The British Motocross season is underway! The 2013 Maxxis British Championship kicked off in very “British” weather conditions at the FatCat Moto Parc facility in Doncaster. Fortunately, the track is deep sand, so the circuit held up reasonably well against the rain and the snow; but it was a technical, and challenging test for the riders.
Already in the days prior to the event it was apparent that the race would not be held under the same sunny weather conditions as last year; rain and snow on the day of the race further aggravated the treacherous conditions. Whilst some prevailed, others faltered; it seemed as though the circuit rewarded methodical riding, rather than a hard charging style.
Despite the weather conditions, there was some great racing in every single moto; the riders at the front were definitely treading that fine line between pushing hard, and crashing. So, the weather did not have a negative affect on the race. But, the schedule had to be altered to combat the conditions; the mixed MX1 and MX2 race was cancelled, so the riders had just the two, separate twenty-minute motos to contend with.
What about the racing? Well, as I have already stated it was excellent; for the most part the riders were very close throughout the day. The results were not too surprising; the riders that were expected to win, did so. Going into the day, it seemed that everyone thought Tommy Searle would dominate, and he did just that. But, why would you expect him to do anything other than that? It’s Tommy Searle! Even a quick stop in the pits to change goggles couldn’t stop him from taking the moto one victory; Searle really was on another level.
However, for a second there in the first moto, it looked like Jonathan Barragan was capable of challenging him. Before we get to Jonathan and his performance at FatCat, I would like to revisit something I wrote in the week prior to round one:
“His [Jonathan Barragan] performance at FatCat will be telling though, he always excels on the sand. So, if he is not at the front this weekend, he probably won’t be when the series gets to some of the hardpack circuits.”
This is why I paid a lot of attention to Jonathan this past weekend. I felt that his performance at FatCat would be telling to how the rest of the series would go for him. Well, I think we can put him down as a title contender now. In fact, he is effectively leading the title fight. Okay, I know he doesn’t officially have the red plate. But, Tommy is not contesting the full series. So in the grand scheme of things, he is not even a concern for the rest of the riders out there. It was a little concerning how the STR KTM rider did not seem to have any fight left at the end of both motos; Kristian Whatley very nearly stole third from him in the dying moments of the final moto.
There are various positives that he can extract from the race; evidently he has the speed to match anyone in the field. Why can’t he do this in the World Championship? Well, that conundrum has not yet been solved by anyone. But in the British Championship at least, he is a contender; that has to be promising for his team.
So, Kristian Whatley got third. Wait, what? Kristian was definitely the standout performer in the MX1 class, for me at least. In 2012, Whatley very rarely came within reaching distance of the podium. But back on an MBO Sport Yamaha he looked smooth, fast and confident. In both motos, he was the top rider with no GP experience; he was right in the thick of the battles with either current, or ex MXGP stars. Clearly the MBO Sport Yamaha is a machine that is capable of great things; two starts inside of the top three serves as proof of that.
I find it intriguing that Kristian Whatley is one of the few riders that actually likes, and excels on the Yamaha 450f. Perhaps it is because he is a taller rider, rumours suggest the bike suits the bigger riders better than the smaller guys? Surely, the fact that he has the stern hand of Roy Emberson behind him has only helped him reclaim his form of 2011? I do think that this is a great pairing, for both parties.
Tanel Leok has to be disappointed that he did not make it up onto the podium; he was more than capable of doing so. The second moto was where he shone through, the Estonian sliced through the top five to steal second at the midpoint of the race. It is not far fetched to presume that he could have been in that position in moto one. However it is just the first round, and he came away with some solid points. When you consider that Tommy is not contesting the whole series, Leok is right there within striking distance.
Nicolas Aubin should have done better, to be brutally honest. Don’t get me wrong, the sand is not exactly his specialty; so the fact that he came away with good, top five results is great; surely the team did not expect much more. But, with the starts that he had, Aubin should have had more of an impact on the race at the front; at least, that is what I think. After grabbing the holeshot in the second moto, he went backwards fast. However, if you’re going to extract some positives from the day, the Buildbase Honda’s are clearly on point this year. In the deep, wet sand their bikes had plenty of power, which can only be a good thing.
