Round five of Arenacross went down at the massive NEC complex just outside Birmingham, in the Resort World Arena which saw the Tour’s biggest ever crowd witness a typically hectic night’s racing and some stunning riding by the best on the island. MX Vice was there to catch the atmosphere and break down the stories behind the headlines.
Words: Ben Rumbold | Images: Arenacross UK
The main story coming into Birmingham was signified by the bright red plate adorning Conrad Mewse’s Crendon Fastrack Honda. Earned after a collision in Aberdeen between him and the GTCI Revo Kawasaki of Tommy Searle which put both of them on the floor, it reflected the amazing pace at which the MX2 outdoor champ has adapted to the 450, his first Japanese bike, and to Arenacross in particular.
The relationship between Mewse and his MX1 equivalent has so far been a fairly amicable one, but Tommy was visibly seething in some pre-race discussions and, as difficult as he is to read sometimes, left no doubt to anyone that he was unimpressed with the move.
This story could run and run. Mewse has outstanding natural talent on a bike, has picked up the Honda ride after Searle went looking for pastures green, and fits the 450 like a glove already. Ten years his senior, Tommy was imperious in 2022 and always did what was necessary to prove to his opponents who was boss. Conrad is arguably his biggest domestic threat yet, and as they are so closely matched on-track we could see some of the most intriguing moves being made off of it. Post-race podium interviews are going to be worth watching!
The morning practise sessions saw Mewse looking fast and slick with that red plate, whilst Searle was throwing the KX450 sideways with abandon. Almost too much, as he missed the trackside yellow lights that act as flags in Arenacross, and doubled the big finish jump when another rider was on the floor. The penalty gave him last pick of the gate which could have been crucial come race time.
Elsewhere, Aberdeen’s second night winner Josh Gilbert was also looking good on the other Crendon Fastrack Honda, although he got the corner by the pits wrong and scattered the tuffblocks as he slid to the ground! Gabriel SS24 KTM’s Shaun Simpson was looking tentative with his right knee impaired by a ligament tear, grateful for having just one right-hander to deal with and a decent 4th in his group. Elliott Banks-Browne crashed the Mark McCann YouTube Channel bike in the whoops and was holding his back, definitely feeling second-hand.
Sadly, neither of the Bayliss brothers were able to race in Birmingham due to injuries from Aberdeen. There was a Darjen Kawasaki on the track, however, in the form of journeyman stadium specialist Dylan Woodcock. Out on a “four-and-a-half” for the first time this year, and fresh off the plane from the previous week’s Anaheim Supercross, I would be intriguing to see where Dylan would emerge in the AX pack.
Another indoor specialist, Banks-Browne’s teammate Joe Clayton, took the bonus point for fastest qualifier, and looked good to at least climb his first podium of the season.
The first Pro heat, as always, kicked off the night after the Freestyle crew had whipped the capacity crowd up to a frenzy. Woodcock and Tru7 Honda’s Jake Nicholls hit the first corner together, but Jack Brunell tucked the Troy Lee Designs GASGAS tight to push into 2nd. Nicholls was left scrapping for 3rd with Joe Clayton and Jason Meara on the All Moto Yamaha powered by Star Solar. Ben Clayton was looking fast on the Gabriel SS24 KTM but collided with Nicholls to send Jake over the berm. Brunell took the lead from Woodcock early on, Joe Clayton went through as well to take 2nd ahead of Woodcock, Meara, and Jake Preston on the FUS Geartec Husqvarna.
Local rider Luke Burton had put in a great appearance on local news programmes before the weekend, but sadly for him and the crowd he crashed his AJP Geartec Husky in the whoops and caused too much damage to the front of the bike for it to be repaired. His night was done!
