Late last year, 2008 MX2 World Champion Tyla Rattray announced he would be leaving Red Bull KTM, for whom he’d won the FIM Gold Medal, to race in America. With the Monster Energy AMA Supercross tour now over, Rattray will come off the sidelines and race this Saturday for the first time since last October. We spoke with the South African as he neared his Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross debut.
Tyla Rattray: It’s awesome to be in America and racing, especially on Mitch’s [Payton] team. He has a good bike and a good program, so I’m really looking forward to racing to
racing the nationals in a few days’ time.
I understand it’s been a sort of dream of yours to ride for Mitch’s team.
Yeah, that’s true. I knew Mitch’s team is the best 250 team in America, and I knew that if I came to America, that I really wanted to ride on his team. I know his bikes are really good and really strong. Everything he has is great. We have a really good team and all the riders get along good. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to come and ride for Mitch’s team, because I felt comfortable with it and everything. It’s really awesome that I’m here and racing for his team.
How do you like Mitch? Do you guys get along well? He certainly has a strong personality.
Yeah, he’s pretty funny, Mitch. He’s got a great personality. Sometimes - actually, most of the time - he just talks shit. I mean, I really enjoy being around him and joking and laughing. It’s really awesome.
I know you’ve probably been asked this question a million times, but I want to ask you for myself: After you clinched the MX2 World Championship at Faenza, Italy, last September and then found yourself with an opportunity to come to the U.S. to race, was your heart ever torn about leaving Europe and the Grand Prix circuit?
It’s always been my dream to race here. I’ve had two goals in my life: one was to become world champion and, once I conquered that, to move over here to America and race for an AMA Championship. That’s what I’m doing this year and like I said before, I wanted to come over here and be on the best team, and I feel that for me, the best team is definitely Mitch’s team. We’ve been doing a lot of testing and I’m really comfortable on the bike now and feeling ready to start racing again. It’s been a really long time. I mean, I have not raced since October of last year. It’s been a couple months now that I have not raced, so I’m just going to go to Glen Helen and just get my feet wet and just take it a bit easy and just see how it goes. From there I’ll start racing hard and looking for the championship.
How does the Kawasaki feel to you?
The bike is awesome. For me, the handling of the bike is unbelievable. When I go out training and testing and everything, the handling of the bike is unreal. Also, the engine is really, really strong. I’m really comfortable on the bike. I’m really looking forward to racing it at the maximum and see how I go on it.
Well, I got here in January, and then I pretty much just got into things. I think in about the middle of February I started doing a little more testing to sort of see what I liked. Then, probably since around March, I’ve been doing quite a bit of testing. Normally, like, twice a week, I’d say we’ve been going out and testing. Obviously, we’ve got five riders in the team, so the guys on the Pro Circuit team have to spend time with all five riders, so it’s pretty difficult. But we’ve been dong a lot of testing and I’ve got the bike really dialed. I’m really happy. I¹ve got the bike really good and I’m coming into the year with a good attitude also.
What’s it like for you being on a team with five racers?
It’s cool. I’ve never had five teammates before, not even in Europe in the MX2 class. It’s going to be new for me, but we have five good riders, and hopefully, we can go 1-2-3-4-5 at one of the nationals. I think that would be pretty awesome.
This past Thursday at Glen Helen, David Bailey, who will be doing TV commentary for Speed this season, was watching you and said you look very similar to Mike Brown when he won the title [in 2001]. High praise. I know you don’t have a super-strong gauge of where you stand among the U.S. guys yet, but is your gut telling you that you’re right there with everyone else?
Yeah, I think my speed is going to be good. Also, my physical conditioning is good. I haven’t changed much since I was racing in Europe. I’ve just basically kept the same program in coming to America. I mean, I’ve even got the same trainer. The only things I’ve really changed are a different bike and a different team. I’m on my same program that I was in Europe. For me, that program worked really well and I won the world championship. I’m pretty much on the same program like I was in Europe. I know my speed and my fitness is not going to be a problem out there, especially when it gets hot. I think it’s really going to kick in then. I also think Tommy [Searle] and Christophe [Pourcel] are going to be up there racing for the championship, for sure. I think we’re all going to be up front and running for the championship at the end of the year.
Searle, Antonio Cairoli, and yourself battled ferociously for the 2008 MX2 World Championship. Cairoli was injured at the South African GP and was taken out of the title fight, but still, you guys really pushed each other hard the whole way. Did the stiff competition you faced elevate things for you?
Definitely. I had some good races last year with Tommy and Tony. I’ve had god races with Christophe as well. I know what their strong points and weak points are. It’s going to be good racing.
Glen Helen track, and can you compare it to anything in Europe?
When I’ve been there, it’s always been around one in the afternoon and it’s always been super rough, especially coming down that big hill. It’s just really gnarly coming down that hill that has braking bumps like I’ve never seen before. I’m really looking forward to racing it. I mean, I’m not a small guy; I’m quite a big guy. I like it when the tracks get rough. That’s when my fitness kicks in. I’m just happy when it gets super rough, and that’ll be
perfect for me.
Since I’ve been following this sport as a kid, I can’t really think of a series where so many great riders from all over the world have been brought together to line up in such a singularly competitive championship: Ryan Dungey, Austin Stroupe, Jake Weimer, Trey Canard, Brett Metcalfe, Blake Wharton, Justin Barcia, and more, plus all the Grand Prix riders in Searle, Pourcel, and yourself….
Yeah, I mean, in the 250 class you can totally pick seven different riders who can win at Glen Helen or at a national throughout the year. I think depth of talent is getting really deep, especially now with me, Christophe, and Tommy all over here racing for the championship. I think it’s going make for some really good racing this year.
The reputation of American motocross racing is to go full blast from the second the gate drops. Are you ready for that?
Yeah, that’s what all those guys have said to me. They said that when the gate drops, you have to just go for it wide open. In Europe when I was racing Christophe, Tony, and Tommy, I mean, our fastest last lap times were on the last lap or the second-to-last lap when we were racing for the lead. It’s a bit different there. I think your fastest lap time is at the beginning, but I think if you just stay in that pack in the beginning, then I don’t think it will be a problem when your fitness kicks in to race at the end of a race.
As far as results and performance go, what will make you happy when you’re walking out of the Glen Helen pits with your gear bag?
Glen Helen is going to be a bit tough. I think there are going to be a lot of guys going crazy for it and trying to show themselves. I think by the third round, most guys will be settling down. Going into Glen Helen, I’ll be happy if I leave there with a top-five position overall and be really happy with the podium. I’m just going t take it easy. I have not raced since October, so it’s been a few months. I’m just going there and get my feet wet, and then from the second round I’m going to start really putting my head down and fighting for the podiums and also for the wins.
Do you think you have a shot at the title?
Yeah, for sure. I’ve done all the hard work and we’re going to see where that puts me. Hopefully, at the end of the year, I can have that red plate for my bike like I did last year at the Grand Prix in Faenza.