managers to get all the information we can about it. Then we have to try to simulate the tracks conditions someplace near our workshop or our country where we can ride in similar conditions.
One of four mechanic stalls for bike teardown/prep.
What are you expectations for a Qatar night race?
There may be one night race, but it will be the first one only, I heard. I've never been to Qatar or raced night-time. I think today, the promoter needs to go where an organizer can pay and then we have to follow. It could be fantastic to race night-time in a new country, but right now we have no experience at all. We could practice at night-time at some track. Normally our riders don’t ride at night. Night-time is for amateurs who can’t ride during the day. But this time we may have to change our practicing.
What’s your opinion of tracks that are built specifically for the event, versus the classic tracks on the circuit?
I am too old to be in favor of new tracks. Normally I like classic-style motocross tracks. But I understand that the promoter has to go to new locations and countries with new organizers. But the tracks tend to be a bit shorter and more artificial. Not Supercross, for sure, but a little bit more in that direction compared to classic tracks layout.
Was Mexico a frustrating race?
Personally I didn’t go to Mexico, but I heard everything in detail from my manager and staff. It has been very tough for most of the teams and riders. The organization was not really ready for a GP. So of course most of the people complained about that. Maybe next year they will start to water earlier than they did this year. International events like GPs or any important races should be held in locations where the organizers have already organized at least one race before. We cannot be the first to enter a GP race with brand-new stuff. I think these organizations in Europe and most of world, most of them are volunteers who do it because they have a passion and they do it for the club but they are not professionals. We have asked the FIM and Youthstream to go back, because before it was not allowed to organize a new event for the GP. It had to first be a national race or an amateur race. I hope they consider it because it was also risky for the riders, some of them got injured because of that.
DC AND TROY LEE DESIGNS TEAM UP AND CREATE NEW GEAR
NEW PRODUCT: STI MX/OFF-ROAD MOTORCYCLE TUBES
STI Tire & Wheel, acclaimed for groundbreaking ATV/UTV products such as Black Diamond tires and HD Alloy Series wheels, is bringing its innovative thinking further into the off-road motorcycle market with the release of an all-new motorcycle inner tube line. How could a fundamental item such as a dirt bike inner tube possibly be made different or better? Glad you asked. STI Motorcycle Tubes are strong. The HD “Heavy Duty” model is 50 percent thicker than most standard tubes on the market today. The HDs are made from high quality butyl rubber with a 2mm thickness. STI’s XD “Extreme Duty” butyl rubber uses a 3mm spec, making it 30 percent beefier than most heavy duty tubes now available. The XD is specifically designed for the most severe applications and has already been proven in off-road competition.
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NEW PRODUCT: PEG ARMOR
Peg Armor is proud to announce the release of the Peg Armor foot peg guards. Built for motocross and off-road riders, the simple installation of Peg Armor prevents mud and other debris from packing into the foot peg spring mechanism. With the addition of Peg Armor (www.pegarmor.com), foot pegs will always return to the standard horizontal position. Eliminate the awkward foot position when the pegs are packed with debris and adversely effect the normal riding position. Additionally, for off-roaders slamming over rocks and stumps and motocross racers in deep rut situations, Peg Armor simply glide across the obstacles. Guards are used by factory teams when the conditions dictate, shouldn’t you have the same advantage?
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MXA MINI VIEW: DESTRY ABBOTT
Destry doesn't look 40 on the track either.
MXA: How was the ISDE?
Destry: It went pretty well. I got a gold medal. We had a great team and it was a gorgeous place. Racing in Europe is always a different atmosphere and the people are great there. It’s a brutal event, six days of riding eight or nine hours a day. You have to be a versatile rider and you have to work on the bike yourself. There are no mechanics and you have to change your tire in under ten minutes and things like that. It’s super-challenging but rewarding.
Do you practice tire changing and speed maintenance before the event?
Oh yeah, I put a lot of time in. You think about what you need to do while you ride. You have to get to a check early to check spokes and things like that. Your mind is 100 percent focused during the day. Then there are sections where you have to go full-sprint speed like qualifying for an outdoor national. The Euros are really good at that. We did really well, but had a couple riders get injured.
What’s going to happen with your racing career?
