What do you immediately think of when someone says the name, Farleigh Castle? I am sure that every person reading this has different answers, as the circuit means contrasting things to different people. However, one thing is certain, the place is old school, hence why it is so popular with most. It is well known that motocross fans enjoy that feeling of nostalgia, so it isn’t surprising that the VMXdN (Vets Motocross des Nations) is thriving.
Usually, the greatest attraction for the fans is the Americans, as they are some of the biggest names in the sport. However most of the focus this year centred around the French team, or more specifically, Jean Michel Bayle. Jean is a legend of the sport, and will go down as one of the greatest riders that we have ever seen. In his day JMB changed the way a motocross bike is ridden, similar to what James Stewart did when he introduced ‘the scrub’. You never know how these old guys are going to perform at events like the Veterans MXdN, as you cannot be sure how much preparation they put in. In an MX Vice interview (which will be online tomorrow) Bayle stated that he did not prepare at all, really.
In the end, Jean Michel Bayle finished fifth overall in the VMXdN Evo individual classification, which was a solid result for him. However, considering the hype surrounding him, I’m certain that a few fans at the venue were hoping to see a little more from him. Evidently, he lacked a little bit of raw speed, as he started up front in most of his races, but dropped back. Jean had some great lines out there – the way that he would cut over to the inside when coming down the hill before the penultimate turn left most in awe.
John Dowd was undoubtedly the rider of the weekend – he dominated the Evo VMXdN class, as he took four wins from four starts. Dowd had to work for it each time, as he never just got the holeshot and ran away with it. In the final race, the American really showed his speed, as he ran down Brian Wheeler from around ten seconds back, before making a pass stick on the final lap. It was a brilliant race for the fans. But, then again, we have come to expect racing like this at the Vets MXdN – who said racing on vintage machines is not as good as the modern stuff? Surprisingly John thought that Farleigh Castle was quite similar to Unadilla, he even said that the soil was similar!
Josh Coppins was actually running a speed quite similar to John Dowd. However, starts were the difference, as Coppins had a lot more traffic to fight through. Josh seemingly had a great time at the event, as he mentioned this to me:
“I enjoyed myself. It [Farleigh Castle] was a great track, and there were some great bikes, as well as some good racing. It was a good vibe, as everyone seemed to enjoy it”
The New Zealander had two seconds, and two-thirds in the VMXdN Evo class – his speed was seemingly on point. It would have been very interesting to see him battle with Dowd straight up. On Saturday, when Josh finished second, he was closing on the American, but he decided to settle for second. In the Twinshock Open class, Coppins had no luck at all, which is actually quite similar to his entire professional career. In both races on day one, he seized his bike – so, Josh elected to just skip that class completely on Sunday, understandably. In the first Twinshock Open moto, Coppins was one corner away from a win when his bike seized. So, he pushed the bike across the line to salvage some points, which is the type of grit and determination that we have come to expect from the Kiwi.
What about Brian Wheeler? Wow – I didn’t really see that coming at all! On the Saturday, he had a tenth and a fourth – two reasonable results. But, in the final two motos, he looked like a completely different rider out there! In moto three, he went to the front quickly. But Brian only had the lead briefly before John Dowd came flying around him! Still, Wheeler was more than pleased with second, as he managed to pass JMB – one of the greatest riders ever. But, his ride in moto four certainly topped that, as he led up until the final lap. It seems as though the backmarkers were his downfall, as they held him up in the woods on that final lap. It was a great performance nonetheless, as he had garnered the greatest cheers from the crowd.
The USA did win the overall classification in the Evo VMXdN class. However, that was mainly because of John Dowd’s great rides, as his teammates weren’t really a factor in the race up front. I was actually surprised to see Doug Dubach racing though, as he crashed back in July, and broke fourteen ribs, punctured a lung and had a concussion. Despite this, he decided to suit up and give it a go – Doug finished twenty-second overall in the individual classification. But, he would have finished much higher had he not failed to finish race one – he finished in eleventh in every other moto. In 2012, he didn’t have long to prepare, either. Maybe we’ll get to see the real Doug Dubach next year!
