During the last few months, awareness of FMSCT Supercross star, Ben Prasit Hallgren, has moved far beyond Thailand’s off-road cognoscenti. After an early season struggle to find the right set-up, three successive wins saw him leave Round 5 at Maha Sarakham in north-east Thailand as a championship contender and with an apparent edge in form over his rivals. At the same time, encouraged by Team Yamaha Motorex Dirtshop Thailand’s ever-canny Supremo, Bai Binkamalee, Ben raised his media game too, producing his own video blog from each round and working actively to build a fan base.
All of that has catapulted the 25 year-old Norwegian-Thai to levels of recognition normally only enjoyed by Thailand’s top circuit racers and added to his winning momentum. However, information about his early career and how he came to be racing in Thailand is not easy to find, so Wroommm!! sat down with Ben at the Dirtshop Thailand HQ, to fill in the gaps and understand his approach to racing and where he sees himself and the sport going next.
Wroommm!! Ben, you are holding centre stage in Thai motorcycle racing right now, but there is little public information about your early career, so please tell us about your background?
BPH “My dad is Norwegian and my mum is Thai: Prasit is my Thai name. We lived and grew up in Kristiansand in Norway and I was always active as a child. My family had no background in motor racing, but I started for fun only when I was 6 or 7 and racing when I was 9. I started doing national races and went up through the ranks as a junior and won a couple of championships.
“While I was being raised we always came about once a year to Thailand to visit my grandmother, but as I became more focused on racing I couldn’t come any more. Back in 2009 we hadn’t been for a couple of years because I was busy racing in Norway and I told my parents I did not want to go. They asked me “How about if you could race while you’re in Thailand?,” so I said yes! They bought a bike and I ended up joining one of the FMSCT Supercross rounds in Krabi and ended up second in the B Class there. Then I got approached by Kawasaki and they asked me if I wanted to come over and ride. I wasn’t really interested at the time because I was focused on going the European way. I had some races in Germany and Denmark and was going to join the European championship, but then in 2012 I had a big injury to my arm and wrist and that held me back quite a bit: almost one-and-a-half years. I was recovering from that and wanted to go to Thailand and ride, so contacted Kawasaki in the middle of 2014 and asked them if they were still interested in me coming there. I came for the last two races and finished fifth and third.
“Then I had some time and I wanted to experience my mum’s culture and not just what I had seen on the tourist side of it. I wanted to know what Thailand really is, as it is half me, so I went to my grandmother’s home in Nongkai and I loved it and just fell in love with Thailand. It felt like home, so the when the team asked me if I wanted to do the 2015 season with them I said yes! I struggled a bit with Thai racing and how it works. I had some wins, but could not get the consistency. I didn’t have a training programme and a team really to give me what I needed.”
Wroommm!! How did you turn things around?
BPH “At the end of 2015 I went to train with Chaiyan Rhomphan, who’s a four times Thai Supercross champion and I went down to Chantaburi, where he lives. I did some bootcamps, training with him and preparing for races. At the end of that year he told me he was expecting his second child and wanted to step away from racing himself and to start a team and asked me if would would be interested to ride for him. I decided to go for that so in 2016 I went to stay with Chaiyan, actually sleeping on his floor for half the year and just trained and followed everything he told me from his experience and started winning, feeling good and staying consistent and I ended up winning my first championship in Thailand. He opened up, made me part of the family and taught me so many things about training – he got me into cycling, which has really helped me. He taught me everything about his way of racing. He is a very smart rider and he showed me how to win championships.
“After 2016 I had to split from the team because Chaiyan was not getting what he needed from sponsors, so he decided to focus more on the excavator business and do the best for his family. He shut down the team and Dirtshop came up and asked me to race with them so we agreed a deal and I joined them.
“2017 was the year to defend my championship but it did not go as I wanted. I had to start with them from scratch and find my own programme. I was training a lot, but wasn’t finding that extra edge that you need to win races and to be consistent. Racing in Thailand is hard. It’s a really long season that starts in January and finishes in December. It is only one race per round, so you train hard for that race and if it doesn’t go well you have one month when you’re miserable. If you’re not in good form physically or mentally, it’s difficult.
I was not enjoying life so much at the time, just trying to win-win-win. I almost became just a cyclist. I trained so much and followed a strict diet and I was trying to hard to be perfect and not getting the right balance. Bike set-up was a struggle too. We would find something that was good, then change something else and it would be bad and not giving us what we needed.
Wroommm!! Did you find changing teams difficult?
