Danny Hart Interview – The next chapter
After speculation both online and in the uplift queue it was confirmed last week that Danny Hart would be riding for MS Mondraker in 2015. Danny is part of the World Champions club and he took the stripes back to Redcar at 19 years old, the same age Nico Vouilloz took his first Elite Worlds title in 1995. Everyone remembers his 2011 win, I do, I was there. In the pissing rain, neck straining up at that hillside in Champéry. Spagnolo thought he had it in the bag but a cracked whip at the end of that now infamous run sank his hopes, Hart had done it but there is more to Danny than 11.699 seconds.
Since 2011 he's come very close, 2.076 seconds to be precise, to winning a World Cup and we headed north to find out if his new team for 2015 could be the missing ingredient needed to bring that elusive result.
We met Danny at Hamsterley Forest, he’s excited to ride and why wouldn’t he be? He’s on a fresh bike in clean kit, we all love new gear and pro’s are no different. What about racing though? Teams, sponsors and tyre pressures aside this sport is about the clock and beating the others. Danny joins Mondraker to reinvigorate him and push for more podiums in 2015.
In our Danny Hart interview, we also talked to Dave Garland, Danny’s mechanic on Giant for the last three years and arguably the person closest to him when it comes to racing. We talked about the move, the bike, racing and looking ahead to the 2015 season. Here’s a combination of opinions from Danny and Dave as well as a look into exactly how Danny has setup his new bike.
Dirt : 2015 is set to be all-new, was it your decision to move on from Giant?
Hart : I’d been with Giant for a long time so I believed it was time for a change, it was getting a little bit stale and I really did fancy a change in my program. Giant did offer me a new deal but I was pretty adamant I wanted to move on and start a new chapter if you like and sign with Mondraker.
Giant released me from the Factory Offroad Team when the press release went out a few weeks ago. I’ve been talking with them (Mondraker) for a while and riding the bike so I sent the contract back a few weeks ago and we’re all good to go now.
Dirt : Why Mondraker?
Hart : I’ve always looked at Markus’ team, Markus Stöeckl who runs MS Racing, he’s the CEO of the team and he’s always run a really good program and I like their image. He’s in it because he wants to be in it, not running it for somebody else. He is the main guy and he’s always at the races and I like that. The passion that he’s got for it, that’s pretty much why I went with Mondraker.
Dirt : Did you ride the Summum before you signed for Mondraker?
Hart : Yeah I would never have signed the contract without riding the bike, the bike might not have worked for me at all so yeah I rode the bike before I signed the contract.
Dirt : There’s an aluminium and new carbon version in the Summum arsenal but there have been more World Cup wins on aluminium bikes than carbon in recent years. Which one will you be on?
Hart : I’ll be riding the new Summum carbon, that’s the only carbon bike I’ve ever ridden and it’s taken a little bit of getting used to but it’s a great bike. I’ve never ridden their alloy one so I’m really enjoying riding this bike and that’s the bike I’ll be going with.
Dirt : Is it a lot different?
Hart : I don’t look at the numbers but yeah it’s quite a lot different, it’s a lot stiffer than my old bike and that’s taken a little bit of getting used to and I still am getting used to it. I’m riding fast already so I’m really looking forward to seeing what I can do after a long time riding the bike and doing a lot more testing. It’s going to be an excellent piece of equipment to go racing on.
Dirt : Let’s talk specifically, what about the carbon bike? Giant stuck with aluminium but do you think a carbon bike will make a big difference to him?
Garland : You can make carbon work in the way you want it to work, I’m sure there is a process Danny has gone through with Mondraker to make sure he get’s what he wants. Aluminium bikes are dynamic, they give you back a certain amount of energy. Carbon can do the same through good design but more often than not carbon is there to make a ride easier and to absorb a lot of frequency from the ground, it can make a bike feel a little bit dead in it’s ride and a little more predictable. I’m sure that Mondraker will have looked at that and make something that works for Danny, they’ve got the whole off season to work on that.
Dirt : What about your suspension setup on the new bike, how do you feel about moving to Marzocchi damping?
Hart : I think all the the big brands with suspension are all as good as one another, it’s just a matter of fine tuning. Working with Pedro this coming season is going to be good, he’s going to be there every weekend in Europe with his big truck. He’ll be doing what he thinks and I’ll have my input from over the years, I think with that together we’ll be great. The bike’s already in a good place so with even more testing it’s going to be phenomenal I think.
Dirt : Danny’s a world class rider but he is on a new bike and new damping, how much difference do you think that will actually make to a rider?
