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Monday Conversation: Tyla Rattray

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As we all now know, after winning the 2008 MX2 World Championship, Tyla Rattray packed up his gear bag, flew to California and drove straight to the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki race shop in Corona, California to punch the clock for new boss Mitch Payton. Rattray’s premiere season in the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship 250 class started off well, the South African racing to 5-2 moto scores for third overall at the opening round at Glen Helen. From that point forward, the likeable rider pulled off a number of top five moto finishes before breaking his thumb in the second moto at Red Bud. Out for six weeks, he did not return until round 10 at Budds Creek. A week later, Rattray showed his true colors by convincingly smoking to a second moto win in the giant sandbox that is Southwick.

Fast, strong and in excellent shape, Rattray proved to all that he’s the real deal. Recently, while making a reconnaissance lap around Corona, Rattray swung by Pro Circuit and Monster Energy to check in with everyone. While in town, we sat him down and shoved a tape recorder before him. Friendly and well spoken, Rattray gave us the rundown on his 2009 season, racing in both Europe and America, and the rapidly approaching 2009 Motocross of Nations.


  • Rattray, the 2008 MX2 World Champion, had a promising season derailed by a broken thumb before coming back for his first moto win in America.
Tyla, the other day I was able to cast my eye upon your Motocross of Nations bike over at Pro Circuit. With the South African colors and all it looked killer. Have you seen it yet?
Yeah, I just went over there before coming here – the bike looks pretty cool. I mean, the Motocross of Nations is a really big event all over the world. It’s the biggest motocross race there is, so I’m really looking forward to going over there. I was living in Europe for eight years and met a lot of good people and it’s going to be cool to see them again.

Up until Marvin Musquin recently clinched the title, you were the reigning MX2 World Champion. You then came to the United States and are now going back to Europe for the Motocross of Nations. When was the last time you were back in Europe?
Yeah, it’s been a while. I mean the last time I was in Europe was for the FIM awards in Monaco, so that was in December. The last time I raced in Europe was October last year, so it’s been pretty much a full year since I’ve been back to Europe to race. I’m really looking forward to racing the Motocross of Nations. It’s one of the biggest motocross races there are in the world. I think it’s going to be big, especially being in Italy and [Antonio] Cairoli being World Champion. It’s going to be a big event.

How did things go for you at the Motocross of Nations at Donington, England last year?
My speed was good. I just had a bit of bad luck. In the one race I went a little bit off the track and some banners got caught up in my wheel, so I had no back brakes and had to come into the pits and change that and take it out. For the second race I had a really good start, but then I crashed. My speed was good and I knew I could have done a lot better than the result was, but I just had a bit of bad luck.

Luck plays a big part in the Motocross of Nations, doesn’t it?
Yeah, definitely. Especially for a team. It’s really important that the three riders have really good and solid races. That gives you a great result at the end. I mean if one rider is having a bad day like I was last year – I had two bad results and I was supposed to be the strong link on the team – things don’t go your way. We didn’t get such a good result like we would have liked to, but I think this year will be better. It’s going to be really awesome going there. I’m really excited to be going back to Europe to race again.

  • Tyla's will represent South Africa at the coming Motocross of Nations.
And even though you injured your thumb at Red Bud way back in July, you were riding well and a consistent top five finisher up to that point in the season. So I’d assume you’re going back to Europe in a good frame of mind…
Yeah, definitely. I mean my injury this year obviously set me back when I crashed at Red Bud and broke my thumb. I felt at that race that I was really moving forward and making progress. It was a really good track and I felt comfortable. A lot of people know that in motocross, if your confidence is high, then you’re going to be in the front and winning. I felt that just around Red Bud I was going good and I knew my competition a lot better. I mean I never raced these guys in my life before this year. The guys is Europe I had been racing for eight years, so I knew who the good guys were and who was fit and who would be fading after the 20-minute mark. For me and Tommy [Searle] coming over here, we didn’t know any of our competition. It was new for both of us. But like I said, at Red Bud I started feeling strong and then just had a little crash – it wasn’t even a big crash – and broke my thumb and that set me back for six weeks. I managed to come back for Budds Creek. The first moto was not so bad, I think I finished fifth. The second race was just a big mud bog. I then managed to go out and win Southwick in the second moto. I was really strong there. I love riding in the sand also, so I felt really good there. At Steel City I toppled over in the first training when I was trying to put in a good qualifying time. A slow rider came around a corner and just rode straight into me and messed my knee up. It was really swollen and I couldn’t really race that good. I tried to race the first race, but I was in too much pain and I just sat out the second race.

