Main image courtesy of KTM Images/Ray Archer.
Rene Hofer is used to being in vaunted company. As the sixth member of Red Bull KTM Factory Racing crew he is surrounded by titles and statistics. Between Tony Cairoli, Jeffrey Herlings, Jorge Prado, and Tom Vialle, there are sixteen championships alone. 2021 MX2 rookie, Mattia Guadagnini, has already taken GP wins and podiums in his first season and is second in the standings. Hofer, the first Austrian to ride for the dauntingly successful works team from Mattighofen this century, has been making his own path of progress and his 8-3 at Mantova last weekend delivered an overall MX2 class victory for the 19-year-old.
The soggy Italian race represented Hofer’s second attempt at the MXoN. His first came at the previous edition in 2019 where his results gathered the Ricky Carmichael Award for best young rider—not a bad streak of spoils so far.
Hofer entered Red Bull KTM full-time for 2020 in the full heat of the pandemic that saw the FIM World Championship shut down for three months between rounds two and three. During practice for round four in Latvia he crashed and badly broke his left shoulder, bringing his debut term to a crunching end. 2021 has been a discovery and education of sorts for the former 85cc World and European Champion who had filled a role as a junior test rider for KTM with their minicycle range. He has already broken into moto top three reckoning and has been regularly haunting the overall top five. A maiden Grand Prix podium finish is tantalizingly close.
Racer X: Rene, you might be the first Austrian to win a class at this event.
Rene Hofer: [Smiles] I think so.
For an Austrian guy to come to Mantova and shine in the sand was pretty impressive.
Obviously, Team Austria were one of the underdogs and that took away any pressure. So, I was just going out, having fun, and riding at my best level. I got a great start in the second moto and it was amazing to ride a few laps behind Jeffrey. Unfortunately, I had a small crash on lap four which made life a bit difficult, but third place against the 450s is a great achievement. Team Austria was ninth overall and I think that’s our best result for a long time. It was a really cool day and a nice experience. It’s not ‘real’ sand here, it’s kinda mixed, but I was also really fast at Riola [GP of Sardinia] last week. I had podium speed there but had a tip-over in the first moto and some bad luck in the second. I’m still building-up in the sand. If I can get another good winter and some more confidence then I might be even better next year.
You are a young Austrian riding for your country and on a factory KTM. Do you feel there was more scrutiny compared to a Grand Prix?
Actually, the opposite because, to be honest, we were not riding for the team win. So, for me I did what I could to help with my individual performance. I’m proud of what I managed, and the team on the whole.
Was there a point in the second moto when you realized ‘I could be winning MX2 here’?
I didn’t know where Tom [Vialle] was. I knew Mattia [Guadagnini] was a few places behind and in the end we tied on points so it was really close but I knew nothing about Tom. It was our WP guy, Matte, who said I’d won at the end of the race, so it was like a surprise.
This is your first full season at this level. Do you feel your fitness and confidence is slowly going up?
Definitely. I’m in good shape right now and I feel really strong. I hope I can transfer this to the next few GPs. I mean, this [MX2 MXoN victory] doesn’t feel like how I imagine a Grand Prix win to be but it’s still really nice and something I can scratch from my checklist. I still have a few chances to make the podium in MX2 this year and that’s now the goal.
All the Red Bull KTM riders, apart from Jorge Prado, entered this race. With the MXGP calendar now crazy until the end of the season was there any doubt in your mind about coming to Mantova?
We decided together with the team to come here, and once we’d made that decision then there were no thoughts of skipping it. I’m not fighting for the world title this year and that made it even easier. It’s a nice event and when the MXGP calendar changed again to have the final two rounds at Mantova, then it also meant some practice for those two races. Obviously, I’m now really happy I decided to come here!
Last year when you were deep into rehab and recovery it must have been hard to imagine or think about a day like this?
Yeah, but then this is what you train for. You visualize it during the rehab. You look toward those moments that could happen in the future. It gives you the motivation you need to get back from such an injury. I had some hard months, but it is the same for a lot of riders and I’m not the only one who has had a big injury in this sport. I’m happy that the pain went away, that I could live the dream and have fun with the team.