As BMW Motorrad Motorsport enters the second half of its full season in the 2008 MAXXIS FIM World Enduro Championship, we talk to team manager Wolfgang Fischer about the trials and tribulations of the G 450 X sports enduro project and how BMW is looking forward to an exciting future in two-wheeled motorsport
Just how did you get into the muddy world of off-road motorsport?
Believe it or not in my past I was a professional sailor but I had a bad car accident, which I was lucky to survive, although it put an end to my days on the water. I was always interested in dirt bikes of course, and was working for KTM some years ago. My connection to the world of BMW came while I was working with Acerbis [supplier of equipment and accessories for off-road motorcycle sport], which gave me an inside-view of some of the best teams and riders worldwide. I knew Simo Kirssi quite well and he told me of BMW Motorradâ€™s intentions to enter this area of motorsport and as I had lots of knowledge of how the dirt bike world works, I really wanted to be part of this exciting new sport enduro project.
The development of the G 450 X has been carried out in full view of the public and this year, the results have started to come. You must be proud of the teamâ€™s achievements so far?
Yes, absolutely. Weâ€™re now halfway through year two of the â€˜rollingâ€™ G 450 X programme. There has been lots of unknown terrain of course, but there was only so much that could be achieved in the workshop and on the test track, so we took the approach that you could only really find out how good the bike was if you competed against the best riders in the world. Itâ€™s only in real competition that you can truly see if youâ€™re going in the right direction. In development terms, every step forward has been an important one â€“ and now weâ€™re beginning to see what the potential of the G 450 X is. The bike has been working great in the German Cross Country races [where Simo Kirssi won the first two races of the season] but itâ€™s also a good motocross bike â€“ not in the true motocross sense â€“ but itâ€™s competitive nonetheless in cross country, where the bike set-up has to be more similar to motocross than to classic enduro. The greatest thing though, is to bring the right people together with the necessary skills and team spirit to help bring about the success weâ€™re enjoying.
As well as the experience that someone like Joel Smets brings to the team, it must have been useful to have a rider like Simo Kirssi around for several years to help develop the new bike?
Iâ€™m especially happy that we could get Joel into the early stages of the project last year, because his positive attitude, charisma and motivation is unrivalled â€“ heâ€™s a true role model for any athlete and team member. As for Simo, he has been with the factory BMW team for almost four years now â€“ and three of those have been on what you could say were non-competitive bikes. Heâ€™s shown great sportsmanship and patience, and has brought a tremendous amount of value to the G 450 X project. With the sport enduro, itâ€™s a great challenge for Simo to try and bring BMW its first championship in the GCC series â€“ and he has every chance of succeeding.
And heâ€™s also performing well in his debut year in the World Enduro Championship series?
Interestingly, no one was more surprised than me at the end of last year when he decided that he would give the Enduro World Championship a try. People had mentioned to him the possibility of doing it all last year, but he always maintained that it wasnâ€™t his kind of riding. But then he came and told us heâ€™d nothing to lose and that heâ€™d like to give it a go! He was down in Kariâ€™s [Tiainen â€“ former seven-times World Enduro Champion who is helping with the testing as well as assisting in the training and coaching of the BMW Motorrad factory riders] place in southern Spain all winter. Kari is a big name in the enduro world and has been very good for the team, as well as being a Finn like Simo! He comes to every WEC race and helps with the pre-ride assessment of the track and rider advice.
At the start of this year â€“ the first full season of competition â€“ weâ€™re you under considerable pressure to make an early impact on the WEC scene?
Our expectations for 2008 were to get into the top ten in the first half of the year, and then make the podium by the second half of the year. We achieved this earlier than expected [Simo Kirssi claimed BMWâ€™s first ever enduro world championship podium at the fourth round of the 2008 championship in Poland in June] so this brings a lot of pleasure. In-between each round thereâ€™s always loads to do, which keeps us busy every day. Thereâ€™s always something new to try out, from engine components, to injection, electrics, suspension etc.
Thereâ€™s a lot of talk about the forthcoming launch of the series production G 450 X. Has this been a long time coming for you?
Weâ€™re very much looking forward to the customer launch of the G 450 X. I can see very clearly that what we are doing has to have an end product â€“ as much as we love our jobs, we donâ€™t do all this motorsport activity just for fun! Itâ€™s great if you have success in racing but the mission is to sell bikes and Iâ€™m happy BMW Motorrad went down this path. With what weâ€™ve achieved so far, the project has real credibility, as the results speak for themselves.
Yes, it must have been really rewarding to come away from this yearâ€™s Hare Scramble at Erzberg with such good results, after not even finishing there on the prototype in 2007
Absolutely. With our latest results at Erzberg, you can really see the potential of this bike, and the fact that itâ€™s not just a fast cross-country machine, but that itâ€™s also good enough for extreme enduro. Whatâ€™s also important to note here is that we were the only four-stroke bikes in the top 10 [Andi Lettenbichler finished in second place, with Gerhard Forster finishing seventh, out of 500 starters]. All the KTM riders were on two-stroke bikes â€“ even if their factory riders regularly use four-stroke bikes for the WEC series. They know why they changed to a two-stroke â€“ normally this is the better choice for extreme enduro because of the lighter weight, easier handling, and the fact that they are not so powerful in certain conditions. We were very proud of our results on the four-stroke G 450 X at Erzberg, beating many of the best riders in the world.
And youâ€™ve got a full schedule ahead of you in the next few weeks?
Yes, weâ€™re right in the middle of a busy few weeks of racing. Weâ€™ve just had the German Cross Country round at Goldbach â€“ the most important one in the series â€“ and now weâ€™re looking forwards to travelling to the UK for the next round of the WEC. Itâ€™ll be our first time there and a good challenge for us. No sooner is this done and dusted, and then weâ€™ll travel to France for the next WEC challenge. Itâ€™s a busy time for all of us and we hope to do well.
Are there any more â€˜extremeâ€™ enduro races to look forwards to in the near future?
A couple. Andi Lettenbichler will be riding the G 450 X at the Red Bull Romaniacs event in mid-September and Gerhard Forster will compete in the Roof of Africa enduro at the end of November. Itâ€™s a massively tough race but heâ€™s done it before and was the best European rider, finishing in fourth overall. Meanwhile, the Indoor Enduro World Cup will also be starting again, which weâ€™ll be a part of.
So, what are your ambitions for the near future?
Together with Markus Theobald, project manager for the G 450 X, I will first and foremost help to win the Enduro World Championship for BMW Motorrad. Next to that, we are determined that we continue to improve and innovate, and make this race bike as good as possible for every rider.
Does the forthcoming customer launch of the G 450 X make you nervous?
Not at all. The bike is perfect. We can just do our job and trust our colleagues in sales and marketing to do theirs. Bringing out a new machine is never easy, given the current economic situation and the rising cost of fuel prices. This is a leisure market product after all, not a commuting machine, but Iâ€™m convinced there are enough â€˜freaksâ€™ out there who need the kind of fix that the G 450 X provides!