Prior to the 2013 Maxxis British Championship, most had tipped the MXGP stars to dominate the MX1 class. With various GP victories to their name, riders such as Jonathan Barragan and Tanel Leok obviously possess the skills required to dominate our domestic series. In the past, there has always been an underdog that manages to elevate their game and fight for wins. It is clear now (at the halfway point of the championship) that Kristian Whatley is the rider that made the greatest improvement in the off-season; he has transformed himself into a consistent race win and podium contender.
Personally, I believe that Kristian Whatley has improved so much because of the fact that he returned to familiar ground with the MBO Sport Yamaha squad. Intriguingly, Whatley seems to be the only rider that excels aboard the controversial YZ450f. In his most recent stint with the team, Kristian enjoyed the most successful year of his career. Clearly, he had some great memories with the team that must have boosted his morale when returning to the squad. It seems that his taller frame suits the Yamaha 450 more than some other riders; the common consensus is that the shorter the rider the more they would struggle to gel with the bike.
It is no secret that last year was disastrous for Kristian Whatley; quite clearly he struggled to get used to the PAR Honda, as he is much more comfortable on the MBO Sport machine. He failed to climb onto the overall podium at all in 2012; therefore, it is even more of a surprise how much of a threat he has been thus far this year. In fact, Whatley is our greatest hope of British success in the MX1 class at the Maxxis British Championship this year; already he has made countless trips to the podium this season.
Kristian Whatley was very impressive at round four of the 2013 Maxxis British Championship on Sunday. Although on paper it looks like he finished a tick off of the top two each time out, he actually caught my eye in all three motos. In the opening MX1 encounter he finished in fourth place after ending the first lap on the edge of the top ten. Whilst working his way up through the pack, Kristian was posting lap times similar to the leaders, and much faster than the guys that were not inside of the top three. After another mediocre start in moto two (seventh) he moved through the pack and up to third at the finish. At this point I started to realise that no matter where he starts, Kristian Whatley will be in contention for a podium position.
In the last moto Kristian Whatley was one of (if not) the only riders that was forcing the issue out there, in my opinion. Although the conditions were treacherous (because of the rain), he was really trying to capture the best position possible. Kristian set the fastest lap time in that third and final moto, his time was over half a second faster than the rest of the field. Despite this he finished in third position, which left him second overall. After four rounds, Whatley is sat in second in the championship standings; eighteen points behind the series leader, Tanel Leok. However, he may need some luck to capture the title. But, I definitely foresee Kristian ending the year on the podium; if he continues to post results such as this, that is.
Kristian Whatley currently leads the Red Bull Pro Nationals after one round, also. Clearly it is going to be a great year for Whatley and the MBO Sport Yamaha team. At the opening round of the series, he won two motos and finished second in the other. Kristian will be competing in the second round of that title fight this weekend at Weston Super-Mare, where he hopes to maintain and extend his lead in the MX1 class.
Words by Lewis Phillips
Image courtesy of Kev Reid