Buildbase Honda riders Graeme Irwin and Martin Barr went 1-2 at the opening round of the 2017 Michelin MX Nationals with impressive performances at Preston Docks on Sunday.
The Irish pair traded wins on their 2017 CRF450Rs in the two 30-minute plus two lap motos with Martin drawing first blood to win the opener as defending MX1 champion Graeme survived a fall to come home fourth.
In race two it was Graeme – in just his second event back after off-season shoulder surgery – who took the win to secure the overall victory while Martin fought back to fifth after a big crash to take the second step on the podium.
“I crashed on the second lap in the first race and had to come past a few good guys,” said Graeme. “I got onto the back of Elliott Banks-Browne but by then the front two were gone.
“I stayed steady in the second one and worked my way into the lead. It hasn’t been easy with missing a lot of the off-season and I’ve had to work for everything I’ve had so today’s been a good start to the defence of my title. We’ll keep our heads down and hopefully we’ll find that flow I had last season and get stronger and stronger. That’s the key.
“Everyone knows that Martin’s really strong but there are also four or five other guys that can win races too so I’ve got to keep my eyes on them as well.
“I’d like to dedicate my win to road racer Mick Whalley who tragically died after a crash at Donington Park on Saturday.”
Martin, who’s racing a CRF250R in the Maxxis ACU British MX2 Motocross Championship but has relinquished his Michelin MX Nationals MX2 title to race the 450cc machine in the MX1 class this year, was disappointed not to win overall.
“It’s not been too bad today but it could have been better,” he said. “I kind of threw it away in the last race. The day started off really good and I was quickest in qualifying which is never usually my strong point, especially if the track is really smooth.
“I got a decent start in race one and moved quickly into second behind Steven Lenoir and followed him for a lap or two just to see where I was faster and then made my move, put the hammer down and controlled the race. I was real happy to win my first race on the 450.
“I had the same plan for race two and moved into second but made a silly mistake over the back, the bike kicked out and I had quite a big crash and landed heavily on my shoulder. It took me a bit to get up because I was in the middle of a jump and almost got landed on twice but I got going and eventually finished fifth for second overall behind Graeme.
“Obviously I’m a bit disappointed – I felt like I should have gone 1-1 today and you always want to beat your team-mate but it is what it is and it’s a long season so I’ll go away and get ready for the next one.”
Team owner Dave Thorpe was delighted with his riders’ performances.
“It doesn’t get much better than that,” said the three-time world 500cc champion. “Martin dominated the first race. He started in third, let the race develop and then picked them off one-by-one and won comfortably. Graeme started first but made mistakes early on which dropped him to third and then he crashed and had to come back through to fourth.
“The second race was a case of role reversal. They started third and fourth, Martin passed Graeme on the first lap and then moved into second but made a big mistake on the fast wave section and he did well to pick himself up and finish fifth. Thankfully Honda’s electric start kept him in the race because the way the bike cartwheeled he might have struggled to kick it over.
“Graeme sat steady and then once the race settled down he picked everyone off and got into the lead. He came under increasing pressure near the end from Gert Krestinov but he kept his cool and rode well. It was good see four Hondas in the top six in the second race.
“Just to top it off Josh Gilbert on the Dave Thorpe Off-Road Honda won his first ever MX2 race at this level in the second moto. It was a good day all round for Honda.”
Dave was also full of praise for event organisers who worked wonders on the sand track after the opening day’s racing.
“The organisers did really well because Saturday was very, very heavy going. Our guys did the free practice on Saturday afternoon and to be honest it was really tough but they prepared the track impeccably on Saturday night which showed with really good racing today.”
Photos by Nuno Laranjeira