Many were wondering what Searle would make of an outside gate pick in Heat Two after his penalty. We never found out as bafflingly the very inside gate was left free for him! He joked later that it cost him “900 quid, 100 quid for each rider to leave me the inside gate. It was worth it!” Visibly urging the gate to drop, Tommy grabbed his customary holeshot and cleared off to a straightforward win – no dramas! Banks-Browne was well up early but Mewse got through to 2nd on the first lap. Gilbert had to wait three more circulations before he got a chance to block-pass into 3rd, and that was how they finished with EBB holding onto 4th from a charging Adam Chatfield on the FUS Geartec Husky, with Martin Barr 6th for Apico Husqvarna after a solid pass on James Mackrel’s Allstar Moto Yamaha.
After the interval, Heat Three began with Joe Clayton and Nicholls battling again, with Brunell slipping into 2nd on the opening lap. Woodcock pressured Nicholls for the entire race but could never get through to 3rd. Behind them, Meara went down over the troublesome Dragon’s Back jump, taking Simpson with him! Joe Clayton won by three seconds from Brunell, Nicholls, Woodcock, Ben Clayton, and Preston.
Heat Four saw Searle with another holeshot and Mewse getting an awful jump. Chaos ensued behind Searle as Banks-Browne held 2nd from Gilbert, who then got block-passed by Chatfield in a bowl turn! Mackrel was suddenly right up there, and benefitted from a Banks-Browne crash and Chatfield nearly heading straight into the pit lane! Mackrel held 2nd for a couple of laps but Mewse had recovered well, and took the Yamaha man on lap four. Chatfield followed past a lap later and tragically Mackrel hit his wheel and went down! Searle pulled a massive whip on winning from Mewse, Chatfield, Gilbert, and AJP Geartec Husqvarna’s Jayden Ashwell.
The Head-to-Head races were a mixed bag in Birmingham. Ben Clayton pulled an upset win over his boss Simpson, then Nicholls elbowed Barr in the first corner to dispatch the Northern Irishman. Mackrel and Ashwell had the best scrap of the first round with back and forth scrapping until Mackrel pulled a decisive block pass in front of the start gate! His teammate Meara then took an easy race as Preston hit neutral in the first corner.
In the semis, Nicholls held the inside off the gate against Ben Clayton, who had speed but just couldn’t get past the black Honda. In the battle of the Allstar Moto Yamaha team, Mackrel touched Meara’s back wheel in the first corner, which left his front brake sticking on. Another easy one for Meara!
Fittingly, the best H2H was the final. Meara held the inside gate to lead but Nicholls pulled a full-on block pass in the flat left-hander after the finish jump to secure his qualification and a bonus championship point! Meara then had a straightforward LCQ win, although Ben Clayton was close to catching before he fell dramatically in the corner after the whoops! Simpson was a frustrated 2nd but his teammate’s efforts deservedly earned Ben the public vote into the Main Event.
Pro Main Event
It would have been fair to expect a Tommy Searle holeshot from the inside gate in the Pro Final, but he snagged a neutral as he left the gate and hit the first turn last! Gilbert got the holeshot but confessed to going “from hero to zero” in turn two as he dropped back to 7th! Joe Clayton took the lead with Brunell and Mewse snapping at his heels.
Suddenly it all kicked off as Searle closed on Mewse, pulled a big block pass after the Dragon’s Back – “it was a good thing I sat the bike up or I would have been in the cheap seats”, said Conrad afterwards! Meara went down in the rhythm lane opposite the whoops, and his bike fell onto the circuit coming the other way. Just as the Yamaha was being picked up, the leaders came round and Joe clattered straight into it!
The crowd noise was amazing as Brunell just missed him but suddenly led from Searle. After a couple of laps that you couldn’t take your eyes off, Tommy blasted past in the whoops! Jack looked to retaliated and stayed right on him, Tommy missing a jump nearly let him through as Conrad was now closing. Clayton recovered well to take 4th ahead of Woodcock and Banks-Browne. Gilbert went down at the end of the whoops as the 2 lap board went out. Brunell, still struggling with his injuries from Belfast, missed a jump before the whoops and lost 2nd to Mewse. It was a stunning win from Searle who will wear the red plate at the final round at Wembley in two weeks’ time, and with Mewse right behind him in the points it will be winner takes all between the two reigning outdoor champions!
