During 2002, only a few guys prevented Ricky Carmichael from going something more like 40-0 when it counted. Mike LaRocco took a popular win at Anaheim 2. Nate Ramsey grabbed a main event win in Pontiac, Michigan, after Ricky looped out. The only other rider that kept Ricky from running the table was David Vuillemin.
DV ran up an impressive string of finishes at the beginning of the season, winning three of the first six rounds. Sure, Ricky had knocked himself out of contention at the first round, and was injured for a few rouds after that. But when David snuck up and passed Ricky on the last lap at Indy, showing he not only had the speed and skills, but the tactics to duke it out with RC.
Things came unglued for him at mid-season, though, when he crashed while warming up for a photo shoot for TransWorld Motocross. The shoulder injuries that he suffered caused him to DNS the Daytona round, effectively handing control of the series back to RC who had healed from his early-season injuries and took nine of the last ten races en route to his second straight championship.
He also had a run-in with Stephane Roncada in Atlanta, where he smacked his fellow Frenchman upside his M2R. While French riders (all the way back to Jean-Michel Bayle) have occasionally had trouble connecting with U.S. fans, his public image took a hit in the aftermath.
After finishing up the Supercross season in the runner-up spot, and riding the first couple nationals of the summer, accumulated injuries forced David to take time off and seek treatment. The good news is, both he and his uniquely rubbery riding style are back for 2003. DV’s been working with David Bailey, who will coach him during the 2003 season, and he’s obviously back up to speed, as he showed when he won the first round of the THQ World Supercross GP in Geneva, Switzerland.
TransWorld Motocross: We haven’t seen you since early in the summer. What have you been up to?
David Vuillemin: I had surgery on my shoulder. They took a piece of my shoulder blade from the bottom, and put it on top with a little screw because my shoulder was popping out. It was a long process…like two months without doing anything.
I started to train again at the beginning of October, and at the end of October I started riding again. I feel pretty good right now. But it seems like I’ve been gone forever, so it’s good to be back here and testing and training for the season.
TWMX: How’s it going working with David Bailey?
DV: It’s going pretty good. David has a lot of experience and he’s a good guy. He’s never done this kind of job, but I think he’s really interested and excited about doing it, and we get along pretty good so I hope it’s going to help me to be back on top again.
TWMX: Is he doing the physical training side as well as coaching your riding?
DV: It’s both. I think that’s why he was good, because he knows both sides. Sometimes when you have two trainers, the two don’t say the same thing. So with one like this, I think it’s really good. I’m really willing to do whatever it takes to make it work, and hopefully it’s going to be a long relationship.
TWMX: How is it with the extra rider in the Yamaha truck this season? Does it make it a little more competitive within the team?
DV: I think it’s good to have good riders on the team. Timmy has been a great teammate for the last two years, and Chad is coming for his rookie season in 250. I think both of those guys are really fast and it’s good to be able to ride together in testing so we can see where we are speed-wise. I think that makes everybody ride faster.
<TWMX: What did you learn from your encounter with Stephane in Atlanta last year?
DV: That’s not something I’d do again. I think I lost control and it was the accumulation of a lot of things. I think I’m going to take it differently. That was a bad part of my season, but it’s not a big deal and I’ve forgotten that. I actually got to talk to Stephane a little bit lately, so that was a good improvement. I think we don’t need to be in wars all the time with other riders. It’s always good to talk to the riders because we’re spending a lot of time around each other, so it’s getting a little better, but for sure that story was not great.
TWMX: Last season you were one of the few guys who could hang with RC, and at times, actually go by him. Do you think you can do the same thing this season?
DV: That’s the goal of everybody and that’s what I’m trying to do. We know Ricky’s really good and we’re going to try to prepare really good and be ready for Anaheim, but I won’t say I’m going to win 15 Supercrosses next year. I’m not that kind of guy. But with David on my side, I think it’s going to be good, and he can make me realize if I need to work on some stuff. I think it’s going to be good.
I’m not focusing on Ricky, but obviously he’s the guy to beat. He’s a tough guy. So when you know him a little better it means you have to work a lot to beat him. That’s what I’m doing right now, and we’re going to see if it pays off.
TWMX: You were one of the guys who actually did beat him last year, so you know it can be done. That’s what seems like part of the problem for some of the other riders is that they don’t have it in their head that they actually can beat him.
DV: I beat Jeremy at his top, and Ricky at his top, too, but you need to beat them more often. That’s always good to be there, but you have to be there for the championship. Last year was bummer because I had a chance, you know? I blew it. This year I’m going to take it differently, so we’ll see. I’m going to try to stay focused on what I’m doing.
I think David (Bailey) is kind of a mellow guy…quiet. I think that’s going to help me to relax between the races and not do too much.
For me in my position, I always want to do a lot. I kind of want to take away this image of the bad guy. Everybody thinks I’m a bad guy. You look at all the magazines and they’re not really nice with me all the time. So that’s why I want to go and do photo shoots and stuff like that…to help me have more fans. But sometimes the fans can say, “Go back to France,” and stuff like that at the races. That’s kind of difficult.
I made a lot of sacrifices to come here, you know? I have no family, I have nothing here. I have my girlfriend and a couple of friends and that’s about it. So I left everything and I moved here. That’s why I wanted to do some cool stuff, and the cool stuff was to do a photo shoot with TransWorld and it didn’t work out. So right now I’m not worried about who’s going to say what at the races, and I’m just going to focus on racing and try to do the best I can. I like racing, I like the life. So I just want to try to get a championship.
When you go to Anaheim and take a picture from the back of the gate, you’re going to see all the strong riders. To be champion here, in motocross there’s nothing higher. That’s why I’m trying to do it.
I’ve always said if I’m champion I’m going to quit. So I’m trying to quit every year. (Laughs)
TWMX: So if you win one, you’re done? Or do you come back?
DV: I don’t know. Maybe I’ll come back and defend it. The champion is going to get a lot of money, and there’s a lot of people staying in the sport sometimes because of the money. But I’m passionate about the sport and it takes a lot to be champion. I’m not champion, I’m second, and I know what I do and what I work on, and it’s really difficult. You can’t do that for a lot of years. I think it’d be cool to be champion and just stop. But before thinking of that, you have to be champion.
money, and there’s a lot of people staying in the sport sometimes because of the money. But I’m passionate about the sport and it takes a lot to be champion. I’m not champion, I’m second, and I know what I do and what I work on, and it’s really difficult. You can’t do that for a lot of years. I think it’d be cool to be champion and just stop. But before thinking of that, you have to be champion.