By Christian Tiburtius

An exclusive interview with World Superbike Championship leader Sylvain Guintoli, in which the Aprilia star talks in depth about on his career in WSBK, MotoGP and BSB.

The interview was conducted during the Silverstone WSBK race weekend...
Hi Sylvain, how's it going?

Sylvain Guintoli:
Fine thanks, I just hope I don't swear too much!
What's it like getting into motorcycle racing in France, are there any domestic series like BSB?

Sylvain Guintoli:
I think it's changed a lot since I started. At the time, the way to get to the world scene was to race 125 and 250 two strokes, and there was a domestic series for those bikes. You could then move on to the European and then world GP championships and that's the way I did it. I did the 125s in '99, the 250s in 2000, both in the European and French series, and then moved to GPs in 2001.

Both Olivier Jacque and Regis Laconi went along that route and they were in the same team called 'Equipe de France' in the 250s. They would try to help one young lad every year into GPs and I was that one young lad in 2000. In 2006 I was also in the same Aprilia team as Jules Cluzel, he was fast, but he crashed a lot. I remember him really well; he was like a wild animal!

Now it's more about the Superbike championship and from what I know the bikes they're using in France now are more like a Superstock spec. The championship isn't as big as BSB though. The way BSB is in England is something that doesn't exist anywhere else, for a domestic series it's great.
Did your interest in racing come from riding bikes on the road?

Sylvain Guintoli:
For me, I've actually only started biking on the road this year, even though I've had my license for 10 years. I've always thought it was too dangerous. The problem I have riding on the roads is that you have to have great self-control, you have to be reasonable and that isn't what I was so I was solving the problem before it even started by not having a bike in the garage. This year Aprilia UK have lent me a Tuono V4 though and I f**king love it.

The idea to race really came from my dad and granddad before him; my dad was always a biking enthusiast and enjoyed watching the racing. He was working for a scooter magazine in France and when I was young he used to cover the scooter racing. When I was 12 I tried scooter racing for the first time and won the race so we just carried on. It was like a hobby, some kids play football and I was doing scooter racing, I loved it, I thought it was brilliant!

I think I've got that will to compete permanently. Whatever I do, I always like to compete and from the first time I tried motorbike racing it just felt natural. I've got to say again, I love the competition.
Did you enjoy your 250GP years?

Sylvain Guintoli:
When I look back, maybe there were some happy times. The problem was though that the targets that we could achieve weren't about winning because at the time that would have been impossible. We were riding a privateer bike and our target was to win the privateer championship and you can achieve your target by coming 8th or 10th and that's not as rewarding, interesting or exciting as fighting for the proper win. There were some great times with the people but there is nothing better than going after the wins and knowing you can get them.
How did you make the move to MotoGP with Tech 3?

Sylvain Guintoli:
It started way before 2007. I first met Herve [Poncharal - Tech 3 team principal] in 2000. I used to go to the south of France because we had a mutual friend there and the first time we met was on top of a mountain when we were both mountain biking. I knew the whole team liked to go biking there and I just happened to be there at the same time. I was just 18 and I knew they were winning races with Olivier Jacque and if you were a French rider you needed to get involved with them. I guess you could say that meeting was like a 20% coincidence!

Straight away there was a bond there and Herve thought I could do well in the sport and we kept in touch. In 2002 I actually dropped racing to go and be their test rider on the 500cc two stroke. The bike was fantastic but I didn't really enjoy the year because I wasn't competing. When you're not competing, it's hard.

In one way it was good because I was able to buy a house in the south of France and I could spend a lot of time there with the team. To get me on board must have been a struggle for him with the sponsors actually because I was doing well in 250 Aprilias but I wasn't winning anything. He finally made it [MotoGP] happen in 2007 on Dunlop tyres.

It was a great year, the work was interesting and there was a lot to try and develop and things moved on a lot over the year. For me, the best race was the last one, I think I qualified fourth. At that time James Toseland was signed by the team though and as a double world champion he was an interesting signing for them, Yamaha wanted to keep Colin [Edwards] so there was no more room for me in the team and I managed to find that ride on the Pramac Ducati. There were no hard feelings, that's just the way this sport goes.
Can you put your finger on what makes the Ducati Desmosedici so difficult?

Sylvain Guintoli:
If I knew, I'd probably still be there. In short, I don't know.