The technical circuit was catching out the Pro Am racers in practise as Tobias Summat was eliminated following a heavy fall with bruised ribs. Travis Steels, who was in championship contention, would also not start after smashing his wrist over the Dragon’s Back. Two new entrants to the class for this race would add spice to the proceedings with 40-year-old Neville Bradshaw cranking his 125cc Yamaha round for a fast time. 18-year-old Raife Broadley was also fast on his 250 two-stroke Fantic, despite missing nearly the whole of first practise with a wet sparkplug!
Sion Talbot and Josh Greedy, involved in a scrap for the championship, got out front early in Heat One behind closed doors with Shaun Southgate and George Clarke just behind. Josh Coleman got close to taking 3rd from Clarke at the close, but Talbot won by nearly 8 seconds from Greedy.
In Heat Two Adam Wells got the early lead from John Kirk, with Broadley ragged through the whoops and Bradshaw advancing to 2nd on lap three. The two-stroke boys went back and forth and suddenly Broadley went from 3rd to 1st through the whoops! Wells was hanging onto 2nd with Nev buzzing around him, passing through the whoops on final lap! Such a shame the race was behind closed doors!
In the final during the night programme, lane got his best start of the series from Broadley, Southgate and Bradshaw, with a massive pile-up behind them! Broadley went through quickly, leaving Lane to hold off Bradshaw. The screaming 125, which you could hear all around the track, took 2nd on lap three! Greedy and Talbot had to battle through after the pile-up but Talbot’s heat win at least got him onto the overall podium behind Bradshaw and deserved overall winner Broadley.
The Futures class also lost riders in the morning. Championship leader Charley Irwin planted his Suzuki into the Dragon’s Back and tragically broke his collarbone. In their first race, to an empty stadium, Joel Fisher took a clear win from Jake Farrelly and Sam Dyer, who moved up to 3rd on lap two from Joshia Fletcher Williams.
It looked to be the same order in race two after Fisher overcame the holeshot man Farrelly. Yamaha rider Tyler Etheridge went down hard in the rhythm section, and just as he was recovering trackside, Farrelly crashed out of 2nd on the same jump, scattering the assisting marshalls! Fisher won again from Dyer, with Fletcher Williams taking 3rd overall.
The 85cc riders might have taken hope from the end of practice, which saw series leader Isaac Ash walk off holding his wrist. There was no stopping him in the races though, as he holeshot the first race in the morning from Lewis Spratt and Harry Lee, and it pretty much stayed that way.
Jamie Keith got alongside Ash in the evening race but got taken by a wild-riding Finley Pickering, Lee, and Austin Beasty. Lee down hard at the end of lap two, but remounted to finish 5th behind Spratt, as Beasty held off a spirited challenge from Harrison Schofield. Isaac Ash is way ahead in the championship.
In the Small Wheel category, Arthur Moore battled with Olivia Reynolds and Archie Edwards. Reynolds with the classic sideways #199 on her back took the overall win to the joy of the female fans in the audience, ahead of Edwards and Moore.
The AX65 class was once again dominated by Casey Batchelor, although John Slade ran him close in both races, and took 2nd overall ahead of Jamie Currie and the hard-charging Caleb Ross.
The electric E5 bikes got a rousing welcome from the Birmingham crowd. The results were the same in both races with great wins for Austin Edwards – the first KTM to win any race all season? Jimmy Ball with the cool pink mohawk on his crash helmet took 2nd ahead of local boy Tate Vincent from Wolverhampton. They will be joined by Leo Andrew Gill and all the qualifiers from Belfast and Aberdeen at the grand finale in London.
We’re on our way to Wembley! It’s gonna be an amazing climax to the Arenacross season!