Making Champions : Roger DeCoster
No figure in the sport is as iconic as Roger DeCoster. With seven world championship to his name, he became first international superstar of motocross. His work ethic and mechanical understanding of a motorcycle made him the dream of every factory and allowed him to seamlessly move to a management role with three brands (Honda, Suzuki, KTM). Working alongside Ryan Dungey and the rest of the KTM racing staff, DeCoster has helped make the Austrian company into a racing powerhouse in the highly competitive US circuit. With what is easily KTM’s most successful season yet now complete, we asked DeCoster about his current list of racers and what helped KTM’s racing program mature in such a short time.
What have Marvin Musquin and Ken Roczen learned after their first year competing in the United States?
Both were very successful in Europe and have World Championships, but Supercross is a different story. The schedule here is very intense and you have to race every week, where in Europe the season starts a lot later. They start in April and we start here the first weekend of January. You finish Supercross and then have one weekend off before you go to the outdoors. There is a lot of travel and I think that was the biggest challenge for them, to get used to the routine.
KTM is the third manufacturer that you have worked for as a manager, after Honda and Suzuki. Being European yourself, do you find it easier to communicate with KTM because you have the same traits?
In a way, it is easier than the Japanese companies. The biggest thing is that whoever is the person is in charge at the factory level. There were years at Honda were communication was really good, and at Suzuki it was the same. We had a very good relationship with the technical side, but the key is the person. It doesn’t matter if they are Japanese, Austrian, Belgian, or American. With some people, you don’t have to necessarily speak the language perfectly. Some people get it and some people don’t. The good thing is that at KTM the guy in charge, Pit Beirer, is a former racer. He is an aggressive guy and things are in black and white, and there is not much hesitation with him. If you ask him something it is, “Yes, I can do it,” or, “No, sorry, I cannot.” You waste a lot less time than when you have to check with people who have to check with others who cannot make up their minds. With Honda and Suzuki, I worked with two types of people. Some years we had people that were really good and got things done, and other years it was too many people involved and too hard to make decisions. That is the advantage of a small company, that there are less people involved. With KTM, most of the people ride. They ride for fun or on the weekend. In many situations with Japanese companies, they discourage employees from riding the motorcycles. They are afraid they will get hurt. It is kind of strange. If you work on a motorcycle, you will understand it better. If you are a designer, you will design things more efficiently. If you are an engine guy, you will understand when the rider requests a certain type of power. In Japan, they have a lot of smart engineers with a lot of good schooling, but the practical part of riding the bike and understanding it better is a lot fewer. Some do, but a lot are too removed from the racetrack.
You have worked with numerous riders over the years, but can you compare any of them to Ken, Marvin, or Ryan?
The guys that win championships have some similarities. They get there in different ways. But the guy wins not one but several championships is eager to learn and want to find out. They ask questions and are willing to try any advice that you give them. I have been around a long time and I advise on what I see on the track or where they could do better, but I am not necessarily always 100-percent right. I make mistakes some times and don’t understand everything that happens. But this team is willing to try out what I suggest. That is the similarity between all champions.
Being less than a month out from Anaheim One where Ryan and Ken race, are there expectations already set?
Yes, of course. The expectation is to go for the championship. It is never easy to win the championship and at the first round, everyone has their hopes at the maximum level. It is never going to be easy, but the main goal is to always be there, be competitive, and not have any big screw ups.