Garland : Suspension systems are all very adjustable these days, you can get pretty much any suspension working how you want it. After that the fine tuning comes from a lot of testing, Danny and I have done a lot of testing in the past and we have tested for specifics, we learned to find answers very quickly. Danny will take that with him, he knows the process very well now and he’ll use his experience to get there much quicker.
Dirt : You’re not on the BlackBox program anymore but you will still be running a SRAM drivetrain right?
Hart : Yeah we’re still running the SRAM drivetrain, I believe it’s the best on the market and if I had the choice it’s what I would want to use, happy days.
Dirt : Do you use the new Schwalbe ProCore system at races?
Hart : Last year I had a good system with Dave my mechanic on our wheels so I didn’t use it, we had a quite a good record with punctures and stuff like that so I didn’t want to use it last year. Maybe I’ll test it coming into this next season but at the moment I haven’t used it so I can’t really comment. The tubeless is working great and we’ll see what happens, I’ll have to test it and we’ll see.
Dirt : How does the geometry of the Summum compare to the Glory?
Hart : Yeah the geometry is really close, there’s a couple of little things that we maybe need to reevaluate but like I said we haven’t done much testing yet so I’m going to go away and try some different things but the geometry is really close to the Giant. Everyone has this idea of Mondrakers being super slack and this and that, as you can see from my bike it’s not super slack the head angle is quite similar to the Giant. I’m really into it and like I say we’ve got more testing to get it even better.
Dirt : What about all the sponsor changes, do you think that will have an effect?
Hart : Alpinestars probably is still one of the best brands out there, they are top of the tree in pretty much every discipline of motorsport and now they are doing really well in bicycle. Fox has been good to me, I’ve been on Fox since I was on Lapierre. It was a hard move and quite a big decision I had to make moving away from Fox, I appreciate everything they have done but I’m excited to go with Alpinestars. Bell helmets are another, one of the best helmets out there and one of the most long standing brands in the market, it’s a really good brand and I’m excited to be on with them. I’m still working with Leatt and Five Ten so I still have my own personal sponsors and some new cool sponsors so yeah it’s going to be cool.
At the highest level racing becomes less about ability and more about mentality, preparation and crushing the nerves working towards a clean run that’s on the limit but never out of control. A downhill race run is the climax of months of preparation, testing, retesting and training. Hours in the gym are matched by hours in the workshop and it’s only when the two are working in perfect harmony does the podium magic happen.
The World Cup win that had eluded Danny to date won’t do so for long, the tracks of 2015 are tilted in Danny’s favour and with World’s in Andorra and the reappearance of Val Di Sole and a steep opener in Lourdes Hart is going to be a man to watch in 2015.
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Dirt : You’ve been Danny’s mechanic for the last three and half years full time, for 2015 he’s got to start again with a new mechanic. Do you think that will affect the time it takes him to get up to speed?
Garland :I don’t believe it’ll be as much of an issue as people might imagine. Danny know’s the process now, I know his new mechanic Christian I’ve worked alongside for a number of years and has been around for as long as I can remember. Danny is very good at asking for specifics and Christian knows his job, Danny will get exactly what he needs to hit the ground running.
Dirt : Danny is a pretty dynamic looking rider, exciting to watch and he moves around a lot on the bike, he needs the bike to do the same surely?
Garland : Yeah a perfect example of that is Fort William this year (2014) his race run was on the limit but controllable at the same time. That has to be the goal so yes he does need that.
Dirt : Danny was beating Josh a few years ago, what do you think Bryceland had that set him apart from the rest of the field to take the win in the overall and his first World Cup podium in 2014?
Garland : Danny is well capable of working out what it takes to win but Josh has been in the perfect place with the Syndicate Team to learn every time he gets to a World Cup, you couldn’t wish for anything better. If you look at Danny he’s been the figurehead at Giant and he’s been making the decisions for himself on everything. He’s not had the luxury of looking at other riders and thinking, “right, I’ve got to go as fast as these guys now”.
Dirt : What are the key ingredients to a good race and where was the feeling best for you last season?
Hart : Having the right people around you, doing the right things and making sure you execute everything as best you can and hopefully you will have a good race.
Fort William this year went for me, really well, I just wasn’t quite fast enough (ED – 2.076 seconds off the win) but ten people on that day could have won everyone is going so fast now it’s just a case of putting everything together.
Dirt : Do you think a fresh team could be the answer?
Hart : Yeah this is hopefully a fresh motivation for me to move teams and I’m really excited to go racing again already. It’s before Christmas and usually I’m still just chilling out and having downtime. I’m training again now and riding my bike a lot and really enjoying riding, really looking forward to going racing again.
