Interviews 28 Apr 2009

Moto Talk with Steve Martin

Steve Martin has gone from World Superbike racer to commentator, and now he’s also a Le Mans 24-Hour race winner. We catch up with him.

Martin (second from left) on the podium with his YART team

Martin (second from left) on the podium with his YART team

Australian Steve Martin won the opening round of the Endurance World Championship, the Le Mans 24-Hour in France on 18-19 April, capturing victory with his Yamaha Austria Racing Team in the prestigious event.

The 40-year-old may focus his efforts on commentating for the Superbike World Championship television coverage these days, but Martin winning the the rain-soaked race was a miraculous achievement, even against guys that he went on to commentate about at the Assen ASBK round the following weekend.

Now, Martin has his sights firmly set on winning the title in a bid to finally get a world championship that has eluded him so far. He’s enjoying the challenge of being a commentator too, setting himself up greatly for his next chapter after racing.

It was a great achievement to win the Le Mans 24-Hour last weekend, how did it feel to take it out?

For anybody who hasn’t done a 24-Hour race, I mean I’ve done a lot of racing in my life, but to be honest they are definitely very, very hard events. Le Mans was wet for over 20 hours and that didn’t make it easy. But you know, it’s definitely right up there for me.

Is your preparation for World Endurance racing much different than when you raced World Superbike?

Honestly, yeah. When I was racing World Superbike I was a lot fitter, which I know is probably the wrong way to be, but I was younger and I put everything into it. I trained every day and trained a lot harder than what I do now. Endurance racing for me, although I take it seriously, is a step down from the effort that I put into World Superbike. That just goes to show how good the new Yamaha is.

And how was the new R1 in Endurance specification?

The bike performed faultlessly. It rained for 24 hours and we didn’t have one single problem the whole time. That engine had never done 24 hours in a row, you know, a week before the race the bike wasn’t even finished. Not only did we win just because it was wet, because even in the dry we were right up there, and this year there are a lot of good riders.

There was a Ten Kate Superbike, basically factory Honda with the factory team, and that was the sort of level that we were competing against. And our Yamaha definitely wasn’t factory. It was basically a street bike with kit cams and a kit gearbox – everything else was completely standard. Yamaha has definitely stepped it up a level this year.

What do you do in between stints while the race is running for 24 hours?

Well basically, you just try to relax. You get off the bike and there is a whole group of people who do everything for you. You go into the back of the truck and we have a massage guy who will work any aches out if you have any, somebody will get you food if you like, whether it’s pasta, or fruit, or lollies, and then you’ve got another guy who will get your helmets ready and is responsible for waking you up 10 laps before you have to get on the bike again. It’s a big group effort.

Do you get much sleep throughout the 24 hours?

I got about an hour and a half. – it’s really hard to sleep. It’s basically like trying to sleep in pit lane, you know what I mean, because it’s so loud.

How many hours did you do on the bike during the race?

More than I should have. I don’t know exactly, but what happened is I did a double stint when it started to rain. It was dry on the first hour and then halfway through the second hour it started to rain, and I don’t know why, but for some reason I was like 10 seconds a lap quicker than everybody. In that stint I managed to put two laps on the field, and that was the moment that we put everybody else under pressure. It was just unbelievable.

From that point on we just maintained our lead. If someone was catching us by three seconds a lap we just let them catch, because while we were going at a comfortable pace they would crash. And that’s what happened. Other guys had to go fast to try catch and they’d crash and be even further behind. In my last stint I got lapped by Matthieu Lagrive because I was taking absolutely no risk at all. He had to catch us up 10 laps because we were 10 laps in front at that stage.

Considering you won the opening round of the Endurance World Championship, is it your goal to take out the title this year?

Well, two years ago we were third and last year we were second. Last year at this time we had zero points, and now this year we have 35. Even halfway through the race I said look, even if we finish second or third that’s what we had to do at Le Mans. The Le Mans win was great and will always be something to look back on in my future, but I really want to win the world championship. That’s what I put all of my effort into. Now we just have to maintain the championship lead.

Martin's YART teammate Igor Jerman crosses the line for victory at Le Mans

Martin's YART teammate Igor Jerman crosses the line for victory at Le Mans

Are you enjoying doing Endurance racing?

Well, it’s certainly not MotoGP or World Superbike, but my time’s over, if you know what I mean. I’d never look to go back to the World Superbike paddock and I’ve had loads of offers, but my competitiveness is over for that. I’ve got my family now and other things in my life as well, and to be the World Superbike Champion you have to be 100 percent committed.

Bikes are in my blood and World Endurance is a team sport. You really just have to do one and you’ll know yourself. It’s a really good team environment. In Superbike racing you have a teammate but you want to whip his ass, whereas here you really want to help them and show each other how to go faster. You win for everybody, and that’s why I like it.

You’re also the World SBK commentator for the television feed, how are you enjoying that?

I’m enjoying it, but the question is, how are you guys enjoying it? I mean, they offered me a job for the second year so that must mean that I’m doing an okay job, but you know, I really enjoy that technical aspect of looking at the bikes and trying to get across what I see. I’m still learning and hope to improve, but I really enjoy it and do see a future in commentary rather than world Endurance over the long term. It’s something that’s from a completely different angle for me and I’m finding it a real challenge.

When you first went to Europe did you ever picture yourself being the commentator for the series before you came home?

Never. Nope, never. It was the last thing on my mind. Even when I got offered the job I said to my wife “nah, I can’t do it”, and she said “you’re doing it”. And I’m 100 percent glad that she made me do it now. I might not be the best commentator in the world but I’m really enjoying it and hope that everybody else enjoys it as well.

Thanks a lot Steve, you and Jonathan Green do a great job.

Thanks, Jonathan was actually the guy who was looking after my helmets at Le Mans and who was in charge of waking me up and whatever. When we do the commentary he’s my boss, but for the first time in my life I got a bit of payback on him – I even made him dry a pair of my underpants that I didn’t use again [laughs].