Features 3 Oct 2014

Catching Up: Alex Cudlin

Aussie on standout year in World Endurance and Qatar Superbikes.

2014 has been another successful year for Aussie export Alex Cudlin, who added a fourth Qatar Superbike title to his name as well as spearheading a successful attack on the World Endurance Superstock class. CycleOnline.com.au spoke to Alex upon his return home to break down his team’s class win at Le Mans and find out more about his forthcoming racing plans.

Source: Supplied.

Source: Supplied.

Firstly, congratulations on achieving the Superstock win at the Le Mans 24 Hour. I imagine a win like that is a pretty emotional one given the enormity of the task?

It is. It’s different to winning a sprint race. Obviously winning a sprint race is a fantastic feeling as well, but it is different. With a sprint race, once you’re on the grid and lights go out you’re on your own until the chequered flag comes out 20 laps later. The team is there but it’s almost like you’ve done it on your own. With an endurance race everyone is involved in that win. From the guys to the pit stops, to the guy holding the lap board out, to the guy running the tyres and wheels to the truck, the guy doing the massage, even the cook. Every single person has really dug deep to get you through that 24 hours. So when you win it, it’s a really amazing feeling within the team. After we won the race at Le Mans all of the team were stoked. They were hanging over the wall and throwing each other in the air! I’ve never seen that within this team. I’ve won sprint races for them before and it has never been that exciting. Also the fact that you’ve dug deep for 24 hours, and finally it’s over, finally it’s finished, it is a strong emotional feeling.

Is it a more physical exhaustion or mental, or a bit of both?

It’s both, definitely. Physically it’s very, very hard. I’ve been in World Endurance since 2006, so I’ve done maybe 20 24 hour races, so I’ve got some experience at it now. Even though every single one I’ve done is very hard physically, you get better at it, because you know what to do during the races; when to sleep or not, when to eat, what to eat, that sort of thing. So physically it’s hard, but mentally it is harder. We were fighting the whole race. It was only until about seven hours to go that we got into a two-lap lead. Up until then we were split by only 20 seconds. We had the lead, then the other team did. It was like you had to push as hard as you could for the first 17 or 18 hours, which is a huge ask. By the end of the race we were pretty knackered. And for Ant [West], it was his first 24 hour. It was a big deal for him as well.

What was it like teaming up with Ant and how did he fare in his 24 hour debut?

I’d ridden with him at the eight hour about a month before in Germany. We finished second there and he was really good. He rode well, and he was easy to work with. He had almost identical settings to me, in what he wanted done with the bike. His feeling with the bike was really similar to me – we were both identifying certain things about the bike in our stints. After Oschersleben I thought, gee, we really need him for Le Mans. I’m taller than him but the only thing he wanted different was the levers a bit higher, whereas I wanted them lower. We compromised and went half way. But the rest of the bike was pretty well the same. After that race I think I was texting him every single day to come and do it. And I was pushing the team as well. He eventually gave in and decided to come, which was good. He’s easy to work with, and a nice bloke. Together we were both really fast. I was faster than him in qualifying, and in the race he was faster than me. All in all both of us were very similar. We didn’t make mistakes and didn’t crash. For him, it was a pretty awesome effort to have a first go at a 24 hour and not make mistakes and not crash. He was an awesome addition to the team.

24 hours straight is never going to be completely smooth sailing. Tell us about the major problem you guys suffered in the pits and how you managed to overcome it?

We got out to about a minute lead, I think. We kept swapping with strategy. Myself and Westy put in some stints during the night as we were a bit faster than our Qatari teammate. During the night the team decided to run me and Westy back-to-back each hour for about six hours. In that time we managed to gap the Suzuki team, I think we had around a one minute 10 second lead. When we came in at the end of that they changed the front tyre but the axle stripped. They quickly pulled it out and put a new one in, but the nut that was built into the fork was also stripped. They put the second axle in, did it up and it stripped as well. Then they had to replace the nut and put a third axle in! The commotion of all that cost us a lot of time. I think we went back almost two laps, so we lost a good three or four minutes in the pits. At that point I was wondering how we could ever make that back, after taking 12 hours to get a one minute lead. But luckily for us it started raining, and when that happened both Westy and I were fast and we managed to catch up again. Aside from those two little issues it was close to a perfect race.

Source: Supplied.

Source: Supplied.

This result is another feather in the cap for you in terms of endurance racing. You must feel like you’ve established yourself as a go-to guy in the paddock after helping the Suzuki Endurance team to the win last year?

Yeah I rode for SERT last year, as a reserve, and when one of the guys got injured I was called up to ride at Le Mans last year. So yeah, I played a little part in them winning the title. This year, everything has gone well. I decided to go back with QMMF as they were entering endurance again, and because I ride for them in the Qatar Superbike Championship, so it made more sense for me to ride for the same team. It almost was the perfect year in terms of results. I won the Superbikes which was good, but we ended up second in endurance. Unfortunately at the first round of the series we blew up and didn’t get any points, which really hurt us in the championship. So we played a game of catch-up all year. We probably showed we were the best team in the championship but just weren’t the most consistent. It takes that element of luck to win as well.

With the runs on the board in Qatar Superbikes and a good relationship with your team, it would make sense to carry that relationship over to next year wouldn’t it?

Definitely. From my point of view, I’ve ridden with QMMF now for five years, and every won of those years I’ve won them a title. The first year I won the Superstock endurance title, and the next four years I won in Qatar Superbikes. So, in terms of my results, they’ve been great for my career, and I’ve been good for their team as well. For that reason I’d definitely like to stay with the team, and as far as I know they’d like to keep me again, and we’re negotiating now for next year. I see myself next year again continuing in Qatar Superbikes and endurance, I don’t think my program would change too much. The aim next year would be to try to win both.

You’re back in Australia now, what are the plans for the rest of the year?

I got back last week and am working here at home for my parents at their bike shop. The new Qatar championship starts up again soon, and in between I’ll be doing some dirt tracking with my brother Damian, who is home as well, and after that I’ve also got some coaching planned. Kawasaki supply a ZX-10 and I do a lot of coaching at Eastern Creek and Wakefield which keeps me busy. So the calendar is pretty full! I’d like to get down to the ASC finale too if there is time. Obviously a lot of the guys have been over in endurance this year, Wayne [Maxwell], Glenn [Allerton], Rick [Olson], so I’ve been following how they’re going too.