This year half of my paycheck came from the racing department and half came from PR. I’ve been going to intros and doing a lot of different select racing events, doing all the Endurocross races and X-Games. The factory Kawasaki off-road team is shutting its doors and closing down so that’s really putting a bind on the four of us riders on the team. As of the middle of December, my contract is up. Honestly, I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. Maybe I’ll be able to work something out with the Kawasaki PR department. I still want to do some racing. I’m forty now, but I still love racing and I’m feeling good. I want to do something to that lets me stay in this industry. It’s what I love to do and the people are great.
What do you want to do?
I’ve been around a long time and I’ve always tried to be a good person so hopefully some doors will open. I might be doing training, having kids come stay with me and show them the ropes of motocross, Endurocross and off-road. I’ve been pretty versatile so I’m pretty comfortable teaching everything. I’ve been doing schools every now and then but if nothing else comes about I’ll put more focus on it.
Even though Kawasaki folded their off-road team, Destry is determined to continue competing in some 2013 events.
How long have you been with Kawasaki?
I’ve been with Factory Kawasaki for fourteen years; I believe it was ’98 when I signed with them. I won nine major titles. I been fortunate and they have been a great company. But times are tough, they have to cut back and we just happen to be a part of that. There are no hard feelings, it’s just a business move, but it sucks being a part of it.
How much has everything changed throughout your pro career?
I raced the KX500, which hadn’t changed for about fourteen years and I won championships on it. The way racing has changed is with Endurocross, WORCS and more GPs like Big 6. Off-road racers used to just be either woods racers or desert racers and they didn’t have the moto skills. Nowadays, pretty much all the top riders are really good motocross riders. They are versatile. Even a lot of motocross guys switched over to off-road like Mike Brown. It's cool being versatile and getting to ride different types of races. The money has changed too. We used to be able to make a pretty good living, but now only the top Supercross and motocross guys are making big money.
Destry's next race is the Baja 1000, but sometimes he rides moto for fun.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen?
The four-strokes. I think that’s the reason I’m still competitive. If I was on a KX250 two-stroke it would be tough because you have to ride those things wide open. Once we went to the four-strokes you could be a lot smoother. Basically you could be lazy. The bikes are so good these days. The only downside is the price.
You mentioned that you were doing some testing?
Yeah, we were testing for the Baja 1000 in two and a half weeks. It’s with the THR Kawasaki Team. It will be Robby Bell, Steve Hengeveld, David Pearson and me. We’re racing against Honda and KTM who have really good teams too and I’m really excited.
Which leg will you do?
I don’t want to do the night riding, so I’ll probably do the second leg. Robby will probably do the first, and then I’ll finish before it gets dark.
RYAN HUGHES' RM-Z450 SETUP TIPS
OHLINS SHOCKS ON CLEARANCE SALE
Ohlins USA is having its rare and unusual, never-to-happen-again – until next year, maybe – Off Road Suspension Sale. Shocks, Cartridge Kits, and other items, are available for many dirt bikes at an ultra-remarkable 35% discount, plus shipping. The list of discounted items can be viewed at: http://www.ohlinsusa.com/Offroad-Clearance. Any or all of these suspension components can be purchased by calling: 1-800-336-9029, or directly from the website. Rear shocks do not include springs. The sale ends when this limited number of sale items are no longer available. For more info, call or visit (828) 692-4525; www.Ohlinsusa.com.
Check the list, you might be able to get a huge discount on an Ohlins shock for your bike.
MATRIX CONCEPTS HALLOWEEN ORANGE AND BLACK SALE
Matrix Concepts would like to treat you to a 10% off discount on all orange and black products. Use coupon code "HALLOWEEN" at www.MatrixRacingProducts.com to receive the discount. Check out the complete Matrix Concepts line at www.MatrixRacingProducts.com
LEATT'S EUROPEAN PATENT CHALLENGED AND UPHELD
Leatt has announced that the European Patent Office (EPO) has upheld the patent for one of its neck brace designs. The European Patent is owned by Xceed Holdings CC and is licensed exclusively to Leatt. A competitor had challenged the validity of the patent on the claim that the patent was not new or inventive. Following a hearing with the EPO’s Opposition Division, the claim was rejected and the patent maintained as granted. “We are pleased that the EPO has upheld the patent,” said Sean Macdonald, CEO of Leatt Corporation. “We invest substantially in developing our technology and products. Intellectual property is a key part of our business and we expect our competitors to respect our rights.” For more information on Leatt visit www.leatt.com