Moto2: Anthony West - Q&A

"WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency] came in and tried to overrule the FIM decision... They felt that I should have my license taken away for two years. The situation was always at the back of my mind and I was pretty stressed about it" - Anthony West.
West, Jerez Moto2 Test Feb 2013
West, Jerez Moto2 Test Feb 2013
© Gold and Goose

An exclusive interview with QMMF Moto2 rider Anthony West, in which the Australian gives an insight into his racing career before addressing the Court of Arbitration for Sport's decision to erase his results from May 2012 to October 2013, due to a prohibited stimulant consumed via an energy drink.

West had originally been disqualified from his seventh place finish at the 2012 French Grand Prix - the event at which he was tested - and handed a one-month ban, causing him to miss last year's Moto2 season finale.

However the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) then appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) for a harsher punishment, calling for a 24 month period of 'ineligibility'.

Instead the CAS decided on an 18 month suspension, backdated to May 20, 2012, with the month previously served deducted. West's results during that period have now been 'invalidated', including two podiums finishes, but he can at least continue racing in 2014.

West, 32, made his full time grand prix debut in 1999, won the 2003 Dutch 250GP and spent one and a half seasons in MotoGP as a factory Kawasaki rider...
Where are you at the moment?

Anthony West:
I was in Brisbane but in the last three days I've been driving up to Cairns at the very north of Australia. The weather's hot, tropical and sweaty so it's better than being in Europe at the moment.
Haven't you just been doing a fun scooter race?

Anthony West:
Yeah, it's a 24 hour scooter race which I did with my brother and two mates. We just found a bike, a proper 50cc standard scooter with 12" wheels for $1000 and went racing. Unfortunately we blew up after seven hours.

I was trying to do it just for fun but when I turn up to races I really want to win. I got a bit serious, qualified in third and when I got on the bike I couldn't help trying, coming round corners sideways and legs hanging off the bike.

Troy Bayliss was just the same and almost crashed into the back of my brother, we were all trying pretty hard. There were some good riders there too like Troy, Gary McCoy, Jason Crump and quite a few Speedway riders. It was great fun watching their style.

I think that Troy would have beaten us anyway because he came past us pretty fast on the straights so I'm not sure how standard his bike was - you could tell there was a lot of cheating going on - so we're just going to have to work out how to cheat better next time. I'm getting my excuses in first like a typical rider!
With a population of only 23 million, why do you think so many great riders come from Australia?

Anthony West:
I think it's got to do with the Australian mentality and lifestyle. Everything in Australia is hard and unsympathetic, so if you don't do well they call you a fool and tell you to try harder. It toughens you up and doesn't give you a chance to get upset about things, you have to get on and prove yourself.

To succeed in Australia you have to be tough and when you then come to Europe it means that you have to put your whole life into it. For us when we come to Europe our commitment is total. Australians are also a bit lose and bushy and just get on with it.

No one wants to hear you whinging here. I remember as a kid I sometimes had big, big crashes and when I was laying on the ground my dad would come along and say he didn't want to see me cry and to get back on the bike. You have to harden up and I think that makes you stronger.
Why do Australians often come to Europe, isn't there any good racing in Australia?

Anthony West:
There is good racing in Australia but it's usually motocross. The country's so big that it's difficult and expensive to go road racing. To ride in the Australian championship you might have to go from Brisbane to Sydney to Perth and that's many thousands of kilometres just to get to one race.

In Oz you've also got a Superbike championship and a Formula Extreme one. They're quite divided and that makes it a bit of a mess. For me it's a bit unprofessional, I think we should have one strong championship rather than two weak ones. The riders here seem pretty good and ride hard but I think they could make the road racing formula better.

Europe's the place where you make your career but also where you find the really fast guys, especially in Spain.

That's another difference; in Europe they're starting so young. I wasn't allowed to start racing on the road until I was 16 but Spanish riders are already riding pocket bikes at five or six years old so we're behind and have to catch up fast. If Australians want to stay competitive we'll have to change that.
Given that you are from Australia, how do you manage the traveling to the various races in the world championship?

Anthony West:
I wish I could come home between races but it's just too far away. From here to Europe it'd take 36 hours of traveling and then you'd need two or three days to get over it so I pretty much stay in Europe all season and for the last 13 years I've probably only spent two or three months a year in Oz. This year I've been staying in Madrid because my team's based there and they've got some good bikes to train on.
Do you enjoy going around the world like that?

Anthony West:
No, actually I hate it. I like the lifestyle, traveling and racing but it's hard because I don't have a real home to go to and a bunch of friends I can hang out with. It can be a bit lonely and mentally tiring. You can be in so many countries where you don't speak the language and that makes it stressful.

That side of it I don't really like. If I could bring all my mates with me it'd be a lot more fun and you'd have someone to share the experience with.

