After more than a year with no spectators at UK racing, the gates were thrown open to a sellout crowd of 4000 fans who packed into the second round of the new-look Revo British championship at Lyng who were treated to a showdown between two factory MXGP riders.
Four-times world champ Jeffrey Herlings, lured to the race thanks to some local sponsors who stumped up some start money, was having his first race for eight months since he damaged his neck in Italy last year. And with the first MXGP in three weeks in Russia, he admitted he was race rusty and needed time on the big orange machine.
And he faced former British MX2 champ Ben Watson, who is making the leap up to MXGP this year armed with a factory Yamaha deal after his stunning run of results in the MX2 world championship at the end of last season. Watson has had some pre-season races but admitted he just wanted to get some more race time in before the gate drops in his rookie MXGP year.
Even with local track knowledge, few expected him to pose a real challenge to sand master Herlings who was making his debut at the sandy track. But the doubters were proved wrong as the pair had a win and a second place each, with the Dutchman getting the nod for the overall as he took victory in the final moto.
All eyes were on 26-year-old Herlings as he set the fastest time in qualifying by more than a second despite never having been to the track before. But as they gate dropped for the opener, it was Watson who rocketed into the lead with Herlings quickly on his tail.
Watson showed real grit and maturity as Herlings was soon on his tail as the pair pulled away from the chasing pack, with the crowd urging them on every inch of the way.
Just when it seemed Herlings was about to make a move, he slowed and stopped to remove a stone that had jammed into the bike. He lost a handful of time, and was soon back on the Yamaha man’s rear wheel.
As some drizzle started to fall, Herlings had obvious visibility problems. With tear-offs banned at the track, Herlings had gone out without any roll-offs, planning to wipe away any sandy roost. He obviously hadn’t planned on getting roosted by Watson or that it might start to rain.
He tried hard but couldn’t make a serious passing attempt, allowing Watson to take a historic first British MX1 race win, in his first try.
Second time out and Watson quickly passed holeshot man Dylan Walsh while Herlings was just inside the top ten. The Dutchman quickly worked his way past them all to catch Watson up, and pressured him all the way.
With around five minutes to go, Herlings slipped by and although he tried hard, just couldn’t pull away. It was epic racing as Watson pushed hard to challenge the world’s best sand rider. But he couldn’t get close enough to make a serious bid to retake the lead and finished second, around one second behind the overall winner Herlings.
Herlings said: “It was a good day of racing. I had a bit of a problem in the first moto and lost around ten seconds while I sorted out the stone. I came back through the pack but the track wasn’t easy for passing and I finished on the leader’s rear wheel. In the second moto I had to come back from sixth or seventh at the start. I had a few issues with arm-pump but I guess that’s normal after eight months away from a race! We’ll keep working from here and hope to get a bit better each week until we go to Russia.”
Watson was elated with the result. “What a great day. I’ve been training and riding a lot but I missed racing a lot. I had two great starts. I led from start to finish of the first race and Jeffrey was pressuring me. To have him behind you make you tense but I handled it well.
“In the second race I gated second and soon passed Walsh. With five minutes to go he got on my inside. I followed him and pressured him to the finish.
“Honestly, I didn’t think I’d be running Jeffrey’s pace coming in to the day. He is the greatest sand rider and I had been feeling good in training but you never know how you’ll do in a race. I knew if I could get out front and do my thing, I’d do OK. He was pressuring me and I could hear it was him. When you have him behind you, it’s tense. One moment he came to the inside and he passed me cleanly. I expected him to pull away but he didn’t. I should have believed in myself more.
“But I’m absolutely buzzing. I had hundreds of messages after that first race. I really appreciate the support. To have the fans here is an amazing atmosphere. To do it here is an amazing feeling.”
With all the focus on the two men at the front, who are only having wild card rides, the real battle for the British championship came down to Tommy Searle and Dylan Walsh, who started the day tied on points in second in the series. Evgeny Bobryshev, a double winner at the opening round, broke his shoulder in the week running up to the event and bravely tried to ride to score a few points. But the pain was too much and he retired after the first moto with zero points.
