The Hitachi ASA KTM UK team could not have asked for a more exciting start to their British campaign as the weather delayed series finally fired into action at Culham on Easter Sunday.
With three rounds of the MXGP World Championship under the team’s belts, it was time for Graeme Irwin to defend his MX1 title on the KTM 450 SX-F and for Conrad Mewse to demonstrate his talent to the MX2 British championship regulars for his first domestic series in many seasons. Michael Ellis also made his first appearance for the team on the #10 KTM 250 SX-F in MX2.
With persistent rainfall looking like it could condemn the revised Culham Motopark season opener to the same damp fate as Lyng three weeks previous, the Maxxis ACU British Motocross Championship organisers prioritised Sunday’s planned events; much to the relief of the eager riders and the vast, dedicated crowd that turned out to support them.
Come race day, the weather held back and the technical sandy track overlooking the River Thames began to dry out. However, this meant the competitors were faced with a different and more challenging surface each time they took to the starting gates, resulting in some close and at times unpredictable racing.
Irwin started the day off by narrowly beating Elliot Banks-Browne to the pole position; by a little over a tenth of a second! Jake Nicholls placed third, just half a second behind the leader.
The close-matched pace from qualifying was carried into the first 450 class moto. Kristian Watley took an early lead and with Brad Anderson close behind, they pulled a small gap from the rest of the pack early on. Graeme had to work his way up to the leaders after losing places during the race start, and by lap four the Northern Irishman managed to bridge the gap and put in a pass on Anderson to take the lead. Jake Nicholls battled hard behind, staying hot on the #1 bikes tail, pushing Graeme all the way to the chequered flag after 25 minutes +2 laps.
Elliot Banks-Browne took to the front early on whilst Irwin and his KTM 450 SX-F battled fiercely with the pack behind. Passing each other a number of times, Irwin and Russia’s Evgeny Bobryshev pushed each other through the pack to catch the leader, Banks-Browne in the closing stages of the race. Using a completely different line, Bobryshev managed to put in a pass to take the lead on the penultimate lap. The #1 red plate of Irwin took the chequered flag in third, giving him the overall win of the day with a 1-3.
Graeme Irwin #1 said: “The goal for today was to go home with the red plate and we achieved it, but it wasn’t the easiest of days. The first race I didn’t have the best of starts, stayed steady and got into the lead through a little gap. There was a lack of blue flags, and I knew Jake (Nicholls) was right there, so I just trying to manage that. At the end it did come close, so fair play to him.”
“The second one I struggled to find a flow to be honest. Bobby (Evgeny Bobryshev) come by me, I sat behind him for a lap and I could see a couple of spots and managed to get a pass back, but straight away he was back; down on that bottom bit he had a really good line, it was a lot quicker and he just passed me as I was stopped. I got onto the back and felt I could feel I could match his speed. We got caught up with Monticelli – which slowed our pace down a bit – Bobby got by and I didn’t, so that’s my fault. I got close to Elliot by the end there, but not quite enough. Fair play to Bobby and Jake, they both rode great today.”
Following a strong start on the World stage, #426 Conrad Mewse carried that momentum into his debut in Britain with his new team. The tone was set during the morning’s qualifying session, with just 5 seconds separating the top ten, Mewse still managed to pull a 2.5 second advantage over second place Joshua Gilbert.
Confident with the set-up on his KTM 250 SX-F, Mewse selected one gate in from the left for the first moto. Known for his strong starts, he did not disappoint, charging into the first left hander amongst the top riders. It didn’t take long for the young Brit to pick out the best lines and make his way past Gilbert and race leader Pocock.
With clear track ahead, the #426 controlled the pace and continued to top the timing screens before crossing the finish line with almost 30 seconds of clear track behind him!
The second moto was much more challenging for Conrad after being pushed back to mid pack on the way into turn one. Head down and riding hard, the 18-year-old spent the first four laps experimenting with the lines as he battled back through the pack. It was only a matter of time before the Shepton mallet rider would take the lead and once then it was another fine display of consistent pace, pulling a gap on Gilbert and Knight; again taking the win by 30 seconds!
Conrad Mewse #426 said: “We’ve started the season off great, even in the world championship where we are lying in fifth at the moment. So, I came into here with my head held high, I was really happy with where I was at; my riding has s been really good lately and I felt really good on the track all weekend. My bike was working perfectly, my team have done a great job.
“Overall it was a perfect weekend for me. We won every session we went out on the track on, but you know these boys kept me on my toes today, and that’s what I need. It’s been a solid day and hopefully I can keep this momentum and take it into the next GP in Italy.”
Hitachi ASA KTM UK team manager, Lee Tolan, said: “What a start to the season! We couldn’t ask for anything more. There’s still a long season left to go, and anything can happen, but there’s nothing like two overalls to make you feel like things are definitely going in the right directions. Full credit to Graeme and Conrad. Michael Ellis showed good speed but was unlucky with a DNF but definitely has got potential.”
The team returns to action in Italy on April 8 for the MXGP of Trentino.
All photos Billy Giltrow/The Motorcycle Agency.