This weekend, the Paris SX (formerly Bercy and Lille SX) returns to the heart of Paris with a deep field of U.S.-based and European racers trying to follow in the footsteps of Bailey, Johnson, Stanton, McGrath, Vuillemin, Reed, Stewart, and more to become the King of Paris.
One man has been there from the start, and that’s Xavier Audouard. From being the liaison for the U.S. riders (now teamed up with Eric Peronnard) to the track design to the rules to basically everything, Xavier could write a book with the stories he’s collected from this race.
We caught up to him to talk about this weekend and the history of the event.
Racer X: Xavier, how happy are you to be back in Paris for this race?
Xavier Audouard: This will be the 35th edition of the Paris Supercross. Thirty-one happened in Paris with three in Lille. There have been 104 nights of SX in Paris—the most any city in the world has ever held—and six in Lille. The genes and history of this event are Parisian and, obviously, coming back to the City of Lights was the natural thing to do. France is a very centralized country and Paris is where everything exciting happens, pretty much. For all these reasons, we are very happy to come back.
What’s up with this new arena? Can you tell us about it?
The U Arena's name is kind of misleading. This isn't an "arena," as in "arenacross.” It is a full-size football stadium, similar to those used on the East Coast rounds in America. But even that is misleading—it was built more to host shows than soccer or rugby games, although it can and will do that as well. It is heated, high-tech, has a huge screen-wall, and the stands are very close from the action, a-la-Bercy. The Rolling Stones inaugurated it a month ago and I find very gratifying that SX comes second in line—the first sports event—in such a unique place.
In all the years you’ve done this event, who’s the best rider you never got for this race?
Travis Pastrana. He was made for the mix of racing and show that we pioneered. But he was always hurt or getting some kind of surgery to repair earlier injuries. We never even had a chance to seriously talk with him about coming.
Personally, what’s the most memorable year for yourself?
It's got to be the first 1984 edition, in March. Honda Japan promised Honda France to get us Bob Hannah before realizing that they did not have the contractual right to do so. So I went to Daytona for a last-minute, kind of "suicide-mission." I was able to bring Johnny O'Mara and David Bailey back with me, factory bikes and all, just because I knew Johnny from a magazine interview I made a year before. Those were different times. Definitely memorable, as Johnny and David went on to dominate that first edition and launch something that still goes on today.
And what year had the best racing in your opinion?
Hard to pick a specific year because most of them were three-nighters and there was always great racing at one point or another during the weekend. But if I was to pick a specific race, it'd be hard to not go with JMB's [Jean-Michel Bayle] very last race, when he put an unbelievable late-race charge on his arch-rival Jeff Stanton, whom he passed in the last corner, from the outside. Watching it on YouTube with Jack Burnicle's announcing is pure joy, still today.
Ok, Xavier, the tough question: peak JMB versus peak David Vuillemin at Bercy, who wins?
JMB was unbelievable in that race, but overall, he doesn't have the stats DV has in Bercy. JMB was the pioneer in beating the Americans, and that had such a huge impact on the whole European scene. But DV was the man when it came to deliver repeated, decisive wins over what America had best to offer—and that was McGrath in person!
I guess Vuillemin was using it more to build up confidence for the upcoming AMA racing while Bayle used it more to confirm his existing domination. All in all, David was probably more hungry, and it showed. He really mastered the place. I'd give him the win... by a hair. And since he is pretty much bald, that's nothing.
What rider came to Bercy/Lille that you didn’t know much about and surprised you the most?
There have always been French riders who stepped up their game tremendously for that event and challenged the Americans. Some Americans also got important wins here; career-wise, Guy Cooper and Larry Ward come to mind. Micky Dymond had one magic night in 1986, beating all the best Americans that he never got to beat back at home. It was a big deal, but not a real surprise to me. I thought he could continue in that path but he got hurt, then kind of distracted, and that just never happened for him.
What American rider was the most popular at Bercy over the years?
The original hero was Ricky Johnson, and therefore, he will always remain "special." Even if O'Mara and Bailey beat him, he had that mix of show and race capabilities that Bercy was all about. Obviously "Showtime" himself came 11 times in a row and was really into it; the crowds loved him.
What’s been the biggest on-track incident over the years?
Well, Bayle/[Damon] Bradshaw was a slow-speed incident but it was the most emotionally charged. There was a lot at stake between these two guys at that point in their careers, and everyone in the stadium could feel it. Bradshaw sending [Jeff] Matiasevich into the [wood] wall was the most brutal—I can still hear the noise made by that odd impact—but Bradshaw was essentially out of control when he hit Chicken; it wasn't really intentional. Javier Garcia waited for [Gregory] Aranda one lap to park him in a corner and they ended up in a brawl. Pretty entertaining, not all that bad. Mike Alessi made an Osborne/Savatgy-ish move on Pascal Leuret with two turns to go, for the win. The place erupted. I thought the move was as legit as Zacho's.
If someone told you in 1984 that you’d be still running this race 34 years later and at a third venue, would you say they were crazy?
No! When I love something, I tend to do it again and again and won't stop until I find something I love even more... and that hasn't happened. As far as the venues, we always had the dream to produce an event with the necessary space to build a "U.S.-size track," and the evolution of modern bikes made it a true necessity. A place with a roof and that much space inside is a unique opportunity; there isn't another one like this in Europe. So it's not crazy to end up in this new facility; it's a logical step.