Searle got the upper hand and moved into the lead of the championship with third overall at Lyng as Walsh admitted he had a lacklustre day. The first race saw Searle bunched up in the first corner with a gaggle of top riders, and rounded the first lap in seventh. Behind the MXGP men, Walsh held third from Elliott Banks-Browne, Jake Millward and Adam Sterry at the end of the first lap.
Banks-Browne slipped off and eventually retired with a back injury while Walsh made mistakes and drifted back to eighth, a spot behind former British champ Shaun Simpson who admits he’s not yet up to full race speed.
Millward took a strong third place, albeit a minute behind the leader, holding off KTM’s Adam Sterry with Searle on his tail.
In race two, Searle admitted he was a totally different rider and was quickly on the tail of leaders Herlings and Watson. Searle rode with maturity and allowed the leaders to escape, focusing on the championship. He took third, and Simpson also found a second wind and came through to a fine fourth place from Walsh and Adam Sterry, who remounted after falling hard on one of the bumpy downhills.
Searle said: “To end up on the podium and take the red plate, what more can you ask for. I’m happy enough with that! The bike was so good all day, with a great suspension set-up which is so important here. The engine felt brilliant and I improved my starts, too. So no complaints, I’m really happy.
“I had a fifth in the first race but then came back with a third. I don’t think I rode very well in the first race. But in the second I found my rhythm and had Jeffrey and Ben in front of me. I expected them to be fast on a track like this. The track was so demanding, the roughest I’ve ever seen it here.”
Walsh stayed second in the series, now seven points behind Searle. He said: “It wasn’t a great day for me. I didn’t find my flow and spent too much time on the ground. But I didn’t lose too many points and I’ll live to fight on another day.”
Sterry took fourth overall from Millward and Simpson, holding on to third in the series and is only a 11 points in arrears behind Searle.
Former British MX2 champ Sterry said: “I had a solid day going, with fourth in qualifying and fourth in the first race. That was good for the championship! A stone snapped my roll-offs in the first moto, so I could not really see properly after the third lap. I had a good start in moto two, in fourth, but I made a small mistake before a drop off and it resulted in a very big crash. I am pretty sore, but happy to walk away from that one. We are still right there in the championship hunt, so we will keep on working to be better at the next round.”
Yamaha rider Harri Kullas continued his campaign and moved up to fourth in the series.
He didn’t get the best start in race one and was just outside the top ten. As the track got rougher, he moved up the leaderboard to sixth place.
Race two and Kullas’ start woes continued as he was buried in around 25th, before ending lap one 18th and scything through the pack into the top ten after three laps. He made some more passes to lie seventh at the end, as he closed down Sterry, but wasn’t quite close enough to pass. Kullas said: “I have mixed feelings. Result wise definitely not happy but again riding was better and going in the right direction. I think bad starts cost me better results as the level is high at the moment.”
In the MX2 class, KTM’s Conrad Mewse ran away with a double win to extend his championship lead. It was a ride of utter dominance, starting in qualifying when he recorded a blistering lap to go more than three seconds quicker than anyone else.
After getting past holeshot man Brad Anderson on the first lap of the opener, he set lap times nobody else could come close to and took an emphatic win. He crossed the line with a 30-second advantage over second place Steven Clarke and Taylor Hammal. Liam Everts took a solid fourth place, watched every inch of the way by his dad, ten-times world champ Stefan.
The race was marred by a multi-bike pile-up in the bombhole on the first lap. Luckily, nobody was seriously hurt but it took down riders like Jay Hague and Jamie Law. Honda man Hague cut his way through the pack to take an eventual 11th place.
In the second moto Mewse claimed the holeshot and immediately gapped the rest of the pack. He was once again unchallenged and reached the finish line with a 26-second advantage. Those two wins gave him the overall and extended his lead in the championship to 23 points after just two rounds of eight.
“A great day at Lyng!” he said. “I felt good right from the start and that showed – it is good to see that a lot of hard work in the off-season is paying off. I am excited for Canada Heights in a couple of weeks, then after that we can finally get the MXGP series started.”
The real race was for second place and that was a mega battle between KTM privateer Ashton Dickinson and Honda man Hague. Dickinson rode a clever race to hold off Hague, after Hammel crashed trying to make up ground.
John Adamson took fourth from Hammal, Liam Everts and Clarke. That result gave Kawasaki GP rookie Hammal second overall from Clarke with Everts fourth.