The Maxxis British Championship was forgotten about in the month of July, as the riders and teams were either travelling the world or making their bid for a different domestic title. But, the Maxxis British Championship resumed on Sunday at Hawkstone Park – the historic, sandy venue hosted the penultimate round of the 2013 series.
I was quite interested to see how deep the sand is at Hawkstone, as this was my first visit to the venue. In the past, I’ve heard a few people state that the circuit is becoming increasingly hard-pack. However the sand is a present factor, as the circuit got very rough because of the soft surface – the ruts were very deep in corners, and on jump faces as well. Interestingly, as the sand deteriorated throughout the day it did uncover a hard-pack base, so it is there, and as the year’s progress it will have more of a presence. You could see the hard base in between the bumps, which added to the challenge for the riders.
Honestly, every race at Hawkstone was awesome. Intriguingly, the track seemed to promote close racing, which was obviously great for all involved. Certainly, this adds something to the debate of whether the old-school tracks make for better racing. In many places there were a few options for the guys to try – so it was interesting to see what option each rider favoured. I was watching ‘the sand pit’ before the finish quite closely, in the final MX1 race, as this was one of the places where the riders had a choice of what to do.
Whilst exiting ‘the sand pit’ the riders hit a large single. Matiss Karro elected to launch off of it, and land flat. Alternatively, both Jonathan Barragan, and Kristian Whatley were scrubbing the jump and powering down the landing. Now, I did attempt to time these guys, in order to get an idea of the faster line. Surprisingly, the option that the Latvian was taking was slightly faster, despite the fact that his momentum was halted from the hard landing. Presumably, it made it tough on him physically also – the landing really can’t have been easy on his wrists. I think that the line chosen by Whatley was more sustainable, because of this.
You can tell that Hawkstone Park is an old-school track, because of the concrete start, which seems to be quite rare now. Actually, the guys have had some good practice on the concrete start in recent weeks, as some of the riders had to tackle one at Canada Heights not too long ago. Graeme Irwin’s gate selection in all three races really caught my eye; he elected to start on the far outside gate, despite most frontrunners going closer to the box. It didn’t work out for him, as he started in the top ten in two races, and he got caught in a fence in moto two.
Anyway, shall we move onto the hot topics from Hawkstone Park? Obviously Nathan Watson has stolen most of the headlines with his first overall victory in the MX2 division. Recently he has struggled, in comparison to his rides at the start of the season, so the win was surprising. However, it was evident following the first moto that he had the skill set required to land on top of the box. In the qualifying sessions Watson was third, but his times were three seconds down on pacesetter Bryan Mackenzie. Nathan clearly upped his pace in the races though; he was most definitely the fastest guy in all three of the motos – no one can dispute that.
Nathan Watson has stated that his starts have held him back most recently. Although he did not grab a holeshot at Hawkstone, he had some good starts – they didn’t hinder him. In race three, he was closer to the front whilst rounding the first turn, but he got edged out heading into turn two. However the fact that he had to pass the top guys in order to win added some credibility to his victory – no one can take it away from him. I’ve said it many times now; Nathan Watson was one-hundred-percent deserving of the overall victory.
I expected Steven Lenoir to be a bit off of his usual pace at Hawkstone Park – he is seemingly more of a hard-pack specialist, which is obviously stereotypical of a French rider. I am certain that he would have liked to win all three motos, as he could have inched slightly closer in the series standings. However, second overall is still great, especially considering Watson is not a factor in the title chase. Surprisingly, the first race win was only his second win this year – he couldn’t back it up in the final two motos, despite being having a large presence in the race for the lead both times. Steven is now just thirty points down on Elliott Banks Browne in the point’s standings, with just one round remaining – anything can happen, he still has a shot.
At the end of the day, the announcers were hyping up the points battle between EBB, Lenoir and Neville Bradshaw, as all three have a shot at the title heading into the final round. But, it is not really that close – Banks Browne has an advantage of more than a moto, so barring any issues, he should be able to phone it in. I thought it was slightly strange to hear how much it [the title chase] was being over-exaggerated. Of course it’s their job to generate some excitement – it just isn’t as close as they are making it out to be, though.
Neville Bradshaw is the third rider in the MX2 title chase; he slipped to third in the standings after Hawkstone Park – he is one point down on Steven Lenoir. However Bradshaw deserves props for finishing in third overall at the weekend, as he was riding with a broken finger, and a snapped ligament. Obviously, this would have given Bradshaw some trouble, and hindered him slightly, but he pulled through still. It was actually a difficult day for Neville, as he had to bounce back from a first lap incident in moto two. At first Bradshaw was coming through the pack alongside EBB, but he dropped the champion eventually, which was impressive.
