Monday Kickstart:
2006 Motocross of Nations

Matterley Basin—Winchester, England

No doubt the biggest news leading up to the 2006 Motocross of Nations was Ricky Carmichael’s shoulder injury. His crash during the first moto at Glen Helen not only denied him the opportunity to go out with a win (Glen Helen was the last race of RC’s fulltime motocross racing career), but it also robbed him of the privilege of racing the event that he has almost single-handedly resurrected for US riders—the Motocross of Nations. “I love this event, and I think that every kid who races should grow up with the goal of racing it, RC said at a press conference over the weekend. “I really wanted to race, and I know that everybody here wanted to see James and I race together. I feel that we have really stepped it up, and we’re riding a pretty tall level now. It’s water under the bridge, though, and that’s just the way that things go sometimes.

RC’s decision to sit out of the event was a difficult one, but in the end, it was simply a physical impossibility for him to ride given the state of his shoulder. “Glen Helen was the first time in my professional career that I’ve been unable to race my second moto. When I got up, my shoulder had a lot of pain, and I knew right away that I couldn’t finish the race. And from there it was just on a day-to-day basis. As you guys have seen, my bike was here and ready to go, but unfortunately, my injury just didn’t heal as fast as I would have liked it to. It’s very disappointing for me personally, but there was nothing that I could do. Ricky’s shoulder injury consisted of a tearing of the rotator cuff in a couple different spots, as well as some damage to the labrum. Though significant enough to keep him sidelined from racing, RC and his doctors have elected to allow the injuries to heal naturally. “My doctor said that he’d like to see it heal up naturally. Yes, they could repair it surgically, but they didn’t feel that it was substantial enough to do that, so we’d like to see it heal up on its own.

After the decision was made to replace the injured Ricky Carmichael with his teammate Ivan Tedesco, the mechanics at Suzuki began dialing in Tedesco’s ride. Since he runs a setup very similar to RC’s, it was a fairly quick and easy task. Carmichael’s legendary mechanic Mike Gosselaar and the rest of the Team Makita Suzuki crew only had to change things like bars and suspension settings to personalize the bike for Hot Sauce.

An estimated 62,000 fans converged upon the Matterly Basin course in Winchester, England to witness the 60th annual running of the Motocross of Nations. In the 60 years, not only have the fans multiplied exponentially, so have the number of competing countries. At the first-ever running of the MXoN in Duinvell, Netherlands, there were just three countries competing (Great Britain, Netherlands, and Belgium). This year’s event included 31 different countries attempting to qualify for the 20-team final.

Stewart was asked what he thought of the massive crowd on hand for Saturday’s qualifying races, and he replied while laughing, “I didn’t expect a crowd on Friday, to be honest with you, let alone today. It felt like I was walking around at some type of rock concert—like I was at Woodstock or something!

While on the subject of the gigantic crowd, we must also mention the enthusiasm of the largely English and European fans. These people truly are some of the most diehard fans in the world, and they braved long lines, horrible bathroom facilities, and off-and-on bad weather to witness firsthand the 60th running of MXoN. Air horns seemed almost mandatory here, and it was easy to tell when something exciting was happening through the noise of them. Although most fans on hand were pulling for their own countries, they were equally supportive of the Americans, and Bubba dw just as many (if not more) cheers than Everts or the hometown British team:. Respect is the name of the game here, whatever country the rider might happen to be from. And while the fans were loud (and plenty of them drunk, as well) they were never too obnoxious. Throughout the entire weekend, we didn’t spot a single fight (an anomaly compared to the numerous brawls that break out at Glen Helen and Anaheim stadium every year).

