If you haven’t been following the World Motocross Championship’s MX2 class (equivalent of the 125 class in the United States), then you probably haven’t heard of New Zealander Ben Townley. We caught up with Townley to get to know the young Kiwi who was crowned MX2 World champion this year-a year he has spent developing the KTM 250 four-stroke motocrosser en route to the class title.DR: What made you decide to move to Europe?
BT: As a kid, I dreamed about the United States, supercross and my idols Jeremy McGrath, Jeff Emig and Mike Kiedrowski; but the German team Fase offered me the opportunity to go to Europe to race in the World championship, and with the support of my family, I accepted.How did you convince your parents to let you go to Europe when you were only 16?
My parents believe in me and in what I do. When I was a child, I often went with friends to play in the forest or went canoeing without incident. Maybe that’s why my family trusted me.Was it difficult to make the transition at that age?
Yes, it was very hard, but I knew that if I wanted to grow as a rider, I had to go to Europe and race in the World championship, and I have made it. Back home I only had to wash dishes. My mom washed my clothes, cooked for me, made my bed … and with my bike, basically everything was prepared. So when I came here I had to go to practice, wash my own clothes and take care of the bills. If I didn’t cook, I didn’t eat. I didn’t have a choice; I had to make it alone. I did not have a friend and only very rarely met people. Many times I went to sleep crying, but I always woke up with great determination. It was a big change for me, but it was good for me, because it taught me a lot. Now I keep in contact with my family via the internet; we write three times a week. If I used the telephone, I would spend way more.Has your family seen any change in you since you moved away from home?
Well, my father is strict, and each time I return from Europe, my vocabulary is rich in ugly words. Therefore every time my sister Morgean or I say an indecent word, we have to put some money into a container. This makes us watch our language in the house-but at the end of the year we go out to a restaurant with the money.Are you engaged?
No, no [laughs]. I have a girlfriend at the moment; she’s from New Zealand. She’s come all the way here just to see me. We’ll see what happens.What do you do in your spare time?
I like to ride trials bikes and Jet Skis. I have many bikes. I also like to go karting. [I'm interested in] everything that’s got a little speed.What was your best race?
It’s hard to say. I think the one that’s most special was my first GP win in Sweden in 2002. I came from 10th to win the race after a great recovery…. your favorite track?
Digger McEwen Park in Taupo and Gaillac-Toulza in France…. your worst injury?
I traveled to the United States to race some supercrosses, but I had a big crash while training. I lacerated my liver and broke my wrist. I was in intensive care for eight days and in the hospital for 12. That was a pretty bad accident-you [risk] that in motocross…. the best gift you received from a fan?
I have some friends in Belgium and Holland, and it is very nice to see them cheer me on during the races.Why won’t you go to the States in 2005?[I've always wanted to race in] the United States, but it was not possible to go there immediately. So the first thing I said to myself was, “When you’re ready, then you’ll go [there].” I’m getting close to that, but for next year I will remain in Europe because I signed with KTM to ride the new 450 four-stroke, which features a new engine based on the same concept as my current KTM 250 four-stroke. I’ll be racing in the MX1 class [the 250 class in the United States] with Stefan Everts, Mickael Pichon, Joel Smets and the other big riders. I’m very happy about this. If 2005 is a good year and I am strong and make more progress, then I’ll be ready to race in the United States. I hope so, because I like American supercross and the [other series], and culturally it is very similar to New Zealand-the language, the food and the mentality.How did you become friends with Alessio “Chicco” Chiodi and Tyla Rattray?In my first race in Italy, I had Tyla Rattray on one side and Chicco on the other [at the start]. I got to know Chicco over the years, and he is a really nice guy. We ride together in our spare time and have developed a good friendship. Rattray and I have been on the same team for a couple of years, and we lived in the same house in 2001-’02, so we’ve become pretty good friends-basically, we do everything together.