Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Austin Forkner finished an impressive rookie season by winning his first career overall at the Ironman National on Saturday. On Sunday, he was named AMA Motocross Rookie of the Year.
Forkner ended the season strong, collecting four straight overall podiums and an overall. He’s hoping to carry that momentum into next weekend, where he will compete in the US Grand Prix at Charlotte. He spoke about his day in the post-race press conference.
Racer X: First we’ve got to hear about moto one and how that went for you, not just on the track. We saw how it went on the track, but also what was going on in your mind. And then let’s go ahead and move onto moto two and how it went, also.
Austin Forkner: First moto I basically told myself that I wasn’t going to look back for the whole moto because if I look back then I just start thinking too much. I didn’t until I think it was the 20-minute mark that I was like, there has got to be somebody here. I looked back and all I saw were lappers. Then it was down the step down table that I saw them and they were going by the mechanics area. I was like, there’s no way that’s second. Then I came around and my mechanic put plus 23 on my board and I was like, that’s second. It was really good. At that point I just kind of put it on cruise control. I was really comfortable and was still able to keep pulling a little bit. I think I ended up winning by like 28 seconds or something. That was really good for me.
Second moto was good. I got off to another good start. Aaron [Plessinger] kind of had the inside of me in the second turn and he got me. Just rode around behind him for the first couple laps. Then he messed up and I got him. We didn’t really battle but he applied a pretty decent amount of pressure on me for the first twenty minutes basically until I fell. Then that jump, I got sketchy on it in the first moto and it’s blind. So you go over it and you can’t see what the ruts are. And then you look, so you just have to guess basically every single time. The ruts were so deep that even if you get it good you’re going to drag the pegs, and if you don’t then you’re going to land in that soft stuff and drag your feet off. So I got sketchy on that one time. I had kind of made a mistake before that. I hadn’t been doing it [trying to jump in the section where he crashed]. I kind of made a mistake and he caught me. I was like, man, I didn’t even do it [the jump]. If you can do it and get it clean, then the guy behind you doesn’t do it, it’s like a second. I just needed to get a little bit of breathing room back from the mistake I made. [I tried to jump it] I ended up going down.
Whenever I hit I got some sweat and dirt on the inside of my goggles on the right side so I was ripping tear-offs but it was on the inside. So I had to ride the rest of the moto kind of with one eye because this side was all blurry. The bars were a little tweaked but not too bad. Cooper [Webb] got me a few laps later. I really didn’t put up much of a fight. He was there so I just kind of let it go and followed him and actually almost kind of had a battle for the next couple of laps. Then he ended up pulling away a little bit. Saw that [Alex] Martin was behind me and I just kind of put it on cruise control and rode it home. Whenever you fall and air stops moving and you get hot it’s hard to regroup. But I was just trying to regroup and just ride it home. I was pretty sure that I got him [for the overall]. I really didn’t know until I finished and my mechanic was holding up the one. They didn’t tell me on the board. It probably helped a little bit.
We’ve talked for four weeks about how you’ve actually said that you’re still learning how to lead races, not only from a mental standpoint but manage the energy and stuff like that. How did you feel? How would you grade yourself after your first moto win today?
The first moto, as far as energy level goes I was definitely down on it. It was pretty hot. The track was just really tricky. You had to be perfect because the ruts were so deep that one little mistake and you’re losing time. I felt really good after the first moto. I was felt good by winning, but winning by nearly 30 seconds. That’s almost unreal for me. Second moto I was definitely really tired. The fall didn’t help, but I think I would have been tired even without the fall. Me and Aaron were going at it for a few laps there. I obviously wish I hadn’t fell because I think that I could have won that moto, and even if not win, if Aaron was going to get up there and put really hard pressure on me, I knew I didn’t have to beat him so if he was going to get up there and start to get aggressive I’m probably just going to let him around and just try to follow him. But even if I could have got second that would have been better. But I made a mistake and it doesn’t really matter now. I still got the overall win and that’s really what I wanted.