When we do the flyaway races like Japan or Malaysia, I really enjoy those because everyone's flown out together and we can hang out together. When we're racing in Europe though, it's fine at the race track but then it's back to Spain and I've been living like that for more or less 13 years.
Has your motivation changed in that time?

Anthony West:
Yeah, I suppose. I've had a lot of ups and downs and sometimes I get very down, almost depressed in the low times. I'm still motivated to race though and don't want to give up. I've never lost that feeling. For me it's all about not giving up.

Even in a scooter race like this weekend I get really competitive.

I did an enduro race the other week in Spain, I was with my team boss. I'd never ridden enduro before but that competitiveness meant that I qualified in first. My team manager told me to just relax but once the race started I went out of control and in the end I had five big crashes, destroyed the bike and in the last crash hit my head and can't remember the last 20 minutes of the race.

I had concussion but I must have just got back on the bike and started riding it without knowing what I was doing, apparently I was interviewed afterwards and I can't remember any of it. I guess the competitiveness is still there!
But you're conscious now right?

Anthony West:
Yeah, yeah (laughs)
You've had an interesting career are there any high points or low points?

Anthony West:
I don't know, for me they've all been very hard. I've always felt that there was something against me, something I was fighting against. I feel I've often had the worst luck. That's why I was trying to run as number 13 for a while because everyone says it's unlucky and I may as well go with the unlucky number.

I've often had bad things happen to me and none of those 13 years were easy. It started when I was driving to my first road race with my mum in Adelaide. I had a GP125 and production 250 on a trailer for the first round. They were beautifully prepared to make a great impression.

After about four hours something went wrong with the trailer, it went out of control, we did a full 180 and we had both bikes and my race gear spread over the road. In the end we rented a van, drove the 4 hours to get home, cobbled the bikes back together with second hand parts and then drove the 2500km to Adelaide flat out.

The bikes didn't look so hot because they were hand painted but I actually won both races. I've had lots of strange situations like that.
Is that feeling of battling against circumstances a part of your motivation?

Anthony West:
I don't know but maybe there is a bit of that and that if it had all been easy then I wouldn't be motivated to fight, keep fighting and to not give up.
When I asked you about high points, I was expecting you to mention your years at Kawasaki. Why didn't you?

Anthony West:
It was a high point in that it was a MotoGP bike and I actually got paid that year. Before starting at Kawasaki I owed the bank 6000 Euros and was pretty broke so being paid was certainly a high point. Also riding any proper MotoGP bike is great fun and the people there were great.

The problem is that I was so disappointed with the experience because I didn't do as well as I could have and also that the bike wasn't quite up to the standard of the other factory bikes on the grid. In the end I'm there to be competitive in races and for that reason those years can't be a high point for me.
How did you get that ride at Kawasaki?

Anthony West:
I'd been riding a 250 before that and the team had promised me a factory bike. The bike I was given certainly wasn't that so after some disagreement I left them and wasn't paid.

I was going to come back to Australia because I had no ride but luckily Yamaha called me and offered me a ride on their 600 in World Supersport. I did really well on that bike, a third in the first race and then a win in the other two races. That must have made an impression because directly after that I jumped on the Kawasaki to finish the season there.

I know [Kawasaki team manager] Michael Bartholemy and at the time I think they were having some problems with Olivier Jacques so he asked me to do some tests at Barcelona and it went from there. It was directly after the race there, I was in the motor home in the paddock and the team just came round and said, 'Hey, do you want to ride the Kawasaki and do some laps?' and I said 'Sh*t yeah, sounds like fun!' I jumped onto the bike, they were happy and that's how I got the ride.

I was getting faster and faster each race but in the new year they changed the bike and in my opinion that made it worse. Also they brought John Hopkins in and because of his experience the team sort of stopped listening to what I had to say and for me they started to go in the wrong direction with the bike.

The handling of that bike wasn't great but the biggest problem was the electronics. If I followed a Yamaha you could see it accelerate smoothly out of the corner and the front wheel wouldn't even come off the ground but the Kawasaki always wanted to slide and wheelie.

In the end after I put my foot down the Japanese management gave me a three day test in Japan to try my ideas. We took a lot of power out of the bike and made it smoother and easier to ride. When I came back to Donington the Kawasaki people there still didn't want to go with those settings but I had my best race with them so they started to listen to me.

By that time though Kawasaki had started to wind down their MotoGP effort anyway so if we crashed the bike and bent a frame we'd get all sorts of old frames that we'd already rejected so it all added up to a frustrating season. To make it worse, at the last race the Japanese management told me that they'd built a bike with my settings, tested it at Philip Island with Olivier Jacques and that he'd gone 0.8s faster than he'd ever ridden before.
Overall has your career cost you or earned you money?

