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EXCLUSIVE Michael Van Der Mark - Q&A

9 March 2014

Crash.net:
Hi, it all sounds pretty noisy there, where are you?

Michael Van Der Mark:
I still haven't finished work. I'm sitting in one of my father's HGV's waiting for it to be loaded with parts for a ship. I drive a lorry for my father's company when I'm not racing. I also drove the Ten Kate trucks to the preseason tests and the first race at Imola 2 years ago when I was in Superstock.

I feel that my father's done a lot for me and I want to do this in return.

Crash.net:
But he is paying you right?

Michael Van Der Mark:
Yeah, yeah and Ten Kate paid me too, I have to live you know.

My father's had a big role in my career. He was also a racer when he was young and when I started out he basically did everything for me. I was racing in 125GPs so couldn't go to school anymore and I was able to work for my father to make a living.

Crash.net:
Did you start out in racing quite late in life?

Michael Van Der Mark:
I think so, I was 12 years old and in comparison to many top riders that was late. Before I was 12 I basically hadn't considered racing and my father certainly wasn't pushing me. But when I got to that age I started asking my father about the possibility of me doing it and my career started then. It was after I visited the Dutch GP at Assen and I just really enjoyed the atmosphere there

Even when I was young on a push bike I always wanted to go faster than everybody else. I think that desire for speed is in my blood and visiting the GP sort of gave it a direction. It was that visit that really crystallized my thoughts.

For me it's not really about the bikes, it's about the racing. I like the bikes but it's about the competition and the event. I don't have any bikes at home or anything and don't even do Motocross. I didn't do Motocross when I was young and think that it can be very dangerous because you can get injured very easily in the off season. I think that I'm more of an athlete than a biker and train maybe five times a week.

Crash.net:
A lot of riders find the traveling, racing lifestyle difficult, do you?

Michael Van Der Mark:
No, I really enjoy it. I'm young and want to be away from home as much as possible, traveling around the world is fantastic. Many riders don't like all the hotels and airports but I love it. I have a strong sense of adventure, not knowing where I'll be tomorrow, traveling and seeing so many different things is something that I really get off on.

I also enjoy the social side of the race meeting, I go out quite a bit. I also have quite a bit of fun with the team and always like being in their company. It's the team that I mainly travel with and when my father comes to a meeting he'll usually comes later, Thursday evening or Friday morning. My mother's actually together with the team cook so she always travels with him to races and works in hospitality when she's there. My parents are separated.

When I first started racing my mother wasn't very happy because she was scared for me but now that she can see that it's my passion and that I'm good at it she has started to come around. She's still scared but I think she's more happy with my choice now.

Crash.net:
Was there ever a 'plan B'?

Michael Van Der Mark:
My father and grandfather have this trucking company and that possibility was always there. I've liked driving trucks since I was young so if the racing doesn't work out then I can always find a job here.

Given the choice of a big truck to drive or a fast bike to ride, I'd always go for the bike though.

Crash.net:
Are you earning enough money to live on in racing?

Michael Van Der Mark:
Yeah, I do. The trucking also helps but it's good to get my feet back onto the ground after a racing weekend. After a race it's good to do some normal stuff to keep you grounded. I try to do the day job as little as possible now because of racing commitments but I've already done four days this week so maybe that won't work out.

I've also got three long standing sponsors, Meegaa Substrates, Courageous Racing and Wim Struyk who help me out a lot.

Crash.net:
Is it true that when you signed for Ten Kate your career was looking pretty shaky?

Michael Van Der Mark:
Yeah, at that time I was actually ready to quit. I'd had so much trouble with the various rides I'd had that I really just wanted to be done with it.

I'd been racing in the German championship and the bike was no good. It was old and I was always told that there'd be new stuff but it never appeared. After I split with that team I went to 125 GPs with Lambaretta. I had a great team there but the bike wasn't too fast and my money had run out so I couldn't continue with them. Also the atmosphere in the GP paddock was a little strange when you compare it to the WSBK one. The WSBK paddock is so much more friendly, the MotoGP paddock is a little formal and distant from the fans.

At that time the German team was also trying to get some money off me for various disputed reasons so I had one team who were after me for money and the other that I couldn't continue with for the same reason.

It's always the same in racing in that it comes down to money, life is always easier with it. But being in that position taught me quite a lot.

At the time I was 16 and ready to quit so I went down to Assen to pick up my stuff from the German team. I actually had to go down to get my stuff because the German team was holding onto it.

When I arrived there the Ten Kate team were there too and had a little Moriwaki racer which they were testing for a possible class of racing. They just wanted to see how the bike worked on track so they asked me to give it a go. It was a 250 four stroke and not so fast but great to ride.

I spent two days testing it and just had so much fun. I think they'd heard of me before but this was the right time for us to meet.

That test on the Moriwaki changed my life.

They put me in touch with another team supported by Ten Kate to ride the last race in the Dutch Supersport championship and based on that performance the Ten Kate junior team asked me to join them for the last Superstock 600 race at Magny Cours and after that I got a contract for the next year.

Crash.net:
You seemed to perform very strongly right from start in the Ten Kate team, why was that?

Michael Van Der Mark:
It's just that there was a good feeling both with the team and with the bike and for me that put the fun back into racing. Having fun makes you fast and it did that to me.

I actually won my first race and the last 3 and finished 3rd in the championship and the year after I became champion.

