A return to the sand was on the cards for those contesting the Maxxis British Championship this past weekend. Hawkstone Park, which features the historic hill, played host to round four of eight.
There was a sense of uncertainty in the air prior to the qualifying sessions, as the standings were extremely close in each class and no rider had managed to claim the title of heavy favourite. Graeme Irwin took a step towards that in the premier class, as he ended the timed session with a lap that was more than a second quicker than anyone else.
Irwin, who had never won an overall in the category, failed to translate that time to a good start in the first of two motos, as he ended the first lap down in eighth. Elliott Banks-Browne took the early lead and occupied the position for a couple of laps, but soon gave way to a hard-charging Frenchman. Steven Lenoir took control of first position at that point, after ending the first lap in the runner-up spot, and appeared to have the race under control.
Irwin was charging through the field, however, and moved into second on lap seven. It then took him just two laps to pass Lenoir, which marked the end of the duel for the win. Irwin eventually crossed the line four seconds ahead of Lenoir and Harri Kullas, who finished in a distant third. Kullas started down in sixteenth and made thirteen moves across the moto. Where was Gert Krestinov? A crash forced him to enter the pit area with bent bars, but he still rebounded to salvage a thirteenth and keep his title hopes alive.
The second moto was not as eventful, unfortunately, as Irwin took the holeshot and sprinted away. Banks-Browne had another good start and ran second initially, but withdrew at the halfway mark when his tyre came off the rim. Lenoir moved around him before that, however, so crossed the line in second, seventeen seconds down on the eventual winner. Gert Krestinov finished third, just ahead of Harri Kullas.
A fourth in that second moto gave Kullas third overall on the day, so he stood alongside Lenoir and Irwin on the overall podium. A clean sweep also helped the latter snatch the red plate from Lenoir and establish a lead of four points heading into the fifth round, which will be held at the Irish venue of Desertmartin.
Ben Watson impressed in MX2, as he claimed pole position by a considerable margin. Josiah Natzke beat him to the first corner in the opening encounter, however, and attempted to establish a gap. Watson ended lap one in third and then pushed into the lead on lap five. The race was fairly uneventful until a bout of arm pump struck Natzke, which allowed Martin Barr and Todd Kellett to push into second and third. Natzke lost a position to Mel Pocock, who started in seventh, too, but held on for fifth at the chequered flag.
Natzke took another holeshot in the final moto, but refused to forfeit the position across the fourteen-lap moto. Kellett was his closest challenger, as Watson and Barr had to overcome poor starts, but an error in the closing stages caused him to drop to fifth at the chequered flag. Watson advanced to second, which gave him the overall victory on the day, with Harri Kullas in third. What happened to Kullas in moto one? A mechanical issue caused him to grind to a halt, hence why he now sits thirty points down on his rival in the series standings.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: Sean Ogden