AUSTIN FORKNER INTERVIEW: AUSTIN TALKS 2020 SUPERCROSS, THE IDEA OF MOVING UP TO THE 450 CLASS & MORE
The 2019 Supercross season was huge for Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Austin Forkner. Unfortunately, he was sidelined with a crash at the Nashville round after winning won four out of five 250SX Main Events. It’s crazy to think that it was only as recent as 2016 when the Missouri native turned pro at the Hangtown National. On top of that, Forkner actually took his first professional overall win at the Ironman National late that year. His sophomore Supercross season in 2018 was notable as he took his first Supercross win. Until his 2019 season ended with a crash in Nashville, Austin was on the fast track to his first Championship. Now in April of 2020, Austin Forkner currently sits third in the 250 West Coast division while the series is on pause due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Austin is 13-points behind Dylan Ferrandis, but with a long break and more races on the cards, anything can happen by the series end. We were able to track down the now 21-year-old while he’s training in Oklahoma to pick his brain on the season, covid-19, current training, his competitors and the 450 class.
By Jim Kimball
AUSTIN, LET’S GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF SUPERCROSS. YOU WERE INJURED LAST YEAR, AND THEN HAD ANOTHER SURGERY. WERE YOU READY FOR 2020 SUPERCROSS? I would say that I was 90-95 percent at Anaheim 1. I felt pretty good, although not perfect. Your knees are really never perfect after you tear your ACL. They are never quite the same, but mine healed pretty well. Then I had a surgery on a nerve in my arm which is still not perfect, but it does not really hold me back when riding. I felt fine at the beginning of the season and my speed was good. I was riding a lot at the test tracks and I could do the long motos. My gym trainer told me that my legs were even stronger than last year. So, everything seemed to be going good coming into the season.
I WOULD IMAGINE THAT BEING AWAY FROM THE ENTIRE 2019 OUTDOOR SEASON MAY HAVE HINDERED YOU A LITTLE BIT. Definitely it did to some degree. Just being away from the bike that long hurts, there is not anything quite like racing. You can train and everything, but there is nothing to simulate racing. Coming into Supercross you never know how it will go after missing so much time. Also, that was the biggest injury I have had as far as time taken off, and the longest I have been off the bike. I did not really know what it was going to be like, I was just going to go out and race.
WHAT WERE YOU THINKING ABOUT AT ANAHEIM 1? I went out and raced. I ran up front for a while in the main until I hit that tuff block, so that was good. I wish I would have won that race, but that ride was all I needed to realize, “Okay, I am good.” As long as I was not a mid-pack guy at the first race, I knew I was going to be good. And the fact that I ran up front for probably eight or ten minutes was good. That gave me confidence like we are going to be fine.
YOU WERE THE DOMINANT GUY IN 250SX EAST LAST YEAR, BUT THIS YEAR IT HAS APPEARED THAT JUSTIN COOPER AND DYLAN FERRANDIS ARE RIGHT THERE WITH YOU. I don’t think last year I raced with anybody that had the straight up speed. I believe I had everybody covered in that area. If I needed to drop the hammer at the beginning of a race or something, I could do it and get away. It is harder this year with Dylan Ferrandis because we are pretty much equal on speed. We can both ride really fast and we are both fit, so he has been tough this year, and that is where I felt like last year my advantage was my speed. I could get away from those guys, and they could not catch me, where this year, just getting away from Ferrandis sometimes is hard to do because he is fast. So, this year has been different.
“I found where I am still fast and still up there, but a little more consistent with crashes. You know, Ricky (Carmichael) has gone through it and James (Stewart) has gone through it. You have to crash to learn, and I just need to back it down a little bit. I think I am finding that balance.”
ARE YOU APPROACHING THE RACING DIFFERENTLY THIS YEAR? Obviously, you don’t like to ride thinking about injuries, and that may be in the back of my mind. This year, I have not had near as many crashes in practice as I did last year. I think everybody goes through it. You have to find where you can ride at in your comfort zone, and it takes crashing or just getting beat to find that. If you are crashing, you are trying to go too fast. If you are just getting beat then you are going too slow. You have to find that middle ground where you cannot crash, but you are still going fast enough to get podiums and get wins. So, I found where I am still fast and still up there, but a little more consistent with crashes. You know, Ricky (Carmichael) has gone through it and James (Stewart) has gone through it. You have to crash to learn, and I just need to back it down a little bit. I think I am finding that balance.
IT IS A VERY FINE LINE ISNT IT? Yes, for sure. I am not saying that I am never going to crash in practice again, because it is going to happen. Now I am just trying to minimize crashes and be as consistent as possible. You are going to have bad races, everybody is, but it is just trying to make the whole season without getting hurt—that is what counts.
