Remembering Rene: words, thoughts and stories from his team

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing pay homage to the spirit and personality of their much-loved young motocross star, Rene Hofer, that tragically passed away in a skiing incident in Austria during early December.

Rene Hofer was on the edge of FIM Motocross World Championship greatness. In 2021, at the age of 19 and in his second season (and maiden ‘full’ campaign in the MX2 class), Hofer already became the first Austrian to win a Grand Prix in the principal categories since 1987. His victory at the Grand Prix of Pietramurata was one of two podium finishes on the way to an encouraging 6th in the final standings.

Hofer climbed into MX2 at the beginning of 2020. He had made his way through the ranks thanks to an early connection with the factory, earning European and World Junior titles with 85 SX equipment. The racer from Linz was front-running the 2018 EMX125 European Championship until a season-ending crash put him to the sidelines. He recovered and continued to show promise with a series of top five results in EMX250 in 2019 and was fast-tracked into MX2 for 2020.

Rene rose to the challenge of Grand Prix immediately with a 2nd place moto finish in Great Britain for his debut as part of the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing line-up. He managed two more top five classifications in the next two rounds before the Covid-19 pandemic delayed the schedule. Upon the return to action for the triple header in Latvia during the summer of 2020, Rene suffered a left shoulder injury that levered the rookie out of contention for the rest of the year and after just four Grands Prix in ‘orange’ colors.

2021 was his breakthrough term and the platform for vast progress in terms of his fitness, his confidence, his racecraft and experience. He posted 30 top ten scores from 36 motos in the longest season of his fledgling career and added the prestigious honor of winning the MX2 class for Team Austria at the 74th Motocross of Nations in Italy at the end of September. Together with teammate Tom Vialle he was expected to be tussling right at the top of MX2 in 2022. “Now I know what it is like to be a Pro motocross athlete at this level!” he smiled at the end of the championship in mid-November. “It’s quite a nice feeling to be together with the team the whole year. We got off to a bit of a slow start and in the middle of the season I was still struggling from the lack of racing in 2020. The last few GPs were great. I had a few Pole Positions, a few podiums and a GP win. For sure it brought me a bit closer to the goal and was a confidence booster. I have shown what I can do...”

Rene is survived by a close and loving family: father Reinhard, mother Karin and sister Nadine.

Pit Beirer, KTM Motorsports Director: “In sport and life there are many ups-and-downs and some moments that are hard to accept. Losing Rene – who was such a young and appreciated member of our team and our family – in this way is almost unbelievable. All our hearts are with the Hofer family. Rene was a kid that pushed and pushed to get to where he was. He was a guy that lived to be part of the Red Bull KTM team but knew that reaching MX2 was just the start. The way he worked and the way he dedicated his life to racing even before he reached 20 years of age is an example to anybody. Rene, we will miss you.”

Dirk Gruebel, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, Team Manager: “Rene came into the team with some pressure that none of the other guys had to deal with. He was a big hope for Austria. It is a testament to him that, even at his young age, he never really showed the weight of that expectation. He was so young and was in a big successful team surrounded by champions but it never fazed him. Many people have talked about his personality and it’s exactly what we found: a fun-loving, happy kid that was excited to be in his position but also deadly serious about working and moving forwards as a rider and a professional. He also had a brilliant family around him with just the right support. Rene was at the beginning of his career and had already progressed so much in only his first proper season with us. He is gone way-too soon and has left a large hole in our team and our lives.”

Jeffrey Herlings, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing teammate: “Devastating news. Rene was a wonderful kid, so respectful and nice. I’ve seen him smile after a Grand Prix win and I’ve seen him smile after a 15th place finish; he was always one of the happiest members of the team and that makes it even harder that he’s gone. I had huge respect for him as a rider and more as a human being. I liked the kid so much. This is a tough pill to swallow. I heard the news just before I went on stage at the FIM Awards and I had tears in my eyes. It must be so difficult for his family and my heart goes out to them. It is very sad for the whole motocross community that a talent like Rene has passed away.”

