Words and pics by Mike Wood.
What a truly memorable year it’s been for Ray Rowson who after becoming a dad for the first time back in July has since won the AMCA MX2 British Championship and then last Sunday topped it off by also taking the IMBA MX2 European title. And there’s no doubt that the Apex Geartec KTM ace has fully deserved that success, proving that consistency is certainly the key to winning. In the IMBA European series, Ray finished on the podium in all seven rounds, taking the crown 104 points ahead of fellow Brit Josh Waterman (JD Racing/IDS KTM) another rider who has enjoyed a fantastic season.
At Kleinhau, Germany though for the final round, both of the super Brits were to be beaten to the honours by a fellow AMCA rider. Lewis King on the super quick TMC Kawasaki went 2/1/1 to claim the top step on the podium joined by Ray Rowson and Italian Riccardo Vitaliani. For King this was to be his fourth podium of the season leaving him to ponder what might had been if injury had not stopped him from competing in the opening two rounds held in Holland and Belgium.
In what proved to be a long and extremely drawn out meeting, focus and concentration was pushed to the max for the MX2 lads but Rowson was to show his true quality in a thrilling opening moto which had to be restarted following a red-flag incident. Initially in that rerun it was Swiss rider Randy Morand who had grabbed the holeshot from Dutch ace Joshua van der Linden with King in 3rd, Waterman 5th and Rowson 7th. Quickly that leaderboard was changing as Morand dropped to 5th with van der Linden now in control from King and Rowson who had already got up to 3rd. Lap three though there was to be drama as Rowson fell, dropping back to 6th and injuring his fingers in the process. Quickly on his feet, Rowson was back on a charge and by lap seven was up to 2nd as the very determined green flyer Lewis King now led the way. During the next four frantic circuits, King resisted the constant challenges of his brother-in-law Rowson before slipping off with just two laps remaining! So on completion of a frantic contest it was victory to Rowson from King. Crucially in the battle for the final IMBA medals, Waterman finished strongly in this one, getting home in 3rd whilst van der Linden had to settle for 5th.
So going into the second IMBA MX2 clash, Rowson required just a 15th place to bag the title, in the process being the first British rider since Lee Dunham back in 2010 to be victorious in the this class. After van der Linden had grabbed the holeshot, King took control on lap two with his fellow Brits Waterman and Rowson holding 5th and 6th respectively. By lap three, Rowson eventually found a way past Waterman and King was still in control despite coming under a little pressure from Vitaliani. Unfortunately, this race was to be again red-flagged and with the time marching rapidly on in what was a busy programme, the organisers decided the result would stand. That meant victory belonged to King from Vitaliani, Jacky Tausch, van der Linden, Rowson and Waterman. So on his 29th birthday, Ray Rowson was confirmed as the 2017 IMBA MX2 European Champion, a fantastic achievement.
With the pressure off, the new Champion then grabbed the final moto holeshot and lead the pack but the man definitely on a very serious charge was TMC Kawasaki ace King. Gating in 7th, Lewis stormed through to take control by the end of lap one and there he remained to thus deservedly wrap up the Kleinhau overall win. Lewis finished just over 5 seconds clear of Rowson with fast Vitaliani in 3rd and Waterman 4th. Afterwards a very relaxed Ray Rowson said, “It’s been good and my family and everyone was here to support me making it extra special. Nice to also finish the season on the box with Lewis.” So the final IMBA MX2 Championship top three read Ray Rowson, Josh Waterman and Joshua van der Linden with Lewis King in 7th. The superb season long effort of the British riders also meant the AMCA lads bagged the team gold, well done to everyone involved.
Not to be outdone, the British sidecar crews on duty in Kleinhau also ensured that they were right in the thick of what was to be some superb three-wheel action, the end result being a fantastic 2nd overall for Tony Grahame/ Harley Lloyd with Mike Hodges/Liam Hodges bagging a great 5th. Making a flying start in moto one, Jake Brown/ Matthew Conner found the grip and right lines to emerge as the early leaders. The British duo were really turning on the style and digging deep despite having Christian Corthouts/Henry van de Wiel, Thom van de Langemaat/Justin Keuben, Mike Keuben/Zac Snell and Tim Prummer/Tobias Lange all right on their tail and so close that they were breathing the exhaust fumes! Unfortunately though all that hard work by Brown was to be undone when they stalled their outfit and dropped back to 13th place. Now taking up the British challenge was Grahame, eventually getting home in a super 5th with Brown fighting back for 10th, Mark Banks/Dug Woods 20th, Alan Peever/Tony Phillips 28th and Joe Gingell/Nick Hillier 29th. The ride of this moto though surely belonged to the Hodges duo who after gating right down in 30th somehow climbed all the way back to an amazing 9th!
Buoyed by that storming ride, Hodges then passed German crew Prummer/Lange to take control of moto two after just one lap. Making this a very solid showing by the Brits, in the early stages Brown held 3rd and Grahame 4th. Five laps in and it got better as Brown now moved up into 2nd behind Hodges only to drop back following another mistake, now finding himself right down in 24th. There was no such problems though for the flying Hodges who was really on the gas and looking very good at the front although he was now being forced to keep a very watchful eye on a hard-charging Keuben. Reeling the Brits in, the Dutchman then made his move just two laps from home and thus take the win. Hodges had to therefore settle for 2nd with Grahame battling hard to maintain 5th despite a damaged exhaust system. Also inside the top ten was Banks earning an impressive 9th.
Proving that they were well and truly dialled into the hard-pack German track, Grahame led the final IMBA sidecar clash of 2017 with Hodges in tow. Once again though the very fast Dutch lad Keuben with Brit Zac Snell in the chair was on a very serious charge. Gating in 10th, Keuben passed both Brits in the closing three circuits to take his third win of the day. Grahame and Hodges though were in determined mood and earned a richly deserved 2nd and 3rd place finish. Brown was also very impressive in Kleinhau, bagging 7th this time out with Banks 17th, Peever 26th and Gingell 27th. Taking the 2017 IMBA Sidecar title was Dutch crew Frank Mulders/Marc van Deutekom, 16 points clear of Keuben. Top British crew was to be Hodges in 16th despite missing three of the six rounds.