This off-season has arguably been the most baffling. It was apparent from the very beginning that not every premier-class star in the FIM Motocross World Championship would land in a seat for the new term, so the game of musical chairs quickly became about survival. Some had to look further afield than the world stage in order to survive – Brent Van Doninck is the most high-profile case.
Van Doninck was desperate to land on a solid team that would enable him to compete in all twenty rounds of the 2020 FIM Motocross World Championship yet was also keen to avoid falling into the trap of working for free or investing his own money into his career. That need to survive forced him to take a look further afield and explore options in the ACU British Motocross Championship, a series that he undoubtedly never thought he would contest.
The ASA United Husqvarna team put a package together that attracted him to Britain. What was the biggest selling point in there? The ability to do a few Grands Prix as a wildcard, meaning that he will not be out of sight and out of mind. Had Lee Tolan, the ASA team manager, not put that into the contract then Van Doninck would not have been able to market himself to Grand Prix teams and that would have likely stopped him from taking a second look at the ASA deal. This is just a small detour from the world stage in his mind, as he knows where he needs and wants to be.
Perhaps this will turn into more than that and he will establish a career in Britain, as doors will not open in the Grand Prix series? That is unfortunately a possibility but one that Van Doninck cannot focus on currently, as the job at hand is much more important and will have a major impact on his future within the sport. The ACU British Championship is the greatest benefactor in this scenario for now as yet another former podium finisher at the highest level will take to the starting line in 2020.
It is that elite level of talent that the series has been missing in recent years although there have been some amazing names like Tommy Searle, Shaun Simpson and Ben Watson on the line. There just has not been enough of those guys though – not compared to fifteen years ago at least. Van Doninck will not be the biggest draw for fans, but he will strengthen what is already a competitive line-up. This will spark international interest too. There are only positives as far as the promoters are concerned.
The reason the series was in such a good spot fifteen seasons ago was because squads like CAS Honda and RMJ Honda were bringing some contenders for the world title across. There were many Grand Prix teams that came from Britain and therefore committed to the national scene, so it was inevitable that some of the very best riders in the world would end up at a track like Lyng or Canada Heights at some point. Things are quite different now though and the chances of getting a current Grand Prix winner on a British team are extremely slim.
What is the solution then? Is it time to give up on the idea of the series playing host to international talent? It actually seemed like that a handful of years ago, but now Van Doninck could alter the way that the series is viewed by those looking for a way to put their name on the map. If he pulls this whole thing off and lands a full-time ride in the FIM Motocross World Championship again, off the back of his performances in Britain, then the next rider who is in a sticky situation will attempt to follow that same path. This could open doors for both teams and riders.
It is actually a brilliant decision for Van Doninck to hit Great Britain rather than say the ADAC MX Masters in Germany. Why? There are enough strong riders in the ACU British Motocross Championship, like Tommy Searle or Shaun Simpson, to allow those who are watching from afar an opportunity to judge how he is performing. The ADAC series attracts incredible wildcards like Jeremy Seewer, but the chances of beating someone like him are slim and therefore there is even less of an opportunity to shine. This is almost like the middle ground.
The ACU British Motocross Championship could continue to charge back towards a higher level if the riders who are looking to extend their careers away from the international scene or those who are attempting to survive see it as a viable option. Brent Van Doninck may not be the most breath-taking talent on the starting line, but he could really prove to be a valuable asset and bargaining tool in years to come.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: Ray Archer