Robert Jonas, KTM VP of Motorsport Offroad: “It is hard to describe how much we will miss Rene and how this news has impacted our team and the whole of the company. We knew each other a long time. As a hobby I used to run a little junior team. We called it ‘Youngblood Racing’ and we tried to support young Austrians on their way up in motocross. Rene joined us when he was 11. I was trying to help with my experience in racing and with training advice and Rene was asking how to prepare as a motocross Pro, so I invited him to do a fitness test at my house and wrote a training schedule for him. It was a 14 hour per week endurance program combined with core stabilization exercises, stretching and also included recovery: I explained to him that it was a training plan for an adult rider and asked him to just try a few small things, get a feeling for training and give me feedback in about six weeks’ time. So, after those six weeks, Rene came back to me with a training report, he had done every single unit listed and asked me: “what’s next?”. I have never seen such determination from a 11-year-old kid before and at that moment I recognized - knowing already about his riding skills - that this kid was something special. Rene was a very hard worker and nothing would be more important than his racing and training. He worked his way up to the very top and on his way he inspired many young national and international riders. Rene was an exceptional kid. I am so grateful for his friendship.”

Didi Lacher, Trainer, Mentor and friend: “It was a privilege for me to work with Rene for six years. In that time, he became a good friend as well as being a hungry young kid that was so determined to be successful in MXGP. He was a very good motocross rider but, more importantly, he had a very warm character. In the last few days it has been possible to see just how many people he reached. Whether it was through his friendliness, his passion for what he was doing, his smile or his openness, Rene was a guy that many people liked and that is quite a rare thing. It is so very sad that he has gone just when his life and his story was starting but I think his family can take a small comfort that they had raised such a strong and positive young man. I will miss him.”

Valentina Ragni, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, Team Co-Ordinator: “Rene was a boy that everybody loved because he was always happy, with that sweet, happy face. He had a contagious smile. For me the riders are almost like my own kids and Rene was the youngest. He was very warm and we joked around a lot. He was a cool kid. I remember a couple of months ago he turned up to a race with curly hair and I joked he was my ‘Ricciolino’ because of the style. At the Grand Prix in Arco di Trento he said to me “Vale, I have a surprise for you…” and showed me this Ricciolino Butt Patch he had especially made for the Italian race. He gave me the riding pants and signed them to ‘Ricciolina’. It was a lovely and exclusive present and just summed him up. It was special when he did it and now, sadly, it is ten times more special. I remember also at the last race of the year in Mantova. Jeffrey [Herlings] was tied on points for the championship and before the start of the last moto I was standing to the side of the gate alone, as I usually do. It was a very tense and nervous time. Someone came up and hugged me from behind. It was Rene, and he started shouting for his teammate. It was another moment where I was very thankful and very impressed by who he was and what he was like. He really bonded with the team this year and I have some great memories from when we’d all stay in hotels and locations between back-to-back races. They will stay with me.”

Joel Smets, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, Motocross Racing Sports Director: “Losing Rene this way is such a big loss to the team, the sport of motocross and, of course, all his family and people that knew him. He was a kid that was mature beyond his years, and he had a long and promising career ahead of him. I remember Rene as being very calculated with everything. He was not a guy that made impulsive moves or took crazy risks. For example, when we went BMXing I would ask him to try an obstacle and he would only do it when he was 110% sure! To see what happened to him makes it twice as sad and twice as unfair. I still cannot believe that I won’t see him when we go training.”

Tom Vialle, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing teammate: “It’s tough and difficult to accept that Rene has gone. We were teammates for two years and were very close: I think 90% of my training time was also with him. Almost every day at the gym. In 2021 we spent a lot of time together, travelling to races also. We had fun, we went to the cinema, out to restaurants. We are all pretty close in our team so this has been a really difficult time. I have a lot of memories with Rene and they were all good and I think that also says a lot about what a good guy he was.”

Adam Wheeler, journalist: “’There’s an Austrian kid coming up, riding a KTM; had better interview him…’ this was the reasoning to sit down and speak with Rene in 2018. Even at that tender age it was possible to detect a youngster that was incredibly level-headed and focused. All those steps through European Championship races were just stones on the path to where he wanted to be and where he knew he could be. Rene didn’t rocket into Red Bull KTM in the same way that names like ‘Musquin’, ‘Herlings’, ‘Roczen’, ‘Jonass’, ‘Prado’ and ‘Vialle’ had done but he did everything he had to do as a factory rider in such a short time: listen, learn, work and evolve. I wrote personal press releases for him in 2021 and to look at those texts now and see the results climb from his first feeling back in MX2 after that tough 2020 to the heights of the Motocross of Nations, the podium in Germany, the win, Pole Positions and establishment at the front of the MX2 pack was heart-warming and exciting. He was erudite, funny and a pleasure to talk to. His passing still doesn’t seem real. A big loss to the sport and to the team.”