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Monday Conversation: GP of Ireland winner Josh Coppins

Everyone came to Desertmartin in Ireland for the 13th round of the FIM World Championship expecting to see the already-crowned Stefan Everts take GP win number one hundred and continue his relentless march to a perfect season in the MX1 class. But CAS Honda’s Josh Coppins had other plans. The 29-year-old New Zealander knew that time was running out if he was going to claim a 2006 GP win before he replaces Everts himself at Rinaldi Yamaha in 2007. It’s been a difficult campaign for Coppins, as he dislocated his shoulder in the week before the first GP and didn’t actually enter the series until round eight. But yesterday he finally had his day, carding a 2-1 to take the overall.

Racer X: Congratulations, Josh. How important it to beat Stefan on one of his good days, rather then winning a GP that he crashes in or suffers a mechanical?
Josh Coppins: It was really important for sure. It feels good to win like that. We lapped up to third place in the second race, and we were one minute ahead of the guy in third place in the first race. We were both hauling.

It seems you’ve stepped it up a level since the previous GP in Namur three weeks ago.
Yeah, I have. In Namur I was good, but not as good as here. I was close to Stefan at Namur, but physically, I just hadn’t had enough time on the bike.

Is it that old adage, There’s a difference between being fit and being race-fit?
Yeah. You normally have about seven races before you start the GP season, and now I’ve had something like that since I got back on the bike after my injury. I’ve reached that level now.

I actually thought you were going to win the first race, because when you were running in second, Stefan’s lap times seemed to drop by a couple of seconds, and you caught right up with him, but then your lap times dropped as well.
I think I could have carried on running those times, but I got caught up behind lapped riders. You could see that I could close back up when I passed them. But I think the problem was that the lappers aren’t used to there being someone right behind Stefan. When they let him by, they’d pull straight back in on the line. That happened four or five times. It made it that much more hard work, and I ran out of time. I felt I had the speed, though, so I was disappointed with that.

Did that give you confidence for the second race, and did you save any energy at the end of the first race?
I didn’t save any energy. I pushed right up until the end because I still thought there was a chance. I think that the real difference in the second race was that I found some better lines, and I was determined to win.

Stefan actually passed you in each race. Did you let him through either time?
The first race I did, more or less. I could have blocked him off, but I didn’t. That was a plan. I’d been speaking to my trainer [former 250cc World Champion] Jacky Vimond, and that was the idea: slow down a little bit, let him through and follow him, and then try to come back. I think it would have worked if I’d got more of a clear run.

In the second race, wasn’t there a yellow flag, just before he passed you? Did you lose some momentum?

Yeah, there was. I wasn’t really sure where to go or whether to make the jump in that section or not.

Then three laps later you passed him back.
Yes, I had been struggling with my breathing. But when I slowed down a bit, I felt much better. I followed him, and I could see that if I kept pushing him I could pass him back.

How much confidence does this give you now for the rest of the season?
It gives me a lot. Obviously Lierop [in the Netherlands]—which, because of the deep sand, is actually more Stefan’s playground than Namur is—will be tough. But at the final round at Ernee [France, on the hard-pack] I think I have a shot.

But it’s pretty sandy and rough here too. Did you have any sense you could win this weekend?
I’ve been trying to get up to speed, and I knew before Namur I was running out of time. At that point we had four GPs left, and two of them were sand, here in Ireland and then Lierop. I was thinking I didn’t want to leave it until the last GP of the year. So I really tried in Namur but I couldn’t make it happen.

So you didn’t really think you could win here then?
Well, he rode so well here last year when he chased Ben Townley down. I knew it would be difficult.

At what point in the second moto did you know you had it won?

When I saw “+4” on my pit board, I just thought, Attack, attack! He’s such a great rider and competitor, I’d been thinking he could do the same to me as he did to Ben. Then when I saw “+9” a lap or so later, I knew I had him.

You ran faster laps in the second race. Wasn’t the track rougher?
It was rougher, but in the first race there was a yellow flag in the rhythm section more or less the whole time. In the second race, though, I was able to triple in, which was much faster.

How much confidence does this give you for next year?
I think it’s cool for next year. Plus the fact that I came back at the British GP at Matterley Basin after just twelve days riding and got on the podium. I’ve just got to dial the Yamaha in to exactly how I want it and we will go from there.

Of course, that brings us to the Nations, also at Matterley. What pace can you run there?
I’d like to show myself to the Americans, because I’m never going to be a factory rider over there. And I’m disappointed Chad [Reed] isn’t coming. Last year Carmichael pretty much done me, but Ben was able to stay with him. I really don’t know…. Carmichael is ahead of Everts, but if I had my best day ever, maybe it’s possible. I’m not going to say I’m going to race with him—Carmichael’s an unbelievable rider—but I’d like to think I could!

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