Event Coordinator Xavier Audouard Explains the Format Change
For nineteen years the legendary Bercy Supercross has featured the best 125 and 250cc riders in the world. The huge purse offered a big enough pot of gold to bring the best of the best to compete in the premier 250cc division, with a 125cc race offered as a support class similar to how it’s done in the United States.
This year was different, though. Following a year full of runaway wins from the redheaded wonder child RC, the promoters were anxious to try something different to make the racing more exciting and re-energize the Paris event.
With none of the big names like McGrath, Vuillemin or Carmichael committed and signed on the dotted line, the Lariviere Organisation decided to make the race a tiddler-only showdown, where the best 125cc riders in the world would do battle. Besides the absence of James “Bubba” Stewart and Chad Reed, the class had much of the same top talent that it enjoys Stateside. We talked to Event Coordinator and Bercy mastermind Xavier Audouard to find out why the switch was made, and why the big French names like Vuillemin and Roncada played hooky on the event that once helped make them famous.
TWMX: How did the whole 125cc-only format come about for this year’s race?
Audouard: Well, with the 20th anniversary of Bercy coming up, we wanted to refresh the formula that has been working very successfully for the last two decades. Quite a few American riders have been coming over here for years, and Bercy has also served as a breeding ground for the up-and-coming French riders that have been so successful in the United States. Times are now changing, though, and several factors left us with a show that quite simply is not as strong, rider-wise, as it was ten years ago. Many things are to blame: the economy, increasingly harder schedules and pressures for the riders, and the politics of racing in general. This has been deteriorating over time, and while coming back to France after the Houston Supercross this year and I had a thought. After seeing the stale racing of the 250cc class this year and hearing that there would be no 125cc class at the des Nations, I decided that it would be the ideal format to bring the best racing action back to Bercy. Besides the closer competition with smaller bikes, the country versus country idea was particularly interesting to me. Mix all of those ideas in my brain, and you have this year’s new Bercy format.
TWMX: Bercy has often served as a breeding ground for the French riders that come to the U.S. to race. Why were there so few French stars this year?
Audouard: Basically, bad luck was the reason to blame for most of the big French riders not showing. The team was still strong, with riders like Eric Sorby, Steve Boniface and Michael Maschio, but the biggest names that we were counting on all had problems. Sebastien Tortelli hit his head hard about a month ago at the World Cup and was just beginning to ride again, so he was out. Vuillemin wanted to come defend his title and was anxious to try the 125cc format out, but he was returning from injury as well. Pichon was our biggest name of all, and he was also a confirmed entry. Then he decided to take a year off of racing after winning the title, so there was no Bercy for him now, either. So you see, it was mostly just bad luck.
TWMX: Had those big names like Pichon and Vuillemin shown up, would the race have remained a 125cc race, or would the 250cc class been back on the schedule?
Audouard: No, no matter what it would have been a 125cc-only race. I made this clear from the beginning, and most of the riders were actually very excited about it! Pichon had already ordered a 125cc engine from Roger (DeCoster), and he was really into it. Then, all of a sudden, everything just came to a screeching halt. He decided not to race and would not budge. I don’t have any regrets, though, beecause like I said, we still have plenty of French talent here. We just need a break from one of them and I think it will be good for the race. If a French rider goes out and wins one of the nights, it is good for everything. It adds excitement and will obviously make the Paris crowd very happy. They have so much pressure that I think they are trying too hard, trying to follow in Vuillemin’s footsteps.
TWMX: What are the benefits of the new schedule?
Audouard: I can sum it all up by saying that in the timed practice today, there were nearly 40 riders all running lap times within two seconds of one another. I cannot name any other form of racing that is as tight as this, and so I call the weekend a success! No one rider dominated, and we had three different winners over three different nights. This was some of the tightest racing ever, and we still had plenty of big names to please the fans.
TWMX: So we talked about the good points. Did you see any problems with the race?
Audouard: No, the problem would have been if we didn’t pack the place, but the race was a sellout as usual. This means that even though we didn’t have the McGraths or the Carmichaels, we still had plenty of interest and the crowd was as entertained as ever. The racers might not have the name as the top 250cc racers, but in my mind they are just as big of heroes because the riders that showed up for Bercy are the same guys winning in the 125cc class in American Supercross.Also, this allows the newer European riders to be noticed more by the factories and the American press. In my opinion, every team manager in the world should be here looking for the hot new riders.
TWMX: It sounds like you were pleased with the results of the new format. Does this mean that Bercy will stay like this indefinitely?
Audouard: Yes, it does. I think that this is the only option for us to take the race forward. There is a future with this format, and as long as we continue to sell the stadium out (Bercy normally sells out months in advance) this will continue.