It’s hard not to be impressed by Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki rookie Austin Forkner. Seemingly wise well beyond his years, Forkner has taken a level approach to his rookie season—be consistent, stay off the ground and learn. We’ve often seen rookies show killer flashes of speed, only to wad it up or fade at the end of the moto. Forkner hasn’t. He’s been wildly consistent—seven top ten moto finishes through seven rounds—and is getting better late in the season! Another impressive performance at Southwick on Saturday—including a second moto where he challenged Cooper Webb for the lead—resulted in Forkner’s first career podium.
He spoke with the media following the race at the post-race press conference.
Racer X: Talk us through your weekend from qualifying up to the big second place finish.
Austin Forkner: It was really good. I got to ride press day so I got to get on the track. I’ve never been here before, so I got to get out on the track and at least get the layout down and the jumps and stuff like that. You can just get it down on press day so that whenever the racing comes you can focus on going out there and doing the first two or three laps and whenever they wave the green throw down and try to set some lap times. I figured that here being sand it was going to get rough and the first practice was probably going to be faster. But I went out and I set a pretty good one down. I think I was in ninth. We made a change to the bike and I think it helped it quite a bit. Then on the last lap I set the fastest one. And then in the second qualifying session I was second, so I kind of backed it up. I knew my speed was there, but I knew that it was going to be pretty tough to go back on that one sprint lap for the whole race. But I got pretty decent starts all day. Both were for sure inside the top ten.
The first one just got up and made passes quick. I got stuck on [Mitchell] Oldenburg for a while and kind of lost sight. [Arnaud] Tonus got around him, and then it took me a little bit to get him. I kind of lost sight of him and kind of lost my groove a little bit and fell back into it at the end, but by then it was too late. The second moto I got a lot better start and just knew that I needed to make passes happen quick. So I was absolutely just sending it the first couple laps. I wanted to try to get up there and pass Cooper [Webb] just because I knew that it was going to be tough to beat him but I wanted to just get up there and run with him and try to pass him. I ran with him for probably four or five laps up there and was battling with him. I actually passed him in one spot but I was on the outside so he got me back in the next corner. It was good. I was riding really good. But I was like, you know what, I should probably, if I’m going to finish this moto, take a step back before I take a step forward. So I backed it down a little bit and I think he kind of fell into a groove and I did too. He was pulling me a little bit but I was okay with it because where I was, I knew it was good enough for a podium. So I just fell into a groove. The track was so brutal. You couldn’t push as hard as I was pushing at the beginning for the whole time. It was only a matter of time that you were going to end up down or you were just going to wear out so bad that you had nothing left, and I didn’t want to do that so I backed it down and rode smart and smooth the whole race and fell into a groove and got second, third overall. So it was good.
Fourteen motos under your belt in your professional career. Are you meeting your expectations of where you are now to where you thought you’d be?
My expectations coming in were top ten pretty consistently. I’ve been top ten every single race. Not every moto, but every race overall I’ve been top ten. But my expectations kind of changed recently. At Glen Helen I got 3-5 for fourth overall, which was good. So I knew I could run up there in the top five. For the past couple weekends I would have one not horrible moto, but just enough to take me out of contention of being up there in the top five or podium. I knew if I put two solid motos together, got two good starts, that I would be up there. I went 5-2 today and that was a podium. The way that it’s been going if everybody can get through one race and none of the top guys fall, that’s pretty surprising. The way they were all pushing and everything some crashes are bound to happen. A bunch of guys fell in the second moto today. So I didn’t want to do that and I knew that I was in a good position to get a podium. I just rode smooth and smart. Some of the guys behind me, I could see that they were catching me a little bit and I wasn’t going to let them pass me but I wasn’t going to ride over my head and throw it away at the end too.
How important was it to lead last weekend, although it was for a lap, and then kind of pressured Cooper today just to know that speed?
Yeah, last weekend was my first holeshot, since I’ve been racing [pro]. I was glad that I got to lead at RedBud. I actually crossed the finish line first [on lap one], which I was super pumped about, just because that was my first lap that I led. So it was good just to get experience with that and get comfortable with running the intensity that these guys run. I think that that helped me this weekend. That first moto I wanted to try to run with Cooper and get up there and mix it up, just in the first couple laps. I was pushing hard and I kind of got held back. When I was in third behind McElrath, Cooper kind of got away and I reeled him in for two laps or so, and then for two laps after that we were going back and forth pretty much. It was fun. I’m glad that I did it. I didn’t want to fade like I did last weekend. I didn’t really fade, but last weekend the first moto it was one of those races that none of the top guys went down. It was Jeremy, Alex, Cooper, Joey and Osborne. None of them went down. None of them had a problem. They all got pretty decent starts, probably top ten all of them. So that day I was sixth fastest guy, so that’s pretty good. But today I got a better start and I wanted to run up there. So I did that. I knew that after I put down the sprint laps that I did with Cooper I kind of got a good gap, bigger gap than I did at RedBud because Cooper kind of made me work those first few laps. Last week I would fall into a groove and then I’d get passed by somebody else. Fall into a groove, and get passed. So I wanted to prevent that this weekend, and I think I did that.