All things considered, do you feel good about your first year here? Do you feel like you have developed a good base for 2010?
Definitely. I think for next year, it’s going to be a lot better for me. I know the tracks. In Europe we had so much time to get to know the tracks. I mean we had two 40-miunte trainings and then a qualifying heat. Here, it’s two 15-minute practices and then, bam! You’re into the races. Now, for next year, I know the tracks. I know where the good lines were. I know what my weak points were this year, so I know what I need to work on for next year to be racing in the front and winning championships. This year, for me, it was a good learning year. I learned a lot. Especially with my competition. I think next year will be a lot better and I think I’ll be up front racing for the championship.

We’re only two weeks out from the Motocross of Nations. I’m certain there are plenty of motocross fans around the world who are thinking, “I wonder what Tyla thinks. He knows the Grand Prix motocross scene and now he knows the American motocross scene. I wonder how he compares the two.” To that end, are the two scenes different or are they more similar?
I’ve raced here and I’ve raced there. I think in America there are a lot more fast riders when you’re racing, where as last year when I was racing the World Championship, it was myself, [Antonio] Cairoli and Tommy [Searle]. Those were the three guys. If you got a bad start in 10th, you could still come up to third if Cairoli and Tommy were gone. You could still finish third. Here in America, if you get a 10th place start, the 10 guys in front of you are fast. To try and get up to third like that here is pretty difficult. So I think here the start is really important. It’s the same in supercross. The start is everything here in America. That’s what I’ve learned this year.

Do you think the American-based racers – even if they are racing for 11th place – fight harder for their position then say the Grand Prix riders?
Yeah, I mean that’s a bit of a difference that I saw here. Even if it’s for 15th place, it’s wide open, where as in Europe it’s more like if a guy is a little bit faster, they’ll just let you pass and just let you go. I think the race fighting here in America is a lot tougher and more aggressive than in Europe.

  • Rattray was the man in the sand, at least for one moto.
Have you kept your eye on the 2009 MX2 World Championship, and if so, who will be tough in Italy?
I think [Marvin] Musquin has definitely lifted his game this year compared to last year. Last year I don’t even think he was top 10 in the championship. He didn’t have podium results. This year he pretty much went out and dominated the MX2 class. He had issues riding for his team, like Honda and KTM and that, but I mean he put that all behind him and at the end of the day he won the championship. To win a championship is never easy. Musquin and also [Ken] Roczen and [Rui] Goncalves have lifted their game, but I know here in America these guys are fast. Last year I won the championship, coming over here to America this year and racing with Christophe [Pourcel] and [Ryan] Dungey, those guys are really, really fast. I do think in America, especially in the Lites class, the level is a lot higher than what it was in Europe this year.

South Africa will be represented by Gareth Swanepoel (MX1), Neville Bradshaw (Open) and yourself (MX2) at the Motocross of Nations. How do you feel about your team? Do you think you guys have a good team?
Yeah, I think we have a good team. Gareth is a good, solid rider. He’s always consistent. I’ve watched his results in the Grand Prix and he’s always there. Neville is also young and he’s going to have a lot of fight going into the race. I mean it’s a big race for him also and he’s really going to want to get a good result. If we’re lucky, we might even get on the podium. But I think a top five result we’ll be happy with.

How do you think the American team is going to do? Do you think they have a good team?
I think America has got a good team with Dungey, Jake [Weimer] and [Ivan] Tedesco. I don’t think it’s their “A Team” they could have, but I mean with those three, I’m pretty sure they’ll walk away with the number one plate. Dungey is just coming off a championship, so he’s going to have a lot of confidence. Jake has been riding really good and Ivan’s got a lot of experience at the Nations and I think he’s going to be helping Jake and Dungey out. It’s going to be their first time racing the Nations, but I think America is probably going to win again. I mean I know Italy is going to be strong with David Philippaerts and Cairoli, but maybe there third rider might not be that strong [Note: Davide Guarneri].

{LINKS}How about Australia?
Yeah, Australia is going to be good. I mean they’re probably going to be fighting for a podium, but I think at the end of the day, America is probably the favorite team to win.

What’s your personal goal for the Motocross of Nations?
Obviously my goal is to go there and win the MX2 class overall. I know the riders in Europe. Yeah, we’ll just wait and see and hopefully I’ll have a bit more luck than I had last year and hopefully walk away with that gold plate.

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