TLD/Lucas Oil/Honda’s Wil Hahn is having the best season of his young career. After a very impressive second-place overall effort in the 2010 West Coast Lites Supercross series, the likable Red Bull-backed Honda rider is now coming into his own in the AMA Pro Motocross Championship series, as well.
Gaining momentum each week during the first three rounds of the series, Hahn’s newfound outlook and confidence propelled him to a solid fifth-place overall performance at Budds Creek this past weekend. With nothing but success on his mind, we caught up with Hahn to get his take on the flow of the series thus far, and how maturity may be the driving force of his recent success.
After a phenomenal Supercross series, you’re now well on the way to your best outdoor series, as well. What’s your secret?
[Laughs] I don’t know that there’s really a secret, but yes, this is by far my best outdoor series yet. My best finish before this year was, I think, sixth in a moto, and that came in 2008, so it’s been a while. I think a lot of it comes from confidence and self-belief. And obviously my team; I can’t do it without them. My bike is working very well, I’ve been getting good starts, and I believe that I can run up front. That’s the difference.
Is any of your success fitness-related? It appears that you’ve been able to continue pushing late in a moto when a lot of guys have the tendency to fade.
No, I really don’t believe it is. I’ve always prided myself on being a hard worker. I feel like I’ve always worked very hard to keep myself fit and physically prepared, so I’m not necessarily working harder, but perhaps I’m just working a bit smarter than I used to.
Can you elaborate on that at all? How do you feel you’re working smarter?
Well, I think it’s like anything else in life… I’m constantly learning. I feel like I’ve come into my own and know a lot more about myself [body and mind] than I did a year ago. I’ve learned a lot about how my body recovers and how to best prepare mentally based on the way I’m feeling day-to-day.
A lot of it is confidence, as well. I feel like I’ve broken through a slump so to speak. I’ve had a couple of not-so-great years at the Nationals, and that’s made it tough to have fun and gain success. This year, it’s just all starting to come together for me, but there’s really no difference in the amount of effort that I’m putting into it.
Coming off of such a successful SX series, were you feeling more pressure to perform at a higher level when the outdoor Nationals kicked off?
I felt prepared, I did all of my homework, but I’d be lying if I said part of me wasn’t a little nervous coming into the series. After Hangtown, though, most of the nerves went away. The first moto was going well after a pretty good start, but then I got caught up in a group of guys and started making mistakes. I dropped outside of the top 15 and thought, “Oh, man… It’s happening all over again!”
I put my head down and ended up coming back to 13th in the moto. I wasn’t stoked on that, but I used it as a motivator to rebound strong rather than let it get the best of me. In moto two, I grabbed the holeshot and ended up finishing sixth, so I was able to leave Hangtown with my head up. It was at that point that I knew I could overcome adversity and get up front where I feel I belong.
Like you did in moto two at Hangtown, you nailed another important holeshot at Budds Creek. Has your team made some changes to the bike, or is it a technique thing on your end?
I think it’s been a mix of everything. I worked a lot with [Jeremy] McGrath on starts, and he really helped me to get into the right mindset on the gate. It’s extremely important to focus on the right things and to actually believe that you can get out front. I think a lot of it has to do with my bike as well, though. We’ve got a good package right now. Plus, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t practice a lot of starts during the week [laughs].
People say that the biggest key to starts is actually believing that you should be out front...
Yeah, that’s very true. The last couple of years I didn’t completely believe that. I thought your technique just had to be spot-on out of the gate. Not that it doesn’t have to be, but there are 39 other guys in the gate who also know how to start. If you can make it into the top-40 at an outdoor National, you more than likely know how to start correctly. The big difference, though, is having the confidence and the vision to know that you can get to the first turn first. If you can’t visualize it, it’s not gonna happen.
Does this outdoor season change your outlook on the rest of your career, knowing now that you’re a complete rider who can compete in both motocross and Supercross?
I don’t think I’ll consider myself a complete rider until I win a Supercross and an outdoor National, but I do think that I’m putting myself on the right path to become a champion, and that feels unreal.