[Interviews]

Wil Ruprecht: Sherco’s AORC Young Gun

8 years ago | Words: Andy Wigan | Photos: John Pearson Media | Andy Wigan | Mad Dog Images

Recently crowned AORC EJ-class champ, Sherco’s Wil Ruprecht, reflects on the highs and lows of the journey to his recent national title win.

In spite of a workshop fire destroying their race bikes midway through the 2016 AORC series, the Motul Pirelli Sherco Factory Racing Team had a breakout year. Sherco-mounted Bjorn Osborne won the Over 35 Vets title, while Taree-based 18-year-old, Wil Rurprecht, wrapped up the hotly contested Transmoto 19 & Under class (now referred to as the Enduro Junior, or “EJ”, class in line with FIM class protocol).

A few weeks after his title win, we asked Ruprecht to reflect on the season’s highs and lows, and to share his aspirations for the years ahead.

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TM: You led the Transmoto EJ class for a majority of the season, but never really had a big enough lead to relax. Now you’ve had time to reflect on the title win, what’s it mean to you?
WR: It’s definitely been the hardest season’s racing I’ve ever had. There are quite a few guys who’ve stepped up – including a few who were straight out of the Junior class – and they’re all really hungry to make their mark on the national scene. That intense competition also meant it was a really fun season because there was often only 10 seconds separating a few of us after a day’s racing. It was a bit of a pity to finish the season with a 2-3 result, but by that stage, I was more focused on the title. Getting the title win was great. It feels like payoff for all the hard work I’ve put in for years, and I like to think that all the people who’ve helped me feel like they were part of this title win too.

Aside from Round 8, where a busted chain pushed you way down to 18th in the class, your results were pretty damn consistent. You carded four firsts, five seconds and two thirds. Not bad.
Yeah, I was happy with that. There were actually a few rounds where I felt I deserved to win, but missed out by only 5 seconds. On each of those occasions, I was pipped by Nic Tomlinson. When Nic’s on his game, he’s very difficult to beat. He’s the hardest competitor I’ve ever raced. Especially over the back half of the season, I felt like I had to put it all on the line and take a lot of risks to get the points and keep my nose in front of Nic. I think that, for a guy straight out of Juniors, Fraser Higlett has opened a few eyes this year. And with a couple of round wins, Ben Kearns has shown what he’s made of. Then there’s Andrew Wilksch, whose stand-up riding skills are as good as I’ve seen, and he won the sprint round down at Hedley in Victoria by more than half a minute.

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How did having the race bikes destroyed by that workshop fire affect you and the team?
The fire definitely put a few more challenges in front of us. Looking back, it actually bonded us as a team and really helped me grow as a rider. My 450SEF-R race bike was destroyed in the fire, so I had to adapt to the 300SE-R two-stroke at Rounds 3 and 4 of the series, which was generously supplied by the guys at Powerhouse Motorcycles. Initially, I struggled on the powerful two-stroke and crashed too much, so it forced me to adapt my riding style to suit the power delivery. And when I got back on my 450 at the following round, I think I started riding the four-stroke to its full potential.

Did with Sherco team guys help with that process of adapting your riding style to the two-stroke and four-stroke machines?
Absolutely, they did. I’ve got to say that I learned so much working with Dave Suter throughout the year. He’s a really experienced and respected technician, who was actually Chad Reed’s mechanic with CDR Yamaha back in 2000. He constantly pointed me in the fright direction and opened my eyes a lot. Hands down, he’s the best guy I’ve ever worked with when to comes to bike set-up. All the guys in my Sherco team made the whole season so much fun. They consistently bent over backwards to do whatever they could to help me get the best possible result.

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You did alright on the 450 at Hattah, too!
Yeah, I won the Under 19s class at the Hattah Desert Race this year and ran 20th Outright. That event was a real eye opener. The combination of high speeds, deep sand and big bumps made it the most physically demanding race I’ve ever competed in. It was a good one to tick off the list, and being fit got me through it – even though I wasn’t that comfortable with very little experience racing in those conditions.

On a 250cc four-stroke, you ran an impressive third in the 2015 A4DE’s E1 class. Was the 450 harder to ride consistently fast in all conditions this season?
I’ve grown a fair bit since last year, which had a lot to do with why I went for the 450 this year. I’ve been doing a lot of work in the gym to put on weight and get stronger, as I do think you need that to ride the 450 to its full potential. It probably is a bit tougher to be consistently fast aboard the 450, but I like the fact it’s probably the most competitive class, as that’ll make me a better rider in the long run. Just look at who’ll be in the E2 class at the Australian 4-Day Enduro. Aside from Matt Phillips coming back to race, you’ve got guys like Chris Hollis, Tye Simmonds, Josh Green, Broc Grabham, Beau Ralston and Tom McCormack. It’s super-competitive.

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In the interview we did with you before the season, you told us that your ambition was to run on the top-eight Outright. Does that mean you’re disappointed with 16th Outright for the series?
The beauty of the 19s, or EJ, class is that you’re scored in the class, plus you can peg yourself against the Pro riders in the Outright results. I was disappointed not to finish in the top-10 Outright this season, mainly because I finished a little further up the Outright rankings in most tests last season. Last year, I ran eighth Outright quite a bit, but I’ve been in the top-10 less regularly this season. I have got faster, but I struggled at the wet rounds. And the top 15 guys obviously stepped up a bit further than me in 2016. It definitely makes me even hungrier to get a really good result in the 4-Day in November.

In that pre-season interview, you also expressed concerns about being able to juggle racing with your final year of school. What suffered?
Both [laughs]. Seriously, though, it was difficult and I had to make sacrifices in both my racing and schoolwork. In an ideal world, I would have focused on just one of them at a time. Then again, I want to make racing my career, but I also didn’t want to have nothing to fall back on. As much as I had a lot of fun at school this year, I’ve just graduated, so it’ll be good to get out of there. In the past, I think that having limited bike time has been one of my weaknesses, so I’m looking forward to riding more now. I’ll get a part-time job for a few days a week. It’ll help cover costs, but also allow me more seat-time on the bike.

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As an 18-year-old, you can race another season in the EJ class. Will you?
Traditionally, once a rider wins a stepping-stone class like the EJ class, they move up into the Pro ranks. And if you look at how well the guys who’ve come out of the EJ class in the past two years – guys like Daniel Sanders, Tom Mason, Lyndon Snodgrass, Broc Grabham, Jack Simpson – you’d have to say that it makes sense. But the decision as to whether I’m ready or not is something I’ll have to make in the off-season. It also depends on what my Sherco team wants to do. Whatever the case, it’s great that Transmoto got behind the class a couple of years ago because it’s obviously done a great job of keeping young guys in the sport and helping them transition into the Pro ranks.

Have you spoken with the Sherco team about next year yet?
They’re a really good bunch of guys and I’ve really enjoyed working with them this year. Nothing’s in place yet for 2017, but I’ve delivered what they hoped I would this year, so I really hope to be back with the team again. I’d love to ride a few selected rounds of the Enduro World Championship, too. I believe that Sherco is bringing out a 125cc two-stroke for 2017, so it’d be nice to race that at a few rounds of the under-19s Youth Cup class and get a feel for where my pace is at compared to those guys.

Congrats on the title win, Wil, and all the best for the upcoming A4DE in Victoria.
Thank you.

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MORE AORC…

Be sure to check out the 16-page AORC season-wrap feature in the free-to-view September-October issue (#58) of Transmoto, embedded below. The article can be found on page 44.

Click here if you’re having trouble viewing this publication. On mobile devices, it’s best-viewed through the free-to-download Issuu App.

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