In 2015, 450 rookie Romain Febvre stormed away with the MXGP World Title. The factory Yamaha rider remained healthy at a time when most of the competition went down with injuries. Regardless, Febvre was head and shoulders above everyone else by the time the MXGP season was in full swing. Expectations were high for the Frenchman entering the 2016 season. In a surprise, Romain battled tooth and nail with new 450 incumbent, Tim Gajser. The two ran away from the field. Then disaster struck at the Great Britain round. Febvre crashed in qualifying (you can see the video farther down the page) and sustained a concussion. The injury dropped him out of the title chase; however, he came back with a vengeance at the Motocross des Nations in Maggiora in leading Team France to the win. I caught up with Romain last week in Maggiora during a factory Yamaha test session with the media.
By John Basher
Let’s go back to the beginning of the 2015 MXGP season, where you were unstoppable by the end in winning your first 450 World Title. Compare that year to how things went this season.
Last year was my best year ever. Everything went well with the bike and the team. Everything was new for me, but we did a good job. Last winter we changed the bike quite a bit, because even if everything was good, we needed to be better every time. We knew the competition, like Honda and KTM, would progress during the offseason. Our bad point was the start, so we tried to improve the bike in that area. Everything was perfect at the beginning of this season. We were starting good, and also we were leading the championship. For sure Tim [Gajser] was well prepared, too.
Were you surprised that Tim Gajser was on his game early on, especially since he was a rookie in the 450 class?
I wasn’t surprised by his speed, because I had seen him ride many times this past winter and he was already fast. Even before, when he was riding 250s, he was training only on the 450 because the 250 Honda was not so good. I was more surprised by the consistency he had. I was thinking in the sand he would not be so good. He had a couple of crashes, and I won’t say that he was lucky, but things worked out for him. Everything was on his side. I cannot complain about this. My crash in England was just bad.
ROMAIN FEBVRE QUALIFYING CRASH: ENGLAND 2016
Explain the resulting effects from your crash in England.
I suffered a concussion. It was hard for me to stay off the bike. I was battling for a championship. We had some problems before, like in Spain and Germany, but I was 20 points close to Tim. I was disappointed about the championship, but it’s like this. The crash was not my fault. It was not the fault of anyone. Let’s say the good point about this is that I don’t have any regrets. It wasn’t my fault. What could I do? The crash caused me to have some problems between the eyes and the brain. One of my nerves was compressed by the concussion, so I could not see so good out of my right eye. It took me some time to get over it. I had many examinations, but the doctors all said the same thing–they didn’t know how long it would take for me to recover. I had to take some rest. I took one month off the bike, and there was also no training. When I tried to concentrate I could not see so much. It was tough.
Did you have prior experience dealing with a concussion?
Already I had concussions, maybe four or five, and after one week I was able to ride during those times. This one was not like that at all. I could not ride. I still tried, though. The weekend after England was the Mantova round in Italy. I tried to ride on Friday before the race. I did one lap and pulled off. It was not possible for me to ride. It was difficult to accept that I would lose the championship.
What did you think of the Charlotte USGP?
It was really good. I actually liked the track. Some people complain that the track needs to be longer, but for me it was good. If we compare to Assen, that track is really small. They made the track longer this year, but still it is small compared to Charlotte. Just the light was really tough in the last moto on some of the take offs of the jumps.
After Charlotte the MXGP series finished off at Glen Helen. What did you think of the track?
I liked it so much. I was really happy to also go there [California] riding that week. With the bike we did some changes the last three or four GPs to change the starting power. My start was better at Glen Helen, but my riding was not so good. I was happy to go to Glen Helen and I felt good in practice, but I knew that winning was going to be difficult with the bike. It was not the best year, I’d say.
You brushed off any issues you had during the season by riding exceptionally well at the Motocross des Nations. In your own words, how was your experience at Maggiora?
It was good to win three times in a row. It’s not a championship, though. If you see like what happened, you never know. The last lap of the last race no one knew who was going to win. You have to have some luck. If you make a small mistake then it can be a disaster for the score of the team.
In the last moto you got a poor start, but came through the pack rather quickly. Did you know that you had to pass Tommy Searle in order to clinch the win for France?
I didn’t know what was going on. I was in the pack and worked my way back to the front. [Jeffrey] Herlings and [Tony] Cairoli started at the front, so after three laps they were already gone. I thought to myself that winning was not possible. I was always around someone, and every time I passed the pit lane I could not see my pit board. I gave it everything I had and figured I would see where I was at at the end of it all. Then Cooper [Webb] fell right in front of me. Even the last lap I passed Searle, but I didn’t know that if I passed him then we would win. My team told me on the pit board that I finished second overall, so I was not happy about that. Then I crossed the finish line and was told that France won. It was crazy.
Jeffrey Herlings’ move up to the 450 class for 2017 is big news. How do you think he will do?
I think he will be good. He’s really good on a 250. The thing is that he needs to stay healthy. Already on the 250 he had a lot of injuries. That’s the main question in my mind. The last two or three years the level in MXGP has progressed a lot. Before Cairoli was alone and leading quite easy. Now it’s becoming difficult. We’ll see what we can do. There are a lot of good riders in the 450 class. It’s good for the sport.
Do you like the flyaway races?
I like to travel. Some of them, like Thailand, is difficult. The hardest part is the food. Every time when we go somewhere, even in Europe, it’s hard to eat. We really take care of that, because many riders become sick because of what they eat. It’s not like the U.S.A., where you can travel across the country and eat the same kind of food.
How do you deal with jetlag?
I’m lucky in this area. I only go for the race weekend and don’t feel the jetlag. I don’t fly in early. Like between Qatar and Thailand I flew back to Belgium, and then I flew to Thailand on that Thursday. Even if I don’t sleep so good I don’t care so much. If we stay two weeks, like we did in the U.S., I started to feel like I needed to sleep in order to recover. Otherwise it’s not bad.
You’re from France, but the factory Yamaha team isn’t. Where do you spend most of your time?
I live in Belgium. I am close to Lommel. I never go back to my place in France. We test sometimes in Italy, because the team is about two hours from Maggiora. I fly to Italy whenever we need to do some tests. Now the SMX Cup is coming up, and after that we have Arnhem Supercross and Lille Supercross. After that I will take some time off of the bike and go somewhere on holiday, but not before Bercy.
Is U.S. Supercross in your future?
I don’t know. I like to ride Supercross. Last year was my first time in Supercross. It’s something different to do on the bike. To move to the U.S. is tough, for sure. I don’t know if that will happen.
Are you excited about the SMX Cup?
It’s different. For the U.S. guys I think it will be the same as Supercross. The thing is that nobody knows what will happen there. We will see after the fact. If they don’t have so many spectators and then I don’t think they’ll do it in the future. They’re trying to do something different, but I don’t know how it will be.