After registering two runner-up finishes at the 2015 Amateur National Championships at Loretta Lynn’s, Kawasaki Team Green rider Darian Sanayei attempted to sort out what he would do next. With no contract offers from the U.S.-based race teams, the somewhat unheralded racer from Monroe, Washington, took a breath and raced a Canadian National (he went 4-4) and the season-ending Ironman National (he went 15-15) on his own.
That off-season, Sanayei went on to sign a deal with Team Bud Racing/Monster Energy Kawasaki to ride first seven rounds of the 250SX West Region, and immediately thereafter, the European Motocross Championship in the EMX250 class. Due to a back injury suffered out at Lake Elsinore a mere week before the Angel Stadium supercross opener, Sanayei never put any knobby marks in supercross dirt.
His attention then turned to the EMX250 series, where the young American would try to make a name for himself in Grand Prix motocross. Throughout the ten-race series that traversed the European continent, Sanayei excelled, winning six motos and was on the podium in six others to place a fighting second overall in the EMX250 series.
Marked by excellent results and rock-steady consistency, Sanayei proved a point, and in doing so, signed a contract to ride the 2017 MX2 World Championship for Steve Dixon’s factory-backed Kawasaki outfit. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Beginning this weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a week later at Glen Helen Raceway in Southern California, the 20 year-old American will see how he fares in MX2 in the back-to-back USGP rounds set for the two venues. Keen to get the rookie’s take on everything, Racer X sat down with Darian in California’s Inland Empire.
Racer X: Darian, when did you get back home from Europe?
Darian Sanayei: I came home the Wednesday after the last round of the series in Switzerland. That was on August 7. I came directly to California and have just been living in the house of the team owner Stephane Dasse and riding the Bud Racing bike at the shop right in Lake Elsinore. I’ve just been riding here for a couple weeks and getting ready for the Charlotte race coming up.
You remained in Europe for the entire European MX250 Motocross Championship, didn’t you?
Yeah, Hossegor (France) is where the team base is and they have a team apartment right across the street. I lived about ten minutes away from the base. Yeah, I stayed there the whole time. They didn’t really want me coming back; they wanted me to stay used to living there and to get used to the time zones and everything. For the most part it was good. I was there for six months. If I would have had to stay any longer it probably would have been pretty tough.
So you’ll be racing the MX2 World Championship United States Grand Prix rounds at both Charlotte and Glen Helen, correct?
Yes I am. Riding-wise, I feel pretty good. As long as I can get a good qualifying time and get good starts, I think I can do fairly well. I don’t really know what to expect because there are going to be American teams riding in it and so are the European guys. But yeah, my goal is to do the best I can. I feel like I have a little bit of an advantage at Glen Helen kind of being that I have rode the track before. Charlotte is going to be pretty equal for all of us because nobody has ever ridden there. I think it will be good for me, though. It’s going to be like a night race, not like a night race at a fair, but a super-size track and I think I can do pretty well there.
Have you been out on a track with any of the other MX2 World Championship contenders? Do you have any idea of where you might be at when matched up against those guys?
Not really. I haven’t really ridden with [Jeffrey] Herlings or any of those riders really at all. It’ll be cool for me to race them for the first time. And Herlings especially since he is going to the 450 class in 2017. I’d like to race him once before [he moves up]. And [Thomas] Covington, we actually grew up racing the same class pretty much our whole amateur career. I’m excited to be racing with him. I think next year in MX2 me and him can do pretty good.
Probably good to see a fellow American in the pits at these Grand Prix races, huh?
Yeah, Thomas and I hang out at the races and stuff and we talk and I ask him for his advice on some things and he helps me out, so that’s pretty good. We’re friends and that’s cool.
After you ran your first Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship race at the Ironman and went into the off-season, did you have any idea of what you were going to do for 2017? Had you already started thinking about racing in Europe?
Before Loretta Lynn’s, I had already gotten a proposal for Europe to come over and race in MX2. At the time I just wasn’t sure about it. I thought if I went and won Loretta’s one of the American teams would open a spot for me. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. Then I was like, ‘I really don’t know what I’m going to do now.’ Then I started talking to Bud Racing and just looking at it in the bigger picture for the long run, it looked like it was going to be my best opportunity for me and the best thing for my career. I didn’t want to go into supercross and motocross with a deal that wasn’t good and be at a disadvantage and just have my career plateau from there.
"I think where me and Thomas Covington are coming in next year, I think it’s possible that two Americans can be up front. That would be really cool for us."
