A lot gets said by the older generation about how “the youth of today” quite simply aren’t as tough as they were “back in the day”. It made me roll my eyes when I was 21 on a two-stroke 250cc Honda, and it still does now that I’m twice that age and seeing the best in the world busting their guts out on four-strokes while all the old boys reminisce about “the good old days”, “when men were men”, on “real men’s bikes”.
Anyone who went to the 2020 Ashbrook Hazport Tysers Hawkstone International will hopefully be able to argue against that opinion as the best riders of so-called Generation Z slogged through quite incredible conditions that made just completing a lap as tough as it gets. Quite brilliant displays from the boys in orange in particular as Liam Everts in EMX125, Tom Vialle in MX2, and Jeffrey Herlings took the overall victories. They were ably backed up by Shaun Simpson, Glenn Coldenhoff and Rene Hofer who all shone through the sludge as Storm Ciara lashed the Shropshire circuit and left it in the worst condition many had ever seen.
The EMX125s got underway before the weather really took hold, and in fact Everts Junior recorded the fastest race lap of the whole day in their opening moto. It wasn’t enough for the win though as British hope Joel Rizzi kept the young prodigy at bay to win the opening moto by over two seconds. South African Camden McLellan, fastest in qualifying, came in a little further back in third. It’s going to be fascinating to see where these three lads are in five years’ time.
The heavens then truly opened as the MX2 boys lined up, and no-one envied them sat on the line with a monsoon firing down on their thin new ventilated race kit. Then, utter havoc was caused by a false start, with half the gate staying up, and most of the field doing a whole tortuous lap while Vialle and a handful of others sat nice and clean on the line. Without a doubt those who had done a lap needed fresh kit, goggles in particular. So after a brief delay, they charged away again. Loose branches were being blown onto the track at places, and one tight left-hander in particular turned into quicksand, robbing Mikkel Haarup of a good position early on, although he did charge back to third.
KTM new boy Rene Hofer led for virtually the entire race before Dutch Nations standby Roan van de Moosdijk pushed through on the penultimate lap, coming back himself from a small off as the swamp-like conditions caught out many of the best. This is where the world of Motocross was shown that its future is bright. Dutch whizzkid Kay De Wulf, not even 15 and a half years old yet, dug in brilliantly for fourth place. 17 year-old Frenchman Thibault Benistant nabbed eighth from an awful start, his last lap incredibly his fastest. Aussie Jed Beaton came through from a first lap off to notch an impressive 7th.
The only slight depression about the future has to be felt by the British fans. 38 year-old Brad Anderson was top Brit in race 1 aboard his 250 two-stroke KTM, finishing 12th. Although hot on his heels after an early fall and goggle change was Josh Gilbert, mixing it well in advance of his first year of GP competition.
British fans had a lot more to cheer in the opening MX1 race! A decent start, then a nifty move up the inside of Quicksand Corner saw Shaun Simpson clear off out front, never to be headed again as he once more showed his mastery in the trickiest possible conditions. If I was Shaun I’d be sneaking out before MXGPs to water the entire track non-stop the night before the races. He was simply immaculate and could afford to back off in the last few laps and see it home.
Race 1 was far from a procession though, as Quicksand Corner claimed several victims in the opening lap, Micha Boy De Waal splashing to a halt from his early lead and taking Jake Nicholls with him. Nicholls’ team-mate Tommy Searle didn’t last a lap, whilst fellow Brits Adam Sterry and Jake Millward also sank their bikes past the sump guards.
Most impressive of all though was star man Jeffrey Herlings. Bog last after a first corner pile-up, the incomparable Dutchman poured through the pack, his lap charts reading 20th-14th-11th-8th-6th-5th before then winding in Thomas Covington and Harri Kullas to hit third just before the last lap flag. Astonishingly in that lap and a bit he pulled over TWENTY-SIX seconds away from Kullas, drawing the crowd to get behind him as fingers pointed and jaws dropped when it became truly possible for him to nab second from Glenn Coldenhoff. The Hoff had looked a danger to Simpson until a small spill coming out of the bombhole at about half distance, but still looked to have plenty in hand. Nearly level out of the bombhole on the last lap, Glenn just held out by a second and a half.
Kullas was a still solid 4th, ahead of GP winners Thomas Covington and Julien Lieber. Mel Pocock, evergreen Kevin Strijbos in his retro Suzuki colours, Benoit Paturel and well happy Brit Dan Thornhill rounded out the top ten.
The EMX 125 boys had a very tough second race, with two of them stuck in Quicksand Corner from the second lap onwards, but it was young Everts, bringing back memories of his Dad at Foxhill ’98, who splashed around everyone with his feet on the pegs (mostly!) and winning by over 48 seconds. It was seriously heavy going for 125 two-strokes, but the lads again did their generation proud by plugging away for the duration. Rizzi was second this time ahead of Dutchman Scott Smulders, who nabbed a spot on the overall podium for good measure.
MX2 was this time a lot more static, the top four holding station throughout, with impossibly skinny Tom Vialle swiping Josh Gilbert’s nose off into the first corner and never being threatened from there. Jed Beaton wasn’t having a repeat of race one and quickly got through to second, with Dane Haarup making the podium if only to tell us all how to pronounce his name. Gilbert enjoyed a far better showing with a solid fourth. In order of finishing Benistant, Hofer, de Wolf, and Estonian Jorgen Matthius-Talviku again flew the flag for the younger generation. Old dog Anderson was 9th ahead of German Richard Sikyna, and young Brit Sam Nunn was an impressive 11th.
With the Superfinal cancelled, the MX1 stars faced the final slog with the track deeper than ever in places, but at least the rain was abating somewhat. This time out Herlings took no chances, grabbing the holeshot and checking out, although Coldenhoff kept him honest and got within a couple of seconds at one point.
He had to be pushing it as Shaun Simpson was hungry for the overall win which second would have given him. After a tricky start, the Scot ultimately made a mistake and had to settle for losing the tiebreak with The Bullet, still a fine showing on his debut for his own team. As he said on the podium he would have grabbed that happily at the start of the day. Kullas grabbed sixth for fourth overall, as Belgians Brent van Doninck and Lieber rounded out the race two top five. Old dogs Bobryshev in 7th and Strijbos in 9th mixed it with MX1 newbies De Waal in 8th and Anton Gole in 10th.
Overall the Hawkstone International, always one for the hardcore fans, rewarded those that were doubly hardcore enough to brave the storm with a cracking day of entertainment. It frustrates this writer that the efforts of this generation go largely unappreciated in comparison to the crowds that flock to the more retrospective events held in this country. Most of the modern day warriors showed what they were made of in the atrocious mess, hardly suited to the four-stroke weapons of today and enough to test any of the historical heroes that have pounded the Shropshire sands. The boys done themselves proud and I for one cannot wait for the real show to kick off at Matterley on the 1st of March. Bring it on!