ďThe Confidence of a ChampionĒ
Interview with Grant Langston
Story & Photos by Eddie Graveline
Weíve gotten accustomed to having great MX Grand Prix riders come to the U.S. to race against the best riders in the world. Several World Champions like Greg Albertyn and Sebastien Tortelli have made the move to the American National scene to complete their ascent to Motocross greatness. Add Grant Langston to that list. Grant is the latest World Champ to make the move to America, only he has done it earlier in his career than most. After bursting onto the GP scene and winning the 125cc World Championship in 2000, Grant used his momentum to sign a contract with Red Bull/KTM to ride in the States. After a rough start to his first Supercross season, he did what all good students do and put his head down and learned. With every race, the eighteen-year-old South African seemed to gain confidence as well as better results. By the end of the season, he had given KTM itís first Supercross victory ever. Riding that high, Grant focused his attention on the U.S. National Championship series. While his debut indoors was shaky, he was anything but outdoors. Grant won the first four motos of the year in the 125cc class and took a firm hold of the championship points lead before injuring his shoulder at Southwick. He missed one round, but decided to forego surgery and continue racing the series. Now he has a lot of ground to make up in the championship, but he has left no doubt in the minds of his competitors that when healthy, he is a force to be reckoned with. Shortly before he injured his shoulder, I had the opportunity to talk with Grant about coming to the U.S., his Supercross season and the outdoor series.
First of all Grant, I want to congratulate you on what I think was a successful first Supercross campaign for you. How did you feel about the way the series went for you?
I was pretty happy with the way things went. I was a little on the slow side. I came into the first Anaheim race with a shoulder injury. It was a little bit of a struggle. I wasnít 100% fit and I didnít feel comfortable. Things started to improve. My shoulder got better. The bike setup got better and I started to ride better. Things eventually improved and then the first chance that I had to win, I threw it away (he crashed waving to the crowd while leading on the last lap in St. Louis). I was really, obviously, bummed out about that. I was happy to come back and win the following weekend in Dallas. I think I proved myself pretty well. Unfortunately a crash in Salt Lake kept me from being in the top three in the points. In Vegas, I had a good qualifying heat, which I won. Then (in the main event) I got a bad start and I went down. So there were ups and downs. I was happy because the potential was there. I proved a lot, which gives me good thoughts going into next yearís Supercross season. Iíd say overall that it was a pretty good season.
I saw something at the San Diego SX that I thought was another major setback for you. Ernesto Fonseca had stalled his YZ250F and had to fight his way back through the pack. You were running pretty well and when he caught up to you, he landed on you after a jump and took both of you out. Did you see that as a serious setback as well?
It was a bit disappointing. Obviously, I would have gotten slightly better results. I crashed on the start and I was dead last when I got going. I was going pretty good. I had actually had a pretty good ride. When he (Fonseca) restarted his bike, he was right behind me. Thatís how far back I was. Me and him just kept coming through, coming through. He was gaining a little bit on me in one section, where he crashed actually. He endoed, went out of control, landed straight into me and took us both down. It wasnít intentional, but thatís kind of how my luck was going at that stage of the season. It wasnít even my fault, but I ended up getting taken out. So, I got that out of my way and then things started to turn around a little bit.
Being South African, has Greg Albertyn (also a South African) been helpful to you in coming to America?
Yeah he has. We stay in contact quite a bit. He kind of tells you what to do, what you shouldnít do, who to avoid, whoís a good guy. That helps in the little sort of ways. I think the good thing about Greg is that he opened up the doors for South Africans a little bit. In the past if someone would have said, Ďhey, thereís this good South African guyí, people would have laughed. Now if they say that, thereís been a couple and theyíll think maybe itís another one. He opened the doors and put South Africa sort of on the map.
Itís always been said that foreign riders are at a disadvantage in their first year in the U.S. Nationals because they donít know the tracks. Do you feel that youíre at a disadvantage?