What about his teammate, Steve Ramon? Undoubtedly “the Bomb” had the most interesting storyline behind him going into the weekend. Really, it was just remarkable that he was back on the starting line; it didn’t really matter how he done. I was happy to see that the Belgian’s trademark style had not disappeared since his injury. Ramon was his usual smooth self, as he methodically picked his lines, whilst looking deceivingly fast. Admittedly, he did not have the intensity level to match the leaders, and his raw speed was not there; but I definitely believe that he will slowly improve each week until he is up on the podium.
So, onto MX2: Perhaps the results don’t tell the full story in this class? On paper, EBB seems like the fastest rider, and rightly so. With an overall win (1-2) and the series lead to his name, it was a great day for the HM Plant KTM UK rider. But, in the second moto Elliott had nothing for Mel Pocock. Now, there are a few theories that go along with this. Maybe EBB knew that Pocock was not a factor in the title chase, so he didn’t feel the need to force the issue, which could have resulted in a crash? That does seem logical, but I think that quite simply Mel was on another level.
Of course, just looking at the overall results it seems as though Mel was not even a factor; a mechanical issue on lap one of the first moto hindered his overall result, and meant that he had nothing to lose in the second moto. It was interesting to see such a difference in speed between Mel and Elliott, considering they were so close last year.
I do think that Steven Lenoir slid under the radar going into the season; I doubt that anyone predicted that he would be up on the podium in second overall, especially in the deep sand of FatCat. Maybe we have to keep an eye on the Frenchman? He might be more of a threat for the title than we first anticipated. It was a little strange to see the Evotech team set up on KTM’s; we have grown so accustomed to seeing them on Honda’s. However, the bikes seem just as good (if not better) than their rivals’ steeds.
We expected Graeme Irwin to be right up there, and he was; clearly the FatCat circuit is one that the Irishman gels with, he started last year off in a similar position. Honestly, Graeme was probably the fourth fastest rider; Pocock, EBB and Lenoir probably had more raw speed than him, in my opinion anyway. The battle for third between Irwin and Lenoir was quite entertaining to watch in that final moto. At times, Graeme would leave Steven and actually reel EBB in; then within a lap he would fall back into the clutches of Lenoir, and so on. But, he stayed consistent in third for the entire moto to secure third overall after a sixth the first moto.
Okay, I will admit it: After FatCat I am now on the Watson brothers’ bandwagon. Honestly, I was extremely impressed with both Nathan and Ben. In the two practice sessions, I immediately noticed how comfortable they both looked; that was before lap times were recorded. Using ‘the eye test’ it was obvious that they both had a good level of speed, and intensity through the day. This was reflected in Nathan’s results particularly, fourth overall was a great way to start the year for him. Specifically his second moto was impressive, for most of the moto he was in fifth. Nathan actually latched onto the battle for third between Lenoir and Irwin, and he didn’t seem out of place up there. I would not be surprised to see him on the podium in the coming weeks.
The Putoline Honda boys are sitting in a relatively good position following round one. But, I am sure that Neville Bradshaw would have liked more than fifth overall. Still, he seems happy to leave the treacherous conditions joint fourth in the series. Honestly, I didn’t really notice him all day. The South African had a bit of an impact on the race at the front in moto one, but he was never on the same level as the top four. On the other hand, his teammate, James Cottrell has to be pleased with sixth overall.
Honestly, Adam Sterry’s ninth overall is not a true representation of how he rode at the first round; I left FatCat believing that Sterry could potentially land on the podium in the next few weeks. For most of the first moto, Adam was sitting strong in third; eventually he lost the spot to Barr, but it was still a great ride. Speaking of Martin Barr, he broke his thumb in two places after a crash in moto two. The Irishman is going in for an operation tomorrow, how long he will be off of the bike for remains to be seen. In the first few laps of moto one, Sterry and Ryan Houghton were battling for third. Although Ryan disappeared, for a brief time he showed some potential too. There are definitely a few riders to watch in the coming weeks.
With a bit of luck, the second round of the series this weekend will be held under some dry conditions. There have been some rumours floating around that the event could possibly be cancelled; as of right now it seems as though it will go ahead as normal though. Remember to keep an eye on the MX Vice Twitter account on Sunday, as I will be doing live updates throughout the day once again.
Words by Lewis Phillips
Image courtesy of Elliot Spencer