By many accounts 2008 was simply a stellar year for Brazil’s Antonio Balbi Jr. First he was signed by longtime privateer success team, Moto XXX, and then he took an amazing fifth overall at the drenched Daytona Supercross before hitting the AMA Motocross championships. Outdoors was where Balbi really shined as he took a top five at Unadilla, and twelfth overall in the final point standings. Rounding out his year, he even won the Brazilian Motocross MX1 Championship. Balbi was on a roll going into 2009, until economic conditions forced their way into AMA racing. Halted by lack of financing, Balbi was only able to compete in several early Supercross events before returning back home to Brazil. However, just before the 2009 Lucas Oil AMA Motocross Championship season started, CC Rider (www.ccridergear.com) came to his rescue and picked him up. Still, it’s not all easy for the friendly Brazilian as he finds ways to improve bike and body. We caught up with Balbi shortly after Red Bud.
Antonio Balbi Jr.: Well, overall it’s been a tough time for me. The beginning of the year was especially hard. I did not have anything great for supercross, so I just did a couple races then went back home and raced. That went pretty well; I got a sponsor in Brazil, and we even started a team back home which is actually the team that helps my sister (Mari, who races the WMX series) along with two other riders back in Brazil. But then finally we put a deal together with CCR and Ryan Clark’s Team Solitaire support. They pretty much teamed up, CCR and Ryan Clark, and that’s who I’m riding for outdoors. That’s working out great. If not for them I wouldn’t have any support. Everything happened very last minute, just a week before Glen Helen.
I actually only rode the CCR Solitaire bike once before Glen Helen! The bike is still a Honda like I have raced in the past years, but the bike is quite different, we’ve changed a bunch of parts. It took me a while to get going but its working okay. Now it’s up to me to step it up. It’s not easy at times with the way that the economy is going right now. Team Solitaire doesn’t have as big a budget as they always had, and Ryan Clark is doing everything he can to help, but it’s pretty much me and my mechanic Max. I get some financial help from CCR and those guys are trying to help as much as they can. I can’t complain though; there are guys that don’t even have what I have and are doing it on their own with no one’s help. But it’s tough, there’s a lot of great competition this year. Sometimes I wish I could have a little bit more time to focus on training and racing, but I think I’ll get there.
What have you been working on to improve?
I’ll be honest with you; I really had a hard time with this 2009 bike. Honda had such a great bike in 2008, and this 2009 model is a good bike, but look at Factory Honda, it took them the whole supercross season to get the bike working. My mechanic and I try hard, and we’ve got some great people helping us like MB1 suspension, and Allan Brown who was with Moto XXX last year doing the motors. So we truly have some great people working with us, but sometimes the budget is not enough. This 2009 bike is a good bike, it’s just much different and takes a lot more work or experimentation than the 2008 did. You could pretty much race a stock 2008 CRF450 at the pro level! When Honda first went to aluminum frame it was a big adjustment, but two years later it was the best bike. I’m getting better every weekend, and I really think my best results are still to come.
If I remember correctly you won the RC Hard Charger Award at Red Bud last year and after that you continued moving up.
Everything started at Red Bud last year. I was having an okay season, but after Red Bud I clicked it in and I had several great races and a lot of top tens. Then later I took a top five at Unadilla, and top ten again at Washougal. I really hope that I am at that turning point again this summer. We’ll see!
For sure, it’s a lot tougher than the previous year. Stewart was dominating everything outdoors last year, and this year we don’t have anyone really dominating. Villopoto and Alessi got hurt and that’s a bummer for them, but that also changed it up a little bit. We could have someone dominating possibly if one of those two guys were still around, but as a whole, the 450 class has a lot more depth than in past years. Last year it was the 250 class where the top 30 was really fast. Now I think that class has stepped back a little bit. It’s a lot easier to be top 20 in 250 class this year, while last year it was really hard. It seems that the 450 class now has got all the top riders for some reason. A lot of the young kids are stepping up and that makes this class a lot more stacked. It’s hard to finish up in points right now in the 450 class. The competition is harder, but it’s great. When you do well, you know you’re really doing well. It’s more of a challenge, and I like that.
With that said, where should you be in this class?
Well, I want to be top 10; I know I can do it. At High Point I rode top 10 for the whole first moto, but I made a mistake and finished eleventh. Right now, I primarily need to work on my starts. When you start up front, it’s so much easier. I haven’t been starting up front which definitely hurts your end results a lot. Once I’m top 10 and feeling good, I know that it will become easier. Maybe soon I’ll have that one moto, that one race when you’ve gotten a good start, everything’s working great, and the track is a track that you like, and maybe take a top five. I did it last year and I know I can do it again. I’m still waiting for that, but right now that’s what I’m working for, and I know I’m going to get it!
Antonio, that is a good way to wrap this up, but first who do you want to thank?
For sure, I can’t thank CCR enough, they’ve been great. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to race. I also need to thank Team Solitaire and Ryan Clark. They have been helping out as much as possible. It’s a tough year for everybody, and I want people to understand that it’s not that sponsors don’t want to help, it’s just the economy. Some people are not getting paid right now. But CCR is stepping it up, they’ve been paying me and they’ve been helping me a lot. I couldn’t do it without them. As I mentioned, Ryan Clark does a lot for me along with MB1 suspension, Fly Racing, and Allen Brown who’s building great motors. Finally I can’t thank my mechanic Max enough. He’s always with me no matter what. He’s with me through the bad and through the good. I could never do it without him.