While at the Chaparral Pro/Am, we got a chance to sit down with Ben Townley, an extremely fast New Zealander who’s been competing on the globe-trotting Grand Prix circuit for the last two seasons. During 2002, the likeable Kiwi scored his first GP win in Sweden, and scored second place finishes in the Netherlands, Italy and Russia en route to sixth place in the final standings. In between GPs, he also raced the Budd’s Creek and Unadilla AMA nationals, scoring top ten finishes at both.
After firing up the tape recorder, we asked Ben to give us the lowdown on his racing history¿
“When I was 15 I was doing the New Zealand Championships, where I finished second. A new Suzuki team was starting up in Germany, and they asked the New Zealand champion to ride for them. He thought he was too young, so at 15 I signed a deal to race in Europe. By the time I got there I was 16, and raced the World Championships. I did okay that year¿I qualified at all the events I attended apart from one, and I had one top ten placing. I should have had another top ten at the last round, but my radiator came off and I didn’t finish.
“Then at the end of the year I changed to a KTM team from Belgium, and they were a really good young team and really focused to make us do a lot better. There were three young guys¿me, Tyla Rattray, and Tanel Leok, who’s an ex-Junior World Champion on 80s. It was a good team.
“I had a really good year. I wanted to finish top ten, and I ended up going out and finishing second in the first race of the year, so I was pretty pumped on that. I basically improved all year, winning a GP and coming close to winning some others. I made a lot of mistakes, and made a lot of really bad decisions, but I learned a lot and just want to go back next year and win.
“It’s been my dream to come to America since I was little. I want to come here in 2004¿I’ve got an option in my contract, and if everything goes well in 2003, hopefully I’ll be able to race in the U.S.
“I’ve been here since the middle of November. I did a little bit of riding, then went to the KTM show in Austria and watched the first World Supercross round. I’ve done a lot of testing in the last couple of weeks since we got back, and the bikes are going really well. The team’s really good. Everyone’s really young here and they’re all helping me a lot. I’m living in Temecula with Billy Laninovich’s mechanic. He worked for me when I was at Unadilla and Budd’s Creek and I got to know him quite well. I’m enjoying it quite a lot here.
“Ryan Hughes is employed by KTM to oversee us all and we do physical training with him. He comes out and watches us. He helps me quite a bit because Supercross is all new to me, so it’s been really good having him do that. It’s really good preparation. It’s going to improve my skills a lot for all-around riding.”
(Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, the day after the Pro/Am, Ben crashed and suffered a broken wrist and a liver injury, sidelining his plans to race six of the 125cc West Coast Supercross rounds before returning to Europe for the Grand Prix season. We wish him a full and speedy recovery.)