Winning Ways Start Early for SA Junior Stars

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Top row left to right, Matt Stevens, Josh Alexander, Wesley Mc Gavin. Middle left to right, Damon Garrell, Mackenzie Bam, Timo Toepfer. Bottom Hanju De Kock, Absent was Reece Lodewyk
The young riders in the FAST KTM Junior Team Powered by Motul have continued to rack up achievements that belie their youth and slight statures. While the riders in this multi-disciplinary team may barely be big enough to fill their helmets, their race results are already gaining nationwide attention. 

The team currently consists of eight riders, five of whom compete in SA Enduro and Off-Road Racing events, with the other three participating in the National Motocross series.  

FAST KTM has always focused more on riders who make a lasting impression during events, rather than the winners of each race. This ethos is being instilled in these young riders, each of whom has been identified as a potential future star. 
“At FAST KTM we believe in family and we operate as one. Our clients become part of our family so this value becomes the foundation of all we do. Promoting and supporting a Junior team is naturally part of our vision,” commented Dave Griffin of FAST KTM. “With the talent we have in South Africa we believe we can assist in cultivating international athletes who can progress to bigger platforms.”   
Griffin is quick to point out that none of this would be possible without much-valued partnerships in the form of sponsorships, quality products and teamwork. 
”Motul is extremely proud to be associated with these talented young riders,” commented Mercia Jansen, Motul Area Manager for Southern and Eastern Africa, “and we look forward to supporting and celebrating their future achievements as they continue to make their mark in the tough world of off-road motorcycle racing – something that is very close to all our hearts at Motul.” 
With FAST KTM placing as much emphasis on creating a family vibe as on winning, it’s worth spending a moment getting to know the members of their Junior Team. After all, followers of SA Enduro and Off-Road Racing will be hearing these names a lot more over the next few years. 
Damon Robert Garrell (11) – won the Mayfair Gearbox race at Smoking Pistons held in March 2019 and is making his mark in the SA Nationals 65cc. A keen conservationist and A-grade student, he enjoys pedal power as much as horsepower – he’s also an accomplished MTB rider. 
Hanju de Kock (9) – competes in the GXCC Series and won in his class in all three of the Africa Off-Road races he entered in 2018. Still regaining his confidence following an accident in 2017, he has shown a great deal of courage and determination in returning to racing. 
Joss Alexander (14) – has been riding Enduro for four years. He’s currently racing in the pro mini and senior 85cc divisions. He’s a keen rugby player and photographer, and somehow still finds time to excel at school where he has an impressive 80% average. 
Mackenzie Bam (9) – one of very few girls who rides Enduro, but this did not prevent her winning the GXCC 50cc class in 2018 in her first year on a KTM 50 She has also managed a 1st place in the Lowveld Enduro Club race. 
Matt Stevens (12) – born with KTM Orange in his blood, Motul lubricants in his joints and the spirit of a honey badger, he has recently achieved a 2nd overall in the EWXC series and holds a current lead in the Lowveld Enduro series after round 3 with 3 races to go. 
Reece Lodewick (10) – was born at just 29 weeks, a sign of his impatience to get to the finish line first! He competes in the Lowveld Enduro Club (LEC) where he secured 1st place over all last year and has made the podium in every race so far in 2019. 
Wesley McGavin (13) – has embraced the challenge of big wheel racing across 4 series in motocross in 2019, where he is starting to close the gap on the faster riders in his class. A keen swimmer, he’s not fazed by diving in at the deep end and making a splash. 
Timo Toepfer (13) – currently competing in 85cc Nationals, he is described as a quietly charismatic young gentleman by all who meet him. Never known to give up, he’s an excellent all-round sportsman, whether competing in swimming, cross-country, hockey or cricket. 


It seems particularly appropriate to celebrate the accomplishments of these young riders during Youth Month. Looking at what they’ve already achieved, it’s safe to say that these exciting youngsters will be competing – and winning – for many years to come. 


ABOUT MOTUL
Motul is a world-class French company specialised in the formulation, production and distribution of high-tech engine and industrial lubricants. Motul is also recognised as the specialist in synthetic lubricants. As early as 1971, Motul was the first lubricant manufacturer to pioneer the formulation of a 100% synthetic lubricant for automotive engines, the Motul 300V lubricant, which made use of ester technology derived from the aerospace industry. 
Throughout the years, Motul has gained experience as an official supplier to many racing teams and manufacturers and continues to collaborate with them to further technological development in motorsports.
Motul supports teams in international competitions such as: 24 Hours of Le Mans (cars and motorcycles), FIA World Endurance Championship, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Super GT, Drift, Japanese Super Formula Championship, Blancpain Endurance Series, Dakar, Tour Auto, Le Mans Classic, MotoGP, World Superbike, World MX, FIM Endurance World Championship, IOM TT, MOTUL FIM Ice Speedway Gladiators World Championship, Roof of Africa and many others.
I know my role is a little unusual but there is definitely a place for it…
I never really had a coach when I was a rider and looking back now there were moments in my career when I really could have used people with experience to point me in the right way when it came to what I was doing on the track. This was just as much about understanding the bike and what was going on as with my own personal performance: this is what I try to transmit to the rider now. I think what I see from the track can be of assistance to the rider – as well as the team – to develop the bike and how the athlete is riding. It’s another tool that people can use. It is not something that is always calculable and will always bring a result but it is something extra, another piece of support. A rider will need a physio, doctor and a masseuse and every year is looking for some way to upgrade his ‘programme’ and this type of coach is another form of help.

