Interview with Zulfahmi Khairuddin: “I have to change my mentality in practice”


Red Bull KTM Ajo rider talks through the first half of his season and expresses optimism about second part and home round in Malaysia.


Zulfahmi Khairuddin is taking advantage of the summer break in the Moto3 World Championship to train and rest at home, after a first half of the season in which he has not achieved the success he had expected. The Red Bull KTM Ajo rider is in eleventh place overall and needs to adapt his riding to improve his performance. Positive and optimistic, the Malaysian rider approaches the Indianapolis Grand Prix with confidence.

We’ve reached the halfway point arrived in the season. What mark do you give yourself for the first half of the season?
“Honestly, I don’t think I’d give myself a ‘pass’. I’m a demanding guy and I am not satisfied easily —I am hard on myself. I think I can do better than I have done so far. I cannot say I’m entirely satisfied with the results so far, since I am eleventh in the World Championship. This season has been a little difficult for me, because I am not yet confident enough to go at the limit, but we are optimistic about the second half of the year. I hope to get to Indianapolis a stronger rider.”

From the eight races so far, what stands out for you?
“The work we’ve done as a team, which has been very good. I know we can do better, so what we will do is focus on what’s left of the championship with another mentality. Of course, it’s not all been negative, since despite starting far back on the grid we have finished races high up the order. It would have all been easier with a better qualifying position. However, we have been strong in some races, so this is the method to follow. We have to be positive.”

So far, what has been the best race this year? And the worst?
“The best race, no doubt, was in Qatar, where I felt very comfortable throughout the weekend and managed to take sixth place —a good result. In general, we have been riding well in many races to take sixth or seventh, but in others I would have liked to have got better results. However, the worst was the last round, at Sachsenring. Since starting the season I had finished in pretty good positions at the end of races, but in Germany I was sixteenth. I also did not improve the position I had achieved in the qualifying session, and that was the first time that this has happened.”

Do you feel more comfortable during the races than in practice?
“They are different feelings. Both in the free practices and in the qualifying session, I feel like I cannot get a better lap time, I cannot ride at the limit; I guess because I still lack a little something to feel 100% comfortable. In contrast, in the races I feel that I have nothing to lose and I risk a little more. On Sundays I have always felt strong. I guess I should change my mindset to be as strong in practice as on Sundays.”

What are the most important changes to the bike, compared to last year’s KTM?
“In my view, there have been big changes. The bike this year has a lot more power and that allows you to be aggressive, but I’m not yet fully accustomed to this type of riding. So I need to keep improving race after race. I know I can be faster, as Luis [Salom] is completely at home on the bike. In the second half of the season I will try to focus on improving my riding and be more optimistic.”

This is your first year with Red Bull KTM Ajo. How do you feel about this team?
“I don’t feel that this a new team, because I have quite a few mechanics that I’ve worked with since 2011 [Borja, Paolo, …]. I changed teams, but I’m in the same Ajo Motorsport structure. I feel at home, and amongst family. For me there has been a change, but a large group of professionals and individuals remain.”

It seems that this year there are three riders who have escaped in the overall standings. How do you see the title battle between Salom, Rins and Viñales?
“Those three are a step up from the other riders. They feel very comfortable with their bikes and know how to master riding them, but the season is very long. I think I can go better. If we work hard and focus, we can end up much closer to the front group.”

There are still nine races to go. What do you expect from this second half of the season?
“Right now I just want to think about my training this summer and becoming stronger —physically and mentally. I think the key to achieving good results in the remainder of the year is to have a good “preseason” this summer and start as prepared as possible for the remaining nine races. We can get good results.”

This year, the first race of the Asian stint will be at your home round. How do you see the Malaysian Grand Prix?
“I’ll try to prepare for it like any other, I suppose, because they are all important for the championship —although this is undoubtedly a special Grand Prix. I don’t want to put more pressure on myself. It is a very special race and I am very excited to ride at the Sepang Circuit, because at your home race, everyone supports you. Last year was amazing, I’ll never forget it. If we work at 120%, we will grow as a rider and as a team.”

And with so much training, have you had a moment of relaxation?
“Yes, it is clear that I have to find a balance between training and rest. During the summer break we celebrate Ramadan and Hari Raya, so those will be important days for disconnecting a little and above all, being with my family.”