Interview: Todd Waters Back in Oz

3 years ago | Words: Salvatore Aloisio | Photos: Wade Lewis, Foresmost Media, Full Noise

From the small FNQ township of Atherton comes a guy who is not afraid to kick it and rip it on a dirt bike. We’re talking 28-year-old Todd Waters. He is one heck of a fast racer and has definitely made a name for himself, not only in the Australian Motocross scene, but in Europe and America as well. We recently caught up with the down-to-earth gun to have a chat about his time spent overseas in the cutthroat world of MXGP, and what his plans are for the 2019 season back in Oz with his new DPH Husqvarna Team on his side…

“The racer in me was wanting to just go as hard as I could and perform like I usually do. But the other part of me was saying to hold back and just ride at a slower pace as you’re only going to axe yourself again and lose all that healing progress.”

TM: Firstly, I just wanted to say that your pre-season video, ‘Resurgence’ was epic! Do you consider yourself one to show off a bit for the camera, or are you more of a head-down, bum-up racer?
TW: Yeah, thanks mate. I guess being that it’s so quiet over the Christmas holidays throughout the off-season period, no-one really knows what’s going on behind the scenes with all the riders and what they’re doing for training and so on. So we just tried to do something different with all the partners and lead into the championship season with a bit of style. As for what type of rider I consider myself to be, I would say I’m focused on the work and racing side of it more than anything else. And that’s why motocross is more of my forte. Now as I’m getting older, I’m starting to realise how valuable it is to put yourself out there, knuckle down, and do as much as you can for your partners and supporters while I can. Style isn’t something I really work on either. I don’t really care what my style looks like at the end of the day. So yeah, we just wanted to make a cool video as we’re not doing too much in pre-season when it comes to racing and travelling, so we had a bit more spare time to do cool stuff like that. That’s how the video kind of came about.

Now that we’re a couple of rounds into the 2019 MX Nationals series, how are you finding racing back in Oz? Does it give you more time to go race smaller regional races such as the East Coast MX series?
I just love racing back in Australia at the moment; to the point where I’m just trying to race as much as I can. But definitely the MX Nationals is what we get contracted to race, so that is my main focus at the moment. And everything is just sort of preparation for that. So at the moment, my main focus is just getting results at the MX Nats for this season.

Can we expect to see you at the 2019 King of MX?
I’m actually away for that as I’m heading over to the States in the break to race the first three AMA Outdoor MX Championship races. Otherwise I would have been there. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it.

How does racing back home compare to racing overseas? Do you like being back home or prefer the lifestyle overseas?
I love the travel and seeing new places and whatnot, but it is nice to be home and to be racing in our country is great. Last year, I wanted to go OS. I was getting itchy feet and wanted to travel and race my bike, but this year I’m kind of content with being here in Australia and doing our thing. Obviously we’ll do some races over in the States so that’s my bit of a getaway and opportunity to go race the big guns because I always love that. I would say it’s probably the crowds and the atmosphere over there that sucks me back in the most.

It seems that over in the States and Europe, they tend to get a much bigger audience and way more spectators at the events compared to over here, where all our MX events seem fairly quiet. Fair to say?
Yeah. Well, there’s a lot more spectators over there; that’s for sure. But [AME Management’s] Adam Bailey’s been doing an awesome job with AUS-X Open and getting the spectator numbers in there, so I guess it’s slowly getting there and getting back to how it use to be in Australia.

On the topic of racing overseas, tell us a bit more about your trip to America, and how it morphed into your season of racing in Europe for 2018.
Basically I went race in the States; to race the Outdoor championship over there. But previous to going to the States, I went to New Zealand and stayed with Cody Cooper with the plan being to then go and race alongside him in the USA. The day before we left NZ, HRC contacted me and wanted me to test their bike as [Ken] Roczen was injured. So I went and did a two-day test with those guys on his bike. My speed was really good against their guys, so a week later I had a contract to go to Europe and race for HRC in Europe. So it wasn’t in the plan, but that’s an opportunity you can’t turn down, and that’s where I ended up. It was unfortunate that I broke myself straight-up; it was sort of a mirror image of what Dean Ferris has done at the moment. So it was a shame, but it just comes down to being underprepared really. Both Dean and I have raced World Championships in the past and the pre-season work that we put into it is massive. Even if you’re the best rider in Australia, you can’t just fly over there and think you’re prepared. It’s hard to go from the hardpack, smooth tracks we are used to racing, then go race against the best in the world on the roughest, gnarliest tracks you know. It often ends in injury, and it happened to both Dean and me in this case. So yeah, it was a bummer breaking my collarbone over there and having to get it plated in Latvia, but I healed up as best I could and still rode as many races as I was physically able to do. I just used that as training for this year and rode the rest of the championship, got my fitness and skills, and got as many positives as I could out of it. The most difficult thing was having to be in two mindsets. The racer in me was wanting to just go as hard as I could and perform like I usually do. But the other part of me was saying to hold back and just ride at a slower pace as you’re only going to axe yourself again and lose all that healing progress. I still had a ball with travelling and spending time with everyone while I was there.