How to speak is as important as what you speak…
It’s important to convey a sense of confidence and positivity. Even if you see some negative things from the outside then you have to take care how you put them across. You might see that the bike is not working well in some aspects but you have to be transparent and also careful with what you say because you are not the one that then has to put on the helmet and go at 300kmph. The rider doesn’t want to hear things like ‘the bike is moving a lot’ or ‘it seems dangerous there’ and watch out for certain words that can cause doubt.

Pick your moments…
You have to talk conservatively and thoughtfully but also identify if there is a problem in, say, a particular corner. Above all you have to reassure the rider as much as you can. It’s easier to talk in quiet moments in the motorhome or the hospitality and that’s when you can explain more details about what you see going on with the bike and his riding. In the pitbox it is complicated because it can be tense and he’ll be very focussed on the moment he goes on the track. It’s a delicate time because you cannot imagine the focus he will have. He’s thinking about his sensations, feelings and his emotions – this is what riding is all about and the sessions are very short to be able to get a grip on all of that. For those 40 minutes the body and mind are fully tuned in. So you have to give support, and choose your words well.
There are many more differences between riders than you think…
It looks like they all go for the same place on the track compared to something like motocross, which is very open and can change all the time. People can see – especially those that have raced – the different styles of the riders, the braking points and their positions on the bike to enter the corner in the best way. Riders do use different lines, although the difference between each one is pretty small. You have to really look for that – and the styles as well – but it’s possible to see. If you take the first corner at the end of the straight in Losail [Qatar] for example then there are riders who keep more towards the inside and others that stay wide and sweep across. I think it’s easier for former racers to interpret what is going on and how effective those approaches are than for those watching through the TV. There are riders that follow and imitate others and there are some that really try different things, different lines. From the 25 riders on the MotoGP grid every one has their own approach!

We don’t make changes every weekend…
The goal with Maverick – and something I really hope we achieve – is to be as consistent as possible and for him to be as competitive as he can be on the bike. This hasn’t always happened – last year for example – but it would be a progression. He has so much potential as a rider and the main objective is for him to find a feeling on the Yamaha so he can be as strong as possible all year long. That’s the priority.

It wasn’t easy to wear another cap…
It was very hard to change roles. I stopped racing but I was still in good shape and good form. The only way to continue was to find a large sponsor and bring some money and that wasn’t going to work for me. Thankfully I feel I have a good relationship with many in the paddock, with people at Dorna, and the first person I helped was Tito Rabat and I’m grateful to him because it opened a new road for me. When I started though I still felt like a racer and that means you think a lot about yourself and not much about anybody else! So it was tricky to change the mentality and think only about Tito and now Maverick. It means dedication and still training hard to show the rider that I’m motivated and still thinking and relating as it is a rider. It was difficult to change though and it took me a while. Now I’m at a point where I am happy and keen to help and use my experience in another way. 

Do I have the goods? Believe it!
You have to show you are motivated, confident and sure in your work and that it’s helping, maybe towards results or, above all, in creating a good atmosphere or way to work. That’s my objective. As well as results we have to make sure Maverick feels at home and can really bond with his team and the people around him in a common goal. As a coach you don’t have those ‘TV moments’ where you are taking a prize or walking on the podium but you have that inner satisfaction which is really good. Speaking honestly I was working a few years helping develop junior racers in the Spanish series and when one of them wins then it was a great feeling, really rewarding and I know those moments will come with Maverick as well.
The line between friend and ‘employer’ can be tricky…
I’ve known Maverick a long time and we were teammates in 2012 so above all we’re friends and for me he has such high value as a person as much as a rider and we’ve shared a lot, including some difficult moments for me. But! When good times come I am able to say congratulations and if things are going badly then I also need to be open and with the best disposition towards making things better. With good words and enthusiasm between both then there shouldn’t be a problem. Tension would obviously be counterproductive and that’s why we have to communicate in the best way and ensure we stay strong through the good and the bad. I think that Maverick is finally creating his ‘own’ team around him; people that he can trust and that transmit confidence. If you look at Marc Marquez then he has had the same crew for many years, since he was in Moto2 and Valentino as well. I have great relationship with him. He’s a friend, has been a teammate and I saw him racing as a kid. He has enormous talent for what he does and is affectionate. We ride motocross together and there’s friendly ‘needle’ there! He’s made me crash a lot of times this pre-season while finding limits to go with him! So there is a bit of competitiveness and comradeship and I think this will help when things don’t go so well.

There is real pressure being a MotoGP rider: you have to believe you can help…
This comes down to the skill of what to say and when. I know in the pitbox this is a time when he might not listen to me or choose not to follow any suggestions. You have to understand – me also – that it’s a big mental stress but at the same time he knows that I am here for one reason and that’s to help him to get better. We might make a mistake now and again but the priority is analysis, with calm and understanding, and identification of good things and bad and to be able to talk about them. We have a strong link and one of the things I wanted when I came to this team and had this opportunity was to train and have a close connection with Maverick at his home in Andorra. I didn’t just want to turn up at the races and tests. This creates even more confidence between us because we’re working in the gym, riding motocross, riding bicycles and keeping a bit of competition there. I believe it adds more credence to what I say because it becomes part of our day-to-day work. I think it helps and there are many athletes working together now to find the same high level or benefit in what they are doing away from the track. If Maverick is feeling better and it is translating to what he is doing on a MotoGP bike then it helps you to keep working and pushing.

Making the best better?
At Maverick’s level it is complicated to break it down. With kids, far easier, because you can work on elements of their technique and they can see an improvement but the MotoGP grid is already so good! What we try to look at is his cornering, his line and how it compares with what he did in the past and what the other top level riders are doing. Also how the bike is moving. It might be through one corner or three. I use videos as well to try and find any weak points…but it’s difficult!

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