THE BIGGEST SUPERCROSS SURPRISE EVER
Supercross has, for the most part, been all-American with three notable exceptions. The first AMA Supercross Champion in 1974 was Dutchman Pierre Karsmakers. Seventeen years later, the second Euro made his mark when French rider Jean-Michel Bayle won his one and only Supercross crown in 1991. JMB was followed 13 years later by Australian Chad Reed (who would win in 2004 and 2008). That’s it. Foreign riders have only won four Supercross titles out of 43 years. That doesn’t mean that foreign riders haven’t tried, but for the most part, they haven’t been able to close the deal. For the record, only nine non-American riders have even managed to win a Supercross event. This list is made up of the three champions above, plus Jaroslav Falta, Greg Albertyn, David Vuillemin, Marvin Musquin and Ken Roczen. But, the European who was the biggest surprise in Supercross history was French rider Sebastien Tortelli.
Sebastien Tortelli won the opening Supercross of the 1998 season in the Los Angeles Coliseum. And he did it without anyone noticing him. Hard to believe? Here are some interesting facts about Sebastien’s night.
(1) There is no doubt that Sebastien Tortelli won because of his mud-riding prowess. The 1998 Los Angeles Coliseum Supercross was a mudder. It rained all day. And because of the mud, the 61,000 fans couldn’t see any bike numbers. The announcers lost track of who was who. The track was littered with stalled bikes (most notably the YZ400 four-strokes of Doug Henry and Jimmy Button), and most of the field was lapped. Tortelli was invisible as he came from dead last to win—almost anonymously.
(2) Sebastien Tortelli was forced to start on the bad side of the starting gate, got a horrible start and came from the back to pass every American on the track, two other Frenchmen, one Japanese rider and a South African.
(3) Only a handful of people in the stands knew who Tortelli was. He got no pre-race hype. Tortelli is French, but his name is Italian. He wore Oxbow clothes, which weren’t sold in the USA. His AMA number was 103.
(4) Because Tortelli was racing under an FIM license, he didn’t get AMA points, but it didn’t matter because he was contracted by Kawasaki to race the 250 World Championships and only planned to race the first five rounds of the AMA Supercross series. For the record, Sebastien finished his five Supercross races with 1-8-18-4-9 scores. Had the AMA counted Tortelli’s five scores, he would have finished seventh overall in the 1998 Supercross Championship.
(5) Sebastien Tortelli returned to the Grand Prix series after his five races and went on to win the 1998 250 World Championship.
(6) Sebastien would return to America in 1999 to race the complete series. He would never win another AMA Supercross, but he won four AMA Nationals, finished in the top five 54 times and finished second in the 2000 AMA 250 National Championship. He returned to the FIM Grand Prix series in 2006 but got injured after only five motos (in those five motos, he won one and was second in two others). He retired and started a motocross school in America before moving to Spain.