A lot of rookies talk about hitting the rookie wall but you’re seven races in and are actually getting better. Why is that? Is it your training? How are you feeling about the schedule?
I think that I’m just smart with my riding. I could have kept pushing as hard as I did, and I could have passed Cooper, but at the 25 minute mark I may have been so blown up that it wouldn’t have mattered how big of a gap I would have had on those guys. Just either fell because the track was so gnarly or just got caught. So I backed it down a little bit and made it through the whole moto. At the beginning of the season I wanted to make it through all the motos and not just push super, super hard for the first fifteen minutes. I know you have to. You have to go out there and you have to push hard to be up at the front, but none of the guys are running that sprint speed for the whole moto. So I just fell into a groove and that’s kind of what I’ve been doing every race. Just kind of trying to fall into a groove. I know whenever I’m starting to get really tired and I have to just try to push through it. But I’m not going to ride over my head.
Like last weekend I didn’t want to let Osborne around me with like three or four laps to go. That put me out of the top five, but he was just going a little bit faster than me. I wasn’t going to push over my head and end up on the ground and not score any points. So I just want to try to get through every race without having one of those big rookie mistakes, which I haven’t this year.
It’s kind of rare for a rookie to be that smart about it. Are you taking this as a learning year? That’s your kind of focus is to kind of just get used to all this?
Yeah. I’m pretty much used to it now. I keep learning stuff as the races go on, but I’m pretty much used to it now. I said that my goals have pretty much changed. Now I think I’m a consistent top-five guy. I think if I can get a good start then there’s no reason I should be outside of the top five. I think that that’s where I should be. Obviously there’s going to be mistakes and I’m going to not finish in the top five sometimes, but that’s what I was kind of getting frustrated about the past couple weekends. I was making a mistake in at least one moto every single weekend. I was like, I want to do another Glen Helen and have two top-five finishes. At Glen Helen I didn’t get on the podium but I had two solid rides, and that’s what I was happy about.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned this season?
Basically the whole amateur moto you’ve got to ride like a sprint. You’ve got to start out these motos like a sprint, but eventually you’ve got to fall into a rhythm or else you’re going to blow up. On the tracks just the way that it is, especially this one today, if you were sprinting like that the entire moto you were bound to hit something. If you’re charging that hard and you’re hitting bumps, they just pretty much got bigger and worse as the moto went on. So something was bound to happen. Probably just still getting used to the length of the motos. I don’t really know. Honestly basically everything that I expected coming in has been pretty on-point with what has actually been right. I guess maybe the only thing would be how many good starters there are and how hard it is to get two good starts, which is what kind of I’ve been struggling with, is getting two good starts and having two consistent motos. Just getting two solid motos, two top-five finishes is kind of what I’ve been struggling with a little bit, but I did it this weekend. I want to try to keep doing it.
How about the biggest surprise?
Honestly probably how many guys could win, especially at the beginning of the season. Everybody kind of now has kind of fallen in. You know who the really fast guys are and the guys that I think I should be able to beat. But at the beginning of the season, even still now there are so many guys that could win. I think before the season started we counted up and there were like twenty plus guys on factory bikes that have been up there and won races and stuff like that. I think there are only two of them that are out hurt right now. So there are a lot of guys that can win. Last weekend Osborne was up there battling for a win. This weekend I don’t even know where he finished. That’s just how it is. Some weekend there’ll be a guy that’s up there and the next weekend there won’t. That’s what I’ve been trying to prevent, is to be there every single weekend and get through the season. I think that that will just be good in itself for a rookie to make it their whole season, make it to every race, get experience on every track with all the pros. It’s looking good right now.
Who’s been the best person or what’s been the best advice given to you? Has it been a teammate like Adam Cianciarulo who’s been in your position with the hype, or has it been training partners? What’s some of the best advice that you’ve received?
I’ve been training at Robbie Reynard’s recently and we have a good group of guys there right now, I feel like. We got Trey [Canard] who has been out for the past couple weeks but he’s back riding now. Bogle, Benny Bloss, Colt Nichols, a bunch of the Loretta’s guys are staying there right now. I feel like with that many guys you can push and practice the sprint laps at the beginning and even just rip motos. The amateurs I would do long motos but sometimes I would do them by myself so I wouldn’t push as hard in amateurs. But I could kind of get away with it because there were two or three guys that could win, and now there’s ten guys that could win. So just doing motos at race speed. I kind of knew this, but Robbie, he got hurt a lot in his career, so it’s like, he’ll watch and if he sees that I’m getting tired on the track then he’s just like, “You’ve got to call it,” or “You’ve got to go get something to eat or you’ve got to do something. You don’t want to get hurt and be out.” So that’s just figuring out whenever I start to get tired, when and how much I should back it down. Just smoothing out is what I’ve really been trying to do. I think it’s been working, and especially today being smooth late in the day, that was really key. I was actually a little bit bummed when I heard that we were second moto because I was like, man, if we’re going to be second moto this is going to be the worst track in the second moto, just because it’s going to get rougher. In the second moto it was rough. It was brutal. I got through it and really didn’t even get all that tired. Rode hard until the end and got a podium.