Matterly Basin’s track (located in the southwest quarter of England) was a great combination of the traditionally fast and less technical Grand Prix circuits, mixed in with some huge jumps and deep ruts that were more reminiscent of the Stateside MX National courses. There were several big launchers on the track, including a step-up triple that not even James Stewart was regularly jumping. The Johnny Douglas Hamilton-designed track was just over a mile in length, roughly 33 feet wide in most places, and had average lap time of around two minutes and ten seconds, depending on the rider being timed. “I thought the track was good, Ryan Villopoto commented at the end of the day Saturday. “It’s got some good jumps, and a lot of guys are going fast. We had some mud in the beginning of the day, which was tough, but by the end of the day it was really good, and it didn’t take me very long to get comfortable on it.

The track never got very rough, in part due to the fast and flowing corners that didn’t require much heavy braking, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t technical, at least as far as ruts were concerned. Due to the heavy rains that fell before the qualifying sessions as well as the night before the final race, the ruts became extremely deep in many areas of the Matterly Basin track. One corner was dug out so far that bikes were in as deep as their radiators, and even up the faces of the jumps there were plenty of wheel-gobbling crevices for the riders to contend with. “I thought the track was pretty good, Bubba told us Saturday afternoon. “It got a lot better toward the end of my practice, and then continued improving once it dried out later in the day. Once that happened, it made it a little bit easier to pick good lines, but it was difficult at the same time because you’d get caught behind riders in ruts and lose some time trying to get around them.

An interesting difference between AMA-organized events and FIM races is the setup of the mechanics area. Whereas mechanics and crew members send pitboard signals to their riders in a roped-off area of dirt at MX National and Supercross races, in Europe each team has their own special, separated tent where they remain throughout the entire race. With possible showers in the forecast, the tents would have been a haven for the crew had the skies actually opened up, but thankfully the forecasted rain never materialized.

For those of you who still aren’t hip to the event format, rules, and points at the Motocross of Nations, here’s a quick session of Motocross of Nations 101 to get you up to speed. After all, we expect every single person reading this to be on hand at the 2007 running of the event at Budds Creek next September, so you’d better be in the know.

MX OF NATIONS RULES/POINTS:

  • Each country can enter one National team.
  • Each team consists of three riders.
  • Each team must field one rider on an MX1 bike (equivalent to the Motocross/450F class in the States), one rider on an MX2 bike (equivalent to the Motocross Lites/250F class in the States), and one rider on an Open class bike, which can be up to a 500cc two-stroke or 650cc four-stroke (most riders choose to ride 450cc four-strokes).
  • Members of a National team must be holders of a passport from the country they represent.
  • There are three qualifying races on Saturday (MX1, MX2, and Open)— each one 20 minutes + 2 laps.
  • The best two results of each National team is scored toward their qualifying placement.
  • The top 19 teams of the qualifying races are qualified for the Motocross of Nations motos on Sunday. Teams positioned from 20-32 participate in Sunday’s B-Final.
  • The B-Final is run in one 30-minute + 2 laps race. The winning team is that which has gained the lowest total number of points after having added the two best results of its three riders. That team qualifies for the Motocross of Nations motos.
  • The Motocross of Nations is run in three 30-minute + 2 lap races as follows:
    • Race One: MX1 + MX2 (40 riders)
    • Race Two: MX2 + Open (40 riders)
    • Race Three: MX1 + Open (40 riders)
  • The National team winning the Motocross of Nations is the one who has gained the smallest number of points after having added the best five of six results.
  • The Motocross of Nations is the World Championship for National teams. However, individual results will also be published in each class.
  • Points Scoring Per Race, Per Rider:
    • 1st place—1 point
    • 2nd place—2 points
    • 3rd place—3 points
    • 4th place—4 points
    • 5th place—5 points
    • 6th place—6 points
    • 7th place—7 points
    • 8th place—8 points
    • 9th place—9 points, etc…

Thanks to the forecasted rain, the American mechanics took no chances on their team’s bikes. Special efforts were made by all to prepare for heavy mud, and all of the standard equipment like solid brake rotors, lots of foam, plenty of grip tape, and handguards were added. “We’re hoping for no rain, said Stewart’s mechanic Jeremy Albrecht. “But at the same time, we don’t want to get caught without being prepared, so we went ahead and prepped the bikes for mud just in case. This is England, you know…

After some heavy rain showers on Friday afternoon put a good soaking on the Matterley Basin track, Saturday morning’s practice sessions got started in some pretty muddy conditions. The freshly prepped soil was tilled deep enough that it absorbed much of the water, but it took all three practice sessions to break things in and dry things out nicely enough to spin full-speed laps.

