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Yonny Hernández Vega, from Medellín, left his country and his family behind in order to chase his racing dream, moving to Spain to compete in national feeder championships. Within just a few years Hernández has climbed the ladder from Spanish Championship supermoto and motocross to the elite level of international motorcycle racing – the MotoGP World Championship. His secret? To work without rest until his dreams are fulfilled.
You are the first Colombian competing in the premier class of motorcycle Grand Prix. What is bike culture like in your country?
“In Colombia it is very different because there isn't the same motorcycle culture that you have here in Europe. Now the fanbase there is growing because I am competing in the World Championship and people are following it more. I am proud to be the only Colombian and the only South American here in the World Championship. It gives me strength and motivation to keep improving, to keep trying.”
What does Colombia need to produce more riders? Are they working on it?
“The circuits there are street circuits, we only have one short circuit, as such, in Bogotá and it is not up to World Championship standard. There is no grass-roots racing – a kid that goes racing there has bought their own bike, they like it and they want to learn. In fact, I am the one running race schools when my season is over but over there it is not the same as the youth development work being done in Spain.”
Why did you only start racing at the age of thirteen and not before?
“The truth is that my father never raced bikes. It is unusual, that nobody in the family except my brother liked bikes. I liked them from being very small but it wasn't until I was thirteen or fourteen that I started in motocross. In Colombia there was no way to start earlier.”
You had to leave your country and your continent at a young age. What was the hardest thing about leaving home? How did you find the change?
“It was very difficult because it meant being a long way from my family, but the reason was to do something I enjoy and fulfils me. The start was harder but now I have my life in Madrid, where I have been settled for almost eight years now. I have friends there, I like the city and it feels like home. Now the difficult thing is going back to see my family, because of the calendar. I do it every year as soon as the season finishes. Luckily, we are a very close family. Now my mother has started to come to a few races and I like that a lot. They have always supported my wish to be here and I am very grateful to them.”
Your racing career has been a little unusual, making quite a fast switch from motocross to road racing and then making your debut in Moto2 shortly after...
“The truth is things moved quickly, because I came to Spain to compete in the Supermoto Championship in 2008, having won the national title at home, and to race some motocross. Somebody noticed that my style was different - on the supermoto I used to drag my knee on the ground and in motocross I always stuck my leg out, so they told me I could suit road racing. So I gave it a go in the Madrid Championship and I won by some margin. After that I got an offer to race in the Spanish Championship and I ended up on the podium in my first race. I took four podiums from seven races and crashed out of the other three when I was lapping in a good position. At the end of the season they proposed a switch to the Moto2 World Championship and that was it.”
Did you ever think you would end up in MotoGP so soon?
“The truth is everything happened very quickly. Maybe God gave me the talent to be in MotoGP, but sometimes I pay for my lack of inexperience, as we have seen a few times this season. In flag-to-flag races or with certain aspects of set-up, I am out there competing against guys like Valentino Rossi, a nine-time World Champion, and others who have been road racing since the age of five, on good circuits, in competitive races... My family sometimes ask me how I can be racing at this level when only four years ago I was racing on the streets of Colombia”.
So how do you make up for that lack of experience?
“I simply work hard, train hard and try to gather the experience I am lacking. The rider I am today is not the same rider as three years ago. I have learnt from my rivals, from the races, from my own mistakes, working with the team, the telemetry, watching videos... With everything having happened so fast it has been a lot of information at once but we are coping well. In MotoGP there are 21 riders and we are the best in the world; it makes me proud to be able to think that and say it and I always give thanks to God for the opportunity He has given me.”
At the halfway stage of the season now, how do you rate 2016 so far?
“We have had very bad luck. It has been my most difficult season so far in MotoGP, because things haven't gone the way I wanted in the races. I am working well, we are competitive in practice, but something always seems to happen on race day and that means we are not where we should or want to be.”
Without doubt one of the biggest moments for you in MotoGP so far was leading the race at Assen. How was that? Impressive?
“It felt normal. This might seem strange but you don't think about anything, you are concentrating on riding. All I thought about was to keep concentrating on what my pit board was telling me, on my riding, on maintaining my rhythm. I didn't get the best start but I started to pass people and when I got to the front I felt like I had the pace to keep pushing and escape. I decided to maintain the same pace and then when it started to rain again I tried to back off a little but it wasn't enough and I crashed. I think I could have had a podium, almost certainly.”
What is Yonny Hernández like as a rider?
“I am a very aggressive rider but over time I have learnt to be smoother. I am a rider who is prepared to take risks, but only when I think I have to.”
How is it for you working with a four-time World Champion like Jorge Martínez Aspar?
“Jorge is an important support for me because he always gives me good advice in the garage, he has a lot of experience and he is a World Champion. It is always good to have somebody like that in the box. In fact, I have learnt a lot from this team and they have supported me through some of the bad times. We have got through them together and I think it is important that people don't turn their back on you in difficult situations. That is something I hold dear. For that I want to give them something to celebrate; that is my greatest hope.”
What are your thoughts on the fight for the MotoGP title?
“To me Márquez looks very mature this season, especially when it comes to approaching races. He is not like he was before, when he wanted to win everything. Now if he has to finish second, he finishes second. And then he still does things like Germany, where he won a very difficult race. This season, with the change of tyres, there have been a lot of crashes since the start of the season and some exciting races. We are halfway through the season and even though Márquez has a gap the championship is wide open.”
Can you see yourself on a factory bike one day?
“Yes, that is what I have always dreamed of and I hope it comes true. In general, every goal I have set myself I have achieved and this is a long term dream I hope I can fulfil. Obviously the biggest dream is to one day be crowned World Champion.”