Anthony West:
It's cost my family a lot of money. My father supported me at the beginning and we thought that once we got into MotoGP I'd be able to pay him back but I haven't been able to do that yet. Every year I struggle and generally I'm just surviving.

The only things I own are a couple of dirty drift cars and a couple of motorbikes. I don't own a house or anything and maybe when I finish racing I'll be sweeping the floor somewhere or something!
How do you feel about being known as a great wet weather rider?

Anthony West:
I don't like it. At the moment I just haven't had enough good results in dry conditions to be known as a rain man. I feel that that's often been down to my machinery so when the rain comes it evens things out and allows you to make the most of a bad bike. I actually hate riding in the rain because it's often so cold.
So now you're in Moto2, the aim has to be to get back into MotoGP somehow, right?

Anthony West:
Well, for the last ten years or so all I've wanted to do is to ride in MotoGP but in the last couple of years I've become less motivated to go there. I think with the new classes they're putting in there, like CRTs, I wouldn't really want to ride one because you can't win. You can only win on a factory Honda or Yamaha. Realistically you've got no chance of running at the front on any other bike.

In Moto2 there's a lot of strange things going on where you're not sure if people are cheating or not but this year I think it's been better than last year. Either way it's still a great class; the racing's good and it's close. The only problem is that you can be 0.2s off the pace and you're 20th so that makes it really difficult. The racing's fun because you're always fighting for position and no matter where you are on the grid you're always fighting with skilled, hard fighting and committed riders.

In MotoGP it's mainly about the bike. I enjoy the fact that there are so many things to change and adjust and they're so fast they can always scare you. The Moto2 bike is all a bit slow in comparison and not like the old 250s where if you weren't careful on the throttle you'd be flying through the air.
When you look back at your 2013 season, do you feel satisfied or frustrated?

Anthony West:
I was happy with how the season started despite having some issues with the bike but in the middle of the season we had a real downer because of this drug thing. I tried to forget about it as much as I could but they wanted to take my license off me for two years and for me to stop racing there and then.

I had to get a lawyer to fight it and that's how I was actually able to keep racing. WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency] came in and tried to overrule the FIM decision of stopping me doing the last race in 2012 and docking the points from Le Mans. They felt that that wasn't a sufficient punishment and that I should have my license taken away for two years.

Even the FIM were kind of on my side because they thought that was too much. The lawyer cost me 40,000 Euros and the whole thing went on from the end of 2012 to just two weeks ago.

That situation was always at the back of my mind and I was pretty stressed about it. I was due to have the court hearing just after the Indianapolis GP and was thinking about it during that event and just had the worst race there. I was really down because I thought I wasn't going to win the case.

We had the hearing just before Brno which was really stressful so in the middle of the season I lost concentration and wasn't happy with the races I had at that time. Things came together a bit for the last three races but that's really why I can't say that I'm happy with the year because I know that I lost a lot in the middle.

The season had a cloud over it because when I got on the bike I sometimes felt that they were going to kick me out anyway, everything was against me and that really affected my motivation. I was also fighting with some members of my family which made everything worse.
What did you consume to result in the positive drug test?

Anthony West:
It's like a powdered energy drink called Mesomorph that you mix with water and at the time I bought it a lot of Australian footballers were also taking it.

I went training with my sister who's in the army and because I was so tired from the racing season she suggested I try some to keep me awake. I didn't really worry because so many footballers were using it and you could get it in any supermarket.

Apparently, according to the rules it was okay to drink it in 2011 but they changed them in 2012 to ban it. I was really unlucky because I was usually only drinking it in the off season during training, but happened to have some in my bag when I got to Europe.

At Le Mans it was a miserable day, our hotel was far from the track and we had to be there at 5am so I had some of this drink there just to get me through warm-up before breakfast. I actually had a very small amount.
How does the drink affect you?

Anthony West:
To me it's exactly as if you'd had an espresso, it just wakes you up. There was apparently one ingredient in the drink that wasn't written on the package, which wasn't allowed.

It was strange because when the FIM found out about it one month after Le Mans they asked me about that ingredient and I didn't know what it was, but told them that I'd been using this drink. They seemed to think that the concentration was so small that there wasn't going to be a big deal.
How did they know that you had this substance in your blood stream?

Anthony West:
I had to give a urine sample. At the Le Mans GP it was the first time I've ever heard of anyone getting tested, three other Moto2 riders were also tested and they said it was a random test.

In MotoGP there's no briefing or awareness about drug testing so it seems to have been a random thing just for that race. I found it all quite strange because I don't take any recreational drugs or anything so the idea that a drink like that could be illegal didn't enter my head. I don't know if any kind of drug could help you go faster on a motorbike anyway.

I'm just unlucky that I was drinking that and didn't know what was in it.

When the FIM first found out about it they weren't worried at all and said that I'd probably just get a slap on the wrist. Nothing happened for months but then there was all that stuff about Lance Armstrong and I think that made the whole drug issue go crazy. All the footballers who were taking it here got into trouble about it too.

