Antti Kallonen Talks US ISDE Team

Can Team USA defend it's World Trophy Team title?

Antti Kallonen, 2017 ISDE Team Manager
Antti Kallonen is entering his sixth year as team manager of the US ISDE Trophy Team effort and he is hoping to lead the US squad to a second-straight World Trophy Team title.Photo By Shan Moore

The AMA just announced the World, Junior and Women’s teams that will represent the United States at this year’s International Six Days Enduro in Brive, France on August 28 through September 2nd. For the first time ever, the US World Trophy Team will be wearing numbers 10 through 14, as the defending champions after winning the World Team award for the first time in the 91-year history of the storied event.

The man who helped build the US ISDE effort into a winning one is Antti Kallonen, who is entering his sixth year as team manager of the US effort. Dirt Rider sat down with Antti at the recent Full Gas Three Day Enduro to get his thoughts on this year’s event in France.

We’ve never been in this situation before where we were defending champions. How does that change how we look at this year?

Once you win it once you have a bulls eye on your back. Everyone has high expectations now. Once you win once the expectation is set so much higher now and no one expects anything but to win again. If you don’t, it is obviously a letdown. We’re building a team to go and defend the championship. We proved ourselves that we can win it. It doesn’t matter what country it is, or who’s racing. We’re now in the game of defending and winning it again.

Talk about going to France and competing against the French team.

Obviously that’s probably going to be one of the most talked about topics, because France is a very strong country as enduro riders right now. They skipped Six Days last year. Now it’s going to be on their home turf and they’re probably going to build the best team they can. The event is going to be the toughest race that we’ll have. But I wouldn’t only look at France as our main rival. Australia is going to be one of the toughest teams as well. There are more countries that are competitive now with this new format with just four riders on the World Trophy Team.

Did you think that was a good rule change?

I think it was. I was excited first of all since I’m putting the funding and everything together for the entire team, with the help of other manufacturers, it’s not only KTM, but other manufacturers, like Yamaha, are also chipping in to make it possible. It was a relief that the team got smaller. I felt like we’ve always had four or five really good riders, and the sixth one was always kind of like just there just in case. So now when we went to four riders competing, we had the four best riders we could. Now the same happens this year. We’re going to send the four best riders that we can have. I think it brings the racing much closer. The racing is closer. The new rule that every test and every score counts is really tough, but I like it. It’s reliability of endurance racing. You can’t afford one mistake. That’s something that you’ve got to really keep in mind from day one.

You’re managing the women’s team, as well.

Yes. We’re working with the women’s team. I set a three-year plan to win with the Trophy Team title and I’m doing the same with the women’s team, that three years from now we should be a championship contender. That’s not to say we won’t be this year or next year, but you have to set some realistic goals. The goal is in three years we are competing and countries are looking at us as serious contenders. It can happen the first year, but I feel like it’s a work in progress. Everything I have applied to the trophy and junior riders I’m applying to the women’s team, but they have a little different rules as far as like not all scores count, and you can put a rider back in if they don’t finish one day. Things like that. So the strategy might be a little bit different.

The last two years you told me that every year you learn something. We’d make a mistake and you’d learn, and you’d tell the team don’t do this again. Even though we won last year, was there something that you’ve changed? Did you learn something from the win last year?

Yes. We went in very prepared last year. Everyone was very focused and hungry. Now since we are the defending champs, obviously the mindset needs to be just to keep our heads down and just dig deep. So they don’t lose the focus on what the task is ahead. So we’ll focus on that. Obviously the list of mistakes, it never goes away. I’m going to always run it because if you do one mistake, it’s okay. You learn from it. If you do it a second time, shame on me. I need to always make sure that we don’t repeat our mistakes.

What do you think paid off for us most last year?

I think the team coming together, and working really closely together. Everyone had a good, happy mental state. That plays a big role. Putting emphasis on Taylor Robert, who was leading the group really well. It was like clockwork. There were no hiccups. There was no other kind of little monkey business that we’ve had in the years past. None of it. Yeah, they have fun out there, but nothing that really causes delays on what they’re doing. It’s been very smooth. I was at one point concerned leading up to the race like, this has been too calm. Too calm to be true. A good example was how Layne Michael fit it the day before we left. I was right there with him. That just shows how strong the team was. They could just take a young, kind of inexperienced guy under their wings. The group is just like a peloton. They suck you in and you go with it.

Talk about your choices for the World Trophy Team.

Ryan Sipes will ride E1 on the 250F, because he has a lot of experience in Supercross on a 250. I actually think a 250 suits his style better. Kailub Russell and Thad DuVall will ride 350s, which is what they ride in the GNCC series and those two are sitting first and second in that series. Meanwhile, Taylor will ride a 500 because he’s ridden the E3 class before and he likes riding the 500. Taylor won the overall last year, so I gave him first pick of which class he wanted to ride. We always struggle finding an E3 rider because we don’t have an E3 class in any series in the United States, so basically no one rides a 500 or a 300 two-stoke on an extended basis. So Taylor said he probably had the most time to prepare for this year’s event and he was going to put some serious time on the 500. He’s raced E3 at the Six Days in Argentina and he likes the 500. He’s been racing a 450 this year at the Hare and Hound and WORCS, so it just felt like putting him on a 500 is kind of the smallest change compared to other guys that would need to adjust to a different bike. That’s is the big picture.