Photos by Mike Emery
Last Thursday, we had the pleasure of sitting down with eight-time World Champion Antonio Cairoli at the Axo headquarters for a 20-minute Facebook Live session. Knowing that some of you may not be able to pull off watching a video of that length while you’re at work, we have had it transcribed for you to read!
We’re in Valencia, California, at Axo with eight-time world champion Antonio Cairoli. The champ is in town to contest the two MXGP rounds. Welcome to America!
Thank you for the welcome. It’s always a good time to come here to America. I’m extremely happy to race at Glen Helen again. Last year was my first race back after the injury, so hopefully we can close this year out on a better note.
You’re no stranger to the United States, as you’ve been here and number of times in the past. After Charlotte, did you do anything exciting or was it the normal practicing and training schedule?
After Charlotte, I needed to recover because I was a little bit sick. I had a fever, I had stomach problems and a few other things, so I really wasn’t feeling all that great last weekend. Everything went well with the healing process, so after I was feeling better I went down to San Diego to visit a few old friends. We hung out a little bit and they of course took me to Little Italy. We were looking for a little bit of home and we found it. I really like the ocean, so to be down there in San Diego was really enjoyable. Whenever we can, I make it a point to see the coast. Right after that though, it was time to get back to training to see how my body was feeling. Everything seems to be fine, so I’m looking forward to some great racing at Glen Helen.
In the past you’ve opted for the KTM 350 SX-F, and you encountered a lot of success on that bike over the years. What made you decide to make the switch to the 450?
Yeah, that’s kind of an ongoing question for me. When the 350 came out initially, it was a great bike, and my team and I really believed in it. We won a lot of titles on the 350, but now every manufacturer is working hard on their own bikes and they’re all better than ever. I have to say though, that all of the other bikes come very close to the overall concept of the 350. The current wave of 450s are a lot smoother and much easier to ride now, and last year the 350 almost seemed to lack in a few areas at certain races. More often than not I was pushing 110% to do what the other racers were doing, so we made the switch to the 450 and I won the first two GPs. Unfortunately I injured myself roughly halfway through the season, so I obviously had to stop testing and riding. The 450 is a great bike, but it takes some time to get used to it especially for me since I was riding the 350. I had only ridden a 450 one other time in my life and that was a stock Yamaha YZ450F back in 2009. It wasn’t a factory bike, and it was mostly stock. I know The KTM 450 SX-F is a great bike, I just need a little bit of time to adapt myself to this new machine. This winter when we started testing again after my injury, I really started to feel good on the bike, but I only had a week of preparations before the opening round in Qatar. It was definitely a struggle because we had to use the race weekends as testing days since I was so far behind. I’m good to go now though, and I’m feeling like myself on the bike. I’m starting to understand the reactions of the bike in certain situations now, and I feel myself riding a little more aggressively. With these 450s, it’s not really a matter of aggressiveness, but rather a more technique-oriented style in some places. In order for me to have 100% trust in the bike, it has to be really well set up, and I can say with confidence that we are almost there. It’s unfortunate how Charlotte played out for me with this illness and everything, so hopefully Glen Helen will be a little better for me.
At one point though, you actually went back to the 350 this year, right? Is it hard to go back and forth, and what was your reasoning behind the switch?
Since I injured myself earlier in the year and was forced to miss a few rounds I knew the championship was likely out of the question. Instead, I just tried to focus on getting myself and the bike set up for next year. We want to be better prepared at the beginning of the season, but most importantly I want to make sure that the 450 is the right bike for me. There’s no better way to test a bike then in a race situation, and since there isn’t much else left to lose we might as well get a head start on next year. Don’t get me wrong, the 350 is an incredible bike, but for the racing scenarios that I’m in I think the 450 is better suited for me. Lommel is normally my strong point, but I had to settle for second this year on the 350, and that didn’t sit well with me. We are currently working on the 450 for next year.
Is it difficult to change your riding style from bike to bike?
Yes, it’s very difficult because the 350 is much closer in comparison to the 250 as far as how you ride it. The bike requires a little more shifting than normal which is also reminiscent of the 250 – that’s not something I am entirely used to.
The FIM requires different bike specifications than what we’re used to here in the US ultimately making for quite a few differences. Have you ridden a US spec KTM before?
Yeah, yesterday I actually rode a KTM that was set up with US specifications, and it really does feel different. The motor was probably the most noticeable difference, as it had a more explosive power delivery then what I’m normally used to. With something like that, you really have to get used to it, but I’m lucky in that I adapt to new bikes pretty quick.
You’re from Sicily, which is in a way like Southern California thanks to the weather. You’re actually based in Lommel though, which is known for it’s rainy weather. Do you choose to live there because of the adverse conditions?
For proper training, Belgium actually might be the best place because the track gets extremely difficult with deep ruts and big bumps. It would be really hard to find a place like that to ride in Sicily. Here in California, everything is flat, the speeds are way up there, the jumps are a lot of fun and it looks like a nice place to ride, but if you’re looking to race the GPs you need something different. The racetracks in Europe aren’t as fast, and they’re a little more technical, as they can change quickly even on race day. Ultimately, it’s more useful to train in the sand and adverse weather.
You have to be somewhat of a local star in Sicily. Do people recognize you when you’re walking down the street or at the grocery store, and what is the motocross community like over there?
Not so much in Sicily, but the sport is definitely growing in Italy. It is a little difficult for me to get around sometimes since everyone watches motocross, now. Also, I like to hang out with Valentino Rossi at the ranch or at the Moto GP races, so people can connect with him on the asphalt and they can connect with me on the dirt. It’s great to see that people know who I am more and more because that tells me that the sport is growing, and that’s very important to me. Soccer or fútbol is likely at the top of the list as far as popularity, but I can see that road racing and dirt bike racing are bridge that gap.
