Moto Media

with ... Ben Townley

Ben Townley at Saturday's Press Conference in Valkenswaard. Photo courtesy of Adam Wheeler for Youthstream.

Off the sand however the New Zealander was a welcome ‘new’ addition to the FIM World Championship paddock.They say life moves in cycles and sport is no exception.

As I sat interviewing Ben Townley on the eve of the Dutch MXGP it was difficult not to think back to another sunny day at Valkenswaard in 2002 when the Kiwi , then seventeen years old and starting his second GP season, was on the brink of exploding his career.

A surprising run to 2nd position that day was the first podium of many on the way to the distinctions of being the first MX2 World Champ in 2004 and first ever winner of MX2 and MX2 GPs (2005), AMA East Coast Lites Champ (2007) and MX Lites runner-up (2007). After that it generally got a bit messy.

My first sit-down with BT was in 2001, his first term in Europe and he came across exactly as he was, a young kid, far away from home and his family, disorientated, knackered and with not much to say for himself. In 2002, just after his emergence in the Dutch sand, he proved that he was quickly getting to grips with the game, and not just with his actions on the bike. I was quite shocked with the confidence surge in Townley and this helped him reveal his personality; the same character, intelligence, openness and friendliness that has kept his name at the top of the motocross tree despite the wilderness of the recent injury years.

BT in 2002:  "I'm learning from better racing 'company' and also from trial and error, what things during the race actually work and what things might lose me time. If you are up there with the leaders it is much easier to ride your own race whereas if you are down in the pack you have to be more on the limit and concentrate a lot more. To come to Europe and have to leave my family, yes, that is a big thing but I'm doing something I've always wanted and I´ll give it my best shot. You have to concentrate on the positives; it's easier than I imagined actually."

Nine years on and with wife Lucy and fourteen month old son Levi in tow Townley gives the impression of an ‘old-hand’ at Valkenswaard. If his memory banks were trying recall the best way to tackle the punishing ripples of the terrain (and the track was run the other way for his last appearance in 2004 when he won the MX2 GP) then he showed no apprehension. As an interviewee he remains engaging, thinks about his answers, varies his vocabulary and tries to avoid clichés – these attributes already mark him out from his peers.

BT: "I don’t feel old physically and mentally but the last time I was sitting at Valkenswaard in a GP paddock I was nineteen. That’s a long time ago now. I haven’t done what I wanted to in that time. I had a European phase, an American phase, a wishy-washy phase and now I am back in Europe and I want to create a solid chapter. I am not looking too far into the future and especially not past here in Europe. I need to get myself back on my feet and that involves not looking too far ahead."

After the first moto on Monday where he visibly struggled, Ben is now being forced to look ahead by opting to sit out events in the USA (where he won a moto in 2010) and Brazil:

BT: "It was nice to be back at the race and be with my team but overall it was a disaster! I felt good on the bike last week but it was a completely different story here. It was so rough out there. I felt so weak half way through the moto. I didn’t think it would be so hard. I need some more time to build back up. In terms of speed I could have gone faster but I don’t have the condition to sustain it."

The 2011 MX1 title shot vanished with that broken jaw and concussion at the start of the year but Townley retains the ability and professionalism to have a say in the destination of this season’s crown. Even if he can’t be ‘re-born’ as a GP star over the coming months the World Championship community is richer and a little bit more interesting for his viewpoints, opinions and presence.