Team Tortelli

Sebastien Tortelli has always been smooth, stylish, and exceedingly fast, with two world titles to his credit. But after coming to the U.S. to race full-time with Team Honda in ’99, he’s had a tough time, with his crashes and injuries being more notable than his podium appearances.

But he’s looking to turn that around for ’03. With a team change (where he’ll join fellow Frenchmen Stephane Roncada and Matthieu Lalloz on the Sobe Suzuki squad) and the addition of seven-time champ Ricky Johnson as a riding coach, Sebastien’s looking for bigger and brighter things ahead.

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We talked to Sebastien at the Suzuki test track, where he was getting ready for the ’03 season, and nabbed a few minutes of RJ’s time at the Yamaha Team Intro, where he was doing some interviews of his own for supercross.com.

TransWorld Motocross: The last time we saw you was at the World Cup, after you’d crashed in the first moto. There were all kinds of rumors of injuries. Were you hurt?

Sebastien Tortelli: “Actually, I didn’t get hurt up there. Dr. Bodnar wanted me to do some x-rays because they were scared that I could have punctured a lung or something. So I went, they checked, and nothing was wrong. The thing is, I got back and it was already the third moto. The emergency room always takes a long time, so I was not able to ride after that.

“After that, I went on holidays to France for a month and showed the baby to the family. It was good to go home and see all the family.”

“I’ve just been riding since the first of November. The bike’s good, with awesome power. I kind of had to taper down the power because it was too strong. I just feel very comfortable on it.”

TWMX: How are you settling in on the new bike?

ST: “It’s good! I’ve just been riding since the first of November. The bike’s good, with awesome power. I kind of had to taper down the power because it was too strong. I just feel very comfortable on it.”

TWMX: Is there a big difference between it and the Honda, because some people say the aluminum frame is so stiff.

ST: “I was so used to the Honda, and I never rode any other bikes until I jumped on the Suzuki. I definitely felt a big difference. I felt more comfortable in Supercross with it. It’s easier to ride, and to be smoother.”

TWMX: Is it more forgiving?

ST: “Yeah, like sometimes you land short and hit something hard…on the small stuff where you clip something with the rear wheel, that’s where I feel more comfortable on the Suzuki.”

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TWMX: How’s the preparation for 2003 going?

ST: “Good! I’m working with Ricky Johnson now. I’m not ready yet, but I’ll be ready for the first Anaheim.”

TWMX: How about the World Supercross rounds?

ST: “I’ll race them, but I won’t be 100% there. Parts Unlimited and Thor asked me to do them, and that’s why I’m doing them. I’m just going to take them as preparation. I won’t be 100%, and not as strong as I will be at the first U.S. races. I’m just going to go there and do my best and see what’s happening on the track.”

TWMX: Does it feel good to go into this season healthy?

ST: “Yeah, this is the first Winter where I can go healthy into the season, so I’m going to try to keep it that way. (Laughs)

“I’m very excited about the idea that I can get ready and be able to ride my pace in Supercross.”

TWMX: What does Rick Johnson do for you?

ST:/strong>”He helps me with a lot on motorcycle training more, because I’m using the same physical trainer. He has a good eye for how to ride, and the mistakes I do and what I could do to make it better… what I could do to make it smoother and faster in Supercross.

“He also helps me with the setup of the bike to make sure I don’t go in the wrong direction. It’s not just like a one-day thing. We’ll work like three or four days a week when I ride.

“For pros it’s all the same. We’ve been riding for so long, and we’re so used to it, that at some point we forget about it. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded of it a little bit. I think all the pro riders have great skills… but sometimes we get too much in competition, and we don’t work anymore on these little things. You always adapt to a bike and you change your position and all that, so for me jumping from the Honda to the Suzuki I had to change my position. He can help me to see where I’m not as comfortable as I should be.

TWMX: Do you watch much video of you riding?

ST: “Lately, no, but we’re going to. Right now we went through quite a bit on testing, so we didn’t have much time to work on proper technique . When we start that area, we’re going to do some. I think it’s always good, because you never see yourself except when you see it on video. ‘I’m riding like that? Ugh.'” (Laughs)


TransWorld Motocross: How did you get hooked up with Sebastien?

Rick Johnson: “Roger DeCoster put that together. Obviously, I have a world of respect for Roger, for what he did in the past and elevating the sport, and his level of commitment working and coming out and testing with the riders. So he said that they’d hired Sebastien, and he’d like to have somebody to help coach him. A lot of times, especially in this sport, a lot of guys get to a certain level and they don’t want anyone coaching them. They want somebody to help train and motivate them, but they don’t want coaching.

