The history books will show that it was Jeffrey Herlings who won the storm-hit Hawkstone Park International despite finishing level on points with Briton Shaun Simpson after the pair had a win and a third place each.
With the rain lashing the track and turning it into a mudfest as storm Ciara hit Shropshire, Simpson had a dream debut on his new SS24 KTM team, quickly getting into the lead of the opener then pulling away to the win – much to the support of the huge crowd. Herlings crashed at the start of the opening moto then put on a staggering ride through the pack to finish third, at times setting laps eight seconds quicker than anyone else. He just ran out of time but Simpson was far in front.
Then in moto two, it was Herlings who was quickly in the lead and effortlessly pulled away, making some wise line choices. This time it was Simpson who came through from a top ten start to take a strong third. So with a win and a third each, the pair tied on points but the overall nod went to lean-and-mean Herlings thanks to his second race win.
But after he’d had problems with his roll-offs in the opener, Herlings had ignored the rules banning tear-offs so went out loaded with laminates on his Oakleys. This was spotted during the race but Herlings was allowed to continue and was credited with the win and hence the overall.
The moral high ground went to Simpson, who even had an off-track excursion while leading the first moto but stayed within the boundary of the track to remain squeaky-clean and within the rules.
Simpson said: “We’ll not forget this one in a hurry. A throroughly enjoyable weekend and my first test out for the SS24 team.
“The conditions of the track were sketchy but I made it work. First race was easy work! But the track was deep in the second . I managed to come through, made a mistake and finished third. Tied on points for the win with Jeffrey so I can’t complain about that. The conditions today suited me and I know I have the speed. I’m confident and I’m looking forward to getting the GPs and British championship started.
Herlings said: “It was a good practice as it could be the same in Matterley in three weeks. Even though we didn’t have the greatest weather It’s four wins out of four starts at Hawkstone for me so pretty good, right! I’ve been in Spain testing for a long time, training and working out. I’ve had a perfect winter so far.
“But with racing you really see where you are and I got a bit of arm pump,. It was good practice but it was more like an enduro!”
The final place on the podium went to Dutchman Glenn Coldenhoff, who rode to a pair of great runner-up spots. In both motos he closed in on the leader – Simpson in the first and Herlings in the second – but couldn’t get close enough to make a serious pass.
Coldenhoff, master of the sloppy sand conditions as proven in the last two Motocross of Nations where he’s been dominant, was still out on his KTM. The team will debut the new factory Gas Gas race bikes at Matterley Basin, which will share the KTM and Husqvarna platform.
Coldenhoff said: “After practice it started raining pretty bad and the start was important. I was around sixth in both motos and quickly got the second both times.
“In the first I was behind Shaun and thought I was faster but fell and it took me a long time to get up. I was surprises I was still second! I managed to hold Jeffrey off to the line.
“The second moto was good and I was behind Jeffrey. He was pulling away but I found my flow, was riding good and smooth. I came close to him in the end of the moto but couldn’t pass him. So two seconds is good for my first and only pre-season race. We now have two weeks to prepare for Matterley.”
Experience in the toughest conditions really showed through for the rest of the top ten, with Estonian Harri Kullas having great starts and a storming ride through to fourth overall with fourth then sixth place finishes. And possibly the cleanest bike in the pack as he made clever line choices to stay out of the deepest mire when he could.
Former factory Kawasaki rider Julien Lieber took fifth overall in his race debut for the Jacky Martens Honda team, from Yamaha rider Thomas Covington who has swopped the glitz of US Supercross in 2020 for a return to GP racing.
Lieber’s team mate Benoit Paturel took ninth in moto one and had to have his eyes washed out after the moto to get rid of the dirt. He then crashed out of moto two when he hit his chest on the bars falling in a fast corner. Kevin Strijbos made his return to Suzuki to take seventh overall.
Many of the riders had one decent race and one relatively poor one where they had to fight through the field. Both Brent Van Doninck and Evgeny Bobryshev had troubled first motos but made amends with far better results second time out to take eighth and ninth overall respectively.
For the Brits, it was a baptism of fire in the horrid conditions. Mel Pocock gave his Honda decent debut with 11th overall, one place in from of Liam Knight and Dan Thornhill.
Adam Sterry, making his race debut for the JD Gunnex KTM team, took 21st in a difficult first race, just missing out on the points. Then he had a much better time with 12th second time out.
It was a troubled day for the Buildbase Honda team as British champ Tommy Searle injured his shoulder in qualifying then managed a lap of moto one before retiring. His team-mate Jake Nicholls was dead last on the first lap of moto one but fought back through to 17th but called it a day before the second race. The team are off to Spain testing so it made little sense to wreck the bike even more.
The MX2 class actually bore the brunt of the worst weather in the first moto as first there was a false start, then the torrential rain really kicked in and turned the track into a muddy mess.
Two men mastered the conditions better than anyone, Red Bull KTM’s Tom Vialle and F&H Kawasaki’s ex-Ice One Husky star Mikkel Haarup. Vialle, who made his disastrous debut for the team at Hawkstone last year, showed what a difference a year makes. The opening moto saw him batting for the lead but eventually taking sixth place after some mistakes in the Saloppy slop. Haarup took third behind winner Roan Van De Moosdijk, his F&H team-mate who was victorious by a huge margin, and new red Bull KTM factory rider Rene Hofer.
In the second moto Vialle quickly got into the lead and pulled away to the win from Jed Beaton and Harrup.
Vialle and Harrup tied on points, but the Frenchman was awarded the overall as he won the last moto. Vialle’s team-mate, Austrian Hofer, took third overall from Beaten and Kay de Wolf. Van De Moosdijk, so fast in the opener, didn’t finish the moto so finished eighth overall.
British fans were given something to cheer for as Brad Anderson took his two-stroke KTM 250 to a solid 12th place in the opener, one spot in front of new Husky man Josh Gilbert who pulled through from a poor start.
Second time out Ando went even better with ninth for 12th overall, but Gilbert had a stunning race.
He battled inside the top four for several laps, mixing it with the GP regulars who plied on the pressure. In the end he managed to hold on for a great fourth place, which gave him seventh overall and placed as top Brit.
The EMX125 race was always going to be popular, as the sweet sound of two-strokes echoed around the famous circuit. The first race was a clear win for British smoker hero Joel Rizzi, who led from early on. But he had his hands full as Liam Everts, son of ten-times world champ Stefan and grandson of four-times world champ Harry, was coming through the pack fast.
The Belgian, who has a five-year KTM deal, had a terrible start but pulled right through to second place at the finish, just a couple of seconds adrift of Rizzi. Camden McClellan took third while Briton Bobby Bruce, who had been fastest in qualifying, was fifth.
Apico KTM man Jack Grayshon was running well inside the top ten until he fell and had to pit to straighten his bent front end.
Second time out and it was the Everts show. Despite not getting a great start again, he worked his way through to the lead and won by 40 seconds from Rizzi. Both tied on points, but Everts took the overall from Rizzi.
The moto saw Scott Smulders third from Bruce and McClellan. Bruce had been leading until he sunk his Husky into a mud hole and had to be pulled out. That was enough to give McClennan third on the podium. Louie Kessel was sixth while Grayshon took seventh.
The third 125 moto and the Superfinal were both axed due to the conditions.