I donít think so. The track layout is the same from year to year, but the ruts look different and the jumps are different. Things change from year to year. I think they (the Americans) do have a slight advantage. At least they know where theyíre going. They can say, Ďlast year that happenedí and, Ďavoid that placeí. But Iíve always been a pretty quick learner and I learn to adapt to things. It might possibly make a small difference, but I donít think itís anything that will affect me too much.
The 125cc class is loaded this year. You have Pastrana and Sellards who have been riding well. You have great veterans like Lamson, Vohland and Larry Ward in the class. Then you have guys like Scott Sheak and Mike Brown who are back from Europe as well. Knowing the level of the competition, where do you see yourself realistically fitting into the championship?
To win is my goal. I think that winning the World Championship, maybe a lot of people donít think much of it over here. I think that in 99% of the American publicís eyes, they think Travis Pastrana is the best 125 rider in the world. Thereís no mistake about it. Heís a fantastic rider and heíll be difficult to beat. But I think itís going to be a very competitive season. I think it could go either way. A lot of people say that thereís a lot of guys who could win, I agree. Thereís possibly ten riders who could win motos. If youíre looking at championship riders who can ride all conditions, it boils down to maybe three riders, I believe. I think youíll see a pattern develop. It happens a lot of years, like last year, it was a two horse race with Travis and Roncada. I think this year, I have a feeling itís going to be down to three guys.
Who do you think those three guys will be?
My honest opinion, Iím talking for the championship, I think itís going to be myself, Pastrana and (Mike) Brown. Thatís how I see it and I think itís going to happen. Grouped just behind are going to be guys like Ramsey, Wey, Sellards and Fonseca. Lamsonís a difficult guy to tell because you never really know. This year, I donít think he did as well as people would have expected. Thereís always surprises. Some guys ride well and then all of a sudden some guys have a terrible season. I think youíll see some surprises. You saw Kelly Smith last year win. I think thereís going to be a lot of different winners. I think for the championship, and I may be wrong, I could very well be wrong, but I think itís going to come down to the three of us.
At this point, because itís so competitive, it may come down to who has the best luck and who stays healthy.
Yeah, who doesnít go down in the first turn. Who doesnít have a mechanical problem. Itís going to come down to a lot of little things. Thatís why I say that it could go either way. I do believe that even if I donít win the championship, I still believe that I can win quite a few motos.
You came here from the Factory KTM team in Europe to the Factory KTM team in America. How do the two differ in the day to day business of racing as well as in competitiveness? I mean, you guys have kind of an outdoor oriented team here.
Yeah, I think that KTM is putting a lot of hope in me. I think they also expect quite a bit, I mean Brock is definitely going to be up front. Pingree has actually surprised me. I was under the impression that heís not very good in the outdoors, but heís had some good rides. Even Kelly Smith, I think Kellyís a little bit erratic sometimes, but heís had some good rides in the past. Things are different here. The teamís bigger. There are four riders compared to two. Itís quite a bit different here, but I think that when youíre talking about actual racing, itís the same. They want to win.
I saw you out at the Glen Helen Golf Tournament. How did you do in that?
Unfortunately I had to leave early, but I think we pretty much sucked.
Yeah, well I saw you getting a little rowdy in the golf cart. Was that better than the actual golf?
(laughs) That was the most fun. We just stuffed it around in the golf carts. They tell you not to do that and everyone wants to go and do it. Itís always fun, though. I couldnít care about first or last. I just enjoy it.
How do you feel about the four stroke YZ250F being in the 125cc class?
Itís been, I think, a very controversial subject. In my opinion, I donít think itís really fair, honestly. They donít have any sort of rules because no one knew how the bike was going to do. Their (the AMA) rule says that as long as itís a 250 four-stroke, thatís their only rule. Theyíve improved that bike so much during the year that itís became a total unfair advantage. Itís not like the old days where four-strokes were a big heavy piece of metal. A four-stroke is a good racing machine. I just hope itís the last time, that theyíve proven the bike enough.
Alright, buddy, weíll be looking for you up front.
Thank you very much.