I'm not the only one who broke his arse on that bike. It's a very different bike in many ways and at the time it was also different to the one they're using now, we were using the tubular frame. It's a bike I enjoyed riding but it just wasn't fast.

To this day there was only one rider who could make the bloody thing work. Some people say the front end is vague but if you look at how Casey was using it, you could say there was no massive problem with the bike because he could do it. He's not a bloody magician, he just understood it. Either he was more clever or more brave, whatever, he was permanently 'on it' on that bike.

We had his data available to us and I remember looking at it and thinking ''F**king hell, this guy is entering every corner like he doesn't want to get out'. He was doing things on the bike that you wouldn't normally do.
Did you try to adapt your style?

Sylvain Guintoli:
Yeah, like everybody. I tried and it's very, very, very hard to change the instincts. Your style in terms of the way you ride and the techniques you use especially after all these years is very hard to change. You can tweak things but changing your whole style... hmm. There's a lot of talk about it, I don't think it really happens though. You ride like you ride, that's it.
So you think that a rider's style can't be fundamentally changed?

Sylvain Guintoli:
You've got to have your own way to feel what you're doing. During the season, you don't get that much practice anyway so it's hard to find time to try to change. If you start faffing around trying to change things in practice, you can end up slow, lost and with zero confidence.

For me, in the past few years, the rider who has been the best example of this is Cal [Crutchlow, at Tech 3 Yamaha]. He's adapted to that machine really well. You can tell he rides differently from when he started in MotoGP, he's understood how to be more efficient. The radical style he's got is the same though, he brakes late, he's aggressive, and his position on the bike is similar, it's just that he's blended into the bike better. He hasn't changed his style, he's just made tweaks to it to work with the bike better.

When you're on the bike and you start thinking what you're doing too much, you go slower. Riding a bike fast is about letting yourself go and feeling the bike, and for me, if I enjoy it I go faster.

There are moments when a rider just lights it and it's there, that is what's beautiful about this sport. You get riders who just offer you those moments, and you can feel that a rider is on it and I think those moments are beautiful. The most recent example for that is how Marc Marquez was riding at Laguna Seca, on that corner pass, I'm 100% sure that on Thursday he went there, he had a look at that corner and he knew what he was going to do. He knew it, it was premeditated.
Would you say you're an instinctive rider or a strategic one?

Sylvain Guintoli:
For me I just like to get into the zone and let go. It's not easy to do and you need to feel absolutely right with all aspects, but when you're in there it's brilliant. Also confidence makes all the difference, confidence for me is massively important.
Given that riding fast seems to be so emotional, why are there so few sports psychologists in the sport?

Sylvain Guintoli:
We used to have one in the team I worked for in the last two years and he was a nice guy, but when you've got somebody who isn't a rider telling you what to do or to stay calm or whatever, you don't want to stay f**king calm, you just want to ride the thing hard and feel good with it. You don't want someone explaining to you why you feel happy or unhappy, it's just annoying, you really don't want that.
Was your move from MotoGP to BSB in 2009 a conscious strategy to re-launch your career?

Sylvain Guintoli:
The thinking there was that I'd been a long time in 250s and MotoGP where I hadn't had the best bike to do well and I thought that I just needed to think of something to get back to my winning ways.

From 2000 I didn't f**king win anything. You get to the point after eight years racing where you feel you're just surviving in the championship and you want to do better than that. I'd just never been able to get to that point where you can smell blood. When you've got the team and equipment to win, it's different, you race differently and you enjoy it differently.

Basically, in BSB you could put your bollocks on the table, go racing and that's it, end of. I needed that, it helped me and it's helped me now. I loved that first win at Brands, it was great.

Many people saw the big jump from MotoGP to BSB as a step back, in the end though, even with the accident [at Donington Park], it was that that gave me the opportunity to get back to WSBK and ultimately to be on the Aprilia this year.
How do you feel now about your accident at Donington Park that year?

Sylvain Guintoli:
Obviously at the time, it was not nice but in the end it doesn't matter. It was not a good time because the injury was quite bad and you have all kinds of nasty thoughts about retiring and all sorts.

Obviously when your leg is hanging down the wrong way round, you know it's not going to be easy and all that confidence and work have disappeared in a flash and for a while you're going to be angry. Now it doesn't matter though, it's all behind me. I never think about it.
Did the subject of retiring never come up at home?