Shaun Kalos did exactly what I thought that he would, as he ended eleventh in the individual classification. Again, his result could have been much higher, but a dismal final moto hurt his overall result. Guy Cooper was the most underwhelming of the Americans, in my opinion; he really struggled. Overall, his best moto finish was a fifteenth, and he didn’t seem too keen to return next year. Honestly, it looked like he just wanted to go home!
The four-man French team were in a similar situation to the Americans, as Jean Michel Bayle was the only French rider at the front of the pack. Demaria pulled out on Saturday, following an eleventh in moto one. In that moto, JMB made a great pass on Yves – he cut up the inside of him and closed the door, it was aggressive, but also technically brilliant. Jacky Vimond and Frederic Bolley were pretty unnoticeable out there. Vimond finished twentieth overall with a best finish of fifteenth in moto two, whilst Bolley ended up in twenty-eighth overall.
In the Twinshock VMXdN division, Alex Rach topped the individual classification, despite only winning one moto! In the others, he finished second, third and seventh, but he still won by a healthy margin of thirteen points. Interestingly, every rider in this class was very inconsistent – David Campbell finished second overall, despite having a best race finish of fifth! On paper, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? Terry House ended in third overall, which should have been second overall, honestly. Unfortunately, a sixteenth in moto three hurt him in the final classification. The English team ended up lifting the Danny Magoo Chandler trophy in this category, as they had the most consistent finishes – the right nation won the trophy, undoubtedly, as they were the only team that had a solid lineup of four competitive riders.
In the other classes, there were a handful of noteworthy performances, such as the ride that Todd Kellett recorded in the Evo 250 category. I look forward to seeing the younger riders on the older machinery, as it is a unique sight. Well, the whole VMXdN is unique, isn’t it! Anyway, Todd was very impressive. In fact, he was more impressive to me than he usually is on his 250f – he was that good! On the single heading into the woods, Todd was easily one of the fastest riders, as he bounced off of it with the bike sideways each lap. Kellett did win the overall in this class, with an undefeated scorecard.
Graeme Irwin was another rider that was very impressive throughout the weekend – the Irishman bounced between an Evo 500 and a Twinshock. The Evo 500 class had one of the most competitive line-ups, as Irwin went up against Alfie Smith, Tom Church and John May, to name a few. Despite this, the Irishman won all four motos convincingly. May was actually the rider that got closest to him, as he had a pair of seconds in moto two and three, in which he came reasonably close to a win. However, a DNF in moto one cost him a chance of standing on the overall podium. Alfie Smith took second overall in this class, with three fourths and a second, just ahead of Tom Church in third. It is actually worth noting that Tom rode a 125 in the Evo VMXdN class, and ran comfortably inside of the top ten – now that was impressive.
Speaking of John May, he topped the podium in the Evo 125 class; this class also played host to a few top riders. In winning the Evo 125 overall, John became the third rider to take home the Richard Phillips Memorial Trophy (Rikki Priest and Ben Putnam are two former winners); the trophy is a tribute to Richard, who sadly passed away at the 2010 edition of the event. It is undoubted that May was deserving of the victory, as he won two of the races, and was the most consistent rider. Scott Elderfield was his greatest competition. However, following a DNF in moto one, he was ruled out of the race for the overall. Arran Poolmam was up front all weekend, also, however, a seventeenth in moto one hindered him.
So, there you have it, above is just a few of the things that I noticed from a weekend at Farleigh Castle – the most historic track in the UK. Actually, there was one more thing that I noticed: what happened to the Red Bull branding? On Friday, there was a Red Bull arch at the top of the hill, which had disappeared by Saturday. There was also a Red Bull tent in the pits, which strangely got taken down midday on Sunday. It as a strange deal; there was surely more to it than meets the eye.
Words by Lewis Phillips
Image courtesy of Elliot Spencer