I didn't know why they waited until the end of the [2012] season to give the penalty but I felt that it might have been no coincidence that I was given the penalty directly after two podiums I got.

I think it was a bit of a campaign and it was like WADA wanted to prove to the world that they were controlling MotoGP too and had found a rider to penalise. It seemed as if they stepped in in a really heavy handed way. Even FIM had to hire a lawyer to defend their decision against them.

I'm just relieved that I didn't have to stop racing because that could have completely destroyed my career and in GP once you're out, you're out. Now I feel there is a line under it. The decision to take my points and results away was a real disappointment but at least now I feel that I can move forward in 2014.
Is the Speed Up bike a good one to be on?

Anthony West:
It's been quite difficult in that it's a really good bike and can go fast but it doesn't give you a good feeling sometimes - de Angelis, Corsi and Pasini were all saying the same thing in that we're all complaining about the feeling in the front.

That's only compared to bikes like the Kalex where the rider can make a few mistakes and make the turn whereas with the Speed Up you have to be really precise. It's maybe a little more difficult to ride but the speed and aerodynamics are good.

I feel that the bike is maybe a little stiff and I've been trying to get them to change it all year and I think that the 2014 bike will be a bit softer. Sam Lowes has been testing the new bike and they've said that it's looking good so I'm really excited to get on it.
How did your link with Qatar-based QMMF racing team come about?

Anthony West:
I'd just come away from riding the MZ in Moto2 and I'd have to say that those were two of the most difficult years I've had in racing and at the time I thought I would be racing in MotoGP CRT with the Speedmaster team. Unfortunately they kicked me out at the last minute because of sponsorship difficulties so I managed to find the ride in BSB with an Italian team (Supersonic BMW).

So I went to test the Supersonic in Italy. It was supposed to be a two day test and when I got there the bike wasn't prepared, they had no spare wheels, no spare parts and it all looked like a bit of a disaster. Because of the two hard years I'd just had at MZ, I got a bad vibe about what was going on and also about the owner of the team.

After the first day's testing I knew that there was no way I could have another year of riding with a team I wasn't happy with. After the first day I sort of had a little argument with the team owner because of how unprofessional it all was and that evening I decided that I was done with that team.

I didn't have any other options but I knew that I couldn't let myself have another year like I'd had at MZ.

On the drive home Midori Moriwaki, who had some involvement with the QMMF team, phoned me up and asked me if I wanted a ride in QMMF and I didn't have to be asked twice. I knew Moriwaki from when I raced for them when I was 16. That was only one week before the first race in Qatar. I was very lucky to quit from one team and then get an offer straight away.

When I said I wasn't going to race in BSB I actually got a lot of letters and emails saying they were disappointed I wasn't going to do it. I think it's a series with a lot of passion and a great following and I do wish I could have made the Italian team work.
Are you happy with the QMMF team?

Anthony West:
It's one of the best teams I've ever been in. All the mechanics are Spanish and the team is quite close and everyone gets along well, we often have a good laugh together. I've been in teams where that hasn't been true so that's a good feeling.

Also we weren't quite sure what to expect from Middle Eastern backers but I've found them so friendly and they've really taken me in. Now after two years racing with them I feel like part of the family and they really look after me. Whenever I request anything for the bike or team they always take the attitude that if it makes us go faster then OK.

My contract with the QMMF team continues until the end of next year and I'll be my third year with them. There are not many riders who stay in a team for three years so I've got to say that I'm really, really happy to be there. I'll also have the same crew and team members and we'll just continue on as we've been doing.
You've got an improved Speed Up, continuity with the team and your court case settled so your head's in the right place, so what is the aim for next year?

Anthony West:
The same as it always is, to try to be at the front. I think the difference for next year is that I'll be a lot more focused so I feel really good about it. In the past I've always had issues to contend with but next year it'll be clear head, clear mind and total focus.

Last season even my mechanics didn't know how strongly this doping issue was affecting me, they knew there was something wrong with me and kept asking me if I was okay, but now that's out and over and I can look forward.
Would you say that you're an optimist or a pessimist?

Anthony West:
Honestly I don't really understand the difference between the two but I can be a little hard on myself and negative. The important thing for me though is not to give up on what I'm doing. I've had many reasons to quit but I've got to keep going. I still enjoy the racing and when I'm not doing it I feel a bit lost and don't know what to do with myself.

My father made it quite far in Australian football, got a bit distracted and gave it up. He now says he regrets it. Also my brother was great at many different sports and never stuck at any and says he also regrets it so I don't want to make the same mistake.
So it's like what AC/DC say in 'Rock and Roll Damnation' - 'Take a chance while you've still got the choice'?

Anthony West:
Yeah definitely, and that's good music too!

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