INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK: BEN TOWNLEY

 

New Zealand’s Ben Townley has been there and done that. The outgoing, multi-time Champion started his FIM World Championship career in 2001 as part of the Phase Suzuki 125 team. In 2004 he won the 125 World Title while part of the factory KTM team. Then, in 2006 he came over to the U.S. as part of Mitch Payton’s Pro Circuit Kawasaki program. Townley’s most memorable season for American fans came the following year, when he won the 250 East Supercross title, and was in a knock-down drag-out battle with teammate, Ryan Villopoto, for the outdoor title. “BT101” would eventually lose that title by a mere three points.

Injuries kept Townley from winning more titles in the U.S. and abroad, and a string of bad luck forced his retirement a few years ago. However, Ben held out hope that he would one day return to the highest level of racing. As fate would have it, he came out swinging at last year’s Motocross des Nations in Ernee, France. A second place in the second moto, along with a sixth in the first combined moto, netted him a third overall in the 450 class. Ben Townley was back! He so impressed Suzuki’s factory racing effort that they immediately inked him to a one-year deal.

Unfortunately, a terrible flu bug kept Townley from racing in Argentina and Mexico, but he’ll be back on the gate for Latvia this weekend. Read what Ben has to say about coming out of retirement, speaking out against the organizing body, and what his future might hold (if his wife lets him!).   

By John Basher
Images by Suzuki Factory Racing

Ben Townley is back in the racing fold after a few years off. He has proven that he can win races, if only he can shake the black cloud that seems to follow him. 

Ben, it’s good to see you back racing. What reasons went into your decision to come out of retirement and race again?
Well, I retired because I had a run of really major injuries. It was a horrible time of around three years, and it broke me. I consider myself pretty strong mentally, but that string of injuries was tough. I had two years away from professional racing, but I still rode a lot for fun. I remained involved in the sport back home [in New Zealand]. As I got healthier and enjoyed riding so much again I kept having thoughts about racing again. I did one race in New Zealand, then a couple in Australia to see if I still had it. Then I signed up for New Zealand at the Motocross of Nations to see if I really still had it! The MXoN confirmed to me that I still had good speed, and also that I wanted to race at that level again.

How did the Team Suzuki MXGP factory ride come together?
I came to the MXoN knowing they still had a spot. I had told Stefan [Everts] the reason I was racing, so he knew what was going on. I needed to race there at that level to see if I was even considerable to race for a factory team again.

You had a great run in Thailand, but then came down with illness. How bad was that flu virus?
It was really really bad! The sickness knocked me flat on my back for over 10 days, apart from the two days that I attempted to ride at Valkenswaard. I have never experienced something like that. I was sleeping more than I was awake for 10 days. It was a tough pill to swallow not traveling to two rounds and racing, but we decided that was the best decision. I lost 5 kilos [note: just over 11 pounds] in that 10 days!

Townley celebrated his 450 Qualifying Race win in Thailand with a massive whip. He would later go on and raise attention about the poor track conditions in the post-race press conference. 

Speaking of Thailand, how big of an accomplishment was it to score the qualifying race victory and then finish second in the final moto?
The race win on Saturday was personal confirmation to myself that I was on the right track. I believed that I could contend, and so it was great to get in that position and realize it. The second moto in Thailand on that Sunday was also a good accomplishment.

You were outspoken during the Saturday press conference in Thailand following your qualifying race victory regarding the track conditions. What changes would you make to the tracks/series/schedule/etc?
Well, I like that the MXGP Championship is worldwide, but when we go to some of these countries the standard should not be any less than it is in Europe when we have MXGP rounds. I personally thought the Thailand track wasn’t up to the proper standards.

Was there major fallout as a result of you taking a stand and publicly voicing complaints?
No, there wasn’t any fallout. All of my competitors were supportive after they heard what I had to say.

How has the landscape of the MXGP series changed since you won the 2004 FIM 250 World Championship?
It has certainly grown in the size of the championship. Racing worldwide now is the biggest aspect. I’ve only been to one European round so far, but the amount of competitors in the European EMX classes is massive. That didn’t even exist when I was here 10 years ago, so the growth of the Euro rounds has increased tenfold.

You’ve been very successful racing indoors and outdoors all over the world. What has been your single greatest accomplishment in the sport?
My World Championship in 2004 ranks as the greatest. To be honest, I’ve had some incredible highlights, especially at the MXDN over my years. Ernee, France last year and 2005 at the MXDN [note: also in Ernee] rank as my two most memorable days racing.

Would you have any interest in coming back to the U.S. and racing?
Yes, absolutely. First I have to get back on track here and see if I can race up front week in week out. I have a one-year deal, and with the sacrifice on my family–I have three kids–I need to be achieving pretty darn good results to get another year’s permission from my wife!

Does New Zealand deserve to host a round of the MXGP series? If so, what facility would be best?
Absolutely, without a doubt! I worked a lot with the Taupo Motorcycle Club to make it happen for 2016, but we couldn’t make it work, which was a real shame. If it [the MXGP series] came to New Zealand it would be one of the best rounds on the calendar without a doubt.

Townley talks shop with his boss, Sylvain Geboers (right).

What exactly is ilabb?
ilabb is a New Zealand street wear brand. They’re a couple of mates who started in a garage and have built up NZ’s most popular street wear brand. It’s a cool story. They started out by doing dirt bike graphics and have grown from there ever since.

How many more years of racing are in your tank?
Let’s see how this year goes and then I’ll answer that!

What would you like to do following retirement?
I’d love to stay in the industry internationally, but unfortunately home for me is New Zealand. My oldest child is already at school, and with two more kids starting soon I have to settle down in the near future. I want to give them the best shot at life just like I had.

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