Based at Lommel, in Belgium, and riding for the British-based Revo Husqvarna UK Race Team, the 21-year-old Walsh embarked upon his rookie full season of Grand Prix racing this year, while he also frequently flitted back across the English Channel to contest the 2019 Maxxis ACU British Motocross Championships series.
He stunned the established British stars when he won the national MX2 title in his debut year in the UK.
Walsh signed off his British champs campaign by finishing 1-1 at the final round, ending the series ahead of his Swedish team-mate Alvin Ostland, with Honda’s Josh Gilbert claiming third overall.
And, as a newbie at GP level, he also finished this season ranked 22nd overall in the MX2 world championships.
His best result was an eighth overall at the Swedish GP in August.
He had raced the 11-round European 250cc Championships (EMX250) in both the 2017 and 2018 seasons, finishing 27th overall in a mixed bag 2017 season and sixth overall last year, and he also raced the MX2 class at the German GP in May last year, finishing 20th overall that weekend.
He was quickly learning the ropes and savouring the taste of things to come.
For the 2019 season it was obviously another huge step forward in his career to race the GPs, a season that also saw him selected to race for Team New Zealand at the Motocross of Nations in The Netherlands last month.
With all three of the riders who raced for Team New Zealand at the MXoN in the United States in 2018 declaring themselves unavailable this time around, the Kiwis dug into their “reserves” to find a line-up for the racing at Assen in September, although, in fairness, Walsh was by now a first choice MXoN candidate anyway.
“I had thought that I should be on the Motocross of Nations team for New Zealand this year … I was already over here in Europe and doing it,” he said matter-of-factly.
“And the venue at Assen is just two hours’ drive from my house, so not too bad for me to get here.
“Winning the British championship this year was a big focus of mine. It was pretty good to end the season on a high. I finished ahead of the other GP guys, so that was awesome too.
“The British Motocross Championships is a series I had always wanted to race in. I was originally born in England and my dad raced at some of the tracks I raced at, so that was pretty cool.
“I won the last seven motos in the British champs, so ended the season quite dominant.
“But it was a big learning curve all year trying to get to learn the GPs. I learned a lot and had top fives and top 10s, but a few bad results too … I put those down to bad qualifying, bad gate picks, bad line choices.
“Towards the end (of the season) I started to work it all out.
“I have a lot more speed now that I had when racing in New Zealand a couple of years ago,” he said, obviously the product of his constantly riding in the GP environment.
“I’ve been around the right people and getting the right training schedule, thanks to my trainer, (former GP rider) Gareth Swanepoel. He’s helped me massively. Hopefully I will be doing that again with him next year too and come out swinging.
“This team I was on this year, the factory-supported Revo Husqvarna UK team, is just going to be doing the British champs in 2020, so no more GP racing. Right now I can’t say what I’ll be doing but I hope to be back racing the GPs in 2020.
“There are not many GP rides available and a lot of my GP friends are struggling to find rides for next year too. The motocross scene at the moment is a little bit tough financially.
“My career is going in the right direction though, just a little bit later than I thought it would. But I’m here in Europe each weekend and putting New Zealand on the map. I’m proud of what I’ve done and hopefully it will only be upwards from here.
“It has been a big deal to be racing the Motocross of Nations. I got seventh in my MX2 class qualifier, but it could have been better. Unfortunately, with five minutes to go, my goggles broke. But to help my team get qualified is awesome.”
Although Walsh’s result almost single-handedly boosted Team New Zealand to 17th overall, earning direct qualification to Sunday’s main races at Assen, it all then turned to custard for him and his team.
The gear-shift lever on Walsh’s bike broke in race one on Sunday (forcing him down from 18th to finish 39th, a virtual DNF) and he then suffered a crash and DNF while running 12th in race two (and that resulted in him dislocating his shoulder). These two incidents ruined what had otherwise been a promising campaign for the intrepid Kiwi.
New Zealand’s MXGP class rider, Taupo’s Wyatt Chase, had seriously injured himself during a training crash a few days earlier, a spill that left him suffering ugly, deep bruising all down his right thigh. He amazed everyone that he was able to battle on despite this.
Enduring intense pain, his 34th and 38th (actually a DNF) results from his two races did not reflect his ability, but, unfortunately, points aren’t awarded for courage or attitude.
Meanwhile, the youngest team member, just-turned 19-year-old Maximus Purvis, from Mangakino, took his 250cc bike into battle against riders on 450cc bikes in the Open class and he proved to be something of a revelation, his 27th and 33rd results extremely honourable in the power-sapping wet Dutch sand.
When the count-up was done at the end of the day, New Zealand had finished the event in an undeserved 19th position overall.
“I think what we achieved as a team at Assen shut up some of the doubters. People didn’t think we were the right team to send, but we showed that when individuals are hungry and really proud of being at the MXoN, we can really turn it on.”
The MXoN is set for Ernee, in France, next season and Walsh could rightly figure to be in contention for a team spot then as well.
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
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