The FIM MXGP World Championship is quickly approaching the seventh round of the season. For riders who focus exclusively on the European rounds, like Damon Graulus, Latvia will only be their third gig on the world stage. We caught up with the 24MX Honda rider after his 4th place in the 24MX Tour, the French National series last weekend.

Are you looking forward to Kegums this weekend?
Damon Graulus: “
Absolutely! It’s a great track to ride, I’ve had a lot of fun there in the past. Hopefully condititions will stay dry this weekend.”

You’ve done 3 out of 4 races in the French Elite series so far. What are your thoughts about the championship and how do you rate the level?
Graulus:“It’s definitely a nice series. Like last weekend the 24MX Tour ran in Gaillac-Toulza and I had never ridden there before. We arrived late the night before when it was dark so I was pretty impressed when I saw the track! Gaillac-Toulza is a big place, and wide like a GP track. I’m not talking about falicities but in terms of riding Gaillac could easily host a GP event. I rode the Saint-Jean d’Angely round as well so in terms of tracks it’s a cool championship. When I go to these races my aim is to be on the podium or to fight for the win. But you have to understand French racing to get any idea of the level.”

A lot of fast guys like Xavier Boog, Valentin Teillet, Greg Aranda, Maxime Desprey, Cédric Soubeyras or Nicolas Aubin are committed to the French series, right?
Graulus:“Exactly. You have professional riders who make this series their most important goal. They know the tracks very well, they are familiar with the soil and with their competition so at home these guys can race with a lot of confidence! In my first moto in Gaillac-Toulza I went down early in the first moto when someone crashed in front of me so to come back from dead last I had to push hard to salvage eighth. Luckily my start was better in the second moto but I got stuck behind Nicolas Aubin, when I passed him Teillet had pulled a gap and even when I rode well and gained on him he still beat me with 2,3 second. You can’t underestimate someone like Teillet, Boog or the other ones you mentioned. When they make a wildcard appearance in MXGP, for example in the French GP they’re capable of running between 10 and 15.”

Switching to MXGP, the level is simply phenomenal this year. The first 15 in standings are all factory riders, if you see how a world class rider like Max Nagl struggles because he can’t get a start. It’s crazy!
Graulus:
“People inside the paddock or inside the industry can relate more easy to these results. For a casual fan it’s much harder to grasp. Before you’d put a top-10 down as a solid goals for a non-factory guy. Now you have to look at top-15 with a field this deep! Physically you have to be really strong to maintain this MXGP pace. But you need both speed and clean laps without errors. The differences are so small between the majority of riders that you might finish 12th, 19th or 15th just depending on one small hiccup! For me top-15 is now the benchmark. Honestly, the top-10 guys are stull at another level and at the very end you have two, three guys who race at another or two other levels still!”

So with only Trentino and Valkenswaard under your belt the World Championship has just got under way for you?Graulus:“Yeah, there’s no other race that can prepare you for MXGP. Nothing comes even close. So it’s great to finally be running with all the fastest riders in the world. Frankly, I was blown away by the pace in those first MXGP races! We came into the season having to play some catch up but step by step we’re getting there. I’m feeling great and I’m pleased with my riding and the speed. Iwas not that lucky in Valkenswaard but that’s part of the game.”

What do you think of the Honda CRF450R now that you have had some hours on the bike?
Graulus:
“The improvement over last year’s model is big. The suspension, the frame… the feeling with the 2017 CRF450R is just awesome. That’s how it felt even from the very first time. Obviously it’s quite something else to feel fine in practice but to search your limits in competition is something else. So with that stock bike we’ve been working hard to adapt the package to my needs with the suspension, motor and everything else. I have been more involved with the development than ever before. It’s a lot of hard work but in the end it pays off. Understanding well how everything functions also puts you on an even field with the technicians. When I know what the suspension does and how parameters like compression, rebound, high speed damping or low speed damping affect the handling it makes it easier to explain what I feel and what I want. I have been fortunate to be learning about that aspect of the sport throughout the years from many good people. I’m pretty meticulous in that field, like keeping my own notes on settings and so on. You have to be careful not the get lost in that chase for the ‘perfect setup’ though! However we’re on a good path now.”

You spend some time with Sebastien Pourcel during your French training camp. How was that experience?
Graulus:
"Very interesting! Although it wasn't anything formal where we've worked together for a long time. But regardless there's always stuff you pick up on. So even when Seb Pourcel isn't racing actively anymore -he isn't even riding regularly- his hard pack skills are still amazing. In one or two hot laps on those typical French tracks he's bloody fast even today! It just reminds you that in his best days Pourcel was one of the fastest riders in the world on hard pack. When you think you can't possibly go any faster he just shows you what's possible."

With Mitas you made the transition to a new tyre supplier as well. How’s that working out?
Graulus:
“It’s been quite a journey because Mitas is new at the highest level in our sport. So we tested an awful lot since the beginning of the season, again much hard work (laughs) but it has been a very positive partnership. Mitas has a lot of know-how and experience in tyre-making and they’re super dedicated to motocross. They have reached the highest level in enduro and speedway and you can see they’re all-in. Mitas is fully committed to MX now. You see the Mitas tyres in the Honda 150 European championship, they came on board with YouthStream too… The development confirms their hunger, we received new tyres in Trentino and they were absolutely awesome. This not the final point because they keep on pushing. So we keep on working hard, me, all of the team and our sponsors. I’m sure the results will follow!”

Images: shotbyBavo, CDS, 24MX Tour

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