by Kent Larson
Interview with Ben Bostrom
MMM Was there a big switch from the Dunlop tires when you were riding for Vance and Hines Ducati to the Michelins that you now use? Was that a struggle that you had to overcome?
Bostrom No, no. It wasn’t really. The tires, they’re a bit different. It takes a little bit to get used to the feeling of them because there’s not such a big feeling to them. But most of the difference was the bike setup. We had a completely different bike setup and it took a while to get used to this bike. I just couldn’t get used to it, basically. So we had to end up switching back to my American setup. Head angles and things like this offsets and then my progress has started getting a lot faster. We’re going in the right direction now.
MMM Was there a problem getting the factory team to do what you wanted in terms of setup?
Bostrom Ya. The main problem was that I didn’t know if it was the tires or what but I believed them because they had Troy Corser on the bikeand he was winning races on the bike. But then it took me several races before I figured out, hey, this is not Ben Bostrom’s bike. Once we went back to my bike the results started to come. So it’s not their fault, I just didn’t know any better either, you know.
MMM I don’t remember seeing anyone moving around on Michelin tires the way you have in the last few races.
Bostrom Oh, ya? Gary McCoy!
MMM You’re right, Gary McCoy in world grand prix 500. That was an amazing race when he won in [TBD].
Bostrom It was. For sure I slide more than most people but if I’m not sliding I’m not comfortable. Because that means the bike’s not moving. I don’t know where it’s at. It starts to slide and I know where the bike’s at.
MMM Noriuki Haga was on Michelins last year
(Here Ben is distracted by work. A team member or Ducati corporate officer or Italian fan comes up and starts talking in Italian. Ben seems to understand and has a few Italian words to return. Then looking at a sheet of paper he says Yes, but our time should be 25s. I had a big problem with Andy Meklau. We lost half a second. We should, we should destroy these guys. The Italian gentleman makes a few comments about how Ben looks when coming over the hill into the breaking area for the corkscrew. Ben says Ya, I slide really big. All over the place. You should see going into two. I just back the thing in. Fun! He turns back to me. Keep going, man.)
MMM (still not believing Ben wants to take the time to talk to me) Superbike is a new thing for you this year. Do you find that a challenge?
Bostrom It’s really a challenge, because you can’t crash. Before it didn’t matter. I wasn’t going fast enough. I was barely making it into superpole at the beginning of the season. Between 14th and 15th always. So when I was in superpole I had nothing to loose but I wasn’t going fast anyway so it didn’t matter.
(Superbike takes the riders with the top 16 qualifying times. Each rider does a warm up lap, one hot lap and a cool down lap with no other rider on the track. The grid order for the top 16 riders is determined by the superpole hot lap times.)
And now I go quick in Misano (San Marino) and almost crashed in superpole and ended up putting myself on the forth row. And so did Colin (Colin Edwards, #2 Honda) and Chili (Frankie Chili, #7 Suzuki) and we were in the front (before superpole). We were like the top 4 guys and we were all on the forth row.
MMM That made it all the more amazing when you finished on the podium that second race.
Bostrom Ya, I had to come through a lot of guys. That’s definitely the hard way to go. For sure superpole is important. Like I went to Valencia (Spain, one week after Masano, two weeks before Laguna Seca) and I knew that we should be first or second and I was thinking ok, I’ll take an easy lap and try to go fairly quick. I ended up barely making second row because I backed down too much. It’s really hard. It’s really difficult. Some guys just ace it, like Troy Corser.
MMM Yes. He seems pretty dominant in superpole.
Bostrom Ya, and he’s a great rider, you know.
MMM Is superpole something you like or would you rather see it go away?
Bostrom It’s better for the sport so it needs to stay. Because everybody watches the TVs and they get really excited. They can watch it live over there (in Europe) and it’s really good.
MMM This will be the first time I’ll see a superpole since they don’t broadcast it over here.
Bostrom You’re going to love it. It’s the best. You’re going to watch each rider, exactly how they ride a lap. And each guy seems to be getting quicker, shaving off time. You get to watch the splits. So it’s like this guy is .3 quicker and the other guy goes maybe .2 quicker and you get to watch and then you see what the final lap ends up being. It’s pretty cool.
MMM Last year at Pikes Peak, pole position had a little bit of controversy.
MMM I was looking forward to having a Mat Mladin and Ben Bostrom rematch but none of the AMA guys are going to run the World Superbike races this weekend.