DO YOU WATCH DYLAN FERRANDIS ENOUGH TO KNOW WHERE HE MAY BE WEAK IN ANY AREAS? I somewhat do that with everybody, but as of right now, he is my main competition I would say. It is between him and Justin Cooper. I know both of them enough to figure out where I think I am stronger, and maybe where they might be stronger. I study their riding. We talk about that when watching films. It is just what I learn from racing with those guys. It is different with every person racing though. The 450 guys almost have an advantage in that way, because they race the same guys every single weekend. They know for example that, (Ken) Roczen is going to be strong at the beginning of the race, but (Eli) Tomac is not going to get tired and is going to be strong at the end. They just know that; where I have not raced Ferrandis for a year. I did not race him all of last year, and he has gotten a lot better from the last time I raced him.
WHERE WERE YOU WHEN EVERYTHING CHANGED DUE TO COVID-19, AND THEY STARTED CANCELING SUPERCROSS RACES? I was in California, and soon we started getting the word that they were going to quarantine all of California. They were starting to close down their public tracks and starting to limit everything to fifty people. You could not even buy meat because all the grocery stores were selling out and had lines out the door. So, we got out of California, and came to Oklahoma. It is a lot more mellow here. You can actually buy toilet paper at the store, and there is plenty of meat. You can get the necessities in Oklahoma, where in California people were hoarding stuff so bad, you could not hardly get meat to eat. Robbie (Reynard) has his track, and I don’t think they can close that down because it is private property. We can ride all the time right now, where in California, there is no telling what they can do. They closed all the public tracks.
YOU HAVE BEEN WORKING WITH ROBBIE FOR SOME YEARS NOW, WHAT’S IT LIKE? There are not a lot of guys there right now, but I feel like we have a good group of well-rounded guys to ride with. I just like Robbie’s training style, the way that he trains, and that he can see what I am doing on the bike. He can see things that I would never notice, he is very good in that way.
ARE YOU STILL RIDING? ARE YOU ON SUPERCROSS OR OUTDOORS? Right now, it is outdoors, because the soonest we are hearing racing is coming back is going to be outdoors. We don’t know for sure. If we hear that we are going to come back with Supercross, we will get back on Supercross, but right now we are just doing outdoor motos.
“As of right now, I feel like nothing would surprise me. If they came out and said, alright, we are going to do an outdoor and then a Supercross every other weekend, I would not even be surprised. I don’t know what is going to happen. I don’t think anybody does right now.”
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT RACING OUTDOORS AND THEN FINISHING UP SUPERCROSS? That is fine; I would like to get the races in. I am not out of this Supercross Championship, so I want to keep racing. I want to have a shot at the championship, and if they just don’t race Supercross at all, I have no shot. As long as we race, I don’t care where it is. I don’t care if they found a field and built a Supercross track out there and we race it—I don’t care. Just as long as they get the races in and I get a chance. It is not even up to FELD or AMA at this point; it is up to the government. As of right now, I feel like nothing would surprise me. If they came out and said, alright, we are going to do an outdoor and then a Supercross every other weekend, I would not even be surprised. I don’t know what is going to happen. I don’t think anybody does right now.
I BELIEVE YOU ARE STILL WITH PRO CIRCUIT KAWASAKI NEXT YEAR, BUT IT MUST BE STRANGE FOR THE RIDERS THAT HAVE CONTRACTS THAT WILL EXPIRE AFTER 2020. Yes, that is true. This will throw that off a little bit, definitely. There might even be renegotiations of contracts. Everything is good with me and my team right now. We are fine, and just waiting to go racing.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT MOVING UP TO THE 450 CLASS? I think that the more time you can spend in the 250 class, the more prepared you will be on the 450. But when an opportunity on the 450 class presents itself, you don’t want to pass it up because factory rides in the 450 class are so hard to get. There are a lot of less rides than in the 250 class. I want to be spending as much time in the 250 class, until I am ready to go to the 450 class, but I think I am close. I think my maturity has come a long way from when I was a rookie. Robbie, and everyone in my crew are going to have a bit of a say.
WITH LIMITED 450 RIDES, DO YOU HAVE TO MOVE UP IF THE CHANCE OPENS UP? If any opportunity comes up for some guys you have to do it. It does not matter the team; if you are fighting to be able to keep racing, you have to take it. All of the bikes for the most part are competitive right now. Obviously, there may be some that you feel are better than others; in both classes, but all the bikes are competitive. If you are lucky enough to be a guy with multiple offers, you get to choose, but if you are in a position where you only have one offer, you have to take it.