From the October issue of TransWorld Motocross…
While many expected Tim Gajser to defend his 2015 Monster Energy FIM Motocross MX2 (250) World Championship, the Gariboldi Honda team opted to instead move him up to the premier MXGP (450) ranks in 2016. The decision was met with some concern, as the Gariboldi Honda rider is still early in his professional career and had years of eligibility left in the development division, but his battles with defending MXGP champion Romain Febvre have surprised the paddock and turned the Slovenian into a favorite for the title during his rookie season. From the outside things seem almost effortless, but Gajser is quick to point out that it is in fact the payback for years of hard work and struggle. "When someone says they wish they have my life, they just see me now when I'm at the top," notes the teenager in remarkably well-spoken English. "To someone who thinks that, you cannot see me just as I am right now."
Bogomir Gajser first saw motocross on television living as a child in what was at the time Yugoslavia, and with limited financial assistance from the family's sale of farm produce, he eventually purchased a motorcycle and raced throughout Europe. Bogomir shared the passion with his sons Nejc and Zan, but their close involvement in the sport resulted in an accident that changed the family forever. During a race, Zan stepped onto the track at the landing of a blind jump, directly in the path of his father's flying motorcycle, and was subjected to the full force of the impact. The toddler was killed almost instantly.
Rather than retire from riding, Bogomir continued on and had another son, Tim. The third child displayed a natural talent on two wheels, and eventually the focus turned to his burgeoning amateur career (while Tim was born after Zan's passing, he pays tribute to his older sibling with number 243, Zan's date of birth, March 24). "I wanted to do this for a living since I was a child," Tim says. "I wanted to succeed in the sport so bad and was motivated. I did everything and my family sacrificed everything. I didn't have the same life like my classmates or people my age. I trained and rode after school when I came home—everything to do this." While the boy put in the physical effort, his father found ways to obtain the finances needed for travel to events throughout Europe. "I saw every day my dad going on the job and earning money just to go race," says the now-20-year-old. "We had to borrow money sometimes to race so we had what we needed." According to the family, they received no support from sponsors in 2012 or from companies in their native country.
While the relationship between father and son experienced some natural strains during Tim's early teenage years and others have expressed criticism of Bogomir's constant presence, Tim feels it's a major reason for his recent racing success. In fact, it was a determining factor in his current contract with Honda's global motorcycle racing division. "Honda was the only team that accepted my dad. I want my dad everywhere because he's my trainer and everything," Tim explains. "I feel more comfortable when he is with me. In the past, when I was with KTM, they tried to pick me and put him on the side. I wasn't happy about that, and the results weren't there because I wasn't happy."
Gajser holds an immense respect for Honda as they took him from obscurity and helped him become a world champion. Instead of forcing him to the in-house operation, Honda instead increased their efforts with the Gariboldi group and essentially created two factory teams. "If Honda didn't pick me in 2014, it was almost over. I'm glad they saw the potential, and after three years of being with Honda, it's amazing what we've done," he conveys with pride. "The point is that I'm really happy to be here, and it's like a big family. Each person knows what they're doing on the team and they have a heart. We're all really good friends and all want the best."
While some would boast that the success of 2016 was expected all along, Gajser isn't afraid to admit a level of disbelief. "I knew that I had the speed in the beginning of the season and we had really good testing with the team, but in the race it's different. I was able to put everything together and focus everything on racing, and so far it's going really good," he says with a laugh and then credits his comfort on the CRF450R. "With the 450, I think that I am one," he declares. "I feel comfortable with it, and the bike is so powerful. Many people ask if I miss the 250, and I don't miss it at all. When I watch myself on TV after the race with my dad, I enjoy watching myself ride. On the 250 I was aggressive and hard on the bike, and on the 450 it's so smooth and in control."
The most interesting detail of Honda and Gajser's agreement is not the terms (five years, a once unlikely length in a sport noted for short careers) or his father's role, but the brand's willingness to accommodate the rider's desire to leave the MXGP series at some point in favor of a full-time racing residency in the United States. "The goal is to go there and ride Supercross and the Nationals," he explains. "It depends on how this season and everything goes, and then we will speak with Honda, so nothing is decided. So many people write that in 2017 I'll be in the United States, but I actually never speak about that. We'll see what the time brings." During our interview, he expressed awareness of the American scene and explained how much it influenced his riding. "Since I was a kid, seven or eight years old, I was always watching Supercross," he says. "Now when I'm in the gym, I put races on TV from the 1980s and 1990s to watch the riders on Supercross tracks."
According to some who are close to the camp, 2018 is likely the earliest that Gajser would move full-time to the US, but even that was uncertain as the current plan is to line up for October's Monster Energy Cup in Las Vegas. Aside from off-season events in Europe, Gajser has virtually no time on a true SX course but has added elements of the specialized discipline to his private practice tracks in Slovenia for preparation. "I have two tracks there, one motocross and one Supercross that's mixed with motocross, so I just train on those tracks," he explains. "I know how to ride it, but for sure it's different over there. I've never been in the stadium or ridden in a stadium other than European races like Geneva or Bercy, but in the US it's different because everything is bigger and wider. I'll just go out there, have fun, and do my best possible."
Although Gajser wouldn't be the first person to leave MXGP just as he reaches the pinnacle of the series, the entire idea still comes as somewhat of a shock. The traveling series exposes riders to cultures around the world and has turned Gajser into a national celebrity in Slovenia, but he's clearly more concerned with continuing the progression of his career. "We are in a good way to win the title here, and if I do that I have won everything in Europe," he reflects. "I won the 65 European Championship, 85 European Championship, 125 European Championship, Junior World Championship, and last year the MX2 World Championship. What's missing is the MXGP title. We will see."
Gajser wrapped up the 2016 Monster Energy FIM Motocross World Championship at the 2016 MXGP of the Americas at Charlotte; it was his second consecutive title and first in the premier division. A practice crash just before the Motocross of Nations kept him from competing at the international event, but as of October 3rd the plan for Gajser is still to race the SMX Riders Cup in Germany and Monster Energy Cup in Las Vegas.