The EMX250 Championship opened at Valkenswaard in Holland. How did you feel about everything going into that first round?
I thought I was going to kill it. But I hadn’t been riding that long since coming back from my broken back and thought, Okay, this is a lot different and this soil is a lot different. I also wasn’t feeling too comfortable on the bike. I went 7-12 for ninth overall at Valkenswaard. I was pretty disappointed after that, but I felt like my speed was better than a ninth overall. I wasn’t used to the track and I barely even qualified. I qualified seventy-seventh and only thirty qualified for the race.
Did you even know any of the guys you were racing against or was the entire thing a bit of a mystery?
It was all a mystery. Just before that first weekend we went to ride in Belgium. It was a really deep sand track we were riding and everybody was faster than me. Everybody! I asked everybody what class they were riding in and they all told they were riding in my class. There were probably thirty dudes there who were faster than me and they were all in my class. I was getting a little bit nervous going into that first round.
Round two of the championship took place at the Kegums circuit in Latvia. Things went much better there as you ended up on the podium.
Yeah, I went 6-3. When I was walking the track before the race I could see that it wasn’t nearly as sandy as Valkenswaard. I qualified fourth in my group and had a much better starting position. I was a little bit tight in the first moto and got sixth. In the second moto I got third and ended up getting on the podium. From there I kind of had that podium vibe going and started getting better and better at each race.
You also raced your way onto the podium at the next two rounds at Teutschenthal, Germany and Arco di Trento in Italy.
In Germany I got the holeshot in the second moto and got to lead for twelve minutes and then I got passed by Hunter Lawrence from Australia. I got second in the moto and got on the podium for the day. I went 3-2 at Arco. It was really muddy the day before the race and it was raining a lot. I thought it was going to be a real mudfest, but I got 3-2 there and second overall. It was my best finish of the season.
At round six of the series at St Jean D’Angely, France, it all came right when you swept both motos. Tell us about that day.
That was the home event for my team, Bud Racing. We got to drive to that race, which was cool. I got to ride that track one time a month or two before that race. When I rode it, it hadn’t been prepped in probably six months. It was in rough condition and I was worried it would be a really tough race, but it was in good shape for the GP weekend. It was pretty hardpack and had some stones and stuff, but the races went good for me and I went 1-1 there. From that point on, I felt like I was the first place guy in the series. I started clicking with everything and I ended up moving into second place in the championship after going 1-1 there. My big goal for the whole season was just to get top three in the championship because I had been talking with Kawasaki and stuff and they said, “If you’re top three in the championship, you’ll have a future with us here.” That was my big goal for the entire season.
And you kept the momentum you had created rolling on right through the end of the series, didn’t you?
Yeah, I went 1-2 at Matterley Basin in England. I felt really comfortable with the track and everything. In the second moto, Steven Clark [of Great Britain] just passed me and beat me straight up. We had a pretty good battle and I almost got him back with about four laps to go. It always sucks going 1-2 for second overall. It is what it is. After that I won the opening moto in Italy. I got the holeshot and won, which was cool. The guy who was leading the championship [Thomas Kjer Olsen] he passed me about ten minutes in and then I just followed him and learned his lines and then I got him back. I went 3-4 at Lommel and all the dudes in my class when they come into the sand. At the beginning of the season that would have been a good result for me, but at that point that was a bad result. Then I saw some pictures and stuff of the track being built in Switzerland for the final round and thought, Okay, this is my track. This is my time to get a little revenge on all those guys. I had some good confidence there and went 1-1 in those races.
So who will Darian Sanayei be racing for come the 2017 season?
I always felt like Kawasaki was going to have my back on it. I’d say around the time of the France race was when I started speaking to people about what I was going to do. I was pretty close to sealing a deal with the CLS factory Kawasaki team, but my buddy Aaron (Nixon) at Monster helped me with Steve Dixon and we went that route. I ended up signing with Monster Energy DRT Kawasaki to ride the MX2 World Championship. I feel like my goals and his goals are the same and for me, being from America, that’s where I fit best. It felt really good to finally get a deal. Pretty much my whole career was aimed to get a deal and I felt like I was putting in good results. I was winning, but I wasn’t always dominating. But I was always working for it. It just never really happened. Somebody else always got it or something always happened. It feels really good to have a plan now. To go over to Europe and get what I always wanted. I want to do the best I can and let my riding talk for itself. I think where me and Thomas Covington are coming in next year, I think it’s possible that two Americans can be up front. That would be really cool for us.