With super-intense back-to-back finals on Friday and Saturday nights, rounds four and five of the 2017 Arenacross Tour at Belfast’s SSE Arena presented the toughest test so far for the Buildbase Honda team.
Adam Chatfield started the weekend off looking strong and after running 2-2 in his heats he holeshot Friday’s final and led all the way to the flag to take his first win of the series and move into a slim Pro AX championship lead.
The race wasn’t all plain-sailing for the 29-year-old though. After miscalculating the number of laps, with one lap to go he rolled the finish line double thinking the race was over. Second-placed Cedric Soubeyras jumped the double but clipped Adam and went off the track, giving Adam vital breathing space to regroup and make sure of the win.
Saturday night was a different story and Adam never got into the groove, had to qualify for the 14-lap final via the LCQ head-to-head races and then could only salvage eighth. This saw him slip back to fourth in the championship but with two rounds to go he’s still only six points from the lead in what’s shaping up to be the closest finish in the series’ history.
“I feel like I’ve gone from hero to zero,” said Adam. “Yesterday was fantastic, it couldn’t have gone much better. I had two seconds in my heats and then holeshot the final. They caught me up towards the end and I then made a mistake and thought I’d finished when there was still a lap to go. I rolled the double, Soubeyras jumped it and clipped me and went off the track and I held it on and got the win.
“With all the adrenalin I couldn’t sleep last night at all and I also think I’ve caught a cold so I had no energy today. I qualified bad, rode bad in the heats, got bad gate picks and just messed everything up.”
Matt Bayliss, racing the team’s other CRF450R, also had two contrasting nights. On Friday he only made the Main Event as the promoter’s choice and struggled to ninth but Saturday saw him take two thirds in his heats before a good start in the final set him up for a podium finish.
With time running out he was holding a strong third and pushing hard for second when he crashed out in the rhythm section.
“I’m gutted,” he said, “it’s done me in. With two laps to go I came around a corner, [Thomas] Ramette had a massive moment in front of me and I think he kicked a rock into my rut which, as I took off, just took my front wheel away. As I landed I couldn’t stop, hit the tuff blocks and went across the track onto the other side.”
Representing Buildbase Honda in the Pro Lites class, Chris Bayliss put in rock-solid performances on his CRF250R.
A win in the first of his two finals on the Friday night followed by a fifth after he was put on the ground by another rider got him on the podium in third and Saturday ended with him just missing out on the overall victory on a tie-break after running 2-3.
“Friday was good fun and it was great to win the first final but in the second I was taken out,” he said. “I’m happy with tonight’s performance. I tied on points for the win with Dylan [Woodcock] but he got the overall because he won the second race. I’m just five points off the championship lead so it’s not over yet.”
With Adam still in with a fighting chance of regaining the Pro AX title he won in 2013 and Chris pushing hard for the Pro Lites crown, team owner Dave Thorpe was upbeat despite his riders’ misfortunes on Saturday night.
“It’s been one of those ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’ events for us,” he said, “but we’ve come out of it still in with a good chance of winning both Pro titles.
“You could see straight away from the first lap of practice on Friday that Adam was up for it. Right at the end of qualifying he put in a really good time which was the key because on this track you need to be on the right and in the first few around the opening turn.
“In the final Adam was into the first corner first and for two-thirds of the distance I think it was the best I’ve ever seen him ride. He was absolutely on it. Okay, so he made a mistake which almost cost him the win but he recovered quickly and held on. The whole place erupted!
“I could see this morning that he wasn’t feeling it today. How that can happen only he knows. He got in the Main Event via the Head-to-Heads but he was empty.
“I was the other way around for Matt. He didn’t look comfortable on Friday but tonight he was a different rider and had a great race, fought his way up to third and was closing down on Ramette with two laps to go when he crashed.
“I know how disappointed he is but he needs to tell himself it’s just racing and that these things happen. He should draw a positive from the fact he showed he can run podium pace.
“Chris was consistently fast both nights. He won his first final on Friday and led the second until [Dylan] Woodcock got him and then Yannis Irsuti put a hard pass on him and took him down.
“He was equally as strong tonight and should have won the first one really. In the second he rode his heart out and was unlucky to lose the overall on a tie-break. No complaints from me – he did his best.”
The team now has a weekend off from AX competition before the series moves to the Sheffield Arena for round six on February 11. Photos by Nuno Laranjeira