2009 will see the same formidable duo of David Philippaerts (25 years old from Italy) and Josh Coppins (32 years old from New Zealand) represent the Yamaha Monster Energy Motocross Team for the second year in a row. Philippaerts – as reigning MX1-GP World Champion – enters only his third year in the category and just his second on the conquering YZ450FM; the 2009 version is the evolution of a motorcycle that has captured eight titles in ten years. Coppins, so close to the crown in 2007, is now one of the veterans of the class and negotiates his third term with Yamaha. The New Zealander boasts 10 Grand Prix wins to his credit, one of which was taken in Germany last season.
Here the pair share their thoughts and expectations for the upcoming championship due to start at Faenza, Italy on March 29th; just seven months after the team celebrated the 2008 title at the same venue.
David, how did you spend the winter? Did you do anything different to prepare for your title defence?
DP: Not really, I did a programme more or less similar to last year. I went up to a mountain called Cogna, just over an hour from my home in Milan. With my brother, Deny, we spent a few weeks doing high altitude training with cross-country skiing and it was hard but felt good. Sometimes the temperatures went as low as -12! A few months before I went to the island of Sardinia on a scouting trip and found some good tracks. After Christmas a few of us spent three weeks over there riding every day. The weather was good and the island was very pleasant. Overall it was a good combination. If I changed anything with the training it was to try and find a bit more stamina. I want to be stronger over the full 40 minutes of a moto and not feel like I am searching for a bit more sometimes.
Have you noticed any changes to your life since becoming world champion?
DP: Not so many; I was able to buy a nice new car! I also finished many more things around our new home. There were more people in the street, especially in my home town, shouting ‘ciao’ but I guess I will really notice the status of being world champion in the first part of the season and at the races.
Looking back on 2008 there were some excellent races; Britain, Czech Republic and Holland, but it was also a tough championship to win...
DP: Yes, I always knew that if I aimed for a top five finish in each moto then I would be close at the end of the season. There were some low moments, like in France, and also times when I really had to work to get some points. The gap was never that big and finishing ahead of Ramon was often the target in the second part of the season. I always thought it was possible to win the championship – because the bike and the team are so good – but it took a few races for me to really believe in it.
You have been excellent in pre-season and you are looking in good shape for the GP season?
DP: Things have gone well. Mantova was a bit of a disaster but I think the fans realise it is a race that we use to get back to speed and also make some tests. Since then we had some success in Italy and also in France. The races do not mean much but they are valuable for getting things right with the bike and also a few trophies does help towards the confidence as the first GP gets closer.
Why no number 1?
DP: Because number 19 is better! I never raced to have the number 1 plate and I think there is often a bit of bad luck associated with it. Tony (Cairoli) had a difficult season in 2006 and you can even look at people like Hayden and Stoner in MotoGP. I think people tend to recognise the rider more for the number than the face, so keeping 19 was important to me.
It will be interesting going to Faenza for the first race?
DP: It will be emotional and I will admit that I am feeling nervous. I think there will be a lot of people there! That Grand Prix in 2008 was an incredible experience and it will be tricky not to think of it when we first arrive. It will also be our only home GP of the season. Despite all the pressure and attention I will be keeping in mind that there are 14 more races after that weekend.
How about the bike for 2009?
DP: I am very happy. We had an excellent bike in 2008 and we have made some small changes that should help us be stronger at the start. We were experimenting with a 2009 clutch and I liked it when I was training but I think we will start the season with the ’08 model.
Finally, who will be your main challengers again and who will be a surprise in 2009?
DP: A lot of people have asked me about Cairoli and I think that you need at least one season in MX1 to learn about the speed, the bike and the rhythms you can find on the tracks. However it would be silly to say that Tony will not be able to win races. I expect him to do very well. Other than that the usual people like Ramon will always be a threat because there are consistent. I think Clement Desalle will be a surprise and Barragan could be stronger.
Josh, 2008 was a test in many ways, both on (pre-season injury) and off the track. Do you think you might be operating again at the level you reached in 2007 now?
JC: I think I am close; it’s more of a mental thing at the moment. In 2007 I had no doubts at all but after a bad season like ‘08 you start to question yourself a bit, but to answer your question yes I feel I am getting close. However it’s important to realise that the competition has stepped up their game also; I know it will be a tough fight!
You changed your trainer over the winter. How was the new programme and how are you different approaching the new season?
JC: Well I was looking to change things up a little. I had great success with my previous trainer but I wanted a change and that’s why I moved over to Russell White. So far I have improved on a few of my weaknesses but I think it will be over the whole season that the improvement will show. I don’t want any ups-and-downs like last season. I want to arrive at every race fresh and ready to do the job, because that’s what it’s going to take to win, week-in week-out of good consistent results.
An unavoidable question...fatherhood! Has it affected your mindset at the races at all?
JC: No, not for the races but in the week, yes a lot! It’s not just about me anymore I have a family to look after and provide for. At the races it is about 100% focus on the job but you sure do think about things twice in the week! Like your future and commitments etc.
How is the YZ450FM different in 2009? Did pre-season tests go well?
JC: Yes, very well, like I said earlier ‘08 was a tough year for me on many levels, but we started work early on the ‘09 bike and we did a good job. We have improved in all the areas that I felt needed addressing, but it’s important we don’t stop and keep pushing as our competitors won’t stop and at the moment I feel we have a good advantage and I want to keep that!
Is must be a novelty to start the season on hard-pack after a few years at Valkenswaard...
JC: Yes it sure is going to be a bit different, good for some riders and bad for others, but for me it doesn’t matter too much. I think it will be a close race where as normally the first GP in the sand isn’t too close.
2008 was not the best year but you were still in the title hunt until the thirteenth round. On a better scale you must be once again one of the favourites...
JC: Yes you’re right, that’s a nice way to look at it. I wasn’t happy in ‘08 on-and-off the track and to be honest I didn’t enjoy my racing and that’s a very bad thing. So far I’ve loved my racing in 2009 and I want to keep it that way; to be in the title hunt for so long last year after a lot of set-backs makes me confident for 2009.
You are now one of the older riders in the class. Does the experience make up any disadvantages lost to youth?
JC: I think not. In 2007 ‘yes’, but the teams are so good now and they offer us riders a lot of support in this area. The good riders in their mid-20s have been through a lot already so they normally know how to handle themselves, but their advantage is that they recover a bit quicker and don’t feel the aches and pain quite as much. For the first half of the season this doesn’t apply too much but after mid-season when the going gets tough yes it does, this is also why I changed trainer because I wanted to improve this area and improve my diet to try and help with things like recovery and injuries and I’m happy to say so far it’s been working well.
What riders will surprise us in MX1 this season?
JC: Marc de Reuver will be better and confident in all conditions. Clement Desalle will have some very good races. For the rest I think there are many good riders going into 2009 so it’s hard to pick one or even several! I think I will surprise a lot of people.... why? Because many think I am not the ‘Josh of 07’, which is true, I want to be even better...
Now you are based in the UK with a young family does it mean past talk of retirement will not necessarily surface again in 2009?
JC: Yes you’re right. In the past I have always wanted to return to New Zealand as soon as possible, and although I will return one day, I am no longer in a hurry. I don’t even want to think of retirement. In 2008 I worried too much about my future after motocross, but the truth is I am a good rider and I still have a lot to offer. Besides I’ve been smart and invested wisely and along with all that I realised things just have a way of working themselves out. For me and my family I want to enjoy every day of life and racing and work hard and take it as it comes; I don’t want to talk about retirement anymore.