BPH Yes, I left Chaiyan in December 2016 and signed the contract with Dirtshop one week before Round 1, which was in the first week of January, so there was no time to test the race bike and nothing was prepared. I finished fourth or fifth in the first race and struggled all year, with my best results being two second places. I didn’t win any races and finished fourth in the championship.
It was not a good year, but at the end of it the team wanted to give me a new chance, so we sat down and figured out what we needed to work on. We made some changes to suspension that we were really struggling with last year. It was still not right in the first two rounds, then we changed some more and got it right and I felt really happy. Since then it has been going easy. I was probably training more last year, but this year have found the right balance for my fitness: what I do in the gym, cycling and my riding.”
Wroommm!! Did you change your fitness programme yourself?
BPH “Yes, everything I do myself. My training, my eating, my riding. I found a good all-round programme that is right for me. Last year was really hard, but I learned a lot, especially about myself. Now I am not over-training and I’m resting before races, so I’m sharp and not going into it already half-burned. I changed my approach, my desire is stronger and I love my riding, my training, everything. I believe in myself and in the team and my confidence is high and I’m ready for anything. When it all clicks together everything flows and I am having fun, which is why we all start racing!.
“Me and the team are really strong now and we have a great race plan. If I ask for some additional part or support, it is easy to get what you want when you’re winning!
“The other thing last year was that I was still staying in Chantaburi, but P. Bai encouraged me to move to Bangkok and be close to here, to the shop and to the team. Also, it is easy to travel to the races from Bangkok because we are central and close to the airports. Everybody in the team understands each other, what their job is and we work together to get the results.”
Wroommm!! What about other events this year? Will you do Motocross of Nations again, for example?
BPH “P. Bai and Khun Thongchai from FMSCT have discussed this and we hope we can do it. One issue is that it is on the same weekend as Thailand MotoGP. If we can go it would be an honour to represent Thailand again. It was such a great experience to do it last year.
“We have been contacted by the Australian supercross promoter. Every year they have one round of the Australian Championship where they invite international riders at the Olympic Arena in Sydney, so that is a possibility. Anyway, our focus is on winning the Thai championship. The next round is in August at Chonburi, then there is a break until October, when the last three rounds begin.”
Wroommm!! Who do you see as your main rivals for the FMSCT Thailand Supercross Championship?
BPH “Trakarn Thangtong definitely. He is really consistent and leading the championship although he hasn’t won a race. Sang, the young Honda rider, 17, is really fast and getting stronger now. Gok, who was leading the championship into the last round is another one. I really want to win this championship. I’m giving 150 percent and leaving nothing on the table to achieve it!”
Wroommm!! What do you think your biggest strengths are?
BPH “I am more of a motocross racer because that’s where I started, so I can ride pretty much anything, really. I like soft, grippy surfaces, sand and I like ruts. But like my boss says, you have to good in all conditions to win championships!”
Wroommm!! You have started vlogging this year; tell us about that.
BPH “I am learning a lot about business, not only racing from P Bai. I am learning the importance of marketing myself and the team because it’s hard to get sponsors. Motocross is a little sport and if you don’t have any value to give to the sponsors you are not worth anything. When we signed for this year, I agreed to be better at marketing myself, start to do some videos. Moving to Bangkok and learning more Thai language was part of it too. It is important to build a fan base and keep awareness high for sponsors.”
Wroommm!! What are your personal goals beyond this year’s championship?
BPH “My goal is to be remembered as a champion. I want to help to change the game, lift up the level in Thailand and be a good ambassador for the sport. I want to help young riders achieve the kind of results that I never could. I hope my story can help people to dream big and know that everything is possible.
“I come from Norway, where motocross is a minority sport. My family had no background in motocross and we didn’t really try to go anywhere with it. But then I used to borrow my dad’s computer to watch the heroes of the sport and dreamed of making a living as a racer. When I recovered from my wrist injury, I had to start all over again. In Europe that would have been hard after such a long lay-off and with the level of racing there. It was a rebirth of my racing career when I came here. Learned about my mum’s culture and how she grew up and how different it is in Thailand. In Norway everyone likes the same things, football, pizza, and so on. Here everybody is different and you get to race in every part of the country. It’s a really varied and interesting country. You can go to the beaches where it is tropical, or to Chiang Mai, where it’s almost like being back in Europe. I love it. Even though I have my routines every day is somehow different. Everyone is more connected together in Thailand.
“The weather is good all the year round and you can ride everywhere with fewer restrictions. You have to be a complete package. To live and dream the sport. Everything I do, what I eat, when and how long I sleep: everything is about how to ride better, race better live better.”
Round 6 of the FMSCT Thailand Supercross Championship will be on 4-5 August in Chonburi.