Over ten years have passed since KTM last saw a reigning world champion change disciplines and hunt fresh glory as a ‘rookie’ in another series. We asked Tom Vialle about the professional and personal conversion from Grand Prix motocross to the stadia of American Supercross.

By Adam Wheeler

Tom Vialle at his first Supercross outing in Houston at the beginning of February 2023 PC @SimonCudby

On September 4th, 2022, Tom Vialle swept past title rival Jago Geerts at Afyon for the Grand Prix of Turkey to win his second FIM MX2 Motocross World Championship in just four seasons.

The move was a closing gesture in a season-long battle for the crown that went down to the final minutes of the entire campaign. It was a mighty signing-off by the-then 21-year-old who became the fourth Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rider to own more than one ‘gold medal’ in the class since 2009.

Vialle rode off track in Turkey as #1, briefly partied and then jetted with his family to the United States to join the North American wing of Red Bull KTM and in preparation for the daunting switch to AMA Supercross: the second most-watched motorcycle racing contest in the world.

The Frenchman had already agreed to travel across the Atlantic for 2023 by the time he won his tenth Grand Prix win from eighteen in Turkey; still, the result showed how much he’d be missed in the world championship and how much exciting potential he had for the precise and physical demands of supercross with his KTM 250 SX-F. The last time KTM watched a reigning world champion attempt the ‘American switch’ was with Ken Roczen at the end of 2011, who also drifted Stateside after claiming MX2.

The Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team celebrating Tom Vialle’s second FIM MX2 Motocross World Championship title in Turkey (September 2022) PC @RayArcher

Besides his remarkable ability, Vialle also had other attributes in his favor for the supercross challenge. His rapid ascension in Grand Prix meant he was an extremely quick learner. In his first MX2 term as a rookie in 2019 he amassed seven podiums and aced the Swedish Grand Prix on the way to 4th in the championship. One year later and he was on top of the standings. Coupled with a grounded perspective on his career (he was neither overly dramatic when results did not go his way in MX2 or unnecessarily euphoric), a strong work ethic and superb starting potential from the gate, Vialle had all the promise to be Red Bull KTM’s next forceful invader of American shores.

At the fifth round of the 2023 SX contest and within the vast confines of the 72,000 NRG Stadium in Houston, Vialle made his bow. #128 led laps and ran in podium contention until two slips late in the main event dropped him to 7th. As in 2019, Vialle caught the eye from the first moments. The journey had begun.

To explain how he had to grasp a whole new sport, relocate from the west of France to the east coast of the USA and go from world number one to a raw debutant we cornered Tom in Texas and before he seat-bounced into the latest phase of his life. “For the last three years I’ve been a contender for a world title but this is kinda new,” he smiled. “There is no expectation on me right now for a championship: it is a different pressure and weird for me. Normally I go to every race with a view to winning or taking good results for the championship and it was a regular goal. So, this is different and even though I want the right results I have a lot to learn and things are very new. Riding the bike won’t be such an issue but it is the small things around me, like having just twenty rivals and the whole timetable. Things to learn.”

After the successful 2022 season Tom Vialle said “au revoir!” to MXGP and moved across the Atlantic Ocean to join the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team in the U.S. PC @RayArcher

Cycle back for a moment: you won the world championship in the last minutes of the last race of the last round and then moved directly to the U.S. Everything went very fast. Did you have time to digest the emotion of what you and the Grand Prix team achieved in 2022?

It’s true that everything moved so fast. I won the championship and less than three weeks later I was already living in the U.S. I didn’t really ‘enjoy’ the win, well – I enjoyed the title of course – but there wasn’t time to relax and think about it because this last winter has been a big thing for me. Turkey was a crazy time; when I think about it now, I had more pressure before the GP than when I was actually in the race. It was a nice weekend. A nice experience.

You learned so fast when you came into MX2 in 2019. Do you think it will be possible to have the same rate of progress in supercross?

Hmm, I think so…but we have less races here, just 8-9, compared to a full Grand Prix season but I want to come in and just build-up as much as I can. When I entered the world championship, I’d never raced GPs regularly and it went well and I’d like the same effect here. That’s the goal.

#128 led laps in his first 250SX race in Houston, Texas PC @SimonCudby

You moved to the U.S. with your whole family. How important was that?

Very, actually. We’ve always worked and ‘moved’ like this, with my Dad, Mum and brother helping my riding and racing. The change in my riding here in the U.S. was already a big step to make but the lifestyle involved a lot of new things and I think to do all of that alone – or just with my girlfriend – would have been tough. I don’t think I would be as good or as fast as I am now without them all. There was a lot of paperwork and adjustment! Did I feel homesick? Not so much actually…I did miss the food. We have some good stuff in France!

In MXGP there is usually a big difference between circuits you use for practice and those for a Grand Prix but in supercross it seems that the test tracks and the race tracks are quite similar, the obstacles are laid out the same. This must have helped you in your development…

Yes, good point, and I would say the test tracks are perhaps even harder than the ones we see in the stadiums. The track at Aldon Baker’s facility is very big: the whoops are big! So, when we come to the race we are not surprised and can acclimatize quickly. That’s good.

Was there a time during the last couple of months when you thought ‘wow, supercross is going to be harder than I thought…’?

Yes. After the first month I was like ‘uf, this will be hard’. In fact, if I had to make the move from motocross to supercross again then I’m not sure if I would do it. It was the riding: people you’d never heard of were very fast, they turn so fast, the bike is very different, and everything was just so radical compared to what I knew. It took a few months and a lot of work and it was only in the last few weeks before here in Houston where I made some big steps and improved a lot. We’ll have to see how the races go but the progression was hard…it eventually came.

Tom knows it’s going to be tough to be successful in Supercross but he is up for the challenge PC @ALIGN MEDIA

You had a very good system of training and preparation with Joel Smets and you changed to work with Aldon Baker. How did it vary?

The training I did with Joel in the last three-four years was very tough, so I know what it is like to push hard, and I don’t think I can train any more than I did in preparation for the GPs. It was a lot. So, the work with Aldon was not harder. What was tougher was riding so much supercross; it was hard on my body and the higher rate of breathing. Also, the heat and humidity in Florida was a big factor. You cannot breathe that easily and it was physically draining compared to anything I’d done in Europe.

Was there one area of supercross that you struggled with?

The rhythm sections were tough because it is not only about jumping through it but pushing through it and doing it safely. If you don’t attack those sections, then you can lose half a second a lap. There is a lot going on, and sometimes you are looking at an area on the track that might be just 30 cm big but hitting it well makes a difference. The whoops as well…but cornering is more important than people think: you can lose more time in the turns than you can in the whoops.

There was no more time to lose with interviews after our chat in Houston. The Red Bull KTM teamwear can often be ‘heavy’ with expectation but Tom has looked at home in the threads from day one. Confidence, intelligence, and guts have never been an issue for the French star; supercross is just another frontier to leap.

Tom Vialle aboard his KTM 250 SX-F at the 5th Rd. Supercross in Houston, Texas (February 2023) PC @ALIGN MEDIA