Rotorua’s John Phillips has had an eventful season, racing on the other side of the world, and the highlight being his representing New Zealand at the Motocross of Nations in France.
Today the Kiwi DBG Suzuki Team rider reports in with a re-cap of his past few events, including the MXoN.
British Masters Final Round, at Dean Moor, Sept 11, 2011:
Overall Result for the Championship, third. I really enjoyed this series as it was more low key than the British Champs but still had a few top UK riders who were there to make some money.
It was a good introduction to UK racing, it gave me the opportunity to race lots of different tracks and make some money too. I took a while to get used to the RM and so like the other series I competed in this year I didn’t start putting it together until the season was underway.
Motocross of Nations, St Jean d’Angely, France, Sept 17-18, 2011:
The St Jean track is situated on the side of a big hill, the huge drop-offs take you down to tight corners at the bottom where you turn and head straight back up again. The hard pack base formed up really well on the Saturday when we had free practice and class qualifying but the lines were destroyed and not nearly as flowing for Sunday.
Saturday: I had ridden the track a few months earlier so knew what to expect and was pleased to see the weather was expected to hold out for the weekend.
During free practice I took my time to find some good lines and get my head in the right place for the all out assault that would take place in the qualifying race later in the day. I felt good on the bike and the track was mint.
When the gates dropped for the MX2 qualifying race I got away to a reasonable start but I knew I had to push through on the first lap or the leaders would be gone. I had moved through to 10th place about half way through the first lap when I cross rutted into a set of whoops and was spat over the bars and off the track. I pick my bike up and rejoined the race last by about 100m.
I put my head down and rode my heart out. It took the best part of a lap to catch the tail end riders and from there I proceeded to move through, passing riders each lap all the way to the flag finishing a very disappointing 23rd. An extremely hard way to learn it doesn’t matter how well you ride the rest of the race you have to keep it together, especially on the first lap.
My team-mates qualified 26th and 27th in their respective races so Team NZ didn’t qualify straight through to the finial but we had a last chance qualifying race Sunday morning where the team with the best collated points would make the afternoon’s racing.
Sunday: None of us got the starts we were after and Joel Doeksen, our MX1 rider, was cleaned out when someone jumped over on him and ripped out his clutch wiring and mangling his bike so he dnfed. Team-mate Kieran Scheele and I battled away mid pack each making small mistakes as we did our best to do NZ proud. I crossed the line behind Kieran in 14th place. Team Ireland won the B qualifying as they have for the past 3 years.
Three major lessons I have learned about racing in general and MXoN in particular.
1. Be prepared, plan months in advance so you know what to expect and there are no surprises; know the rules (couldn’t walk the track Sunday morning as the security guy thought I had to have a Sunday pit pass which wasn’t the case but I didn’t know that). Be in the best physical and mental shape you can possibly be as the event is so enormous just being there sucks it out of you.
2. Qualify first time up. Especially if you are riding MX2 as it is so hard to get past the 450’s and there are twice as many of them.
3. The taste, smell and feeling of failure at this highest level is dreadful to experience and my resolve to be fitter, faster and more prepared than my competition just so I never experience it again.
The words ‘Thank You’ don’t seem to be anywhere near enough to express my gratitude to Rex Michau for the finances, time, effort and encouragement that he put into Kieran and me. He went way beyond the call of duty to ensure we had the best possible opportunity to ride to our fullest potential, and that our future success’s will be in part because of the opportunities he has given us.
On the way back from France we spent an extra day and went riding at Dunkirk sand track where we attacked the track, throwing everything at it, the aches and pains of the weekend’s riding disappeared as I visualised the challenge of Lommel, the Belgian sand track for MXoN in 2012.
Red Bull Pro Nationals Final Round, Culham, Sept 25, 2011:
Again the track was set on the side of a hill, making it great for spectators.
It was a sandy track with a hard base, developing small square-edged bumps as the day progressed. The steep uphill start was a decided advantage for the bigger bikes and the track being a little one line made it hard work on a 250. We had sunshine all day and the track held up well.
The race format is for the fastest MX1 & MX2 riders to race together but be pointed separately. I was really looking forward to racing as the track looked like it would suit me but I couldn’t get into the grove necessary to put in a fast lap and had to settle for 26th
Race 1: I thought I was onto it following a couple of the top MX 2 riders to an outside gate only to be left half way up the hill, they knew of a firm line and I was in the soft sand. I pushed hard till I got stuck behind a 450 that had too much power for me up the hills but held me up in the more technical stuff. I eventually got passed him but there wasn’t enough race left to make anything of it so had to settle for 22nd in the race, 12th MX2.
