The Dakar is a very special event, but how did your first Dakar compare to other motorcycling exploits you’ve experienced?
Kurt: “Dakar is on a completely different level from anything else I've ever raced. From the paddock to the course, and the spectators, it truly is unlike anything else. The logistics and organisation that are behind everything are very impressive and with that comes the sense of being in something as big as the Olympics. I was very impressed with the way things were run and how much medical assistance was readily available for everyone involved.”
You were selected as the rider to stand in for the injured Marc Coma. When and how did you find out you were headed for South America?
Kurt: “I was asked if I wanted to go just two weeks before the start of the race. My boss Antti Kallonen at KTM called and asked if I wanted to go, and of course I said yes without any hesitation. Just seconds later I hung up the phone and asked myself ‘what have I just agreed to?"
Did you have any time for any serious preparation?
Kurt: “I had no time to prepare myself physically but coming off of the finish of the Baja 1000, and still working towards the start of 2013, I felt like I was in good enough physical condition to not worry much about my body. Mentally I had no idea what I’d really signed up for so I was pretty nervous showing up clueless. I had never seen a road book or had to read a GPS system before and hadn't even ridden a rally bike in my life. I was ready to race!”
Was racing Dakar on your ‘races to do’ list?
Kurt: “Dakar had been on my "to do" list for a long time. I feel like with that type of event you really have to be mentally strong, more so than physically, so I was thinking I'd like to get into it later in my career. I don't know if that means I'm older then I feel or KTM thinks I'm ready now. Either way I was very excited to get the opportunity.”
No one expected you to win but as Marc Coma’s replacement you had some big shoes to fill. What kind of expectations did you and your team have?
Kurt: “KTM was great in taking a lot of pressure off what I put on myself. Obviously I was standing in for one of the very best in the world so I felt like I needed to step up and do well, but they made it very clear they weren't worried about results. KTM just wanted me to learn as much as possible and get some experience. The couple of stages that I was able to win I felt really comfortable and relaxed on the bike. Coming from a desert racing background I feel like the speed and terrain was right up my alley, all I had to do was focus on the navigation.”
The Dakar is a race in which everyone – pros and amateurs alike – experience highs and lows. What were your highs and lows?
Kurt: “The high was simply just being there, getting to race Dakar. It really is an amazing race and you get to experience so many different things and see so many different people that I feel like it will stay with me for the rest of my life. It’s not always about the stages you win or lose but all the things that go on around the race. The mechanics and the spectators all made my experience one I’ll never forget. I was mad at myself for missing those Way Points in stage 8, but I'm pretty sure that won't happen again.”
What one thing surprised you the most about the event, the thing you hadn’t even considered?
Kurt: “The biggest surprise to me was how similar the actual racing is to Southern California desert racing. I felt like I was racing a National Hare and Hound everyday with some Baja roads mixed in. I was really comfortable with the terrain and different types of speeds we were going through.”
What was your favourite stage and why?
Kurt: “The best stage I had was stage 11, where I was able to catch Cyril and the rest of the leaders and pull away with more then 70km to go. I was able to find all the Way Points and not get lost. I was pretty pumped that day.”
Were you surprised to be winning stages, or disappointed you didn’t win more?
Kurt: “At first I was surprised I won a stage but by the time the race was over and I had finished I was frustrated I didn't do better.”
What was the biggest lesson you learned?
Kurt: “The biggest lesson was missing three Way Points and getting penalised three hours! But the things I learned that would better help if I were to do the race again would be navigating. Reading your road book and saving yourself, I believe, are the biggest keys to the race. I hope when I race it again I’ll be better prepared in all of those ways.”
Maybe it’s a little too early to be asking this but do you have plans to race Dakar again?
Kurt: “I really would love to go back and race Dakar again. I don't think it’s a race you get lucky in or have things workout for you. I feel like you need a lot of experience and have to be patient for a few years to really push for the win.”
Now you’re home what does the rest of 2013 hold for Kurt Caselli?
Kurt: “In 2013 I will be racing the National Hare and Hound series and also the Baja events. I’m excited for this year and really want to win a Baja championship for KTM. While I can I just want to thank FMF KTM, USWE and all my other sponsors and everyone that has been with me through my career. I'm so grateful to have such an amazing support group behind me! Thanks.”
Ok, finally – you’re bench racing with your mates, what’s the Dakar tale you tell them?
Kurt: “My best Dakar story would just be this… picture yourself squatting on the side of the road taking your morning dump, while watching the most amazing sunrise… eating a protein bar in preparation for the day ahead. That’s pure Dakar…”