One of motorcycle racing’s most gifted talents will be back in the sport on a full-time basis in 2015 as Jean-Michel Bayle (FIM and AMA Championship winner and former MotoGP rider) will be lending his considered and analytical eye to the efforts of the HRC Honda World Motocross team.
It is believed that the 45-year-old Frenchman’s alliance with the multi-national set-up is one of the key incentives that persuaded MXGP star Gautier Paulin to return to the marque where he made his international breakthrough in 2007.
Bayle has appeared more frequently in the MXGP paddock in the past two years and specifically connected to events that involved off-road product launches for the brand. Now the affiliation with Honda – with whom he won all of his four FIM and AMA titles – grows even stronger as his role as Sporting Manager for the team means being in the paddock throughout the GP campaign.
“I had a good connection with Honda, and with Honda France I was working on many things for a few years now,” he explains of the background behind the new role. “I was around the Honda family and the racing and there was a good opportunity to bring Gautier to the team and that’s how I became close to the team. Finally we made the decision to become part of the team. It was not a decision that was ‘black and white’ it was something that we built up to.”
“For sure all the travelling and everything is not the easy part but we have a goal and a challenge and I like to have a goal in my life and to ‘go’ for something. I feel like I am doing what I like to do,” he added.
Bayle has not been this dedicated to MXGP since he departed to conquer America in the first year of the 1990s but has a simplistic view on the championship. “It looks good. I’ve been to some Grands Prix in the last couple of years and the racing and circuits look nice,” he opines. “You can change a lot of things about motocross but for me the sport still stays the same; you need to have good riders, good teams, you need to work hard and that’s what I love about it. I don’t look too much at what is going on around it.”
Ryan Villopoto’s participation in MXGP in 2015, and the presence of Bayle means some prestigious names added to the series. For Bayle – as with many people – the fact that Villopoto is trying Grand Prix is very positive: “It’s great because it is nice to have good competition. I like to see Villopoto coming over. I went the opposite way many years ago – from Europe to America – so I’m happy it comes back and I think it is good for the sport. It will not be easy for him…but I don’t think it will be hard also.”
Bayle’s task will centralise on maximising the performance of both Paulin and Bobryshev on the works CRF450RWs. “I think Gautier knows how to ride a bike very well, although like every rider, he can improve. I’m happy to help him make the next step to world champion. He has good potential.”
“Evgeny has good riding ability,” he continues. “The last few years have been difficult mentally and physically but he is lucky that Honda is giving him another chance to show his potential. My goal is to help him do that and show to Honda that they were right.”
Bayle will be surrounded by some of the best motocross athletes in the world starting from the Grand Prix of Qatar next February. What does he think of the possibility of one of these premium athletes making the change to asphalt like he did so memorably in the mid 1990s?
“It is not something you decide in one day,” he explains. “When I started with motorcycles as a youngster my first goal was to go road racing but as this time the only training and riding you could do was motocross and I was so good that I kept on doing it. I won championships and got factory rides and then a world title right away with Honda.
“I worked through my goals but in my head road racing was always there. As soon as I achieved my ambition in motocross I made the switch. I don’t think it is something you can do if you are just getting bored; you need to have that desire to do it because it is very difficult and dangerous also. I would be happy to see someone doing it – for sure – but it is a very difficult challenge.”