Bostrom I was looking forward to that too.
MMM Larry Pegram is guess is going to be the only one doing both races.
Bostrom I know. It’s too bad too. Because the AMA guys are really fast. You know it’s like going to Donington (Great Britain). It’s good for the AMA guys to put their names in there. It’s too bad this year they don’t get a ride. I’ve always enjoyed it when I ride.
MMM You won one last year.
Bostrom Ya. We ended up going 4, 3, 2, 1. You look forward to it all year long because you don’t worry about crashing out. The points don’t matter. You just ride hard.
What else ya got? (Ben after a pause while I tried to decide on how to broach the next subject.)
(This was the perfect time for me to thank Ben and pack things up. But, I didn’t. I was trying to get some of the anger and emotion that I figured must be there. I know I would have gotten mad at a few of the things he’s been through.
My first attempt was mentioning Mat Mladin. A little history on that Mat did a totally cheep move when he went out during the last 10 minutes of qualifying at Pikes Peak in 1999 just to block Ben and keep him from taking the pole. It was clear that Ben was going faster than Mat that weekend. Ben had the provisional pole from the day before and the final qualifying session was being run under better conditions. It was 15 degrees cooler so the engines were running stronger and the tires were not turning to grease as fast. Ben was turning times close to Mladin’s pole time and he was saving two sets of qualifying tires for the end of the session.
10 minutes to go and the session is red flagged after a local rider lowsided through turn one and took out a line of hay bales. I was thinking that they would call qualifying finished and give Mat the pole but they cleaned up the track and reset the timer for the last 10 minutes.
Ben spooned on a set of qualifying tires or a set of fresh race rubber and headed out. Mat was out on the track putting around waiting for Ben. The Suzuki crew was distributed so they could give Mat signals as to where Ben was. One crew member was signaling when Ben started out of the pits to another crew member who was waving to Mat. Mr. Mladin wasn’t trying to put in a better time. He was running around at ½ speed and timing it to be in Ben’s way through the infield.
The strategy worked for Mat. Ben was blocked on his hot lap. He pulled back into the pits for fresh tires and went out to be blocked again. Mladin got the pole position by being a better blocker instead of being a better rider. Mat’s time may have stood up against Ben’s best but we’ll never know since Ben didn’t have a chance to show his best.
Since Ben doesn’t seem to want to talk about the Mat deal, maybe he would comment on being moved off Ducati’s A team. Unfortunately I’m vapor locking on the riders names who replaced Ben and Carl Fogarty on the Ducati Corsa team. That’s funny, I knew the names before I sat down with Ben. I guess things are still a bit loose upstairs from back when I was bouncing my melon off the Daytona Speedway.
So, despite the still healthy portion of my brain yelling at the mushy portion to thank Ben and depart, we continued on. Maybe he will have something to say about getting bumped off the A team.)
MMM I was wondering about your feelings on being moved to the Ducati NCR team from Ducati’s Corse Infostrada Team. Do you feel anything personal when you run across the other riders on the track?
Bostrom Nothing. They’re just another rider to me. I just want to beat them as bad as anybody else.
(I could delete this next exchange to avoid looking like an idiot, but it was kind of funny and it explains why Ben will probably never talk to another idiot from MMM. Fortunately other MMM correspondents are not idiots so there may still be a chance. Warning to other correspondents. If you are looking to interview Ben Bostrom or Eric Bostrom or anyone Ben may have talked to about this interview, DON’T say you are from MMM. Tell him you are from Red Book or Field and Stream or something so you have a better chance of an interview being granted.)
MMM I was hesitating a bit on that last question was because I blanked out on the rider’s name. Who’s that rider who was racing for Vance & Hines at the beginning of the year and is now racing for Ducati in World Superbikes?
Bostrom Troy Baylis.
Bostrom Troy Baylis
MMM No. (Really it’s yes. Troy Baylis is the guy we’re talking about.)
Bostrom This year?
MMM Ya. This year. He started with Vance & Hines in the AMA.
Bostrom Troy Baylis. He started with Vance & Hines this year.
MMM Right. Troy Baylis. (In my defense it was really noisy. The tape picked up all of Ben’s answers but my ears were not bringing Ben’s words to my ears. I really wasn’t trying to play out an old Abbot and Costello routine. Really.)