Following the superpole session, it was looking like Bryan Mackenzie could take another win, but he just could not put it together in the three motos. In moto one he took the lead briefly before going down – he worked his way up to seventh. In both race two and three, he was in the thick of the fight for the lead before dropping off near the end. It was peculiar, as we are used to seeing him remain strong for the duration of the moto. In the final moto, Mackenzie had an unexplained DNF, which was the reason why he dropped out of the battle for third. Mackenzie ended the day in seventh overall, but it had the potential to be a much stronger result.
Ryan Houghton had a great day; it was actually better than tenth overall indicates – he must have learnt a lot. Remarkably, his starts were on point all day, as he holeshot moto one, and came close to doing the same in the second race. Although he finished in the same position in moto one and two, there is no doubt that the first race was the best for him. Although he lost the lead quickly, he held his own in second for a large amount of time – despite the fact that there were some very fast riders behind him. Houghton caught my eye during practice; he seemed very comfortable around Hawkstone, which makes sense considering it is one of his favourite tracks. Honestly, this is not the first time that I have noticed him out there – he could be one to watch next year.
Ben Watson is another rider that caught my eye throughout the day, as the younger Watson brother had his best ride of the season. Using ‘the eye test’ it has always been apparent that he had the speed, but he backed it up with some good rides at Hawkstone Park. Ben had finished in the top ten in two motos prior to Hawkstone, but he spent most of the day battling at the front on Sunday. A sixteenth, tenth and an eleventh were his results, but he rode much better than that in my opinion. In the final moto he had a race-long battle with Lewis Trickett, which was certainly entertaining to watch. Like Houghton, I think Ben will be one to watch in the future, as he will surely continue to grow as a rider – he has loads of potential.
Although it was clear that Matiss Karro had the potential to be a contender in MX1, I did not think that he would be dominant. Quickly, the Latvian has established himself as the rider to beat – it is just unfortunate that he is out of the title hunt. Matiss has won the last six motos and he has not dropped off of the podium at all in the races that he has contested. When he was trailing his teammate on Sunday, most thought that team orders would be a factor. But, Karro passed Barragan as if he was just another guy, and raced off to the win. Really, there is not much more you can say about his ride, it was just dominant.
I presumed that Jonathan Barragan would be one to watch heading into Hawkstone Park, as he excels on a softer surface usually. Although it was a solid round for him, as he finished up in second overall – he had nothing for his younger teammate. It must be strange for him; I’m sure that he expected to be stronger than Karro, but we have seen the opposite. It seems as though Jonathan will be leaving the STR KTM squad at the end of the season, which isn’t too surprising, as most expected more from the Spaniard. Barragan is twenty-two points behind Whatley in the series standings, at the moment, so he would need a bit of luck on his side to win the title.
Kristian Whatley was good (but not great) at Hawkstone Park, as he failed to match the pace of Matiss Karro for the most part. In moto one he was right there with the Latvian; however, he never really made an effort to pass the STR KTM pilot. I honestly think that Kristian rode a bit conservative – perhaps the championship battle is beginning to weigh on his mind? It isn’t surprising, as we always see the series leader begin to play it safe near the end of the year. It was a good result for Kristian, as Karro acted as a spoiler, and stopped Jonathan from gaining too many points.
If you look further down the field, there are a couple of riders that had good showings – Luke Hawkins performed well on a circuit that has not been kind to him in the past. In my opinion, Luke rode really well, as he was near the front all day long. It was his ride in moto one, which caught my eye specifically, as he was battling with Moffat for fifth. But he [Hawkins] crashed when he attempted a move before the mechanics area, which relegated him to tenth, at the finish. However everyone present could see how strong he was; it was quite clear.
Matt Moffat was another rider that rode very well, and will get overlooked by most fans that were present. Moffat was actually in that battle with Luke Hawkins for fifth in moto one, and he seemed very comfortable in the position. Unfortunately his overall finish was hindered by a fall coming down Hawkstone hill in race two, which meant that he finished in twelfth – with an injured thumb. Matt didn’t finish the final moto, as the pain proved to be too much after another fall. It was still a good day for Moffat, and one that he can extract plenty of positives from.
So, there is just one round left in the 2013 Maxxis British Championship. However, it [the last round] is just under two months away; a lot can happen in that time, which could turn things upside down. Finally, best wishes to James Dunn. James went down hard in practice, and has been left with a broken ankle, broken ribs and a cracked heel. It was a nasty get-off, and one that he was lucky to walk away from.
Words by Lewis Phillips
Image courtesy of Elliot Spencer