“leading this team is like raising a family of winners.” an interview with pierre chapuis, manager of team moto ain on the eve of the 100th bol d'or race.
At 51, it seems that Pierre Chapuis has lived several lives. He used to run a motorbike shop until very recently, but today he’s devoting all of his time to the team that he put together more than 25 years ago. The Team Moto Ain is an adventure he set off for with a group of friends, who are more like family. It is the first time that a non-official team has come to compete with the best in the EWC. Let us take a look at the extraordinary journey that has led this team to occupy the second place in the 2021 Bol d'Or overall classification.
Pierre Chapuis, the passionate.
IPONE : When did you start riding?
PC : I started riding motorcycles late in my life. I used to drive racing cars at first. I started with motorbikes when I was over 18, after I had my driving licence. The passion for riding started by chance. I was having lunch with my parents at a friend's house and there was a small PW motorcycle there. I borrowed the bike and spent the whole day riding in a nearby meadow, that's how it started. My parents had never been into motorbikes and they didn't like them at all. But the motorcycling bug has already gotten into my system.
"Performance remains the top priority for me."
IPONE : How important is motorcycling in your life today?
PC : : If you ask my wife, she will tell you that motorcycling is 100% of my life. I would say it’s just 80%, but I guess she might be right. It’s complicated sometimes.
IPONE : Is transmitting your passion for motorcycling important to you?
PC : I love transmitting my passion to others. During my professional career, I was once an instructor of motorbike mechanics. Basically, I am a mechanic. Motorcycle mechanics has always been my passion. I usually meet former students in the paddock. In addition, I’ve been a riding instructor to a lot of professionals like the world champion Etienne Masson. Also, the double world champion, Sylvain Barrier, and many others. There was also De Puniet. Randy took some few lessons from me, since he was being coached already. All in all, I’ve always had this desire in me to reach out and share my knowledge with other riders.
IPONE : How do you feel on the eve of this 100th Bol d’or ?
PC : Personally, performance remains my absolute priority, we are here to compete against the best. Despite not having equipment from the manufacturer, we have already established ourselves as a top private team. This is the first Bol d'Or race that I'm not busy with my dealership, so I'm completely devoted to performing. Tonight, we had the pre-qualifying sessions and we're delighted to see that we have gone up a notch. All the hard work we’ve put in so far seems to be paying off.
The Team Moto Ain : a story of friends
IPONE : Please, tell us about the story of your Team.
PC : The Team started up with a bunch of friends. It was quite some time ago, in 1997, when I first got together with a group of friends, just to have some fun. Later, in 2016, I met this remarkable rider about my age who asked me to be his teammate because he wanted to participate in the Bol d’Or at least once in his life. I took this competition very seriously because I had promise him to deliver a performance. Finally, at the last minute, he withdrew from the race. We ended up winning the Bol d'Or just in our category, but it was a victory nonetheless. So, we placed ourselves in the lead of the world championship, without having even planned it. It was basically a one shot. Then, we competed in the Le Mans 24 Hours race and we finished second. After that, there were two 8-hour races left, including Germany, which we also won. We had a big lead before the finals in Slovakia. We didn't think we could lose. Unfortunately, a last time addition rider made a mistake and we finished 19th. If we had finished 18th, we would have won the world championship. For a "beginner" team, this kind of performance was unprecedented.
In the end, we finished runners-up in the World Championship. The following year we were 3rd, and we got to win twice more. We have won almost every race there is. The team is quite proud of its record.
IPONE : What inspired you to found the Team?
PC : As I said, the Team is really about a bunch of friends getting together. For me, the most important thing is to work as a team. Motorcycling is mostly an individual sport, but if your cook makes bad food for you all week, you’ll have a bad week. Likewise, if your mechanic makes a mistake while changing your tyres, you'll have a bad week. Every single teammate is important to me. I really enjoyed getting loads of people involved and working around me. They were newbies at the beginning, but they were so passionate about it that they got me motivated too.
"Today, 25 years later, some original members of the team are still around. One of them haven't even missed a single race."
IPONE : If you were asked to describe your Team, what would you say?
There is something very important about my team. Personally, I see us as one entity. Generally, in motorcycling, the rider is always put on a pedestal. This is not the case in my team. A rider is just an element like any other. Certainly, he is bound to get all the attention because he’s the performer. But it is very important for me that all are regarded as equals. A cook is just as important as a rider. And having been a rider myself, I know what a motorcyclist needs to perform well on a bike. I know the environment he needs around him. And that's the atmosphere that I try to create around us.
Currently, I’m attracting riders who are at a much higher level than that of my team. For example, last year we had Bradley Smith, and Randy de Puniet, who are MotoGP riders. They don't belong in a team like mine. They should be riding motorbikes straight from the big factories. So, why do they keep coming to me? Because we spoil them rotten here. They know that our bikes might not be the most beautiful, they’re very good motorcycles but not the most beautiful. However, they also know that everyone here will have their backs and support them. And that’s the kind of environment that they like to have around them.
We want it to be as family-like as possible, and having this kind of bonding is important. We might not be related but our friendship is quite strong. This is one of the things I like to prioritise. A rider needs to blossom. The happier he is, the better he performs. That's why this is so very important. About 90% of the riders in the paddock know who I am, they have seen me ride. They know that when I say “that’s a stupid thing to do,” you’d better believe me. Bradley Smith came to us from MotoGP. We had met for the first time during the trial sessions in Albacete, Spain. He said to me "I've never seen people as motivated as yours. When I see how you work, that you do twice as much as the others, I think that you deserve any collaboration you can get."
"A rider needs to blossom. The happier he is, the better he performs"
The Team's ambitions.
IPONE : How do you feel on the eve of the 100th Bol d'Or?
PC : It fills me with great pride to participate this time. It’s a key milestone. I’m quite fond of the Circuit Paul Ricard. Even if, as a rider, it has not been my most flattering track. I've hurt my behind more times there than in all my other competitions put together (laughs). But I love this circuit, so coming back here is always a pleasure. Also, we have raced here quite often and in the last four or five years, we have won twice. We had our best overall performance last year, when we finished second. This place is very dear to all of us. And for me, this is the most important stage of the year.
IPONE : Tell us about this podium, please.
PC : The feeling of being on a podium is that you have accomplished something, that you’ve done it right. However, a podium is something relative. You can get a podium at 50 laps of the first places because many teams had to face problems. Today, what I really want is to feel proud of our work and to get increasingly close ahead in the race. If we finish fourth on the same lap as the first ones, that’ll be more rewarding for me than finishing second at 30 laps.
IPONE : How do you envision the future of the Team?
PC : I'm very happy with the way things are going, we’ve had a great performance this year, even if we didn't get all the results we were expecting. At Le Mans, we had a collision at the start that put us off for the rest of the race. It handicapped us, but we had two very good relays behind us. Unfortunately, at SPA, a rider made an unintentional mistake and his bike broke down. We sadly lost a lot of time looking for a failure that wasn’t there. Here, at the Bol d’Or race, we have our best overall qualification, so we are happy. We are progressing.