News 1 Jun 2017

MX Nationals front-runners to rally against tear-off ban

Roll-offs causing an increased concern at halfway mark of the season.

Image: Marc Jones.

A host of Australian’s top national motocross racers are lobbying to have tear-offs reintroduced to the sport at a domestic level following a troubled opening five rounds of the 2017 Motul MX Nationals abiding by the roll-off regulations.

Former MX1 champion Kirk Gibbs, as well as ex-internationals Todd Waters and Brett Metcalfe, are just a few of the top-tier riders who are taking a stance in a bid to have Motorcycling Australia (MA) allow tear-offs back in the sport.

The opening half of the 10-round MX Nationals season has seen a litter of roll-off failures throughout the motos under varied circumstances – despite initial hopes that the modern technology was up to the task and with the support of CDR Yamaha’s MX1 champion Dean Ferris – and it’s time for change according to a selection of the country’s best competitors.

“I believe that roll-offs aren’t really designed to do what is happening,” Gibbs explained. “We’re riding 450s and they’re throwing off that much roost – even the 250s are – and we’re running paddle tyres at certain tracks. When a bike has that much power and you’re in a battle, [roll-offs] aren’t designed to cop that much roost lap in, lap out. Things just go wrong.

“There are so many things that can go wrong with them, whereas with a tear-off it’s so simple – they’re fixed on your lens and you pull them off one by one. With roll-offs there are canisters, the roll comes out and it has to go into the other canister, but with the roost they break, the film breaks and there are so many things that can go wrong.

“We’re halfway in and I sent an email to [MA CEO] Peter Doyle saying that out of the last two rounds, I’ve only finished one race with a set of goggles on – that’s three out of four races I finished without having goggles on. I haven’t had the greatest starts until last weekend and I was in heaps of battles, but they’re not meant for that.

“The roll-offs are getting amazing and they are really getting better, so maybe we can use them down the track, but for right now… it’s dangerous, to tell you the truth. I got hit just below the eye twice with dirt at Horsham. It was throbbing, I could barely open it and I had to go straight to RACESAFE to ice it, so it’s something that can go so wrong. It can be a career-ender, because if you get hit in the eye with a rock, you could be done.

“At that level, nobody is going to pull in and lose 10 positions just to get a set of goggles. People just pull them off and go as hard as they can because they want the best result that they can get. It’s just so dangerous and there are so many things that can go wrong.”

Waters, who has experience using roll-offs in European grand prix events, also said that safety is the primary factor and has made it clear that in his opinion a resolution needs to be met during the current MX Nationals mid-season break.

“We were on the start-line waiting to pack our gate before the second moto at Murray Bridge and we pretty much said this is crap, we need to write a letter and make it happen,” Waters said. “I’m all for getting it turned, because at the end of the day it’s the safety of us.

“I’ve rode two races with no goggles and you can’t see – it’s a safety issue. Trying to ride a bike fast blind is never good and I can’t see a positive in keeping the rule. Until the companies sort out a roll-off system that works properly, I don’t think it’s a rule that we can have.

“In GPs you are allowed tear-offs, so what I used to do is run tear-offs on top of roll-offs in the sand races. That way you’ve got a back-up if something happens – like water or something getting behind them – to your tear-offs, but in those first few laps you’re in the heat of it all, getting roosted like crazy. The problem is at the start of the moto in the first five or 10 minutes before the pack settles in.”

As for Metcalfe, he was vocal on the premier class podium at Murray Bridge on Sunday when his roll-off system failed for the fifth time this season, forced to finish the moto without eye protection in gruelling mixed conditions. The effect of the roost was evident as he took to the podium in front of his home fans.

“I was certain even before the season began that this championship could really swing multiple ways because of goggle issues,” Metcalfe commented. “If you’re not a good starter and you have to fight and come through the field, your goggles can really affect your results and it has for me, multiple times.

“Out of eight motos I’ve lined up in, I think I’ve finished with the goggles working three times. We’ve had some discussions this week on the issue and, although I like the meaning behind it and I’m all for the environment, unfortunately I don’t think the new roll-offs are an improvement on the older ones – pretty much everybody is having some issues.

“In the modern era with the roost and the speed of everything, it’s just changed the game. The impact levels are different and there are so many factors to be looked at and I think they are being addressed right now. I would love to see the rule overturned, because while I do think it is the way of the future and every manufacturer is going to have to improve, but right now it’s a major issue and I’ve had a lot of problems.

“I still have a black-eye from Murray Bridge because on the second or third lap my roll-off jammed and that was it – to keep fighting like that was dangerous and a huge risk. For half the race, literally either eye was blurry and I couldn’t see. Coming into the series everyone was confident, but there’s no better data than racing to learn from it and hopefully make an educated decision for the rest of the year.”

According to MA CEO Peter Doyle, it’s a complex process if any overturn is to be stamped and he expects to gain a clearer direction within the next fortnight. It’s understood that discussions will have to be carried out with the motocross commission, the rules and technical committee and the state managers before he goes to the board, if it does in fact get to that stage.

“A month ago we received contact from Jackson Richardson and this week we’ve received contact from Kirk Gibbs and Brett Metcalfe,” Doyle stated on Wednesday. “They’re the only three riders who have actually sent a message to MA.

“There are a lot of people within the states and the venues that support [the ban], so as far as communication outside of that, some of the states are receiving communication from their state-based riders, but there hasn’t been a huge amount. However, we’re aware there’s a lot of riders not happy with it.”

MX Nationals promoter Kevin Williams, of Williams Event Management (WEM), has encouraged riders in the Australian Motocross Championship to respectfully contact MA to address their concern, as the series will continue to operate under the regulations of the national governing body.

“As the promoter, I’ve told the riders and also the parents who are complaining and getting into the officials that when a rule needs to be reviewed, there is a professional manner to do it,” Willams confirmed.

“Everyone who has asked, I have given them the information that you need to prepare and write respectfully to Motorcycling Australia explaining the issues you’re having and the concerns that you have. They will take that on board, but using social media against MA will never get you anywhere and I won’t support that either.”

Williams said that while appropriate areas for riders to efficiently exchange goggles mid-moto have been put in place, that opportunity hasn’t been taken up on a regular basis across the opening five rounds of the season as riders instead opt to race-on without goggles. The next round of the MX Nationals is due for Nowra, New South Wales, on 2 July.