Last year was significant for Brazil’s Jorge Antonio Balbi Jr. He started out with a career-high fifth-place finish at the Daytona Supercross, a fifth overall at Unadilla, carried Brazil into the MXoN, and wrapped up yet another Supercross Championship at home. Returning to the states for 2009, the 27-year-old found his former team Moto XXX had significantly downsized, sending him back to his fully privateer beginnings of a few years ago – albeit on the Wonder Warthog Team. This year has been a bit of a struggle so far, but the resilient Balbi keeps plugging away.
Antonio Balbi: Well, actually I did a lot. I know that a lot of guys over here in America took a break, but after England, I went back to Brazil and started racing a Supercross series there. It included a total of six races, and it was racing pretty much every two consecutive weekends. It went pretty well, and I won like five out of six races. I captured a championship and I earned another number-one plate – which was a pretty cool thing. Then I came back here where unfortunately I had nothing really going on. The whole time I was in Brazil I was calling and working on things; but I could never get a ride. So I decided to try it pretty much on my own. I get great help from Wonder Warthog, but most of this is coming from my pocket right now.
Living in Michigan, I have seen big effects from the economy, but it’s really affecting everyone.
Yeah, it has had a big impact in the motocross industry. Although before I got here and saw Anaheim I, I thought it would be worse - there’s a lot of teams still out there. I don’t know why [laughs] that I didn’t get on a team; I mean, I’m national number 37. But I’m not giving up. I’m working on improving. I know I had a couple of not very well races. I had a tough time at the beginning. My timing was a little bit off. My endurance is really good from racing in Brazil, but my timing was off from riding the tracks there, where they are easier and more spread out. I only had a week here to try to get ready for supercross. I built a bike and did a lot of stuff on my own with the great help of my mechanic, Max, and my house-mate, Ian. Things are tough right now, but I can feel where I need to be, and I think I can do better.
Last year you were also a privateer, but probably on the best privateer team at Moto XXX. How is it being with Wonder Warthog?
Moto XXX was great, especially Allan Brown (then Team Manager) who helped me out a lot, and actually still helps me out this year. He’s doing my motors and trying to help me as much as he can. Even he doesn’t have a lot going on right now with the team ending. It was good being with Moto XXX. I didn’t have to worry about anything – my bike was always ready, and I had good equipment. I only had to go race and get results. People sometimes don’t understand how much work motocross and supercross involves. You have to do a lot before you simply show up and race. When I was on Moto XXX, I could tell a big difference from doing it on my own the previous year. Right now, Wonder Warthog is great, but they’re helping a lot of guys, and they can only do so much. Things like bikes, parts, and setups all have to come from me. I’ve got to pay my way to races and pay for bikes and do everything. I’m telling you, it’s tough. It’s not easy when you have to do all that stuff. For sure, I’ve got people helping me out, but you’ve got to do all of that, and still focus on training and racing - it’s not so easy.
It gives me a lot of motivation to be out here and trying to do the best that I can. In Brazil, I won some titles. There, I have a total of three outdoor national championships, and two supercross championships. I just felt like I had not much more opportunity to grow there. Yeah, I could make more money and have an easier life, but that’s not what I’m looking for. I love the sport, and I love to improve. My very first supercross in America was almost impossible, but now I have seen how much that I have improved. Last summer, in motocross, I had many great results, and many weekends I was inside the top ten. I may not make a lot of money, but I had good results and that’s what counts for me. I do this because I love to. I wish I had the opportunity to be in a better position to really collect even better results. Many say, “Oh in supercross, the bike’s not a big deal. It’s the rider.” That is true. It is the rider, but it’s also a “program” that makes a big difference. You’ve got a kid like Ryan Dungey. He wasn’t that big of an amateur, just a good kid. When he got on a good program with Suzuki and Roger, he had to work, and now he’s the best one out there. It’s all about a program and people around you. I know I’m determined to work, but sometimes you need to have that luck – that little bit of opportunity. I’m just doing the best that I can right now, and not giving up.
What do you want to accomplish in the remaining supercross rounds?
My goal right now is to find a ride – maybe even for the remaining Supercross series, or maybe for outdoors. Right now, my budget is about up. I cannot keep burning through money, because I’m probably not going to have it! If I cannot find a deal soon, I’m going to have to go back and race outdoors in Brazil. I’ve been working on a deal with Honda Brazil, and I’m likely going to have to take that and race back home. For sure, I’d love to stay here the whole year. But if I cannot get better support, I simply cannot. I know I’m not going to be able to get the results that I can – not because I don’t want it or because I’m not prepared, just because I don’t have equipment and the program’s not right.
Good luck, Antonio. With that said, who do you want to thank for helping you right now?
Well, there are a lot of people. I cannot thank the Wonder Warthog guys enough. They’re doing a great job, not just with me, but will all the privateer guys. Also, Allan Brown is building my motors and helping me out with whatever he can. Certainly a big thank you to my mechanic, Max, and my house-mate, Ian Martel - and all my Brazilian sponsors!