You’ve accumulated a total of eight world championships and the potential for more in your future is still there. When you were a kid did you ever imagine that you would rack up eight championships? It has to feel like a dream now.
Yeah, at no point in my career can I complain about anything. Some people tell me that I need to step into Supercross, but to be completely honest I cannot ride SX. If you grew up in Sicily or Italy like myself, you never grew up around SX tracks. For those that are presented with the opportunity to race SX, they’re typically pretty young with access to multiple practice tracks; that wasn’t the case for me growing up. It’s too late for me to get into SX, and I had to make that decision early on in my career to race the world championship instead, which was the best choice for me. I’m happy about every decision I’ve made in my career including that one! I hope to enjoy more success over the next few years, so we’ll see what happens.
Suffering injury after injury over the last few years has really hindered your ability to stay on top. With that said, do you feel that you still have championship winning potential or do you feel that you may be coming to the end of your career?
Yeah, these last two years have tested me – especially since I accumulated six world championships consecutively. This is obviously a dangerous sport, as injuries are just as much a part of racing as the bikes, and I’ve unfortunately experienced that a lot lately. It’s always tough to overcome an injury, but I really do believe that I have what it takes to win another championship. This is one of my better years as far as results go, as I’m currently sitting second place in points after missing a few of the rounds.
You’ve renewed your contract with KTM, so we’ll be able to watch you race on the orange bikes for another two years…
Yeah, hopefully another title, as well. That’s my goal even though injuries have slowed me down the last two years. Throughout those six world championships, I was lucky to not have encountered more injuries than I did.
What is the significance of your racing number?
222 comes from my very first bike. After a few years of racing the world championship, I went back home and visited one of the local motorcycle shops. Much to my surprise, they still had my first bike! I happened to look at the VIN and noticed that the last three digits were 222. For whatever reason I thought that was a cool number and I proceeded with a request to the FIM that 222 be my official number. The FIM granted my request and I’ll keep that number for as long as I can.
Do you have any rituals before a race, and what do you eat before lining up on the gate?
I’m actually not superstitious at all. I really don’t have any kind of ritual, either. As far as a meal before racing, pasta is always good. Carbs are always important for the race and it’s Italian, so if anything maybe that’s my ritual before a race.
It’s not rare at all to see you in a pair of headphones listening to some music. What do you typically listen to in order to pump yourself up?
Most of the time I like to listen to dance music and trance. Also, I like to listen to hard core sometimes, but it all depends on my mood at the moment.
How do you feel about KTM bicycles?
I actually don’t own a KTM bicycle and that’s attributed to the KTM bicycle brand being completely separate from the KTM motorcycle brand. I ride for Trek now anyways, so it’s hard for me to answer that question
What’s the difference between Eurostyle motocross tracks and American motocross tracks?
If you were to sit back and compare the amount of amateur riders to professional riders you’d see an obvious advantage in building tracks for the amateurs since there are so many more. You have to keep in mind that the track owners are trying to support themselves, as well. It’s just the logical thing to do. I think that’s what usually makes the difference in the race tracks. In Europe, the mentality is a little older than the current times, so track prep is never really at the top of the list of priorities. A rough track with more bumps and ruts makes for a better rider anyways! Here in the states, just about every practice facility is groomed and prepped daily, so nothing gets too rough. Riding that type of stuff is a lot of fun and I completely understand why the race track owners do that; they’re aiming for business! For me though, if I were to ride on such flat and smooth race tracks all of the time I would have a hard time on a really rough track. The American Nationals looked rougher than ever this year, so I know it has to be tough for these guys.
What do you think of the new tracks on the MXGP circuit this year?
Charlotte was a pretty cool venue as far as the location and things like that, but I think the race track had too many jumps. I think it was more of a Supercross hybrid.
We were just talking about your custom Sidi boots that lit up in the dark. Were you being serious when you said that the lights on your boots helped you see a little better in the dark at Qatar?
Yeah, I was being serious (laughs)! The first round in Qatar was in the dark again like last year, and when the ruts started to get really deep it got a little hard to see all the way through. Lucky for me though, the Sidi logo on my boots lit up, so it did help a little. Maybe next year you’ll see more guys with lights on their boots (laughs).
The Neox goggles that you’ve been wearing, is that a company that you own?
Yes, I own the company with another gentleman. Since racing takes up so much of my time I really haven’t had a chance to grow the brand the way I would like. Right now, the task at hand is racing! As far as the future, there’s no telling where the brand will end up. When I retire from racing I would like to have something to do still, so that’s where my goggle brand comes in. I know what it takes for a goggle to perform properly, as I spend a lot of my time with goggles on my face, but most importantly I want to deliver a quality product. We get a lot of weather here in Europe, so that will also play to my advantage in the future with the goggle company.
What prompted you to create your own goggle? Did you have a desire for a better product or was this an investment in your future?
I think goggles are extremely important in racing; more so than gloves or something like that. If you have an ineffective glove that gives the blisters, you can at least still ride. With goggles you don’t have that luxury, and that’s why it’s important to have a good, solid pair of goggles. You can lose a race or even a championship without the proper vision.
What are your thoughts on Jeffrey Herlings moving up to the MXGP Class?
For me, he’s just another rider like so many others. I think it’s great to have him in the MXGP class finally since he stayed in the 250 class for so long. There’s really no reason to stay in the MX2 class for that long. I wouldn’t say they were easy wins for Herlings in the MX2 class, but it’s not hard to notice the difference in competition when compared to the MXGP class. It’ll be nice to have him in the 450 class, and it’ll be nice to train alongside him. Hopefully we can push ourselves to the next level.