David Knight Interview, Dakar Rally, Lockdown and the Future…
What do you do when you’re a 5 time World Enduro Champion, 24 time British Champion and an ISDE winner? Well if you’re David Knight MBE, you turn your thoughts to a new challenge and arguably the toughest off-road race in the World; the Dakar Rally. We caught up with David amidst the lockdown to hear about his future goals, his views on the sport, as well as how things are for him in these strange times at home with his family on the Isle of Man…
Dirt Hub: Hi David, so how are things with you in Lockdown? Are you enjoying homeschooling?
David: Yeah, me and my missus are doing it. My little girl is spot on, she wants to learn more and more and more. Emma keeps doing stuff with her, and she loves it. Finley is like me, we try and do a bit of Maths and a bit of reading, but he wants to be outside. (David’s Children are 7, 5 and 5 months). We got him a pogo stick, and he is on that flying around. He is exactly like me; he has no interest. He loves his drawing and stuff like that, but he has no interest in school work, so its hard work. I have enough before he does, ‘I’m like that’s enough, we are not doing anymore’.
Kids have got to play, haven’t they? He is in the garden doing stuff and looking for the space station and looking at the stars, and all that kind of stuff, you normally don’t have time to do.
I put this thing on for them about Space stations to try and get them to understand all of that. It’s good for them to learn normal things and learn about the things around them. In the garden, the pair of them will be rooting up bugs and learning about them, which I think is just as important as other stuff like reading and maths.
DH: Yeah, I think kids will come out of all of this with a lot of different skills that they wouldn’t learn at school…
David: Yeah, I think so, it will do them good. It’s bloody hard work. I take my hat off more to the teachers now that is for certain. I couldn’t do it, its bloody hard work. The weather has been unreal since this has all happened and that has helped, otherwise it would be even harder.
I’m thinking about buying a unicycle. I have never had one so I thought I’d give it a go and I cannot do it, and it pisses me off! I saw a video of Mickaël Pichon with one, and he can’t do it but his kids can. It bugs me that I have never done it. My little boy is there with his pogo stick, and within an hour, he is flying around on it, so I thought if he can learn that I can learn how to unicycle.
I have been running around the fields behind the house every night. I haven’t run since I left school and I am starting to get addicted to it, I am doing three laps of about a kilometre each around the field, and I am feeling suitable for it.
DH: Are you finding that time is going slower now you have more time on your hands?
David: I have been that busy it seems like it’s going faster. I can’t believe its Thursday already. Because I have got loads of jobs that I am doing, I am keeping busy. I am not eating. I have started doing this thing where I am not eating for 16 hours a day. I stop eating at eight o clock at night until lunchtime the next day. I have been doing that, and running and going out on my mountain bike, and go up the woods up here. I have lost nearly a stone already in the last couple of weeks.
DH: So until Coronavirus kicked off, what were your plans for 2020?
David: I was all ready to go to the Abu Dhabi Rally. I was planning on doing Rallies starting with Abu Dhabi, then Kazakhstan, Morocco and then the Dakar. I have just done four days of Roadbook training in Portugal before this happened, but I can’t really do a lot at the moment. I’ve been learning the roadbook symbols but can’t really do much more.
DH: Is the plan still to do the Dakar if it runs in 2021?
David: Yeah, that’s the thing, if it runs. It is easy saying yeah it will be alright by then, but it’s all of the logistics and that side of it, and the meetings and getting everyone together. The organisers have to travel to get the route ready and do all of that so I think it could be a struggle, to be honest.
If it’s cancelled early enough I can make to plans to do something different, maybe World Enduro, or go to America and do something different, or I can do whatever small rallies that run and get some experience for if or when the Dakar runs.
DH: So your future goal is to do the rallies and the Dakar?
David: Yeah, its something I have always wanted to do. I had the opportunity years ago, and its been something I have been trying to do for the last 6 or 7 years, and it all fell through at the last minute all of the time. I think I live in the wrong country. You had to be French or South American, and it was all to do with sponsors and stuff. This opportunity came along with the HT Rally Team and I was like right I am going to do it because I don’t want to get to 70 years old, if I make it that far, and wish I had done the Dakar. It’s just one of those things I have wanted to do and have a good go at, so now is the time.
DH: You did the World Enduro Championships Open cup last year, do you feel you have got conventional Enduro out of your system? Do you feel like you have done everything you wanted to achieve?
David: I had anyway a long time ago, but I still love doing it. I really enjoyed the open class last year because I haven’t got time to train, and I don’t spend much time on a bike like I used to. I could have ridden E3 and trained and ended up with top three results in that if I had dedicated six months before for training all winter and training your arse off. But I don’t feel like I need to do that anymore, I want to be enjoying it and having fun doing it, not slogging it out when you have three kids every day. I am trying to live a normal life and its hard. So the Open thing was really good in that way. I rode my bike once a week if I was lucky, went to the races and really enjoyed it. It was hard work and it was tiring still because I still push as hard as I can on a test, as long as my body allows it. But I never had to push 100% if you know what I mean, I just had fun riding and if there were any risks and I said “it’s a bit sketchy through there” I would just slow down. So that made it fun really because I wasn’t putting my neck on the line to win World titles or win the overall. I would like to do it again this year but I want to do something different now. I am not saying I won’t be doing any Enduros because I will, because I love doing them, but as far as a full championship concerned no, I don’t need to, I want to do some different things and concentrate on the Rally side of things.
DH: Have you had any thoughts on doing the WESS series? There have been rumours that it may merge with the current World Enduro Championship what do you think of that?
David: World Enduro is World Enduro, and I said years ago that it would be good to have a World series with some cross country events, so like two cross country, two extremes and two normal enduro’s and a beach race or something like that.
