Interview: 500 World Motocross Champion Andrea Bartolini
by Filippo Ceccucci
500 World Motocross Champion Andrea Bartolini (The Bartman!)
Andrea Bartolini is a great rider, but also a great person. His humility and seriousness are proverbial: you’ll never hear of someone that has something against him. He is universally known as a fantastic test driver, but he also has the speed on the single lap that really a few can compete with worldwide.
But until now he never had the great international success, even after racing for fifteen years in the World Championship. He did reach wins in each class of the World Championship (only a few riders did it) and a big number of Italian Championships: seven.
In 1999 he finally demonstrated all his worth, not only becoming the first Italian to win the 500 World Championship, but also leading the Italian Team in their historical first victory in the Motocross des Nations. Even though he is now part of the legend of motocross in Italy and worldwide, Andrea remains very modest. I paid him a visit in his home in Casalfiumanese, a village on the hills close to Imola, fifty kilometers east of Bologna.
Filippo Ceccucci: Andrea, with the victory of the 500 Motocross World Title, you reached the goal you worked so hard for so many years, how do you feel now that you did it?
Andrea Bartolini: The win in the World Championship arrived in this year which I started only to make some good results, I wasn’t thinking to win, because I broke my thighbone in August ’98 and I had to stop racing until January ’99. Everyone, even Yamaha, even Rinaldi (team manager), weren’t betting so much on me: in the beginning they believed more in Alex Puzar. However, I began working really hard, day and night, and after two races I was leading the World Championship, and so I thought that maybe it was the right opportunity to win.
FC: In comparison with the years before, you had to alter your training, because of the thighbone broken in Belgium, how did you organize yourself?
AB: I was operated on the 2nd of August ’98, and back again on the 12th of November by Dr. Costa. I started to train in January, I did a lot of biking and spinning, I was riding six days per week and spinning in the evenings. After two months like this, I wasn’t fit as in ’98, but I was in good condition anyway.
FC: This past season you also changed your racing tactics: a little less ‘full gas, wide open’, but more thoughtful.
AB: Yes, because I wanted to finish each moto. The year before I had to retire seven times and it makes me nervous. This season some new riders arrived in the 500 class, like Yves Demaria, Alex Puzar, and more, and there were six or seven of us who all wanted to win. I thought that the only thing to do was to finish each race and to wait for the other ones’ mistakes. In this way I even won some motos and GPs, and at the end I also was one of the fastest. (Andrea is too modest: he won seven motos and four GPs out of 13, he was on the podium eight times, no one did better).
FC: There was a particular moment, in the England GP, that was frightening. Tell me about that.
AB: Yes, a little. There is a person that checks how fit am I each twenty days with some check-ups. Three weeks before I was perfect, then I went training in Belgium, on the sandy track of Lommel, and when I arrived to Hawkstone Park I was feeling good. Saturday I made the best time in the qualifications, and that was the maximum for me, on a sandy track like that. During the race, after twenty minutes I was empty, with no energy at all. It was really a hard race and in that moment Rinaldi and the others in the Team were thinking that was a mental problem, that I was nervous. But Monday I did my check-up and we discovered that the iron in my blood was totally over what it should be. Dr. Costa helped me again, he cured me and after other three weeks I was OK.
FC: After the British GP you reacted with some terrific races. Was there was a moment in which you thought ‘I did it!’, or did you wait until the very end?
AB: No, no, never until the end, because in the years before I always arrived to the last races with the best ones and then for my mistakes or something else I never get through the end. I’m not so young anymore (he was 31 on the 4th of November: Italian First World War Victory AnniversarySÃ¿): it was better to do it now than never!
FC: How was the first heat in Finland, when you conquered the Title with three heats in advance?
AB: It was hard, I was driving like I was a rookie. After the start I was second, and then I dropped to fourth place, but Peter Johansson (his challenger) was behind me, and he also was nervous like me, I hadn’t slept all night long. It was the longest moto of my life, it never seemed to end.
FC: The second heat was a lot different: you won.
AB: Yes, because I already had won the Title, and so I drove as I know.
FC: Who were your main challengers?
AB: Joel Smets, in the beginning, because he was the strongest and three times World Champ, Peter Johansson was fast, but I wasn’t thinking of him as the main challenger.
FC: Your Yamaha YZM 400 F changed a lot from the prototype you had back in ’97: it came closer to the stock one during the years. At the end you won the World Championship with the simpler one. What is your bike like?
AB: It’s normal, but the difference is that now I had a bike more similar to the one I’m training with, that’s a stock one. In the beginning I had the four stroke only for the races, and I was training with a 250 two stroke, that’s completely different, as a Honda from a Yamaha.
FC: What can we expect from Andrea Bartolini in the future?
AB: This coming season it will be tough, because a big name as Stefan Everts arrived, who’s the best one here in Europe, but I still want to win, now that I have learned how to do it! (He laughs) I think it won’t be easy either for him.
FC: How did the other 500 GP class riders receive you back in ’97?
AB: Not so well. I was coming from the 250 class, and they considered me quite a ‘missy’, even because I have normal size: they are giants of 90 kilos or more, close to two meters tall. I weight 67-68 kilos and I’m 1,72 meters tall: in each corner I founded them inside, trying to smash me out of the track. Now I’m more experienced, and as soon as I overtake them I run away, that’s better!
FC: Are there some respect and friendship between you all, or everyone does just his own work?
AB: No, we’re friends, …. my best friend is Peter Johansson, even if it looks strange, every eight-nine days we speak on the telephone, I ask him how his two children are. We’re friends, he’s the only one which I have these terms with.
