It was surprising to see Graeme Irwin jump up onto the 450 this past weekend at Hawkstone Park, round six of the Red Bull Pro Nationals. It is rare to see a guy change class in the middle of the season, as it is often a sign that the season isn’t going to plan. If you look at the results from Hawkstone Park, it does seem like the decision to make the switch was a great one; the Irishman had one of his best rides of the year.
Maybe you could argue that the year has not quite gone to plan for Graeme Irwin. But, it has been far from disastrous for him, as he has captured a few great finishes in the MX2 division. Admittedly, the Irishman hasn’t been as much of a factor in the battle for the lead as I (and a many others) thought he would be. But, it hasn’t been an awful year, hence why his decision to jump ship and move onto the bigger bike shocked me. What was his reasoning behind the switch? In the team press release he discussed this “I’m riding the big bike in the des Nations and I’m going to ride MX1 next year. I’m out of the title contention so I may as well go now.”
At first I wondered how Graeme Irwin was going to fare on the 450f. But then I remembered that he does have some experience on the bigger bike; he raced a JK Yamaha 450 in the MX1 class at the last few rounds of the MXGP series in 2012. In that time, Graeme scored a pretty good amount of points – seven (in three rounds) to be exact. In 2011, the Irishman was a full time MX1 rider for the HM Plant KTM UK team. Although that season was cut short, because of a back injury, it was valuable experience that he can apply to this stint on the 450f.
Prior to the Hawkstone Park round of the Red Bull Pro Nationals, Graeme Irwin was fourth in the MX2 class at the Red Bull Pro Nationals – he was fourth, seventy points behind the series leader. So, evidently, the MX2 title was going to be out of reach. However, Irwin was just five points behind third place, Bryan Mackenzie. The Suzuki rider could have salvaged a top three finish in the series, potentially. Now Irwin has set his sights on different goals, as he is hoping to make an impact in the MX1 class, before making the full-time move in 2014.
It was immediately obvious that Graeme Irwin had the speed required to fight for the win at Hawkstone Park – he topped the time sheets in both practice and qualifying. But it is difficult to translate that speed into the races. So, that would be the greatest test for the Irishman. In the end, Graeme came the closest that anyone has to ending Kristian Whatley’s win streak, a remarkable achievement. Although Irwin missed out on the overall victory by three points, it was impressive to see him in a position to fight for the win straight away. Presumably, he did not have a lot of time to prepare on the 450f either, seeing as he was racing in the MX2 class at the British GP one week earlier.
Graeme Irwin ended his weekend at the historic Hawkstone Park facility in the best possible way, as he took the victory in the third race. Undoubtedly his starts were instrumental in his success, as he grabbed two (of three) holeshots. Irwin stated that one of his favourite things about riding the 450f is that he has the ability to round the first turn at the front of the pack. Obviously, the MX2 riders really struggle out of the gate in the mixed MX1/MX2 races at the Red Bull Pro Nationals, so it must have been nice for him to not have to eat all of that roost.
Words by Lewis Phillips
Image courtesy of Kev Reid