After a stop-start beginning to 2021, the inaugural FIM Hard Enduro World Championship is soon to get up and running again with the Abestone Hard Enduro in Italy, where Series Manager Winfried Kerschhaggl will see months, if not years, of hard work come to fruition.
Joining forces with the FIM to form the FIM Hard Enduro World Championship has been a long journey for Winfried, but one he feels will be hugely worthwhile. While the instant success and growth of the WESS Championship was clear, the formation of a Hard Enduro focused series was always the natural progression.
Uniting the world’s best races and offering athletes a FIM title to race for, the series ensures amateur riders remain an integral part of the action while ensuring the free-spirited roots of Hard Enduro stay intact. The partnership, Winfried believes, is also an opportunity to elevate the sport to a whole new level…
Winfried, 2021 is a new beginning for all as we break ground with the FIM Hard Enduro World Championship. Why the decision to come together with the FIM to form this series?
Winfried Kerschhaggl: “Stepping under the FIM umbrella, where all other major motorcycling series are, will help us to raise the profile and prestige of Hard Enduro. It will bring our sport to a new level. Being a part of the FIM will add marketing value to the championship and allow it to become more clearly understood by everyone interested in motorsports, from the diehard fan to the casual spectator. But above all else, having the title of FIM Hard Enduro World Champion to race for will give our athletes the recognition and respect they truly deserve.”
Has it been a long process to get to this point?
“Yes definitely, it’s a process that was in the works for some time! Ensuring that our amateur riders remained an integral part of the championship was something that took a while to get over the line with the FIM. It forced the FIM to change their view as to what a world championship should look like. Without this we would not have done it – no way! For the FIM it has been a big step and we’re glad they made it.”
Amateur rider participation has long been an integral part of WESS, why was it important to you to ensure that it continued with the FIM?
“Amateur rider participation is what defines us. It’s what differentiates us from other disciplines and what makes us unique. We want our amateurs to race alongside our world champions and park side-by-side in the paddock. This is Enduro. They represent the very nucleus of our sport. Because Enduro is very much defined by the camaraderie of the people involved, which so often becomes obvious during racing!”
How important is it for the sport and industry to finally have a dedicated Hard Enduro World Championship?
“It’s very important and long overdue to give Hard Enduro the official recognition it deserves. Personally, as a fan, I’ve been waiting a long time for this moment. Red Bull Erzbergrodeo is already over 25 years old, Red Bull Romaniacs celebrate their 17th edition this year. The championship will bring it all together for sure. Teams and riders can commit to a season of racing. More riders are drawn in to compete and at a grassroots level, that inspires more organisers to run events. Everything has a knock-on effect, which helps the industry grow.”
We’ve already seen manufactures like Beta and Yamaha lend support to the championship alongside established names like KTM, Husqvarna, GasGas and Sherco. Do you feel there is more growth to come in this area?
“Today motorsport is also a vehicle for manufacturers to promote their brand and their products. So, if you approach it from a business standpoint then Hard Enduro provides a format that is easy to understand for everyone. The competition, the rider-against-rider aspect is easy to understand and can be easily covered by the media. With solid media coverage and an FIM title to race for, then yes I believe more manufacturers will join.”
Can riders expect to see big changes in terms of how the championship is run, or are you aiming for things to be as easy and seamless as possible?
“Throughout this process our intention has always been to ‘keep it simple’. Sailing with a big ship like the FIM does not make it less complex. Hard Enduro has a free spirit, it doesn’t sit well with too many rules, and I want to keep it that way.”
We saw already with Extreme XL Lagares and Red Bull Erzbergrodeo how difficult it can be for event organisers to plan due to the COVID pandemic. Are things beginning to return to a ‘more normal’ situation?
“We’re living in some crazy times right now and sometimes even the best laid plans are taken out of your hands. At the time of staging Extreme XL Lagares, Portugal was by far the European country least at risk. Fewer people were affected, and it was the only country in Europe with restaurants open. Then suddenly, during the event there is a local hot-spot – and all your work, effort and money is gone! You have to question it yes, but at a certain point you have to accept and focus on what you can influence and that is what’s in front of you. But we were not alone, just imagine the amateur rider who travelled 2,000 km, spent a week’s vacation and a lot of money – just to return home with a fraction of what they were expecting to experience.”
The Abestone Hard Enduro is just around the corner and some of the teaser visuals look incredible. Are you excited to finally get racing underway in earnest there?
“Racing in Tuscany is a rare opportunity and doing it in a ski resort is the icing on the cake. It’s simply unbelievable what Michele Bosi, as event organizer, has been able to put together. He is so full of ideas that we had to calm him down and not get too carried away with the event. Having already stood on these mountains, walked the trails and soaked in the epic views, we know it will be an amazing event!”
The calendar sees a strong mix of well-established races with some newcomers, is the goal to offer these younger events a platform to grow and develop?
“Definitely, because the quality of each of our events determines the quality of the World Championship. But it’s also the diversity of the events, which is in our interest too. Over time we want the calendar to be less European focused.”
For potential organisers wishing to get involved, what criteria are you looking for in an event?
“We want to see a unique venue that can host a special course that is demanding, but not dangerous. The race format needs to support the integration of amateur riders to a large extent and the minimum number of competitors should be 250 at least. But also, the event format must be attractive to spectators and media alike. Overall, an event that is simple in structure, but still capable of developing a unique position within the series.”
For now, events are closed to spectators. What will it mean to have thousands of fans back trackside watching the racing again?
“We have all together learned over the last 18 months to live with what we can get, so everyone will be excited to return to the events and see the competition and our stars in person when it’s safe to do so. I’m looking forward to seeing the paddocks a real hive of activity with fans and spectators again. We all miss that!”
Finally, when we overcome this pandemic, how would you like to see this championship develop in the next few years?
“Our objective is to become the most popular Off-Road/Enduro series worldwide – regardless of how much Covid may influence our future!”
The FIM Hard Enduro World Championship heads to Tuscany, Italy for the Abestone Hard Enduro on July 9-11.
2021 FIM Hard Enduro World Championship calendar
Round 3: Abestone Hard Enduro – Italy, July 9/10/11
Round 4: Red Bull Romaniacs – Romania, July 27/28/29/30/31
Round 5: Red Bull TKO – USA, August 13/14/15
Round 6: HERO Challenge – Poland, September 11/12
Round 7: Hixpania Hard Enduro – Spain, October 1/2/3
Round 8: GetzenRodeo – Germany, October 29/30