Like World and National Champions Greg Albertyn and Grant Langston who came before him, Gareth Swanepoel is yet another South African looking to utilize Europe as a springboard to global motocross stardom. After a rough and tumble third season on the Europe-based Grand Prix tour in 2006, Swanenpoel finally saw some daylight at the 2007 Grand Prix of Benelux, the season opener, where finished on the podium for the first time in his career.
“Well, last year I broke my scaphoid in the beginning of the year, so that was a big set back for me,” said Swanenpoel a few days after the race at Valkenswaard, Holland. “Once I got back to full fitness, I started going well and just missed out on the podium a couple of times. By finishing on the podium last week, I feel like I have finally broken through.”
Confident, in good health and riding for the factory-assisted Molson Kawasaki team, Swanepoel — along with compatriot Tyla Rattray — is poised to further establish South Africa’s reputation as one of the globe’s great motocross nations. After we spoke to Gareth, he went out and swept both motos of the MX2 class in the British Championship race at Lyng over Tommy Searle and Mike Brown.
Racer X: Gareth, a week after the season-opening Valkenswaard Grand Prix, what have you been up to?
Gareth Swanepoel: The same as any other week, I suppose. I took some recovery training and rode on Wednesday and Thursday. Right now I am getting everything ready for the third round of the British Championship this Sunday. I also took the team out on Monday night for dinner to celebrate my first podium. It was my way of saying thanks for all the hard work everyone has put in.
I felt really good and excited. I had ridden well the weekend before in the British Championship, so I felt good. I had checked the Internet during the week before Valkenswaard and saw a few websites where people involved in the sport made their top choices for the first Grand Prix. Nobody had put me in the top five, so that motivated me to show how fast I can really ride.
Having said that, how did it feel to stand atop a GP podium for the first time?
It was awesome. It was a big relief, in a way, too. I had been putting so much pressure on myself during the pre-season and getting on the podium was just like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I just kept thinking, ‘Finally, I have made it up here.’ And the podium also made me excited for Spain.
Can you describe your first moto at Valkenswaard?
I got a good start and it took me a little while to settle in. Once I did, I made my move for the lead. I tried to pull away, but I didn’t ride very smoothly. I was far too focused to be nervous, but I just rode tense, which made me use a lot more energy than I should have. Every night this week, when I have gone to bed, I have gone over and over those laps that I led so for the next time, I won't make any mistakes. Oh, and how it felt to lead? Awesome! The best feeling I have ever felt while riding a bike in my life.
How did you feel between motos? What did you do to prepare for moto two?
I had some really bad stomach cramps in between the motos. I didn’t do anything special. I just had my bowl of rice, drank a lot of water and watched the MX1 race to try find some better lines.
How about the second moto?
It was a tough race for me. I did not get the best start, but I came through the pack quite well and made it all the way through to fourth position. I was riding well, but my energy level was not so good. I used so much energy when I rode so tense in the first moto that I lost two positions near the end of the moto and I thought I had lost the podium, too.
Can you describe the infrastructure and organization of the Molson Kawasaki team?
It’s a British team, but based in Belgium. They are really professional and I think the team is one of the best MX2 teams in Europe. It’s not a factory team, but we do get a couple of things from Japan and quite a bit of help from Kawasaki. However, the team does most of the tuning themselves
What do you like and dislike about living in Europe?
I hated it in the beginning, but I really enjoy it now. It’s quite laid back here in Belgium and good for training. I just don’t like the weather in during the winter.
What are your favorite tracks and nations?
I like the Italian tracks. I have also begun to like the sand tracks in Belgium and Holland. But I really think Italy is a really nice country.
Why are there so many riders from New Zealand, South Africa and Australia currently racing the Grand Prixs?
I suppose Europe is a good place to break through. It used to be anyway, but now in the way the have structured the Grand Prixs in the last few years, it’s tough to get in without money if you have not proven yourself. I was lucky and was already in the GPs when it all changed. I think a lot of riders from countries such as New Zealand, South Africa and Australia will start going straight to America in the years to come
What will be your approach to the rest of the 2007 MX2 season?
Well now that I have been on the podium, I want to try and get up there as much as possible. I just want to be consistent in the beginning of the series and then start winning when I am ready. I want to be in the position to fight for the championship when it’s crunch time.
Do you like the Bellpuig circuit?
Yes, I really do. I think its one of my favorite tracks of the season.
What’s your goal for Bellpuig?
To be in the top five.
Can you win the world title?
I think I can. I have been here long enough. It’s time
What riders will you have to be the most concerned with in 2007 and why?
Christophe Pourcel and Tyla Rattray, but mostly Antonio Cairoli. They have already proven that they are the favorites to win, but I have beaten all of them at some point.
Would you eventually like to race in America?
Yes, most definitely.
Have you been to a supercross in the U.S.A?
No, not yet.
What do you think of American motocross and supercross?
I think it looks really good. I really like supercross and riding it. I have raced a National at Unadilla before and I really enjoyed it.
What do you like to do for fun?
I like karting and I am thinking of buying a go kart when I get back to South Africa this year. I also enjoy just going to the cinema and chilling.
Do you have any heroes in motocross?
Yes. Greg Albertyn and Ricky Carmichael.
Well best of luck from here, Gareth.