Sylvain Guintoli:
No, no, no. Motorcycling is just dangerous. Cycling is also dangerous as I found out two weeks ago! I did my shoulder, it's not nice, it's weak and painful and it's not fun riding a Superbike like that. The last word I had with my physio and surgeon is that it should heal without surgery, which would be fantastic.

Motorcycling is what I do though and is the only thing I know how to do, I never think of retiring.
Initially your results in WSBK can't have been what you were looking for?

Sylvain Guintoli:
I'm not using this as an excuse, but the crash in BSB took me a long time to recover from physically. Also I felt I'd just lost something. I wasn't slow and did some good stuff, I had a fourth in my first year I think, it was just that I was getting stronger really, really step by step and it was a very slow route to full recovery and full confidence.

Then with Effenbert [Ducati] the bike was working well and I started getting some good results and they built on themselves. It didn't work out in the end though.
So you were winning at Effenbert and were 'sacked for bad results'?

Sylvain Guintoli:
Yeah, that was ridiculous, it was just a bit of a mess. They sent that days after I'd told them that I wasn't going to ride for them anymore. This was what you call a bit of a PR mess from their side, it made no sense. They didn't respect their contract, so we told them 'enough is enough' because we had tried really hard to make it work.
In what way didn't they respect their contract?

Sylvain Guintoli:
I don't think I'm allowed to discuss that. I think most people know, I can't discuss it though.
What is it like at Aprilia?

Sylvain Guintoli:
When I joined the team and went for the first practice, the shocking thing was the calm in the garage. Everything gets done so quickly, quietly and efficiently. It's a great, great atmosphere; it's like a well-oiled machine. There's no craziness around, and you don't drop tools in that garage if you know what I mean. If you do drop a tool everyone would probably look at you surprised.

Going into that garage is like entering a very peaceful place where people are motivated and always have their eye on the target. It's a very good way of managing the team, you know why your there, what you've got to do and there's no messing about.

At Effenbert I was the underdog and everything was a bonus, at Aprilia though there is expectation. I like that pressure, you need it, it makes you better. I feel that this year is definitely the right one for me to have that pressure of being on a championship winning bike in a championship winning team. I love that position, it's great, it's motivating, it's challenging and interesting.
Even when you might be battling with Eugene, Luigi Dall'Igna always looks totally calm, is he really like that?

Sylvain Guintoli:
Gigi is someone who's got a lot on his shoulders. I think what we see is not what's going on inside, I know he's very passionate about winning and racing. From the outside though, he always looks calm.
How are you getting on with the RSV4?

Sylvain Guintoli:
People say that it was designed for Max Biaggi and is very small, but it doesn't feel like Max's ex-bike, it feels like my bike. The bike looks compact because the tail is quite thin and small, there's actually quite a lot of room on the bike though. I can fit in fully on the straights no problem at all, it doesn't feel like a small bike. The finish and detail on it are incredible.

For sure it's fast, very fast and when you ride it you get the feeling that it's very sharp and precise. You can tell straight away that it's really well sorted. For me it's the best bike I've ever ridden, I love riding that bike.

For me it's like those boys toys you get, like the latest state of the art bicycle or when you get a really nice car, you have the feeling that you're playing with the best there is. I'm sure that if you measured your level of testosterone before riding the RSV4 and afterwards, you'd see the difference.

It's not all about power though because you need to be able to put it down. I think the Aprilia, when it stretches its legs is the best bike, it's the fastest. On the short twisty stuff at the moment though, Tom is very difficult to beat.

The Aprilia also manages its tyres really well.
How did your distinctive accent come about?

Sylvain Guintoli:
When I first met Caroline, my wife, about 10 years ago I didn't speak much English and I guess I picked up the English accent from her. She's from around where we live, Leicestershire. I'm not trying to put an accent on, it's just how I speak.
I don't want to put any extra pressure on you, but I have you in my fantasy road race team for WSBK and I need the win this weekend.

Sylvain Guintoli:
(Laughs) I've picked myself as well, I'm terrible!
Thanks Sylvain.

Sylvain Guintoli:

Guintoli finished fourth and sixth in Sunday's races, extending his title lead over Kawasakis Tom Sykes from 4 to 13 points..



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