Was your mindset any different today coming into this race than it’s been? When you went out for qualifying number two, you were the first rider out there. It looked like you were charging really hard and off the start in moto one it just looked like you were attacking this race track harder than anyone else. Was that something you planned to do? Was it just kind of how you woke up this morning? Or is it something that you feel like you’re learning to do?
It’s been the first mud race this year and my mechanic told me on the line before practice, he said, get out front. And I got out front. Most of the time I don’t like to get out front. It did help riding at press because at least I knew the track and I could go somewhat fast the first couple of laps. If I’ve never been there I really don’t like it out front because then I feel like I have to push really hard, and then I end up making stupid mistakes because I don’t even know the track. Since I rode press I pretty much knew at least the speed to hit the jumps and stuff. It was muddy so that was different, but I figured that out. I pretty much had to push to keep the guys behind me. I was actually surprised that I got out front in both practices because there’s so many guys waiting for the guy to tell you to go and I ended up getting out front in both practices. So it worked out. I knew after the first practice that I knew the track really good so I just could start attacking immediately. Basically crossed the finish and put down three or four solid laps. Fastest lap time in second practice, but second overall.
How much have these last couple weeks where you’ve been up in front, getting on podiums, contributed to today? Even with Plessinger on you, you looked pretty comfortable.
Yeah, I was pretty comfortable for the most part. Just any time that you get up there and run with those guys in the front, like Unadilla, and that’s my third podium in a row now, so even if I hadn’t have won today just ending the season with podiums and actually it’s my fourth podium in a row. Just ending it with consistent podiums, I felt like at the beginning of the season my starts were super inconsistent. Most of the time you’re not going to get on the podium [with bad starts]. So my starts have definitely been way better, and just getting on the podium every week. I feel like if I could have done earlier in the season that I would be battling for second or third in the points because I was within ten points of third I think in the championship. That’s pretty good, fourth in the championship. I think for a rookie that’s really good. My trainer told me at the beginning of the year that he thinks that I could win a moto and an overall, and I did both. So I’m really pumped on that. Good way to end the series this year. Gives me some confidence going into next year.
I think you finished outside of the top ten in only three motos. Has the consistency surprised you a little bit?
Yeah, a little bit. I knew that I wanted to be in the top ten pretty consistently. I didn’t expect to be in the top ten as much as I was this year. I think I only had a few motos outside the top ten, and one was because I crashed twice at Millville. It’s been a good season I think, consistency-wise. At the beginning of the season my starts just weren’t there. I’d holeshot one and then be outside the top 20 the next. You’re not going to get the overall finish with that. So I was really pumped with the way my starts have been. I think I holeshot both motos today even though Aaron passed me pretty quick in the first moto. I got two holeshots at Unadilla. Just been getting good starts lately and that obviously helps a lot.
A lot of times we’ll see rookies kind of tail off toward the end. It’s a long season. You’ve actually gotten better. Is it because you’re riding with other guys that are pro?
I don’t know. I feel like more experience is always better. I seem like I’m on a roll right now with just getting good starts and getting podiums and running up there with those guys. I feel like once you’re on a roll you’re kind of hard to stop. I feel like the past couple races that’s kind of been the case. Coming into today with being on the podium the last three races, if I would have finished off the podium today that would have been a disappointment. I knew that that’s where I should be. I just feel good about my riding and everything.
I read something this week that Robbie [Reynard] who you train with, really wants you to have fun away from the bike, and do other things except motocross. How do you balance the two?
Yeah, that’s something at Budds Creek that I definitely had more skate parking and stuff like that, having fun that week and I felt like I was a little bit tired at Budds Creek, just low on energy because I was just kind of messing around a little bit too much. This week we kind of got back on track with riding and going to the mall, going to the skate park and stuff. We kind of balanced it out. I feel like… obviously it worked out.
Earlier in the season we talked about you had some goals for the outdoors. Did you hit all the checkboxes?
It wasn’t even on the list, but a championship obviously would have been the main goal. But five podiums, two moto wins, an overall win, I feel like that’s pretty good for a rookie season. I wasn’t sure honestly about an overall win. After Washougal Robbie, my mechanic, was like, you can get an overall win. You can do it. I was like, man, I don’t know. But I came in this weekend knowing that I need to be up there in the top three and that I can get a moto win, and I did.
