Mickael Pichon: 250 World MX Champion
Mickael was one of the first to follow the road pioneered by Jean-Michael Bayle to the U.S.A. Mickael won the 125 French Supercross Championship three times (’91-’92-’93), and made his debut in the AMA Supercross Series in ’93, winning the San Diego 125 West event.
Back then his career was split between the World Championships and AMA Supercross. His best finish in the 125 World Championship was sixth in 1994. A year later he went to the States to stay, signing a contract with Mitch Payton’s Kawasaki Pro Circuit team. He won three events and the 125 East championship, and was fifth in the 125 Nationals. In 1996, he won six events and the 125 East championship again: a star was born!
1997 was not a good year for Mickael. After signing with US Suzuki to race the 250 class, he was out almost the entire season due to a serious injury (he broke his thigh-bone). Things became better in 1998 though. Still with Suzuki, Mickael was fifth in AMA Supercross (2nd in Las Vegas) and fourth in the AMA 250 Nationals (winning the Glen Helen round). In 1999 Pichon climbed another step. Riding for Honda, he took fourth in AMA Supercross (2nd in Anaheim, Phoenix and Indianapolis, 3rd in Irving/Dallas and St. Louis).
Mickael had a small but well documented run-in at one of the AMA National rounds that ultimately began a new chapter in his life. He left the US and began racing the 250 World Motocross Championship in mid-season.
In the first race (Poland), Mickael was second in one moto, and then followed that with a second again in Belgium: a quick announcement of what he could do in Europe. He looked forward to the 2000 season.
The 2000 250 World Championships began under his dominion: only Frederic Bolley matched his speed, and after seven rounds third position (Pit Beirer) was 90 points behind. But at the end of July Mickael broke his collar-bone. He tried an incredible come-back just a few days later, but his body wasn’t able to respond. He was second at the end.
This year, with the World Championships totally changed (only one moto and all of the classes in one day and one track) Mickael Pichon wiped out everyone, winning races and then winning races and winning races again. Only Gordon Crockard (twice), Claudio Federici and Chad Reed beat him on four occasions (out of 14!).
I met him in Castiglione del Lago, in the next to the last race of the Championship, where he won. He had clinched the championship at the previous round.
Filippo: Mickael, probably no one knows better than you both sides of the best ways of racing motocross worldwide. You were twice AMA 125 East Champion, one of the best in supercross and in the Nationals and now, back in Europe, you have won the 250 World Championship. What are the differences between motocross in Europe and in the United States?
Mickael: Well, I think that the differences are mainly that in the U.S. they have a great supercross championship, they have a lot of money, a lot of people and the best organization in the world. Because of that they have very good riders in supercross.
When I was in the U.S. I didn’t work as hard as I do now, and I never felt so good. You know it is very important to feel good, wherever you’re riding. You need to be in the best shape physically and mentally.
If you compare motocross …. it’s different. The tracks are much different in Europe. In Europe you have to be good in many different kinds of tracks: we have mud, we have hard tracks, we have sand tracks …. different kinds of dirt and a lot of specialists, like Italians on the hard tracks, Belgians on the sand tracks and Frenchmen in the mud. In the U.S. it’s always much the same: everyone is pretty good on everything, but there are non differences on tracks: there is only one sand track, but it’s not like Belgium or Holland. I don’t think that in the U.S they’re going much faster than we’re going. Many guys at the same speed, except for Carmichael who’s faster, but all of the rest are pretty close together.
This year was very difficult for me, even if it could not seem that way because I won many races. It was difficult to win and I tried very hard and I had to do a lot of training. So I think it’s difficult to compare for me. If you look at my results, you should think that it’s easier in Europe because I won here, but, as I said, I’m not in the same shape as I was in the U.S. In Europe I feel at home, which is very good. I have my family, my friends … I ride at the best I can ride now. In the U.S. I never rode at the best I could do.
In Europe you are a step higher than all the others. There are no questions, there are just the results to say that, but do you think that there is a different kind of mentality in the drivers? I’m thinking that in Europe after you overtake one driver the story is over, in the AMA Nationals I saw (on TV) any driver can fight back as soon as he’s been passed.
I don’t think so. It isn’t really right, because in the U.S. the tracks make the difference. In Europe the tracks are very slippery and the traction is never good, we have tracks with a lot of stones … we fight against the track, that’s the main difference. In the U.S. the traction is always good, you have many ruts, many different lines, which you don’t have in Europe. Sometimes here the tracks have only one line and it’s very difficult to pass, so once you pass one guy it’s hard for him to pass you back. In the U.S. you have many choices of lines, many choices of everything. And that’s what I think makes the difference, really.
Are there any things that you miss, now, of the American way of riding?
Well, the tracks there are really good, and that’s one thing for sure, and as you said, when someone passes you, you can respond …. it’s easier to respond. In the U.S. you have three or four ruts, in Europe you have often only one good line, and it’s difficult to pass back. You have to be stupid and make same crazy move.
One thing I miss a lot is supercross, because the AMA Supercross Championship is really good, with many people. It’s very popular and the organization is really good and the people are very close. You have 50,000 people and you’re a rider and that’s very big. We don’t feel the same thing in Europe right now.
Let’s talk now about your World Championship. You wiped out everyone. At the beginning of the year, were you sure that you were going to do that?
I was sure even last year, before breaking my shoulder. I worked very hard physically, I tested a lot on the bike, much more testing than previously. We worked a lot on the bike, to make it very good for starts, because with only one moto the start is very important.
I tried to be complete, to have the bike good, my conditioning good, and good technique. I worked a lot on my technique, and everything was going fine and the whole Team worked really hard to win the Championship.
A team doesn’t need to be just the best rider – you have to be good on everything, a good rider is not enough. This year we combined everything together, so that helps to make me strong mentally. I always have good times in timing, always good starts, and we had the results come along with that.
What do you think of the new World Championship, with the single moto?
For me I don’t like it so much, but we have to deal with it. We tried to convince them to leave us the two motos, but nobody really listened to the riders. For now we have to deal with only one moto, but I hope in the future we’re going to come back to the two motos. For now we have nothing to say. We tried to say “No! Not one moto!” but they say that they are the bosses and we are the riders and we only have to ride. So now we wait and see.
I heard that you wanted even to race in two different classes, 125 and 250 …
Yes. Because with only one moto it’s very easy, and there’s a lot of training and I hoped it could be possible for some riders to ride in two classes, because it’s not very difficult to race only one moto. But for me it’s going to be difficult, first of all because the F.I.M. doesn’t allow it, and there’s also Suzuki. They (Suzuki) are really working on the 250 and the four strokes, so they don’t want to try hard on the 125. They want to keep working on the 250, to win another World Championship, and during that time get ready for the future with four strokes.
Thank you very much. You’ve been very kind, Champ.