With the very first practice session of the day, rumor had it that Bubba’s intent was to take to the track in a conservative fashion, slowly getting up to speed before laying down any fast laps. In true Bubba style, however, he looked to feel extremely comfortable in the slick, deep conditions, and appeared to be clocking lap times faster than anyone else on the track from the get go. Within a half dozen laps or so, and much to the delight of the huge crowd in attendance, Bubba threw his Joel Albrecht-prepared KX450F sideways off of several of Matterley’s big jumps, and it became instantly obvious that he was having a good time on the track.

About halfway through the session, however, we spotted James pushing his muddy bike off of the far side of the circuit, but he returned several minutes later on a spotless replacement. We later learned that some mud and rock got caught up between the chain and chain guard, causing the chain to derail. “In practice this morning everything was going well, but then we had a little mishap, James told us. “A rock got caught in the chain and just knocked it off, which was no big deal. We realized the problem and got it taken care of.

Saturday’s schedule consisted of separate practice sessions for each of the three classes (MX1, MX2, and Open), as well as a qualifying heat for each. The significance of the qualifiers? Witch one 20 minutes + 2 laps.

  • The best two results of each National team is scored toward their qualifying placement.
  • The top 19 teams of the qualifying races are qualified for the Motocross of Nations motos on Sunday. Teams positioned from 20-32 participate in Sunday’s B-Final.
  • The B-Final is run in one 30-minute + 2 laps race. The winning team is that which has gained the lowest total number of points after having added the two best results of its three riders. That team qualifies for the Motocross of Nations motos.
  • The Motocross of Nations is run in three 30-minute + 2 lap races as follows:
    • Race One: MX1 + MX2 (40 riders)
    • Race Two: MX2 + Open (40 riders)
    • Race Three: MX1 + Open (40 riders)
  • The National team winning the Motocross of Nations is the one who has gained the smallest number of points after having added the best five of six results.
  • The Motocross of Nations is the World Championship for National teams. However, individual results will also be published in each class.
  • Points Scoring Per Race, Per Rider:
    • 1st place—1 point
    • 2nd place—2 points
    • 3rd place—3 points
    • 4th place—4 points
    • 5th place—5 points
    • 6th place—6 points
    • 7th place—7 points
    • 8th place—8 points
    • 9th place—9 points, etc…
  • Thanks to the forecasted rain, the American mechanics took no chances on their team’s bikes. Special efforts were made by all to prepare for heavy mud, and all of the standard equipment like solid brake rotors, lots of foam, plenty of grip tape, and handguards were added. “We’re hoping for no rain, said Stewart’s mechanic Jeremy Albrecht. “But at the same time, we don’t want to get caught without being prepared, so we went ahead and prepped the bikes for mud just in case. This is England, you know…

    After some heavy rain showers on Friday afternoon put a good soaking on the Matterley Basin track, Saturday morning’s practice sessions got started in some pretty muddy conditions. The freshly prepped soil was tilled deep enough that it absorbed much of the water, but it took all three practice sessions to break things in and dry things out nicely enough to spin full-speed laps.

    With the very first practice session of the day, rumor had it that Bubba’s intent was to take to the track in a conservative fashion, slowly getting up to speed before laying down any fast laps. In true Bubba style, however, he looked to feel extremely comfortable in the slick, deep conditions, and appeared to be clocking lap times faster than anyone else on the track from the get go. Within a half dozen laps or so, and much to the delight of the huge crowd in attendance, Bubba threw his Joel Albrecht-prepared KX450F sideways off of several of Matterley’s big jumps, and it became instantly obvious that he was having a good time on the track.

