This year seems to be the year of replacement riders. We have seen so many that it is becoming difficult to keep them straight. However, Gareth Swanepoel should be any easy one to remember. The South African rider became the first replacement rider from the MXGP circuit this year to be placed on a factory team. Gareth used a break in the GP schedule to try his hand in the American series at Unadilla last weekend as a fill in for Ryan Villopoto and Ricky Dietrich on the Monster Kawasaki team. The Johannesburg native took full advantage of the factory machinery in New York and posted seventh and sixth place finishes for sixth overall. We caught up with Gareth just before the first motos took place to find out about his new deal and how his season is coming along.
How did this deal come about to ride for the Monster Kawasaki team here. You are a factory Kawi rider in Europe, right?
Yeah I ride for the factory team back in Europe. The US team didn't have any riders to race, although (Tim) Ferry made it back for this weekend. I had done this race a couple years ago and so we decided, "Why not do it this year?" My manager organized the deal, and we also know Hilton Beatty (from Parts Unlimited) really well, he put us in contact with Mike Fisher, and it was a done deal.
When did you race Unadilla before?
In 2004 I rode for the factory KTM team here. It went pretty well. In the first race I was running around eighth or ninth and then crashed and in the second moto I finished eighth.
How has your season been going over in Europe with your first year in MX1?
It's been going pretty good. I have had some ups and downs, but the last few races have been going pretty well. I am eighth right now in the championship so I am happy with that. My goal for the first year is to finish in the top ten and go from there. We have made a lot of adjustments. I didn't race the whole of last year though during my last season with the Molson Kawasaki team. I had some problems with my scaphoid so I needed to get that fixed and was out for about seven months. I only raced two Grand Prix that year. So this year I am just trying to get back into it. Everything had been going good. Last weekend I was fifth and seventh for fifth overall and that has been my best GP so far. The guys are tough and the racing is so close over there.
Since you were out last year, many of the riders who were racing MX2 back in 2007 have now also moved up to MX1. Do you feel like that has elevated the level of competition in that class?
Definitely. Guys like Cairoli and myself, plus some others who have just moved up. Then you have the guys who have been in the class for a while, so you have a mixture of young guys and some older guys. Cairoli stepped up to the plate really well and then I am basically the next best 450 rookie and I am happy with that.
Whenever we see guys from the GP scene come and race over here, there is always the interest in whether that rider plans to make the move over here full time. Is there any possibility of that for you?
To be honest, if I were given an offer I would sign without even blinking an eye-lid. But Supercross is difficult. I wouldn't want to go straight into Supercross on a 450, I would like some time to learn a bit. But motocross I think I would hold my own and do pretty good. If something came up then I would definitely go for it but we will just see how it goes.
Do you have any Supercross experience?
Yeah I raced a lot of Supercross when I was younger, and I used to race a lot of the European Supercrosses when I first went to Europe and I did pretty well in those. But the last two years I haven't done much Supercross. I built my own SX track back in South Africa so I used to train on that quite a bit. I would love to do it but over in Europe everyone is so scared of it. The say that if you go to America and do Supercross you're definitely going to get hurt, so that puts a lot of the European riders off. I think Cairoli and some others would already be over here if it wasn't for the fact that they are afraid of being injured. But if I had the chance I would go for sure.
Where did you grow up on South Africa and did you ever race against Tyla Rattray or Grant Langston?
I grew up in Johannesburg and used to race quite a bit with Langston. He is just a little bit older than me so I would step up to a class, race one or two years with him, and then he would move to another class. I also raced with Tyla obviously over in Europe. We are also on the Motocross of Nations team for South Africa again this year. So it's myself, Tyla, and another rider named Neville Bradshaw.