Features 13 May 2017

Deadline

Recalling this week in dirt bikes, presented by Alpinestars Australia.

When Luke Clout and Nathan Crawford stepped into factory 450 rides ahead of the 2017 Motul MX Nationals – not to mention the injured Dylan Long joining CDR Yamaha – it was viewed as the ‘next generation’ arriving in the premier class. And, so far, they’ve been making their mark as expected.

But what we didn’t factor in at the time was the fact that Australian Motocross has a new leadership group when it comes to national racers. Since 2010 when we first toured the nationals, Jay Marmont, Josh Coppins, Matt Moss, Kirk Gibbs and Dean Ferris have claimed the MX1 crowns. Only two of those champions remain behind the gates.

And it’s Ferris and Gibbs, as well as Todd Waters, who are now recognised as the most elite in the sport at a domestic level here in Australia, setting the standard, so to speak. The general belief is that if you don’t have one of these guys on your bike, it’s unlikely you’ll win a championship in the current era. And that’s no disrespect to Kade Mosig and co, it’s just the way it is.

Watching Ferris over the first three rounds has been nothing short of phenomenal. He’s significantly gelled at CDR Yamaha since the nationals wound up at Coolum last year, especially after a stunning supercross season. There were a few frustrating years there for Craig Dack post-Marmont and Coppins, however in Ferris they’ve found an outdoor title-winner again. That’s precisely why Yamaha signed him entering 2016.

Image: MXN.

Ferris said at Conondale that he’s in the form of his career. And confirmed that he’d still love a crack at Europe. Getting that opportunity won’t be easy on a top-flight team and nothing guarantees that he will be able to challenge for victories in GPs again, but more than few remember vividly just how incredible his performance at the 2013 Motocross of Nations was on a 250F. He is most certainly world class.

Alongside him, KTM’s Gibbs has proven to be the ultimate challenger for Ferris after stepping his own performances up last year. He’s the only rider who’s beat Ferris to a moto win so far this year and you can count on him being in with a shot at the title come the final round of the season. But unlike Ferris, Gibbs is beginning to understand the fact that it may be too late to score a strong ride internationally and there’s every chance he will finish out his career locally. Almost certainly with more championships to come.

And Waters, he’s yet to break through for a championship, despite being in the mix on so many occasions. Many would argue that when it comes to outright talent and sheer speed, Waters is the most capable of the trio we’re focusing on in this column. This year upon switching to Crankt Protein Honda Racing, its supposed to be his year, armed with the all-new CRF450R, although he arguably has more pressure than the others considering he’s yet to win the number one plate.

Australian Motocross is in a strong place when you factor the type of gritty competitors that these guys are and, waiting in the wings not too far behind them, we have Clout, Crawford and more all determined to step up to the fore when their time comes. If you happen to follow US racing or GPs without paying particular attention to what’s happening in our own back yard, I recommend giving it a go. It’s definitely worth it. Here’s Spence with more…

Another round down, one round closer to the season-finale at Coolum where we’ll see three champions crowned. We know MX2 and MXD will see new champions crowned with the exit of Jed Beaton to Europe and Mitch Evans to MX2, but there’s a fair chance defending MX1 champion Dean Ferris could go back-to-back. As Alex has mentioned, Ferris is in the form of his career and his Conondale ride was truly impressive.

In MX2 it was also a very impressive ride from Evans, now he may not be able to go back-to-back in MXD, but he could very well earn himself two number one plates in a row in 2017. As a rookie in the MX2 class, the Serco Yamaha rider now has two 1-1 victories to his name in just three starts, that’s amazing stuff. The best part? He’s smart, down to earth and isn’t phased by much, so it’s definitely going to be tough for these guys to knock Evans off that top step now.

Image: MXN.

Just three rounds into the season and we’ve seen select riders such as Dylan Long drop out of the series, but he will return following the mid-season break, which is great. On the other hand, Luke Arbon has made his exit from the sport for good and now we’ve seen Wade Kirkland announce that he too will step away from racing. The Raceline Pirelli KTM rider cited injury worries as the main reason for his departure from the sport and I understand that personally.

These guys are putting it all on the line here and the risk of something going wrong is very high when you’re pushing the limits and racing at a high level. It’s never good to see a rider exit the scene, but it’s important that we don’t have riders out there who are in doubt and basically a risk to themselves and their competitors. You need to be in the right mindset or things just won’t work out – Kevin Windham was a prime example of this.

Once he felt like he was scared to be injured or had that feeling of doubt in his mind, he packed it up then and there. I was actually at the Anaheim supercross event in 2013 when he made the decision to step away and it was something that at first shocked me, but then I totally understood where he was coming from. It’s either 100 percent or nothing in this sport, which is tough, but it’s the way things need to be in order to be safe out on the race track.

With the exit of riders such as Arbon and Kirkland though, we now see free seats available in the MX2 category. At SD3 Husqvarna, it’s not yet clear whether Arbon’s old MX2 seat will be filled, but Kirkland’s definitely will be and we’re interested to see who locks in that deal. Could we see a serious contender join the MX2 ranks and shake things up? You never know what could happen, but someone will need to be on that bike no matter what, so stay tuned on that one!

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