(Ben looks a bit puzzled. Like he’s wondering why he’s talking to this idiot. But he doesn’t look frustrated or angry. We certainly put him to the test for these emotions. Maybe his laid back California attitude is to just take what’s given and turn it into the best he can make it. Maybe that’s why we don’t get anger or attitude reflected back from his current situation. Maybe we should have dropped the search for negative emotions and focused on what a success he is making of his position on the new team.)
MMM The last race you caught up to Troy Baylis and you passed him. For a while there you were in first place. Then he got you back again.
Bostrom That wasn’t the last race it was the one before that. Misano. It took us a long time to catch him. He was on the front row and we started from the fourth. We got him. We got to get by him for just a minute there then he got us right back. Then we followed him to the finish. He was riding really well.
Then we got to Spain and I got a bit quicker again. We got a second both times and in the second race we were very close to winning. Lead about 15 laps. We learned a lot so we can come here and make sure we win.
MMM We’re looking forward to you winning this one for your American fans.
Bostrom Me too.
MMM There was some speculation about the leathers you would be wearing here. They look great. The story was that they would be something special. My friend was glad to see that you didn’t push the 70’s throw back thing too far. She was worried you’d be in bell-bottoms or something.
Bostrom (With a big grin.) I wanted to wear bell-bottoms but they couldn’t make those for the long leathers.
MMM It would be a unique look having them flapping around on the bike. Definite distraction to the opponents.
Bostrom Ya, I’d have to have them with Velcro so I could tear them off before I go out. But then they made me three different suits. I got black, white and blue. I can but a new one on every time I go out.
And he did. Ben was the fashion show and riding wizard of the weekend. It was always a real circus around Ben’s pits. With all the mobs and the fans getting pictures and the autograph signing and the idiot reporters pestering (You know like that Larry dude. We’ll just pretend MMM was sending competent people.), it was surprising that he got in any track time at all. But through it all, he was friendly, happy and looking like he was having a good time.
I once asked Ben’s brother Eric if doing the factory ride thing was starting to be just another job. Did he wake up and think, “Man, another day of work.” Got to go ride some more. He answered with an emphatic No way. I love riding. Whenever I go out I’m having a great time.
It looks like a great attitude runs in the family along with the great riding talents. It’s easy to be a Bostrom fan. Hopefully we Americans will be represented on the World Superbike scene by the Bostrom family for a long time to come.
Interview with Jean Herisse, the man in charge of Michelin’s World Superbike program:
MMM Ben Bostrom has been with Michelin for his entire World Superbike career. When he was on the Ducati Corse factory team he didn’t look quite as comfortable with the tires as he does now that he is riding for the second tier NCR Ducati team. Do you know anything about his approach to tire selection that’s making him look as comfortable as he is sliding the tires around?
Herisse I’m not sure. It has something to do with changing teams. That is something you should ask him. I don’t know anything about that.
MMM When Ben was riding in the AMA, he was on Dunlop tires. One of the comments about the two different tire brands is that Dunlops give you a little more feel when you are sliding but Michelins give you a little more overall grip. Do you think the change in feel was a hurdle Ben needed to get over? Did you notice a period where Ben was adjusting to the Michelins?
Herisse I don’t think that was a problem. Because when he first arrived he went pretty quick right away. During the winter they make some testing. Valencia (Spain) he was very fast. Then after that he had a little problem. I don’t know what was wrong. He was a little bit, uh not as fast as he was when he first start. Why? I don’t know.
MMM Are the two series (AMA verses World) different when it comes to the tire choices? I understand the AMA riders only have a few tires to choose from while there are dozens to select from in World Superbike. Do you see that as a learning curve to the new World Superbike riders?
Herisse Ya, that’s for sure. Make it more difficult. We also have more practice time that the AMA. In fact working in the factory you’ve got also more people around who are asking many questions. You know because you have to answer about the carbaration, (but probably not Ben since the Ducatis are fuel injected) the suspension, the tires so it’s a lot. And maybe he was not quite ready for all of that. I don’t know.
MMM Well I’m really glad to see him out there on Michelins and doing as well as he has been during the recent races.
Herisse Well I am too.
MMM It looks really fun. Have you ever had any riders in the past that have thrown the thing sideways the way Ben does on Michelins?
Herisse I think Carl does pretty much too. Carl Fogarty, he does. A lot of angle or so.
MMM I noticed earlier this year, Noriuki Haga, he went from Michelins last year to Dunlop this year. It was very noticeable that he was a lot looser this year with the bike moving around a lot more than it was last year. Is that a characteristic of the tire itself?
Herisse I think so, yes.