“On the other hand, when I was racing I was always looking for help when I could find it. It didn’t matter. ‘How do I look, where am I weak, where am I strong?’

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“So Roger put us together, Sebastien and I talked. Both of us are in a pretty vulnerable position. He’s been here awhile and hasn’t been successful. I’ve been out of the sport for a while doing the schools and different things. If he’s not successful it’s bad for him. If he’s not successful, it’s bad for me. But on the other hand, if I can help stir something up inside of him, or give him a little more knowledge, or a little more motivation to go out there and be successful, I think the sport will look at us differently.

“So I’m working with him on his riding, and a little bit of physical training help. Sebastien has a trainer who helps him physically, who also works with Eric Sorby. Dominic is really good in that position. I make sure that I communicate with Dominic, so we don’t wear Sebastien out…we work together. I want to know what he’s doing and I’m helping Dominic design a warm-up program for Sebastien.

“We’re also looking at ways for Sebastien to get the most out of his practice sessions. I always had specific goals in mind when I was practicing, but a lot of these guys just go ride. Do laps and hope that they get faster. We’re working on more specific techniques and regimens.

“I’ll be very honest, it will do a lot for me emotionally to help somebody get to the top again. Because I know what I did to get me to the top, and I know how hard it hurt when I got taken down.”

TWMX: Any other riders that you’re working with?

RJ: “He’s the guy. I did a deal with him that’s pretty fair financially. It doesn’t matter what they’re making, it’s what you can do for them. It was his decision to put some things in there to provide bonuses if he does well, which I said, ‘That’s not what I’m here for.’ I need to feed my family and things like that, but if I can help Sebastien Tortelli get on the podium and start winning Supercrosses, then I’m adding to what I did and what I wanted to do.

“I’ll be very honest, it will do a lot for me emotionally to help somebody get to the top again. Because I know what I did to get me to the top, and I know how hard it hurt when I got taken down.

“So when he wins, I don’t care if he ever mentions my name, but I know the results that I’m helping pull out of him. I’m not giving him anything that he doesn’t know. But I’m able to work with him so it’s very gratifying for me as well.

“He’s a great student. I wrote that on the web site (www.supercross.com) about great students, and the only other guy I’ve ever found with that kind of dedication and trust was Jeff Stanton. Sebastien is the same way. Sebastien is doing everything from Ju Jitsu to mountain biking, where he kicks my butt. Now it’s forcing me to get back in shape, which is good. When we go to the track for practice, he’ll ask, ‘What do you want to do?’ If I say, ’20 laps. Go.’ I’m out there with a chalkboard pushing him the whole time. Or we’re gonna do sprints, or we’re gonna work on that section, or cornering. It’s funny, because I’ll get amateurs that I work and they don’t want to work on that. It’s like they’re above it. Here’s somebody who’s a World Champion, and he’ll do it.

“It goes back to this with Sebastien, and why I believe in him. If anybody can race a full GP season and come out of the last race and beat Stefan Everts for a World Championship, you have the right stuff. He has the right stuff. He has the right coordination, mental determination, genetics…everything, I think to go beat Ricky.

“Is he ready right now? No. But he will be. You’re not going to beat Ricky in one race. My focus with Sebastien is, let’s walk down and get ’em all. Don’t run down and grab one. I want his long-term goals there, I want him to be disappointed when he doesn’t win, but I want him to look at the results in a realistic manner. ‘Where was the problem?’ Then fix the problem, don’t pout, don’t mope. If you want to get mad, get mad. If you want to do whatever you need to get over it, get over it…but fix the problem and get on with it next week.

“I feel he’s in a good spot. If he’s in top five, he’s done more, really, than a lot of people expected of him. Ricky Carmichael has all the pressure on him. He can’t just win, he has to dominate. He has to have the 10 to 15 second lead and just annihilate everyone, or it’s going to be a let-down.

“Ricky’s not afraid to explode. He’s not afraid to look bad in the process of winning. A lot of guys won’t do that. They’ll give up before they look too bad. That’s where Ricky’s got everyone beat. They all get to a point where, ‘Aw, I’m too tired.’ Ricky’s feet are hanging off…he’s like Bob Hannah. But it’s more calculated than Hannah.”

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TWMX: One thing that’s interesting is that you and David Bailey (who is working with David Vuillemin) have come back into the sport as trainers, and now you’re competing again.

RJ: “Oh yeah. We’ve got two French kids who grew up as rivals, and they’re not big fans of each other. I talked to David (Vuillemin) today, and he said, ‘I hear you’re working with Sebastien.’ I said, ‘Yeah…he’s gonna kick your ass.’ (Laughs)

“They clearly don’t like each other. They grew up as rivals their whole time. It puts David (Bailey) and I up against each other again, which is good. David and Iu’re working with?