Would you say that your experience racing overseas has helped you with racing at home this year, especially with how wet the first two rounds of the 2019 MX Nationals have been?
I don’t think so. To tell you the truth, I think you’re best practicing where you’re going to race. We’ve seen good American riders come over here to race and our Aussie riders give it to them. So in that case, you’re definitely best training where you’re going to race for sure as everywhere is different. America is quite fast and wide open while our tracks are small and usually have little jumps out of the corners, so you usually don’t generate much speed and they usually get quite square-edged and rough. But they’re only a one-day event most of the time so they don’t get too rough. Whereas when you go to Europe, where they’ve got long straights into jumps, they’ve got big jumps; they’ve got loose, sandy open tracks, where you’re up two more gears and going 20 clicks faster, and they’ve got two days of racing on that track so it’s like having two MX Nationals back-to-back on the track and it’s not getting fixed. Plus, they’ve got a lot more support classes so the track just gets so beat up because of the amount of riders and traffic. So it’s definitely different, because here in Australia we have a lot of hardpack tracks, where you really have to steer with the back-end. In Europe, you need to take your time a bit more and wheelie over bumps and stuff because it’s so rough. The two days of racing over there is difficult. If you were over there racing it in the past, you’d kind of get use to it and it’s just the normal thing to race Saturday and Sunday. But coming from over here, where we only race for one day and then go and step into a weekend of racing overseas, it’s definitely tough – especially when you’re racing somewhere like Lommel, where you do an hour-and-a-half of racing on Saturday and you haven’t even scored a point yet, to then turn up and do another hour-and-a-half of racing on Sunday and you’re already pretty spent. So a lot of fitness does go into it.

“In terms of rivals this year, Hayden Mellross has been quite strong. But the guy I probably think about the most would have to be Kirk Gibbs. He’s solid and I know he’s a massive threat.”

How are you gelling with your DPH Husky team and bike this year? You’ve had great results racing KTMs and Husqvarna around the world, so did you feel comfortable on the DPH bike early on or did it take work? And how does the new-generation 2019 Husky compare to the Ice One machine you rode back in 2015?
The last year with Ice One was quite difficult as I was on a bike that I was really familiar with that I’d raced on here in Australia; basically the KTM was similar in 2013. So I’d spent close to three years on that bike. We got it set up well, and I was quite comfortable on it. We got a podium and a couple of top fives and ended up sixth in the Championship. Then this new bike we were riding now … well,I had got a podium finish halfway through the Championship, which is when they then wanted me on the Ice One bike. And to be honest, it wasn’t at the level that I needed. It was quite a lot different and it affected my results after quite a few crashes that I had on the thing. So it was a difficult time from then to now, where they’ve rectified a lot of the problems that the 2016 bike I was riding had. For example, it was very light, but still unstable in the front-end. They’ve now lifted the front of the frame to make the chassis a lot more stable, plus the engine is super-smooth and tourqey. So I’m loving the 2019 bike. It definitely suits my riding style and suits me. So from the Husqvarna side of things, I’m very happy with where I’m at. The DPH team is great. They’re a really relaxed team and they have great family atmosphere, so that works for me as well. I’ve got my old man back on the tools again. After having that relationship with him over so many years of racing, it’s good to have him back and working together with the team.

What exactly happened with your bike in Moto 1 at Wonthaggi last weekend, when you DNFed the race?
Just off the start, Mellross just got out of shape and slid out. That caused him to come straight across and crash into my sideplate halfway down the start straight, so I went down pretty hard. When I picked up my bike, I noticed it had snapped all four mounts on my subframe. I tried to keep racing, but I got about two laps in and unfortunately the throttle body came off. So I couldn’t finish the race. It was a bit of a bugger but I guess these things happen sometimes.

You’d have to be Australia’s winningest rider not to win a premier-class MX title. So is that the one and only goal for 2019? Or are you approaching it more as a two- or three-year program with DPH Husky?
That’s always my goal. Everyone’s goal is to win championships. I guess it’s just been unfortunate that something always seems to happen – such as what just happened with my subframe and throttle body on the weekend. There is a lot of luck that goes into it; we’ve just got to keep chipping away at it and try and eliminate those mishaps. Let’s hope this year’s the year.

On the topic of MX Nationals, who do you regard as your biggest rival this year? Where are they strong? Where do you think you’re stronger?
I have to say that Hayden Mellross has been quite strong. He has taken over the red plate, so in that respect he would have to be up there. The one I probably think about the most would have to be Kirk Gibbs. He’s solid and I know he’s a massive threat. He’s had a few bad rounds, but I know he’ll be coming out strong, so we’ve got to keep our eyes on him.

In past years, Dean Ferris has been one of your biggest rivals. Have you still got a score to settle with Dean or are you enjoying racing in a different MX series to him this year?
Nah, I like him being in the race. I was hoping he’d be in America when we go over to race the first three rounds of Outdoors, but unfortunately it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. I do like racing him every time I race. He’s been my main competitor for as long as I can remember, so I don’t like seeing him get hurt and I hope that he comes back soon.

Do you play a mentor role to your youthful teammate, Wilson Todd?
It’s kind of difficult as he’s down in Victoria, so we really only see each other on race day. So we’re just doing our own thing. But definitely, if we were to be together more often, it would just naturally be like that. As I said previously, as a racer we just turn up on race day and don’t really see the team until then. That’s just the way it is with Wilson, I guess.

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