World MX: Iron Horses For Courses
Fairyhouse has a very good reputation and it ticks all the right boxes for the championship promoter Youthstream. Hard standing, ease of access, good connectivity for the media, everything was appropriately present and accounted for. There was only one fly in the ointment – one thing that fans consider essential to motocross – elevation.
The rolling hills of County Meath translate to a fairly flat piece of land beyond the two straights in front of the grandstand that allows horse race aficionados to shelter from the rain. Only half a mile or so away does the land wrinkle into a bit of elevation. Therein lies the rub; the track must be constructed similar to Donington Park in the United Kingdom. There is one requirement: the beautifully lush turf in front of the grandstand may not be touched. That's all the horse-racing association asks.
Ahead of the round it rains – naturally. Ireland is not called the Emerald Isle for nothing. So the solution is to mix the dirt with wood chippings, something that solidifies the dirt somewhat, but still releases moisture once the sun is out. The track takes form and as the teams arrive, everything looks to be ready. The riders are less impressed by the set-up though. The first reaction is not too flattering. The track is, in their opinion, too flat, too slippery, and too far away from everything else. They are right in some respects, there's a quarter-mile walk just to get to the start line, the part of the track closest to everything else.
Saturday morning dawns with cloud cover and low temperatures, it looks to get rather chilly. The fastest rider in the MX2 pre-qualifying practice is Ricci Racing Yamaha's Nicolas Aubin, followed by Red Bull KTM's Tommy Searle and Tyla Rattray. The qualifiers turn out different though. Rattray, teamed up with Aubin and Inotec Suzuki's Xavier Boog, leads and wins the race after a brief lead by Team KTM UK's Shaun Simpson. Aubin is in third for the majority of the race before he makes his pass on Simpson to take second. Boog runs in fourth throughout. A surprise though is Molson Kawasaki's Gareth Swanepoel, who was only due to return to the world championship in early September. He squeaks into the qualifying places by the seat of his pants.
The second qualifier is a big surprise. While Searle is out in the lead early on, he is soon challenged by UTag Yamaha's Zach Osborne. Osborne is certainly relishing the challenge and soon makes a passing move on his KTM-mounted rival. He succeeds in taking the lead; Searle tries to take it back and crashes instead, forced to work his way back from fourteenth. The track speed is such that Searle is unable to return to the qualifying positions, suffering the embarrassment of having to do the last chance qualifying practice. Osborne finishes the race in first, seconded by CLS Racing Kawasaki's Steven Frossard and Champ KTM's Joël Roelants.
The MX1 class time practice session has Teka Suzuki's Ken de Dycker on pole, Kawasaki Racing's Tanel Leok a fraction of a second behind him, and CAS Honda's Billy MacKenzie in third, a second slower. Searle is the pole in the LCQ, followed one and a half seconds later by favour KTM's Gert Krestinov and Swift Suzuki's Jake Nicholls. Reserve riders are UTag Yamaha's Mel Pocock and Sturm Racing Kawasaki's Robert Sturm. The evening's press conference sees the Irish owner of Team KTM UK, Roger Magee, present his star rider Shaun Simpson with a specially-commissioned painting by artist Rob Kinsey as a thank-you for his outstanding contribution to the team.
The next day dawns overcast and drizzly, heralding bad weather and eliciting groans from everyone. The last thing anyone wants to do is having to clean up more mud. The morning warm-ups see the same suspects in the MX2 class at the top, while the MX1 class has GPKR Racing Kawasaki's Sébastien Pourcel in the lead. This is one of the rounds where neither the world's women or the veterans are present, so a relaxed atmosphere leads up to the climax – the races.
The first MX2 race is clearly going to be different after Osborne makes an incredible start off the line. Edging out Simpson, KTM HDI MX's Anthony Boissiere and Roelants, he finds himself in the lead from start to finish, hotly pursued by championship leader Rattray and Simpson. Simpson has to concede his place in the top three to Aubin, and has to give up another place to Searle, who has had to start in eighth after being cut off on the start. Frossard forces Simpson out of the top five altogether, having started in tenth and made rapid progress to fifth. Silver Action KTM's Jeremy Tarroux, fourth in the first lap, drops out spectacularly mid-race, very similar to Suso MVR-D Suzuki's Jason Dougan who crashes and has to pull out. Roelants is also unlucky on the track, he first drops back to tenth, then crashes with only four laps remaining, ending with only two points in his pocket.
The first MX1 race is pretty much exactly how several riders feared it would be – fast with very little passing in the top ten. Although MacKenzie leads for the first few laps, he is put under pressure by De Dycker and Monster Rinaldi Yamaha's David Philippaerts. While Philippaerts slips several places before getting his groove back, de Dycker makes his move on MacKenzie and takes over the lead of the pack. Leok, third behind de Dycker after passing Philippaerts in the first lap, presses MacKenzie into leaving the door open for him, moving into second and staying there for the remainder of the race. Incumbent champion Steve Ramon is fifth in the first lap and sees himself in fourth for the majority of the race until he has to make way for Philippaerts with four laps to go, ending right where he started. The rest of the top ten is not all that much different; Pourcel comes from ninth and ends in sixth after stalking Red Bull KTM's Max Nagl for much of the race, making his move as the timer counts to zero.
