With nervous tension high and adrenaline pumping hard, the momentum of truth finally arrived when the gate dropped to signal the start of the 2017 AMCA British Motocross Championship! Now would be the time when a rider discovers if their winter programme of training and bike preparation was really reaching the standard required. After three very fast and furious blocks of racing, particularly pleased with the answers now emerging would be Luke Burton (MX1), Ray Rowson (MX2), Brad Turner (2T) and Simon Lane (Vets) as they all got their respective campaigns off to a winning start.
Venue for the opening round of the series, powered by Datatag and supported by Dunlop, was Minchinhampton in Gloucestershire; a track that was hosting its first-ever race meeting. Christening the new terrain would be a high quality MX1 field and it was Ryan Crowder who grabbed the holeshot, as both Arran Poolman and Adam Harris tasted the soil. By the end of lap one reigning MX1 Champion Burton, John May and James Dodd had all found a way around Crowder.
Lap four and Dodd was not only up into second but also closing very hard on his FUS Husqvarna teammate Burton. Lining up a pass, Dodd though then slipped off and was forced to settle for a runner-up position ahead of Gary Gibson, Richard Cannings, May, Shane Carless and early leader Crowder. Electing not to defend his 2T crown, Ben Saunders instead lined up in MX1 and started by blasting his 250cc AJP Husky from thirtieth up to a very respectable twelfth. There is certainly plenty more to come from this particular pilot!
Despite gating in eighth, Burton took just six laps to move through and pass Carless for the moto two win. Dodd, Gibson, Cannings and May were again inside the top six. It was then MX1 debutant Paul Neale who grabbed the final holeshot of the day, before being relegated on the opening circuit by Carless. This was to then develop into a great moto as Gibson, having his best ride of the meeting, scorched to the front in determined style.
Four laps in and Burton had menacingly moved up into second. However, in challenging for the lead, he overshot a fast, banked corner and went over a berm! Quickly regaining his composure and somehow staying on board he was back on the gas and by lap seven in control of the moto and yet another victory. On the first podium of 2017 it was Burton, Carless and Dodd.
Afterwards despite sounding decidedly unwell, Burton was delighted with his round one success. “Although this was a new track for everyone, I really liked the layout and was looking forward to racing on it," he said. “So I was gutted to then wake up on Sunday morning feeling unwell. I didn’t get the best of starts on the day but had the speed to work my way to the front. Big thank you to all the FUS team and SPS – suspension was mint."
After falling on turn one of the opening MX2 contest, and restarting a distant last, Luke Dean must have been very relieved to see the moto later red-flagged, thus giving him another chance! In the rerun, it was again defending champion Josh Waterman who led the charge despite suffering with an ankle injury that has kept him off the bike for the last few weeks. Ray Rowson moved up from an early seventh to slot into second and that’s the way it stayed. In a big tussle for third, Jansen Day got the verdict just ahead of his TMC Kawasaki teammate Lewis King. Bradley Tranter, Dean and Clinton Barrs chased them across the line.
Jack Gardner claimed the MX2 moto two holeshot, but first-race winner Waterman was down in eleventh and on a right charge. That move up the leaderboard was then to be halted though in the early stages, after colliding with James Wainwright on the exit of a turn, thus dropping him back down to fourteenth. At the front Rowson passed leader Dean on lap six to take the win. In the closing stages, the hard-charging Day also managed to find a way past Dean. Wainwright, King, Waterman, producing a storming comeback, Gardner, Jack Cox, Luke Mellows and Barrs completed the top ten.
In a class that was to produce some outstanding action, MX2 finished with an absolute classic contest. After the holeshot king, Gardner, had been overhauled, Dean and Waterman indulged in a great scrap for several laps. Eventually taking the win though was Waterman, as Rowson after gating twelfth, produced a super-strong ride to move up and also then pass Dean with just two laps remaining. The very-consistent Day, Wainwright, King, Cox and Tranter were again the mix.
The first overall verdict, in what promises to be an exciting MX2 season, went to Rowson. Afterwards the former ACU ace commented, “I was happy with how it went. I was looking for a top-five finish in this class today, as it’s stacked with so many capable race winners. I struggled with my starts and rode too tight, but I am looking forward to racing on more new tracks throughout the season."
With Ben Saunders having departed to MX1, there is going to be a new AMCA 2T champion and moto one at Minchinhampton certainly started the campaign in style. After Matthew Nash had grabbed the holeshot only to be passed by Tony Griffiths, it was then Brad Turner who became the pacesetter. In the early stages of this very competitive clash, Turner was under tremendous pressure with Griffiths, Shaun Buchan, Bradley Doyle and Sam Smith right on his tail. Gradually though Turner stretched that throttle wire before racing onto a comfortable win with Smith the runner-up.
In a rerun 2T moto two, Jack Waterman led the long charge to turn one on both occasions before the super Turner took control for the win. Smith, who had competed in MX1 during 2016, was to be a very gallant runner-up behind Turner with Jason Kendrick, Jordan Saunders, Griffiths and Doyle in the mix. Making it a perfect maximum start to his title campaign, Turner then galloped to victory in the last 2T clash of the day from Kendrick, Benniston and Griffiths.
Sam Smith’s chances of a podium were dashed, after starting the day with a brace of runners-up slots, by a disastrous moto three in which he was classified with a lowly thirty-third place finish. The reigning 125cc 2T champion, Rory Jones, had a great ride in this moto, storming from twenty-ninth up to eleventh. Bagging the podium places though it was Turner, Kenderick and Doyle.
After making the move across from MX1 into 2T, Turner said, “I struggled a little with my starts as I haven’t had much race practice since badly breaking my wrist last June. Once in the lead I tried to concentrate hard and put in some fast laps, keeping focussed and not making mistakes. The track was really dry, despite it being only April, but Lawson and the Dursley MXC did a great job. Many thanks also to my team, IDS Transport and AMS for all their help."
Finishing as runner-up in the 2016 Vets title race, Simon Lane must have been pleased with his flying start to the first clash of 2017. On the gas, Simon was quick away until James Russell decided to upset proceedings. The former AMCA champion, making a welcome comeback to top-level racing, passed Lane on lap two and, with Terry House rapidly recovering from an indifferent start to slot into third, the battle for honours was on. After initially gating seventh, House then moved through in style to take the win with Russell, Lane, Martin Atherton, Richard Chinn and Stephen Elford the next best.
Moto two and House gated down in nineteenth, as Russell and Lane again set the pace at the front. Although House did remarkably well to get back into third, the front two had long gone and that is the way it stayed. In the final Vets clash, it was to be Lane bagging a start-to-finish victory from House, Russell, Gary Jones, Atherton and Elford. Russell, Lane and House were all locked together on one hundred and sixty-four points for the overall, but the verdict went to Lane courtesy of his last moto win.
The winning JSR Honda ace later said, “It went well today with the track being really fast in the morning before getting rough, which I prefer. The bike this year is so much faster and we have a fantastic team in which everyone is helpful and positive. Considering the weather, the track rode well. Great job again by Lawson Benjamin."
With Joshua Scott and Joshua Herbert taking the non-qualifiers overall verdicts the round one action was complete. It is a busy start though for the AMCA Championship chasers and there is certainly no time to celebrate, commiserate or amend your preparation. They are back in action again this weekend, April 16th, when they travel to Nympsfield for round two!
Words: Mike Wood | Lead Image: Mike Wood