Toni Elias Interview – MotoAmerica
Toni Elias is one of the many European riders that have packed their bags and are now calling the United States home for the 2016 MotoAmerica AMA/FIM North American Road Race season. Initially brought in as a fill in rider for the injured Jake Lewis, Elias’ performance allowed him to stay on and become a full-fledged member of the Yoshimura Suzuki team.
Elias – teammates with Roger Lee Hayden – holds a distinct status; he’s the inaugural title holder in the Moto2 World Championship and has seen time in MotoGP. We sat down with Elias before all of the action started at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, where Elias finished second and third; here’s what he had to say.
Ultimate Motorcycling: So this is your first season in MotoAmerica, how are you enjoying it so far? What are the main differences between the European leagues and this?
Toni Elias: I’m enjoying a lot! First of all, because I have a great bike and I have a great team. I didn’t have a lot of motivation in Europe because I didn’t find these conditions but now it’s like I’m “born again,” no? (laughs) It’s a new opportunity and of course, we have a good bike, good team, a good life because California nice. I’ve met so many great people and I’m enjoying every place, every moment so far.
Also, the new tracks – ehh not so safe tracks but amazing tracks, with ups and downs, blind corners. It’s very good. It’s like I needed this, I needed these feelings again. I’m 33 now but it looks like I’m 20 because I’m very happy (laughs). My motivation is very high and I’m fighting for the championship, winning races, it’s amazing, no? What more can I ask for!
UM: That’s great to hear. Going into 2017, you and Suzuki have done well so far, are there any plans for you to stay or is that still being negotiated?
TE: I would like to stay. Suzuki is waiting for the new rules and when we know the rules, we’ll talk about whether or not we will continue. They gave me this opportunity and I’m very happy, of course I would like to continue. I feel good, there is a good atmosphere inside the team – they believe in me, I’m very happy with them. It’s perfect.
UM: How do you feel about the GSX-R as of now? Can you speak to any of the strengths or weaknesses in competition?
TE: From the first day I arrived with this bike, I felt comfortable. We found some problems with the power delivery because it was too aggressive. Then I had some problems with the traction control; I really didn’t feel the back wheel on the ground. But in the beginning, we had issues with the front.
Step by step, we found solutions for the front and rear. We don’t have the solution yet for the power delivery. We need the bike to be smoother but for that, we have to wait for the new bike! (laughs) I think we did a great job, so far. This is a 2009 bike but still, the little improvements made it very competitive, up to the level of Yamaha. And with both riders, with Roger, we are fighting with these guys.
Before the start of the championship, this looked impossible. It looked impossible. But we are beating them many times! Roger has won one race, me five! We are consistently on the podium and this is good.
UM: Have they talked to you about the new GSX-R yet or is that all still in development?
TE: I don’t have much information because they won’t give it to me until I sign (laugh). So, until we get the new year’s then we’ll speak about next year’s contract. From what I know – the new bike will be better in many areas. I don’t know if it will be good enough to win but just having the new electronics will be much better because right now, that is our biggest difficulty.
If we want to improve here, we make mistakes here. If we come back to improve in that place…f*&k, then the power delivery is uncontrollable. It’s not easy. It’s difficult to find the balance.
UM: You’ve been involved with racing for most of your life at this point. In Europe, the skilled riders of today started incredibly young. So what do you see going on with the American racing community? How do we bring it back up to the days of glory days of US racing?
TE: I remember when I was little and I was looking at the races from Wayne Rainy, Swantz, Chandler…I didn’t arrive in time to see Spencer or Roberts but I know the history. For me, Wayne was my idol – Always. For me, it was the American riders, it was like “Oh my god,” these guys are amazing, no? (laughs)
And then in the future, it the Spanish guys became like the Americans in the past. America has a big potential to develop very good riders. Sure, there are good riders but to move these guys to the MotoGP? If this is the goal? We need to start younger, at the base.
It’s important, very important to have the schools. The Spanish success is because of this. Right now, I am working with RACC. This company helped us grow up, they supported us thanks to them. Now they chose me to as a teacher and consultant. So when I’m in Spain we make camps during the year, and we have strong programs for youth where they can learn in many areas.
I think it’s important. When I work with the kids, I can see guys in maybe 10 years doing amazing things like Marquez, dragging their elbows/knees. Pushing to the limits and its amazing because in my first 10 years, I wasn’t doing that. It’s the school, it is because of the school.
I think the US needs good schools and then a strong championship. But not before MotoAmerica; it’s good, it’s strong. It’s a step to move, to learn.
The most important thing though, is the system. Because finally, the difference now is that we (Spanish) have the system. We build riders like farming bananas (waves hands) so many good riders – good rider, good rider, good rider, good rider, good rider, you know? (laughs) The problem is, we cannot support 20 good riders. The difference between these good riders and the top riders is not a lot. For example, take Marc Marquez. You compare Alex Rins or Steve Rabbat…they are not at the level of Marc Marquez but they are within the system? They are very good riders and they have arrived to MotoGP. I think it is about the system, not the rider.
Of course maybe comes a rider like Marquez, just born superstar (laughs). It’s just…wow, it will not happen often.
UM: We appreciate it, Toni. Anything else you’d like to add?
TE: (laughs) I’d just like to thank the team for their support! Thanks!