RJ: “He’s the guy. I did a deal with him that’s pretty fair financially. It doesn’t matter what they’re making, it’s what you can do for them. It was his decision to put some things in there to provide bonuses if he does well, which I said, ‘That’s not what I’m here for.’ I need to feed my family and things like that, but if I can help Sebastien Tortelli get on the podium and start winning Supercrosses, then I’m adding to what I did and what I wanted to do.

“I’ll be very honest, it will do a lot for me emotionally to help somebody get to the top again. Because I know what I did to get me to the top, and I know how hard it hurt when I got taken down.

“So when he wins, I don’t care if he ever mentions my name, but I know the results that I’m helping pull out of him. I’m not giving him anything that he doesn’t know. But I’m able to work with him so it’s very gratifying for me as well.

“He’s a great student. I wrote that on the web site (www.supercross.com) about great students, and the only other guy I’ve ever found with that kind of dedication and trust was Jeff Stanton. Sebastien is the same way. Sebastien is doing everything from Ju Jitsu to mountain biking, where he kicks my butt. Now it’s forcing me to get back in shape, which is good. When we go to the track for practice, he’ll ask, ‘What do you want to do?’ If I say, ’20 laps. Go.’ I’m out there with a chalkboard pushing him the whole time. Or we’re gonna do sprints, or we’re gonna work on that section, or cornering. It’s funny, because I’ll get amateurs that I work and they don’t want to work on that. It’s like they’re above it. Here’s somebody who’s a World Champion, and he’ll do it.

“It goes back to this with Sebastien, and why I believe in him. If anybody can race a full GP season and come out of the last race and beat Stefan Everts for a World Championship, you have the right stuff. He has the right stuff. He has the right coordination, mental determination, genetics…everything, I think to go beat Ricky.

“Is he ready right now? No. But he will be. You’re not going to beat Ricky in one race. My focus with Sebastien is, let’s walk down and get ’em all. Don’t run down and grab one. I want his long-term goals there, I want him to be disappointed when he doesn’t win, but I want him to look at the results in a realistic manner. ‘Where was the problem?’ Then fix the problem, don’t pout, don’t mope. If you want to get mad, get mad. If you want to do whatever you need to get over it, get over it…but fix the problem and get on with it next week.

“I feel he’s in a good spot. If he’s in top five, he’s done more, really, than a lot of people expected of him. Ricky Carmichael has all the pressure on him. He can’t just win, he has to dominate. He has to have the 10 to 15 second lead and just annihilate everyone, or it’s going to be a let-down.

“Ricky’s not afraid to explode. He’s not afraid to look bad in the process of winning. A lot of guys won’t do that. They’ll give up before they look too bad. That’s where Ricky’s got everyone beat. They all get to a point where, ‘Aw, I’m too tired.’ Ricky’s feet are hanging off…he’s like Bob Hannah. But it’s more calculated than Hannah.”

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TWMX: One thing that’s interesting is that you and David Bailey (who is working with David Vuillemin) have come back into the sport as trainers, and now you’re competing again.

RJ: “Oh yeah. We’ve got two French kids who grew up as rivals, and they’re not big fans of each other. I talked to David (Vuillemin) today, and he said, ‘I hear you’re working with Sebastien.’ I said, ‘Yeah…he’s gonna kick your ass.’ (Laughs)

“They clearly don’t like each other. They grew up as rivals their whole time. It puts David (Bailey) and I up against each other again, which is good. David and I always talk and share things, but now we’re going to go back to kind of holding some things back. Before when we’d look at a track we’d share notes. Now it’s going to be, ‘I see an outside line, but I’m not telling him.’ So he’ll go back with his little secrets and I’ll have mine. So it’ll be fun. It’ll be a fun challenge again.”

TWMX: What else are you doing?

RJ: “I’m putting a lot of time and energy into supercross.com, also my riding schools. I feel good about the schools, I like working with the professional riders…not that I don’t like working with the amateurs, but selfishly, I feel like I can live my dreams vicariously through them, you know?”

nd I always talk and share things, but now we’re going to go back to kind of holding some things back. Before when we’d look at a track we’d share notes. Now it’s going to be, ‘I see an outside line, but I’m not telling him.’ So he’ll go back with his little secrets and I’ll have mine. So it’ll be fun. It’ll be a fun challenge again.”

TWMX: What else are you doing?

RJ: “I’m putting a lot of time and energy into supercross.com, also my riding schools. I feel good about the schools, I like working with the professional riders…not that I don’t like working with the amateurs, but selfishly, I feel like I can live my dreams vicariously through them, you know?”