I know that we have a Michigan Mafia. I saw the new butt patch today. I didn’t know Missouri Mafia was a thing.
It really wasn’t. Me and [Benny] Bloss were talking a couple weeks ago at Unadilla. He said someone did an interview with him and he said something about being from Missouri and then some Mafia came up and it was like, Missouri Mafia. I was just messing around, doing gang signs with two hands, Missouri Mafia. I guess the Fox guys overheard that and so they made it a butt patch. That’s pretty sick. It’s actually probably one of my favorite butt patches of the year. It’s been good. We’ve been training at Robbie Reynard’s in Oklahoma. It’s a really good place to train. We’ve got Trey’s [Canard] place. Whenever Trey and [Justin] Bogle and those guys are out there, we’re got them and [Jimmy] Albertson and Bloss and [Chase] Marquier and Colt Nichols. He was helping me and then just all the other guys, the amateurs that stay there. It’s hot. During the break we did like 35s two days in a row and it was like 106 actual temperature, not even with the humidity. It’s hot. It’s good training, and it’s pretty close to home being from Missouri. I like it.
What’s the off-season look like for you? You just take some time off and get back into training or do you have any off-season races to do?
I was hoping to maybe do the Soaring Eagle race, and maybe Baja Brawl, which is an amateur race, just for fun. I like those two races but I’m going to be doing the GPs so that’s not going to work out. Some of the guys I feel like just as soon as the racing is done just absolutely shut off racing. Don’t touch a bike for like months, or at least until it’s time to start getting ready for supercross. But I’m going to get bored if I don’t ride. I got to get the new ’17 set up for supercross because that’s what we’re going to be riding next year, but I’m just going to have them send me some of the arenacross suspension I rode with this year just because if I want to go down to Trey’s—I’ll be back at home in Missouri, but if I want to go to Oklahoma and ride the supercross track at Trey’s a little bit, ride Robbie’s supercross track, there’s a hybrid supercross track that’s pretty close to us. Just kind of mess around and get in the supercross rhythm. If my friends want to go ride some outdoors, I’ll have two bikes setup one for supercross, one for outdoors. I’ll ride a little bit. Obviously not every day and I probably won’t do much off bike. Probably go to the skate park and stuff like that. I really don’t like getting fully out of shape. I like staying comfortable on the bike. Supercross is going to be pretty tough because it’s going to be new. So I feel like just slowly working my way into it and getting a little comfortable at time and then start doing motos later on this year but just slowly kind of working into it, I think that’s good. That’s kind of what I want to do.
All the momentum the past couple weeks, are you looking forward to the GPs and continuing… I guess your season’s a little bit longer. Would have been kind of hard to wait three or four months with all that momentum going.
With the momentum, I’m not super excited for the GPs because it’s kind of the end of the season, you’re kind of tired. It’s kind of like, we were planning on being done now and then this was like, okay, we’ve got to fly to two GPs. So it’s like not super excited. But with the momentum that I’ve got going I think it’s going to go good. If I can get two more podiums, that will work just with the momentum that I’ve got going right now. Just carry it into the GPs, that’d be great. We’ll see. It’s going to be different.
Everybody’s talking about Cooper versus Jeffrey Herlings. Why not Austin Forkner versus Jeffrey Herlings?
I want to beat him. Some of the guys at Robbie’s are like, so you’re going to be racing the GP guys. They’re like, dude, Herlings has got some raw speed. I think I can beat him. I want to try to beat him. We’ll see. I’m sure he doesn’t want to get beat by us as bad as we don’t want to get beat by him. We’ll see. It’s a no pressure race. Didn’t even really know that we were going to be doing it until a couple weeks ago. Go in, have some fun, try to beat those guys and just get some experience in case I ever go to MX des Nations. Riding with them is not bad but it’s always good to ride on kind of a different schedule with the qualifying races and stuff.