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5 Minutes with ... Michael Byrne

Coming into the 2008 AMA Toyota Motocross Championships presented by FMF, Rockstar/Makita Suzuki’s Michael Byrne was a big question mark. Not due to his riding skills, but to his lengthy time off the bike with knee surgery – missing the entire AMA supercross season. Soon into the series though, Byrne began making his move to the front, and is now a constant podium guy. With two rounds left Burner sits fourth in points; only 17 out of second place. I caught up with the friendly 29-year-old Australian to get his take on the summer.

Racer X: Michael, you’ve been putting in some fantastic rides lately…
Michael Byrne: Thanks. Ever since Colorado it’s been going pretty good. You know, I didn’t really have that many weeks of riding underneath my belt with my knee, and it wasn’t really that strong at first. So I just had to get through the first couple races and get to that first break so that I could have a little more recovery time for my knee, and get stronger. I think there were some things I needed to work on; my finishes were good, but I just didn’t have the speed at the start of the races, like in the first five laps. During that first break, I tried to build up my knee a little bit more, and work on my speed at the start of the motos. Then Colorado came and it was good for me. I was pumped that I rode solid at Colorado. Then the ball just started rolling from there. My knee’s obviously strong again and the confidence is building, so that all helps.

Stewart’s been untouchable, but you’re right behind him with guys like Short and Ferry. 
Yeah, I think that’s where I belong, battling with those guys. Like you said, James is kind of on a different level right now, so you’ve got to think realistic and focus on where you really belong. We all want to win; we all train hard to try to win, but James is just on a little bit different level right now. My bike has been really good, along with the team and my mechanic. Everything’s just coming together. 

You are in a very close battle with Andrew Short and Timmy Ferry for second place in the championship. How important is this?
I want to beat Andrew and Timmy; it is really important! I need to just give it everything I have every weekend and try and build on what I’ve been doing all season, that’s the goal. This season I’ve tried not to over think it all and put too much pressure on myself; to try to be in a certain spot or think this is where I need to be, because then if it doesn’t happen, you get super bummed out. Then you’re putting extra pressure on yourself that you don’t really need to. If you just ride and give it everything that you’ve got every time you’re on the track, it seems to work a lot better than trying to say to yourself “I need to be in this spot this weekend.”

Mentioning pressure, you’re the lone guy out there with Alessi injured and Vuillemin not racing. Does that create more pressure?
For me it could, but as I said because I’ve been progressing and getting better and better, I’ve just been trying to focus on that. I know what I expect from myself, which is probably more than what everybody under this truck expects. No one’s harder on me than what I am. I’ve just been trying not to put pressure on myself like, “I’m the only guy in the truck. I need to do this. I need to do that,” and just go out there and ride.

What races do you have after the nationals are over? I’m assuming that you’ll be on Team Australia for the Motocross of Nations.
Yeah, we’re going to England for Motocross des Nations, and then the U.S. Open right after that. There are a couple of other races too; Chad’s doing the supercross series in Australia, so I might go back and do a couple of those races, but not the whole series. It just depends on how testing and other stuff’s going.

So are you already re-signed with Rockstar/Makita Suzuki?
Well, we’re still working out the details and stuff, but I definitely want to stay. The team’s been great, and I’ve had a good relationship with everybody here. We’ve all got along well and it seems to work.

You mentioned Chad a minute ago. With him signing with Rockstar Makita Suzuki, does that affect you at all?
It’s going to bring some extra knowledge to the team, that’s for sure. He’s a great rider and he’s very experienced. He’s won a lot of races at Yamaha, and now coming to Suzuki, I think that his experience and knowledge that he’s had from a different factory team, like when I left Kawasaki, will help a lot. These guys definitely go beyond all expectations of what it takes to get a winning bike out on the track. Then to have his knowledge of supercross and bike setup and stuff like that, I think it would be good.

One last question Michael: you’ve always been really good indoors, so what do you think about supercross in 2009?
I think it’s gonna be good. When I hurt my knee I was super bummed, because at that time I was the fittest and strongest that I’ve ever been on a supercross track, and the most comfortable I’d ever felt. To not be able to do those races and have to sit out and watch, it was pretty frustrating, but it helped my motivation and helped me realize at this point in my career what I really want. I think now during the motocross season, I’m probably at the same fitness and level that I was before I hurt myself. Hopefully now I can just try and stay injury free and try and get a good off season in again—that will be even better for next year’s supercross season.
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