    About halfway through the session, however, we spotted James pushing his muddy bike off of the far side of the circuit, but he returned several minutes later on a spotless replacement. We later learned that some mud and rock got caught up between the chain and chain guard, causing the chain to derail. “In practice this morning everything was going well, but then we had a little mishap, James told us. “A rock got caught in the chain and just knocked it off, which was no big deal. We realized the problem and got it taken care of.

    Saturday’s schedule consisted of separate practice sessions for each of the three classes (MX1, MX2, and Open), as well as a qualifying heat for each. The significance of the qualifiers? With 31 countries on hand, only the top 19 teams qualify for the Motocross of Nations’ three main event motos on Sunday. Each team’s rider is scored in their individual class qualifier, and a team score is tallied in the end, ultimately yielding 2006’s top-19 qualifying countries. When all was said and done, the US squad landed on top of the list with very impressive 1-1-2 moto scores. Stewart was the first to take to the track in the MX1 qualifier, and he made quick work of the field, piloting his KX450F on to a relatively easy win. “I got a decent start and just rode my own race, he later told. “I got out front and hit a few good lines, and then just kind of rode from there. I know I’ve got the speed to put in good laps, so I just wanted to get out front to have a clean track to try to get my lines dialed in.

    Villopoto’s MX2 race was up next, and like Bubba, he got out front early, and never looked back. “I rode off the track on the first lap and bent my shift lever, Ryan later commented. “That gave me a few problems, but I was able to put some good laps together to win. Next in the gate was Tedesco, who represent Team USA in the Open class. Ivan got an outstanding jump out of the gate for a guy who hasn’t raced but once the entire summer, and he put in a strong and steady ride to finish second behind Belgium’s Steve Ramon. Ramon finished runner-up to Stefan Everts for the MX1 World Championship this year, so it was quite impressive to see Hot Sauce a mere 4.5 seconds behind him at the finish line.

    Following Saturday’s qualifying races, there was a press conference where the winners of each moto were interviewed before members of the working media. However, thanks to a glitch in the sound system, the press conference was a little shaky. Both the interviewer (Mario Marini) as well as the rider’s microphones would go in and out of service, and it actually became quite comical as James Stewart struggled to field questions from Marini as well as the other members of the media. “You guys are messing with me, huh? said James at first. After a while, rather than trying to deal with the frustrating sound system, Stewart instead put the microphone down and began yelling out his answers, using his hands as a megaphone. James, as well as the rest of the press, took it all in stride and made a big joke out of it, though his questions were cut short due to the technical problems.

    Sunday morning’s weather was reminiscent of last year’s MX of Nations event in Ernee, France. The skies opened up during the wee hours of the morning, dumping heavy rain for several hours. By about 8:00, the skies appeared to be taking a turn for the better, and the threat of more rain looked to be diminishing. Still worried about the fate of the afternoon’s motos, we went to none other than former GP star and one of England’s top riders ever, James Dobb, to get a local’s perspective on the weather. “You’re in England… Rain at seven, sun by eleven—that’s the motto around here, he jokingly told us. Well, Dobb was right, and we were plenty stoked to see the track shaping up nicely during the slightly delayed practice sessions. By the time Moto One (MX1 + MX2) kicked off, the track was in relatively great racing shape considering the morning’s events.

    When it comes time to pick a gate at the Motocross of Nations, team strategy plays a huge part in the process. As the number one qualifiers, thanks to Saturday’s dominance, the US squad received the first and 21st picks in all three of Sunday’s motos. In the first two motos, Team USA chose to give Villopoto the first pick of the gate (he went to the far inside), as the 250F machines need any advantage they can get when starting in a gate half full of 450s. Villopoto’s placement left both Bubba and Tedesco with gates near the middle of the start straight in their respective motos. The