Race 2: I started on the inside and got away to a mid pack first corner which considering the hill was pretty good. I had come from the very back of the pack to 22 in race 1 so having that as a starting point I was keen to move forward.
The 450’s again making it difficult and when I stalled it and let a few more get by it made racing that much harder. I used a few outside lines to carry momentum round the bottom corners and made up a few places when I missed a gear and lost them again, allowing frustration to get the better of me and I stalled it again. A bit of self talk and plenty of attitude got me passed some of the same riders again but I passed the flag in a disappointing 24th, again 12th MX2
Overall for the day I was 10th and overall for the series I was seventh.
The Red Bull Pro Nationals is a great event to test your fitness, make some money and compete with some of the UK’s top riders, but I think the weekend before took too much out of me to make the most of it. It is a weekend event with junior and amateur racing both Saturday and Sunday, and MX1, MX2 on the Sunday. Qualifying in the morning then waiting around all day to race in the afternoon is a bit of a drag but its a great event just the same.
Maxxis British MX Championship, Hawkstone, October 2, 2011:
The Hawkstone area hadn’t had rain for some time and the water tanks were flat out trying to dampen the sandy track.
Hawkstone is one of my favourite tracks with its loamy surface with lots of jumps and massive hill that it’s famous for. Waking up to a very red sunrise had many people thinking we would be in for rain later in the day but the overcast weather provided excellent racing conditions and the rain held off till we were gone.
I took my time becoming familiar with the rhythm sections that were different from last time I had ridden there, the drop down the big hill was still greasy from watering but by the time the qualifying began I was feeling confident and started putting in some reasonable laps. I was gutted that I missed the super pole by less than 1/4 of a sec especially as I knew I was faster round there than a few of the guys ahead of me. I qualified 13th.
Race 1: I got off the concrete start really well – the heap of dirt I put on helped, I rounded the first corner inside the top 10 and felt good. I was sitting comfortably in eighth until midway through the race and the rider in front of me went down giving me seventh position. Fellow Kiwi Kayne Lamont and another rider had come to within striking distance so I picked up the pace until I had a comfortable gap between us. I was gaining on sixth but ran out of race before getting close enough to be a threat. I was happy with seventh as my fitness is good and the track was developing nicely.
Race 2: Again I got out of the gate and round the corner at the pointy end of the field but less than 500m from the start and just before the first big tabletop my bike locked up and my race was over before it began. I watched the rest of the race looking for lines and being very grateful my bike stopped before the jump and not half way over it.
Race 3: A faster qualifier took the gate I had prepped and I started from a normal swept concrete gate. The gates dropped and I got a good launch next to Kayne but as the gentle uphill sand took its toll on my rather tired practice bike Kayne pulled away, as did most of the field, and I rounded the first corner toward the back of the field. I pushed and shoved to try and improve my placings but didn’t have the pull out of the sandy corners so wasn’t making much headway until I started railing the berms to carry some speed.
I worked my way up through half the field and into some points using all of the track to keep up the momentum till it fell apart when I tried railing the corner at the bottom of the big hill to make a pass but didn’t see a lump in the dust that took out my front wheel and put me over the bars. Both the bike and I were a bit bent and buckled, when I got going my back that had been hurting most of the day had gotten even worse and the pain made it unbearable to ride, I crept back to the pits.
Overall for the series I was 20th.
The British Championship is what UK racing is all about. It is an understatement to say it has been challenging and character building, from the first corner crash in the first race of the first round that put me out for the day through to a couple of top 10 finishes during the season to Sunday’s fantastic start to the day that disintegrated into one I’d rather forget.
The British Championship has been very challenging, so hopefully I will come back next year and consistently finish well inside the top 10.
This season has been tough both on and off the bike and like they say “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”, so from that alone I have benefited massively from my time over here.
The huge-eye opener into UK racing scene had me dumbfounded for a while. It’s like rolling 3 seasons into one compared to NZ and then there is the time travelling just to get to practice tracks let alone the race meetings that mean you spend at least twice as much time in the van than you do on your bike.
The cost of fuel, practice tracks, etc, etc, make training almost as expensive as racing and once again I want to thank Rex for opening his heart and his house and putting his hand in his pocket to enable me to have this life changing, career-building experience.
Thank you for your support, your sponsorship, and emails of encouragement, it has enabled me to make as much as I have out of this season.
© Photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
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