The two riders making stellar strides from the rear of the pack are Silver Action KTM's Jonathan Barragán and Monster Rinaldi Yamaha's Josh Coppins. Barragán is last after having to pick up his bike from the first corner. Coppins is in the bottom third, not much further up. Both track up the pack fairly quickly, seeing glimpses of each other as the race nears its end. They find themselves together in ninth and tenth with three laps to go, Barragán too far behind to be able to make much progress.
Throughout the first MX1 race the weather changes completely; clouds make way for scattered sunshine and a rise in temperatures, so by the time the second MX2 race rolls round, the sun is out, and, surprisingly, so is the dust. Again it is Osborne who goes on the attack and who leads for the first laps of the race. Again he is shadowed by Rattray and Simpson, but this time Rattray is able to make his way past the fast American and take over the role of leader. Simpson keeps a close eye on both riders ahead of him, again he has to concede his spot to Frossard. This time though he gives his spot to Searle only by accident as he drops his bike and Searle, along with Champ KTM's Jeremy van Horebeek, Molson Kawasaki's Stephen Sword and Boissiere, sweep past him.
The Osborne show goes south two thirds into the race. The bike spits its dummy, leaving Osborne stuck without any other option but to call it a day. Searle takes over as runner-up, followed by Frossard and Sword. Dougan, who has had a stunning ride in the top ten, crashes with two laps to go, breaking his shoulder and ending his season in agony on the Irish dirt. Roelants has a better run this time around and ends the race in sixth. The day overall goes to Rattray, adding a nice seven point advantage to his score over Searle in second. Frossard is on the bottom step of the podium. Waterford crystal trophies are their reward. Rattray shares his champagne with the team by giving the assembled KTM people a good spray.
The final race goes to the line with the sun playing hide and seek with the clouds again. This time though Barragán avoids the embarrassing tumble in the first corner, running wide instead and shutting Nagl out in the process, but leaving the way wide open for MacKenzie to try another traditionally brilliant start. Barragán drops the bike later on in the first lap, undoing any advantage he might've had. Coppins does not even make it around the first lap at all, suffering yet another DNF and this time truly ending any chance he might've had at the championship title this year. It's just one problem too many.
MacKenzie and Leok are the main protagonists in the front. Having been on the same team in 2007, they know each other's strengths and weaknesses well, and it becomes a good cat and mouse game. Leok makes his move five laps later after MacKenzie makes a mistake that gives him and Philippaerts an advantage. That is how it remains for several more laps before MacKenzie again gives an advantage to two riders; this time it is the two Teka Suzuki riders who then proceed to put the pressure on the championship leader in second. Nagl and Red Bull Martin Honda's Julien Bill have a grand old time battling with each other, a battle that Nagl wins. Pourcel makes good progress from a start in twentieth, rising to ninth by mid-race, and ending the race in the same position.
While Leok takes the win, Philippaerts has to concede second to Ramon and third to de Dycker, ending the race in fourth and again missing the podium by two points. Leok takes his first Grand Prix win, flanked by de Dycker and Ramon. Philippaerts ties with MacKenzie for fourth, taking the spot based on his race position. His lead in the championship shrinks by two points though, leaving but five to separate him from Ramon as the incumbent.
With only two rounds of the championship remaining, the MX2 championship is all but decided. The MX1 championship though will prove to be exciting to the very end in Italy in mid-September.
Fairyhouse lies on the R155 off the N3 to Navan and is 30 minutes from the Dublin International Airport (DUB) via the M50 motorway. Stay at the Travelodge or Premier Inn Swords, both less than two miles from the airport itself.
|MX1 Race 1||MX1 Race 2||MX1 Overall|
|1. Ken de Dycker||1. Tanel Leok||1. Tanel Leok 47|
|2. Tanel Leok||2. Steve Ramon||2. Ken de Dycker 45|
|3. Billy MacKenzie||3. Ken de Dycker||3. Steve Ramon 38|
|4. David Philippaerts||4. David Philippaerts||4. David Philippaerts 36|
|5. Steve Ramon||5. Billy MacKenzie||5. Billy MacKenzie 36|
|MX2 Race 1||MX2 Race 2||MX2 Overall|
|1. Zach Osborne||1. Tyla Rattray||1. Tyla Rattray 47|
|2. Tyla Rattray||2. Tommy Searle||2. Tommy Searle 40|
|3. Nicholas Aubin||3. Steven Frossard||3. Steven Frossard 36|
|4. Tommy Searle||4. Stephen Sword||4. Nicholas Aubin 34|
|5. Steven Frossard||5. Anthony Boissiere||5. Stephen Sword 31|
|1. David Philippaerts 441||1. Tyla Rattray 546|
|2. Steve Ramon 436||2. Tommy Searle 519|
|3. Ken de Dycker 414||3. Antonio Cairoli 357|
|4. Jonathan Barragán 389||4. Nicholas Aubin 343|
|5. Joshua Coppins 382||5. Shaun Simpson 337|
|6. Sébastien Pourcel 371||6. Rui Gonçalves 327|
|7. Maximilian Nagl 356||7. Steven Frossard 284|
|8. Tanel Leok 322||8. Xavier Boog 269|
|9. Billy MacKenzie 293||9. Jeremy van Horebeek 253|
|10. Clément Desalle 235||10. Manuel Monni 245|