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Hodgson and Todd best Brits at marvellous Mettet

Tuesday October 10, 2017 at 2:55pm
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Motorsport is full of iconic venues and events, The Isle of Man TT, Paris Dakar, The Citadel at Namur, Le Mans, Nurburgring and for Supermoto it is undoubtedly Mettet. A quiet town of some 11,000 souls nestling in the gentle Belgium countryside about 15 miles from Charleroi once a year the population triples as the Superbiker show hits town. In its 31st year the organisers still use the original “old” street circuit first used in 1987 even though the “new” purpose built circuit sits pristinely adjacent to the pits.

 

Nothing quite grabs the imagination of the motorcycling public than racing on the roads and even in conditions that felt like early ski season in Chamonix, cold damp but no snow, the public flocked in their droves to witness the action. On Sunday alone the organisers had over 25,000 spectators through their gates. As well as the racing, rock bands, stunt shows and free style displays coupled with Belgium’s national sport of brewing and drinking copious amounts of strange beers meant that the action never stopped.

 

Mettet has seen some famous winners over the years, Georges Jobe, Broc Glover, Stephane Chambon, Eddy Seel, Cassidy Anderson, Michael Pichon and latterly Romain Febvre have all graced the top spot of the “Superbiker” podium, in 2001 the “Starbiker” trophy was introduced for riders where Supermoto is not the main sport, names on this podium include Fred Bolley, Yves Demaria, Jeff Ward, Ben Bostrom and the great Stefan Everts.

 

UK riders have taken the event to heart and in the past it has almost been a British paddock with up to 70 riders making the journey. The change to the new circuit and the economic downturn reduced numbers as the extreme off road and intensity of the modern circuit discouraged the “hobby” racer from entering. This was the general trend across Europe and Race Director Freddy Tacheny commented that the change back to the street circuit has increased rider numbers by over 100, “Everyone likes to do something a little naughty and this circuit is a little bit naughty” he said.

 

For 2017, 34 British riders crossed the channel to do battle with the other 308 solos and quads entered, amongst them Chris Hodgson and Davy Todd, fresh from representing the UK in the recent Supermoto of Nations, these two were the only British riders in the seeded “Prestiges” class. The two Brits faced tough opposition though, lining up against Thomas Chareyre, the current S1 World champion on his factory TM undoubtedly the quickest rider in the world. With German factory SWM rider Marc-Reiner Schmidt absent with appendicitis, his two SoN teammates, Markus Class and Markus Volz would look for podium places. Chareyre’s French teammate from their victorious Supermoto of Nations team Sylvain Bidart would also be in the hunt.

 

The Mettet race format is quite unique, Friday is given over to timed practice which governs which qualifying group you get allocated to on race day 1. For the Saturday race day five groups of up to 48 riders negotiate 18 minutes plus two laps of the twisty 1.52km circuit, with its technical but flowing off road section and a flat-out blast down the main straight there is something for every rider to enjoy. The pressure is on though as only the first 13 progress through to the semi finals on Sunday, a last chance race is also given for four groups of 46 but only the first three go through!!

 

The British riders did extremely well in qualifying, Ashley Barber and Oliver Pope 3rd, Jordan Bannon 5th, Andy Mitchell and Jamie Duncan 7th, Owen Connell and Dean Hillier 8th, Charlie Light 9th and Tim Johnson 10th in their respective heats. Benefiting from the “Repechage” last chance was South African exile Dirk Jordaan who won his race in appallingly slippy conditions to make the semi-finals. Chris Hodgson and Davey Todd along with the other “Starbikers” got an automatic bye through to the semi-finals.

 

Sunday is the main race day and thankfully the weather improved throughout the morning and by midday there was signs of blue sky and the track was dry enough for slicks but was still very slippy from the dust made by the drying dirt dragged round the circuit in the previous two day’s wet conditions. There are four consolation races for the 129 non-qualifiers which ensure most leave the meeting on a high.

 

The first semi-final saw six British riders competing, Davey Todd (Husqvarna), Ashley Barber (KTM), Jamie Duncan (KTM), Charlie Light (KTM), Andy Mitchell (Husqvarna) and Tim Johnson (Husqvarna). Todd had a great race finishing third from the third row of the grid behind the rapid Markus Class and Danish star Simon Vilhelmsen, his lap times as quick as either of the guys in front, Ashley Barber had a comfortable race for 11th but probably the ride of the race was Scot, Jamie Duncan who battled his way from 28th to 18th to take the last automatic qualifying spot in 18th. After holding 18th place for most of the race Yorkshire’s Andy Mitchell dropped back to 24th after a fall and a stall. Charlie Light made good ground to finish 21st and Tim Johnson 28th. These three would all get chance to qualify in the later “Repechage”.

 

Semi-Final two had seven UK riders Chris Hodgson (KTM), Oliver Pope (KTM) Ashley Barber (KTM), Dirk Jordaan (KTM), Owen Connell (Honda), Robert Simpson (KTM) and Dean Hillier (Husqvarna).  Hodgson finished ninth, it could possibly have been 4 places higher as he had caught and passed one of the four riders immediately in front but trying to squeeze past on one of the slow hairpins he lost the front on the slippy surface and ran wide. Oliver Pope who regularly rides in the Belgium and Dutch championships was an excellent 11th. Jordan Bannon rode a controlled race coming through from 24th he finished a solid 16th just one place behind Belgium’s Moto-GP star Xavier Simeon. Dirk Jordaan, Owen Connell Robert Simpson and Dean Hillier would all need the “Super last chance” race where the top 4 from 30 non-qualifiers go through. World Champion Thomas Chareyre was a comfortable winner from Austrian Lucas Hollbacher (Husqvarna) and Italian SWM works rider Edgardo Borella.