Dirt : A couple of years ago you were stronger than Bryceland at World Cups. (ED – 3 podiums in both 2011 and 2012 to Josh’s 1 at Mont Sainte Anne in 2011 and 2 in 2012 at Val D’Isere and Fort William) What did he find that you are yet to?
Hart : Josh was just riding on confidence last year, you could see it at every race. Yeah that was it, that’s all it takes is a few good races and you just keep going and going and going and progressing.
Dirt : And he practices on his own, chooses lines and he never follows people?
Garland : He rarely practices with anyone, his results this year might not have been exactly how he wanted them but you always see riders taking lines from him, never the other way round. Even if he landed the standing joke of winning timed practice he might then have an amazing qualifying but in the race, no one knows not even Danny, but his focus just leaves a little.
Dirt : Looking at Danny’s history he improved his positions moving from Lapierre to Giant. He matched his best Lapierre result (20th at Fort William in 2009) at his first race on Giant, taking 20th at Maribor at the first race of the 2010 season. If the same were true in 2015 he’d be just over two seconds off the win in Lourdes. Danny has clearly matured as a racer but do you think this change will be a slow burner at World Cups or do you think he will be fast at the first race?
Garland : The honest answer to that is the level Danny and the rest of the World Cup riders are at, it takes a monumental amount of work to win a World Cup. It’s not a case of rocking up and saying, “I’m going to win this because I’m one or two seconds quicker on this track” You’ve got to have the perfect run and Danny is capable of that, it hasn’t happened yet but it absolutely will come along. He’s is still a really young rider and there are things he needs to work on. It might be that moving to a new team and stepping up with the team relying on you is what it takes for him to turn up and win a World Cup.
Dirt : Lets talk about the 2015 season, what are your thoughts on the opening track ?
Hart : Ha I’m sure the Frenchies will be there riding it, they usually are! (laughs) But yeah it’s hard to say because we go to the same tracks every year anyway so it’s going to be a whole new ball game to everyone.
Dirt : After winning the Hardline and seeing how gnarly a downhill track can be built what do you think of the tracks that have been chosen for next season?
Hart : When you’re a kid and going to a track where you knew there was a big jump you’d be really nervous to go there because you’d have to do it. It was the same for us guys racing at Hardline, there were big jumps and we were nervous to hit them. We’ve been riding bikes forever and we’re allegedly the best in the world so that made us nervous. That’s what I think it needs to be, I can understand why it isn’t because it’s dangerous and a lot of the field might not be able to do it. It’s a tough one ‘cos it’s got to cater for everyone but it would be amazing to have tracks that really get your heart going.
I’m always on some sort of bike everyday pretty much
Dirt : Are you Looking forward to any particular tracks next season?
Hart : Yeah next season World Champs are in Andorra so that’s a strong track for me (7th in 2013), it’s steep, rooty and technical. I believe I could do well there and fight for the win and the same with World Cups. If you’re up there getting top fives and top three’s at World Cups and fighting for wins then you are going to be up there at the end for the overall so that’s my goal.
The bike’s already in a really good place after not much testing really, just a couple of days and that was only to get used to the bike so now we have a good base setting. We’ve done a little bit of testing but not a lot so once the new year comes we’ll get a lot of testing in and travel around and go round Europe. I’m riding it as fast and I’m as comfortable on it as I’ve ever been on a bike so it can be on the top I think.
Dirt : Most riders put their DH bikes away when the season is done and concentrate on training and riding moto etc. Is this one going to be different for you with more time testing on the new bike?
Hart : I never really stop riding my bike totally I always keep riding through the winter. I ride motocross, I ride trials, I ride downhill, I ride XC, I ride road, I ride everything, BMX. I just enjoy riding my bike so never really just stop. It’s always good fun to ride in the winter with my friends, just ride with no pressure and have blast. Go away in the camper and ride different places, go down to South Wales go to Scotland just keep riding you know I like to keep my hand in there, I’m always on some sort of bike everyday pretty much.
So there you have it, Danny Hart is on Mondraker, reenergised and training early in the off season. The new bike doesn’t seem to be an issue, if anything the excitement of riding new kit on a new bike is having a positive effect. Hart plays his cards close but if he can keep the MS Mondraker family as close as his own then 2015 could be a big year for the man from Redcar.
It’s going to take a monumental effort to take that first World Cup win but as Danny has said, from then on it’s a case of momentum. Josh and Manon proved that in 2014 and taking each day on a different bike should give Danny the breadth of skills he needs to take home some glassware. Here’s to 2015, best of luck Danny.
What are your thoughts to this Danny Hart interview? Let us know what you think.
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