Talking with Carlos Checa is to relive the last 20 years of motorcycling, as the Catalan rider, now 44 years of age, made his debut with a two-stroke 125 in 1993, remaining in the world championship until 2007 before moving to Superbike, where he spent another six years.
Carlos' first important memory is the win he achieved so incredibly at his home track of Barcelona: it was 15 September 1996 and the Caraln rider crossed the line with his Honda NSR 500 6 seconds ahead of Michael Doohan and company, which included Criville, Cadalora and Okada, who had to settle for battling for the second and third podium spots.
For Checa, this was confirmation that the many sacrifices made had been worth it: “in the early days I'd go to the track with my bike loaded on the van - recalls Carlos- I'd sleep in a tent and it was all pretty spartan. I had great hopes, I admit that I'd struggle to live like that now, but at the time I was experiencing it all very intensely, I'd fall, I'd get back up, I'd carry on, and with the strong desire to do so”.
His most significant crash came at Donington in 1998, when Carlos lost control of his NSR 500 through the tough Craner corner and the fall proved devastating: having momentarily lost his sight, Checa was rushed to hospital where his spleen was removed, but that was not all.. During the surgery, the rider came close to death as a result of a stroke.
Fortunately Carlos' strength saw him through and he went on to battle against the likes of Max Biaggi, Kenny Roberts Junior, Alex Criville, Alex Barros, Garry Mc Coy and Sete Gibernau. Though, as he himself says: “of my many rivals, it's difficult to say who was the toughest… Capirossi, Stoner, Melandri… I don't know, they were all great, all strong. The main characteristic that a rider needs to be great is mental strength I think, as well as the ability to resist in times of pressure; also, the rider must only want one thing - to win. I'm sure that my most 'complete' rival was Valentino Rossi”.
In the world championship, Carlos raced with Honda, then Yamaha and lastly with the Ducati MotoGP: “the growth that took me from the start to the top was the greatest path I can remember. I always knew my limits, and I realise the difficulties that I had to face in tough times”.
The two wins and 24 podiums on GP bikes, as well as overall fourth place in the 1998 championship, secure Carlos' place on the list of riders with the longest careers, with 222 race starts under his belt.
In 2008 Checa moved to SBK with the Honda CBR of Dutch team Ten Kate and, thanks also to a double win at the Miller Motosport track in America, Carlos concluded his first championship in fourth place. There were other great results over the following years and then there was the 2011 season, on board team Althea's Ducati: “winning the championship was fantastic, sure. It's easy to remember the wins of course, but achieving that result was a lengthy and intense process, with its difficulties, but I continued to work to achieve it. Over my career, I've learned from many people, from almost everyone actually. I think we can learn something from everyone, because we are all unique and original of course. I have maintained a good relationship with everyone and continue to see them all, away from the track”.
Do you still get out on track?
“No, I don't take bikes on track. I've only done a couple of tests for Ducati this year, I'm an ambassador for Ducati and for Nolan, that has been with me throughout my entire career. Every so often, I do a car rally just for fun, as well as the odd enduro race”.
What lies ahead in terms of two-wheels?
“I've time to decide, who knows. It might be nice to have a team, to help new upcoming riders, though I don't want to take on their mums and dads too (he laughs). A trainer of a team is always in the eye of the storm”.
If you could start over, what would you do or what would you not repeat?
“If I look back, I'd say that... if I could start over, I'd do it all again, right up until today”.