 

The organisers gave all the non-qualifiers an entry into the last chance saloon with the two “repechage” races, the top four riders to make it through to the final. In “Super repechage 1” Charlie Light looked like he could make the cut with his times getting better all weekend but with Sylvain Bidart in the race having broken down in semi-final 1 it was really a race for 3 spots. In the end Charlie could only make 6th although he had the third fastest lap of the race, just behind the Wiltshire youngster was Dean Hillier a flat battery in semi-final 2 ruining his chances of automatic qualification, however it was still a spirited ride coming from the last place on the grid to finish 7th. Dirk Jordaan was 16th. In “Super repechage 2” Andy Mitchell was aiming to maintain his impressive record of competing in every final at Mettet that he has contested and was making a great charge through the pack to 5th when he lost the front end at the pit hairpin and crash out. Tim Johnson was 9th, Owen Connell 13th and Robert Simpson 15th.

 

Another great tradition at Mettet is the Quad bikes and forty-eight machines entered which made for some excellent racing. In the past, the UK and Ireland have been represented by several riders but sadly this sport no longer seems to have any UK based competitors. The winner was local racer Maxim Cluydts from Germany’s Alfred Wolber with Swiss Rolf Forrer third.

 

The final started in possibly the best conditions of the day, the oppressive cloud had lifted and the sun final appeared as it set in the West casting its autumnal rays over the pageant of colour created by the 44 riders that had made it to the final, an achievement in itself. With six Brits on the grid it was our best representation in a final for years, Jamie Duncan, Jordan Bannon, Oliver Pope, Ashley Barber, Davey Todd and Chris Hodgson all took their place amongst Europe’s elite. This race would be a marathon not a sprint, 25 minutes plus 2 laps so fitness and bike reliability would be key.

 

Hodgson started well and held 7th for the first couple of laps before moving up in successive laps to take 7th spot. From 5th on the grid Davey Todd got boxed in on the first two corners but was involved in a great battle a couple of places behind in 9th, both riders getting their times down into the 1.08’s as track conditions got faster and faster. After 13 minutes’ back markers came into play, causing more problems on the tight track. Up front a tremendous fight was ensuing with Markus Class, Lucas Hollbacher and Thomas Chareyre battling wheel to wheel, the big question though, was Chareyre holding anything back as their times where now in the 1.06’s faster than anyone had been all weekend?

 

As the race wore on Hodgson was still strong and got his times down into the 1.07’s his personal best and taking Markus Volz in a great move to move into 5th, Todd also finally got the better of Patrick Tellenbach to move into 8th however last qualifier Sylvain Bidart came through the pack to pass the young Teessider with two laps to go relegating him back to ninth, however a real push on the final lap saw Todd pass the young Martinique rider Alexis Marie-Luce to take an excellent 8th, riding on without doubt the lowest budget in the final.  Hodgson on his LSP KTM continued a lonely ride in fifth, well clear of Volz but unable to hang on to Edgardo Borella on the factory SWM, however he kept his pace up till the end to record his highest ever finish at the event and headed only by factory supported riders, an even better result when he revealed his back brake had broken half way through the race. With two laps to go Chareyre had reeled in Class and Hollbacher with a succession of fast laps to take the chequered flag and reinforce his dominance of European Supermoto and a healthy prize money purse to boot.

 

Of the other Brits Oliver Pope was excellent in 19th beating his friend and teammate Ashley Barber into 20th. Jordan Bannon struggled with arm pump and had to settle for 33rd yet delighted that he had made the final on his second trip to Mettet, Jamie Duncan was exhausted but equally delighted he had got to the final and finished in a very creditable 36th.

 

Almost fittingly for this meeting, the rain started again as the huge crowd gathered in the dusk to cheer the Supermoto gladiators as they mounted the rostrum, champagne spraying in the flashlights. Mettet is a unique, anachronistic event in these over regulated times, the spectators can get up close and personal with riders flashing past, literally centimetres away. Anyone who loves motorsport should sample it at least once

 

Results 31st Ladbrokes Superbiker Mettet

1st           Thomas Chareyre              France                  TM

2nd          Lucas Hollbacher               Austria                 Husqvarna

3rd           Markus Class                     Germany             Husqvarna

4th           Edgardo Borella                Italy                      SWM

5th           Chris Hodgson                  Great Britain       KTM

6th           Markus Volz                     Germany              Husqvarna

7th           Sylvain Bidart                    France                  Honda

8th           Davey Todd                        Great Britain      Husqvarna

9th           Alexis Marie-Luce             France                  Yamaha

10th         Patrick Tellenbach           Switzerland        Husqvarna

19th        Oliver Pope                        Great Britain      KTM

20th        Ashley Barber                    Great Britain      KTM

33rd        Jordan Bannon                  Great Britain      Husqvarna

36th        Jamie Duncan                    Great Britain      KTM

 

Race report by David Dearden – Pictures by Motopixs.com


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