It was great to be riding with a really perfectly organized team where you don't have to worry about anything other than your riding. In my previous teams there'd been so many distractions but here I could concentrate on the job in hand. That helps so much for a rider to stay calm and relaxed.

I've also found that I now have to do more publicity and PR but I have to say I enjoy it and I'm quite happy to do interviews like this one. It's not that I'm famous or anything because motorcycle racing isn't big in Holland but sometimes people recognize you and that feels quite strange. Once I was at a party I was asked for an autograph and that was fun.

Crash.net:
Does the Ten Kate team provide a special environment for a racer?

Michael Van Der Mark:
It provides a really professional family atmosphere and they've got such a lot of experience. Also for me it's particularly special because most of them are Dutch and I'm the first Dutch rider in WSS. If you feel relaxed with your team you go faster on track.

I'm quite close to Ronald and Gerrit's family and when I'm at the workshop we'll always eat together. We're more like friends

We've got a really good relationship and I think we can stay together for quite a long time. When I consider my future I certainly see it in this team.

Crash.net:
Do you feel that you've had to make any sacrifices for your racing career?

Michael Van Der Mark:
Yeah sure you do have to make so many. If you look at what a normal young man of my age is doing at this point and what I'm doing, it's very different. They're going out at weekends and having fun whereas I'm staying focused on my racing but I guess that's what you have to do to get to the top. Even having a girlfriend's not easy because I'm always away and traveling.

I think it's the family things I really miss like birthdays and that kind of thing because you're always somewhere else. You come home between races but things like that are always at the weekend. It's these little things you have to sacrifice.

Crash.net:
Does the idea of an injury worry you?

Michael Van Der Mark:
I've already broken my foot and my collarbone but still haven't missed any races so at the moment I've been quite lucky. It was painful but I was able to continue after I'd been given painkillers. I've got to say that it hurt like hell but with the injection I could still go fast. In fact I won riding with a broken collarbone so afterwards it didn't feel so bad.

To be honest though I really don't think about the possibility of injury. When you have a close one you may be careful for just one short moment but you get straight back up to speed. The important thing is that if you know what you did wrong it doesn't worry you so much because you can prevent it the next time. If you're riding on the roads it's different because you have to allow for what car drivers are doing.

Accidents where you know why it happened don't worry you, they can hurt, but they don't get to you. I've also had many crashes where I didn't know why though and experience really helps there. Initially those kind of crashes can destroy your confidence.

Crash.net:
How do you think your Honda compares with the Yamaha and Kawasaki?

Michael Van Der Mark:
Well, the Honda is quite old when you compare it to the other bikes but we've improved the bike so much. I think it's as fast as the Kawasaki if not faster also we're always improving. It's a bike that is definitely good enough to win races.

The main improvements we're making on the bike are with the electronics, there aren't as many things you can change as on the Superbike but we do work hard to get them right. I think there is more and more to be found in the electronics.

The Yamaha is a very strong bike and it's good mid corner, but the Honda's strong on corner exit. At Philip Island we were fastest all weekend so I don't think our bike compares badly. We're basically one of the fastest and the bike's also much better than last year.

Crash.net:
What went wrong at Philip Island?

Michael Van Der Mark:
I was confident for the win and we were particularly strong over the race distance. We initially had problem with the tyre over a whole race but worked on it all weekend and in the end had a great pace even when compared to Kenan.

We had a good feeling for a podium or a win but we had a five lap race and I saw Kenan leading and I was in too much of a hurry to close the gap with him. I didn't want him to get away because when he does that he's gone so I went into a corner too fast and lost the rear. It was my fault for being in a hurry.

I think we were closer to the win than last year, the bike felt good and we knew we were good for the race distance so I think this will continue to other tracks. We tested at Aragon last year and then Jerez and Portimao and everywhere our pace was stronger than in the race last year so I think it's looking good. I'm pretty sure that we be on the pace again next race.

Crash.net:
Does the fact that you haven't won yet at WSS level put pressure on getting a win?

Michael Van Der Mark:
Certainly the first win is a big deal but it doesn't make me feel more nervous. I've won in WSSt and after you get that first win it actually becomes easier.

Unfortunately to get that I've got to beat Kenan, and he's a tough man to race against. He's really smart and has so much experience in WSS and he's the hardest man to race against. He can sometimes play with you a little and you've got to watch out for that. It's good that he's in the championship though because you know that if you've beaten him, you've beaten the best.

There are plenty of other strong riders I'm looking out for as well; Jules Cluzel finished second in WSS two years ago, Kev Coglan has started to come strong and PJ Jacobsen is also fast. In WSS it's always a bit of a lottery as to who'll be at the front but you can be sure that Kenan will be there somewhere. It's good to have such strong riders to race against though because then your win means something.

Crash.net:
Realistically, where do you see yourself in two years time?

Michael Van Der Mark:
My goal is simple, it's to be world champion and it doesn't matter in which class. At the moment I'm fighting for the World Supersport title and that's as far as I'm looking.

I had a taste of the 1000 at Suzuka and even though I didn't necessarily like riding it more than the Supersport, I did enjoy riding it and had a good feeling with it immediately. I can see myself riding one of those some time in the future. Where you go in your career just depends on which team you go there with. Going anywhere with the wrong team is a bad idea.

...oh wait a minute, my load has finally arrived so I will have to roll now.

Crash.net:
Well, thanks a lot for talking to us Michael.

Michael Van Der Mark:
That's OK.


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