When the top two Championship class riders are divided by just hundredths of a second on Special Tests, you know that this event defined the word competition. Beta Factory rider Steve Holcombe and Colwyn Bay KTM’s Brad Freeman were virtually inseparable over two days of breath-taking Sprint racing at the beginning of the 2016 Sprint season. Freeman took the first day by five seconds as Holcombe fought back to take the second day by just over five seconds.
The ACU GBXC British Sprint Championship could not have got off to a better start last weekend at Rogers Hill Raceway in Dorset. Excellent weather conditions, a superbly prepared venue and the UK’s top riders filling the Pro class with all other classes maxed out, all made for the perfect start to this ACU Championship series.
Rogers Hill Raceway was an excellent choice of venue. It provided two superb Special Tests, both within easy walking distance of the paddock, easy access for the convoys of motorhomes with great parking and terrific catering facilities. With the shadow of the ACU BEC lurking in the background the series was perhaps unfairly under scrutiny but surpassed all expectations with flying colours. Dry weather in the lead up to the event certainly helped significantly although the weather throughout the event was very un-Dorset-like. The venue is overshadowed by a huge electricity producing windmill which was never still throughout the whole weekend as a cold wind prompted hard riding by competitors simply to keep the blood flowing.
In the world of Sprinting, the tests are of utmost importance and Paul Edmondson had given plenty of thought to provide a balanced challenge although, by nature, sprints lend themselves slightly towards to the speed merchants rather than more technical riders.
The MX test had a few tricky sections but was mainly over the undulating hard-packed MX track at the venue while the Extreme test saw a mix of technical woodland that included a very steep slope strictly for the brave, a smattering of tight and twisty jumps and bomb holes and a fair amount of flat-out weaving field work. Consensus of opinion was equally divided between riders on which test was best, which gives rise to the conclusion that the whole show was very evenly planned. Six runs on each test on Saturday and five on each test for Sunday gave great value for money in addition to excellent racing.
The huge Championship, Expert and Clubman group got Saturday morning underway on the MX test while the Veterans, Ladies, Sportsman and Youth 12-16 classes headed for the Extreme test. Both groups began with a sighting lap then it was all guns blazing from the moment the first riders hit the tests.
From the very first run the battle was on between Holcombe and Freeman with Holcombe taking a four second bite out of the Colwyn Bay rider. Freeman quickly set about biting back and worked hard to gradually take the lead, fraction by fraction throughout the morning to head into the afternoon three seconds clear. His hard work vanished on the first Extreme test as Holcombe pulled it back to level pegging. It was close. On two tests they were separated by just hundredths of a second but eventually Freeman eased a second and a half gap to take the day overall by just under five seconds.
KTM UK’s Daryl Bolter and Factory MRS Sherco’s Tom Sagar, relatively speaking the old men of the sport, used their significant experience to climb to third and fourth, overcoming strong challenges by the young guns of Leisure trail KTM’s Jack Edmondson, Yamaha Offroad’s Lee Sealey and TM mounted Josh Gotts while Joe Wootton and Richard Ely’s challenges ended early with just two and three runs to their credit.
With the Sprint Championship emulating the BEC with sub divisions, the competition was fierce across all classes. Bolter headed Championship E1 ahead of Edmondson and Sealey, Freeman took E2 from Sagar and Gotts while Holcombe won E3 from Mark Roberts and Gary Daniels.
Colwyn Bay’s Alex Walton, E1, continued his good form from the EEC in Italy the week before and won the Expert class by seven seconds ahead of MRS Sherco mounted Tom Elwood, E2, while Bradley King, K4 Kawasaki E1, returned to the Enduro fold to take third. Alex West took top spot in Expert E3.
Fred Adams, E3, was top Clubman rider followed by Brad Rowland, E1, and Jack Nixey, E2, with less than a second separating second and third places.