FC: Now we’re talking about the other fantastic win of this year: with the Italian Team you also won the Motocross des Nations in Brazil, after winning the 500 World Championship. Probably you were the Italian rider that always believed in it.
AB: I think so. in ’97 we were close, with second place, with the same riders: Chicco (Chiodi), Claudio (Federici) and me. I arrived in Brazil after a long holiday, and until Saturday maybe we weren’t so sure of being competitive for the victory. Saturday I won my qualification heat, while Chicco and Claudio maybe didn’t push so hard. But the next day we all did the maximum, and came out the winners.
FC: This year you really seemed to be a close team. Is this kind of cooperation new this year, or did you already have it?
AB: We already had it. Chicco and Claudio and me are friends, but during the year we rarely have the opportunity of meeting each other, everyone works by himself to reach his goals. It’s good to meet together again after the World Championships, and we reached Brazil with the will of doing a good job, to create great harmony. We talked about the bikes, the races, the sponsors, about our world. Then we helped each other with suggestions and to make sure everyone did their best.
FC: In the first heat you started immediately after Joel Smets. Did that feel like a continuation of the World Championship?
AB: To tell the truth I arrived in Brazil with the will of beating him. He declared many times that he lost the Title only because of the problems of his bike, not because I was stronger. So I did my race to arrive always in front of him. (He doesn’t say it, but from Saturday he always was faster, from the first tests to the qualifications, to the two heats.)
FC: In the final heat you made a great battle with Stefan Everts.
AB: Saturday I knew that he had signed for Husqvarna and he would have a ride in the 500 class in 2000, so it was necessary to made him a good impression SÃƒÂ¿ (He laughs) But I was coming out from three weeks of holidays, so I worked hard on him for twenty minutes only, then I left, and I’m a little sorry about it. It’s the only regret of a fantastic weekend.
FC: Maybe you were thinking about the Team results.
AB: No, no, not at all! (He laughs) Just in the last laps, when they reported to me that we were winning and I shouldn’t do any mistakes, but until the last ten minutes I didn’t see anything, I was thinking only to give everything I have!
FC: When Everts overtook you and you immediately answered, going back in front, was he surprised?
AB: (He laughs) Yes, maybe. 250 riders consider themselves as the best ones, but I wanted to show that they’re wrong.
FC: Then it was the triumph: how did you felt in the moment that you saw the checkered flag?
AB: You win, but not only for yourself: you win for Italy, your country, it’s something you feel deep inside.
FC: To celebrate with Chiodi we heard you had to pick him up in his hotel room.
AB: (He laughs) Yes! He was already in bed at nine in the evening, because he was really tired. So we, Claudio, Everts, Smets and me, went to pick him up and we told him that if he would not have come with us, we would stayed in his room all night long! So we went downstairs and we cheered, we drank a lot, we celebrated, we ripped our t-shirts, we threw ourselves in the swimming pool! We reached a good level I think! (He laughs)
FC: Some other questions: what do you think about American riders: you rarely had the opportunity to compete with them, but I know that once in Japan, during Yamaha tests, on the same track, the same day and the same bike you were two seconds faster than Doug Henry.
AB: For me they were superior until some years ago, but lately the Europeans are at the same level, at least, maybe even faster, on traditional natural tracks. About Doug Henry it’s true, but I don’t know and think if he was pushing as hard as I was.
FC: Did you ever have the opportunity or the curiosity of racing in the AMA races?
AB: Never, until now, but I would like to do some AMA National races. Unfortunately it’s really hard to organize it, because of the calendars, but if it would be possible I would do it with pleasure, for example if American Yamaha would invite me (To tell the truth, these last words were put in his mouth by me, but he agreed.)
FC: What is the level of the four strokes now, in comparison to the two strokes?
AB: If we’re talking as an Open class, it depends on the track. On the hard and traditional ones I think four strokes are better. I prefer four strokes, I think that my bike by now is superior in most of the tracks. In a direct comparison though, it is the driver who makes the difference now.
FC: Would you like to see the World Championship in only two classes: 125 and Open?
AB: It might be a good idea, and I think it would be even right. It could be good to increase the knowledge of our sport, and every change in this direction would be welcomed.
FC: Some personal questions: are you engaged or married?
AB: I’m engaged with Ylenia, we will marry, one sunny day.
FC: How many years do you think of going on racing, and what would you like to do after?
AB: I won’t go on for long, just as long as I have the will and I can reach good results, but I think maximum two years more. I don’t know what will I do after racing, but my parents own a building contracting company, and I probably will work in it.
FC: Would you like to be a tester that covers the development of the new bikes?
AB: I would like to, it would be amusing.
FC: Do you have a computer, do you surf on the Internet?
AB: Yes, I do. I have some fun sometimes. Just yesterday evening I was looking at Stefan Everts’ web page (www.stefan-everts.com), and I know even supercross.com. I’m not a fanatic, but half an hour sometimes I spend on it with pleasure.
FC: What is your favorite food?
AB: Pasta: I’m from Emilia-Romagna! (The birth place of pasta.)
FC: Do you have a favorite kind of music?
AB: Not so much. I like Italian Rock music, such as Zucchero or Ligabue, this kind of musicians, but it also depends on the moment.
FC: And how about movies?
AB: I like action movies, like Lethal Weapon, or Die-Hard.
FC: Do you have any hobbies?
AB: Mountain bike or even road bike, they’re also a good training. I like to do mountain climbing and free climbing, but only when I have the time, and no more than two or three times per year, if more, my forearms would become hard as a stone!
FC: That’s all Champ, thank you very much, you are extremely kind!
AB: Thank you. Best wishes to everyone at Supercross.com and to all the American fans. I hope to come to see a Supercross race in person once, it’s something I’ve never done!