For me, at the moment, it’s one thing or another. It’s mainly extreme, but it’s not all extreme, so you have the best extreme rider who is Graham (Jarvis), but he has got no chance of winning it as he is no good at the other stuff. Then you have the other guys like Nathan (Watson) and (Josef) Garcia who are good Enduro riders but not good Extreme riders, so obviously you have the guys doing well like Billy (Bolt) and (Manuel) Lettenbichler winning it, but that’s because there are more Extreme races. If you had four normal enduros and two extremes then Nathan and Garica would win it, so there needs to be a better balance at events, so maybe make it smaller, so maybe two or three of each type event, so three Extreme, three cross country and three enduro.
I was speaking to someone about it the other day, I was thinking of going and doing it (the WESS Series), I think I will do well at it, and it suits me. If I put the effort in I know I could still do well at it, but for a privateer to go and do it, it costs just as much as rallying. You need about six different bikes. You need a 2 Stroke for your Extremes; you need a 350 for your cross country and enduros, the beach race is a 450. Some of the other races you would need a 450 enduro bike, so you need like five bikes and with practice bikes you’ll need 8-10 bikes in total to do it. I think you should have it with two or three of each event, but you need to choose one bike. So you could say you could ride a 350 as I can ride them all on that, or I could say I am going to ride a 450 just because I know I can still do alright in an extreme race on a 450, and I would be better in the other races on it. And you could have your classes too, so like your WESS Champion for the overall but have your best 450 rider or best 500 award, so it gets people into the series, as I used to in World Enduro with the 500 class which had a big following, as there are a lot of big blokes out there who had 500’s. So imagine me doing Erzeberg on a 500 KTM, people would love it. So for me, that is the way forward with the WESS series. It’s not a World Championship, you can call it every name under the sun, but until it’s got an FIM World title attached to it, it’s meaningless. That puts me off it.
Like I want to do the rally thing and do the Dakar. I might do the Dakar once and be right that’s enough, I don’t want to do it anymore. But I could tie some extreme races in again with doing the Rally stuff, with the Dakar, so I could go and do Erzeberg or Romaniacs as it’s the middle of the season, so I am looking at that, as I love doing all of the Extreme events. For me, Extreme Enduro has all gone a bit trialsy. I was one of first guys to break into it and do all of the first races, Hells Gate, Erzberg, Last Man Standing… All of those events had a real good mix, so it had its really tough parts in it, a big long lap, really tough parts then we had some nice fast flowing parts in it, so you had a bit of everything where now all of the Extremes I have done recently are just one thing after another, with 100 trials sections in a row rather than a big long lap with 20 hard parts in. Nows it’s just constant like a trial, and for me, that’s no fun. I like pushing the bike and pushing it up hard stuff and dragging it up, that’s part of the fun, but not all day. You also want some nice flowing stuff, and a bit of fast stuff. Like the Giles Lalay Classic in France that was the hardest race I have ever done, in 2001, and that had some real fast stuff it in. It had some grass, it had some bogs, it had some hard trialsy stuff, and I had never seen anything like it then at the time, hills that no one could get up and you had to drag yourself up. Spectators were dragging you. I think everything is there to make it good, but I think it just needs refining a bit, make it more affordable for people. Have different classes, so a rider might not be able to win it overall but they know they have a chance to win their class, so instead of having just 8 or 10 riders in it like it is now, it would bring the numbers up and attract people who are doing World Enduro now. But what do I know?
DH: Last year you did the CCGP with Steve Ireland, was that on your agenda to do this year and are you looking to do more of them?
David: Yeah it was, definitely, it went down well. We achieved what we wanted to with it. It wasn’t about making money or anything like that. I think we pretty much broke even, by the time we had paid all of the things out it was like £100 each or something like that. It achieved the goal in that we didn’t lose money and everyone had a good time. The event was good, the racing was close, the weather was really dry, and the track was good, and sort of flowing and you couldn’t make much time up on it. All of the lads were happy as they won some decent money so we were on for that again this year, but whether we can we shall have to see. We wanted to improve it this year. The whole idea of it from my side was to try and get a good atmosphere there so you have a beer tent, a hog roast and that on a Saturday night, to get people to stay there rather than going home, and to make it two days so families can stay together and kids play together, so to get back all of the stuff that we are starting to miss now with all of this lockdown. That was my idea, I used to go to the races for years and the atmosphere was ace, people were there camping with BBQs, people having a laugh together, kids playing on their bikes, silly little competitions on a Saturday night. I miss all of that now. That’s what I said to Steve, let’s run something where the race is almost secondary to what the rest is and get the kids there and stuff. We will see what happens this year but if we can get it in maybe September time then definitely.
Even in the World Championships, we all used to bring our trials push bikes and Mountain bikes to events and piss about at night time and have a laugh. Some people couldn’t speak English, we couldn’t speak French, but we would all have a laugh together. You don’t see that, and that’s what I miss now. The Open cup was really good but there was no atmosphere, there was hardly any riders there, and the entry was small. A lot of them are Prima Donnas who think they are better than they are and there is no craic, and that’s the biggest thing that I miss. When your putting old pictures on Instagram and Facebook and you are like ‘that was good we had a right good craic at that race’. That’s the things now that those boys won’t be able to talk about as they haven’t done it.
Maybe in that way, the Lockdown will do the Sport and a lot of people some good, and maybe we will have the top riders supporting British events. It might bring people together and supporting local events and enjoying it more.
To read the report from last years CCGP Enduro head here >> https://www.dirthub.co.uk/super-smooth-wootton-wins-inaugural-ccgp-enduro-race-report-and-results/