The Extreme test saw the Championship battle mirrored in the Youth class by Harry Edmondson and Henry Yardley. They dominated every test. Neither gave an inch throughout the day, and both fought hard for top spot despite Edmondson losing 14-seconds on the opening test then Yardley losing 20-seconds on the fifth test. Edmondson entered the afternoon’s MX test 12-seconds ahead of Yardley and the pair swapped times until Edmondson emerged the winner with a combined 31-second’s advantage after the final test and overall victory on the opening day. Jacob James on his Redline KTM climbed to within three seconds of the leaders to take third in class and put in some very impressive test times on his way to the podium.
The Veterans class saw Mark Hawkins take a terrific win. He took a four-second advantage from the Extreme test and added another 15 seconds to it to win the class outright as Andy Daniels nailed second place with Danny Hall third.
Ben Key topped the Sportsman class on both tests to come out on top ahead of Steve Furr and Dan Ford. Kate Smith kept her cool going into the afternoon’s MX test with a narrow advantage to extend her lead to 36-seconds by the end of the day, emerging as Ladies class winner ahead of Gemma Holtham and Emily Hall.
With little or no track maintenance necessary overnight, round two of the championship got underway bright and early on Sunday morning with Group A once again starting on the MX test and the Group B on the Extreme test.
With everything returned to zero for the second round of the championship both Freeman and Holcombe rode as if this was the final round with everything to play for. Freeman won the first test and Holcombe the second and the third. Both riders were on the same second in the fourth and fifth tests with Holcombe just gaining a five second overall advantage going to the Extreme test. Once again the pair matched each other to the second on two of the five tests, the outcome hanging on the final test of the day where the slightest of mistakes can change the lead in a heartbeat. Freeman grabbed the smallest amount of time back but it wasn’t enough to change the outcome and Holcombe took the overall win by just over five seconds.
Jack Edmondson pulled himself together and had a much better second day. He had flashes of brilliance on the first day but Sunday saw him shine as he took third overall and top E1 spot as Darly Bolter slipped to fourth and Tom Sagar to fifth. Sagar improved significantly following a very quick fork change although he is still really in the ‘testing’ stage with his Factory MRS Sherco 450.
The Expert class saw a slight shuffling of positions as Tom Ellwood convincingly won on both the MX and Extreme tests to take overall Expert top spot with Bradley King snapping at his heels. Alex Walton had to be content with third place, he was lightning fast on the MX but the Extreme test was his downfall although bear in mind we are talking seconds here, not minutes.
Fred Adams did the double in the Clubman ranks, taking his second win of the weekend by a clear 30-seconds over Aston Day. Jack Nixey maintained his top three position, taking third in class by just 400th
of a second behind Day.
The epic Youth class battle continued as it finished on day one with Henry Yardley and Harry Edmondson vying for dominance. After five Extreme tests Edmondson had the smallest of leads, 800ths of a second but the first MX test of the afternoon was his downfall as he lost 15-seconds to Yardley and was playing catch-up after that. He won a couple of the tests but Yardley was in control and made no mistakes to take the overall win and top the Youth class with a brilliant display of controlled riding with no mistakes. Brett Rowland took third, just four seconds clear of Jacob James at the midway point but the MX test was Rowland’s territory and he piled on the pressure to finish over a minute clear of James.
Andy Daniels won both tests outright to take the Veterans class by a clear two minutes over Danny Hall while Colin Blunt, much to his surprise, climbed the heights to take third in class and was well-chuffed with his performance.
Ben Key once again led the Sportsman class home. He was six seconds down at the lunchtime break but once on the MX test he put the pressure on and gained time hand over fist to win for the second time and by a clear two minutes.
Gemma Holtham had a much better second day. She started unimpressively on the first two tests but recovered to eventually take the Ladies class by a narrow five seconds from Kate Smith as Emily Hall took her second podium of the weekend in third spot.
Close racing makes for good competition and the whole weekend could not have been closer than the Freeman/Holcombe and Edmondson/Yardley battles, which made for a cracking start to the ACU GBXC British Sprint Championship. The event was well organised and extremely well executed by all at Fast Eddy Racing.
The third and fourth rounds at H2O at the end of April have plenty to live up to following these two epic opening rounds.