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HERITAGE 2010 MXON

WELCOME TO THE

W RLD STAGE

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As 12-time manager of the Australian Motocross Of Nations team and veteran of the sport, Gary Benn reminisces on the victories and struggles of old, and speaks of what could have been in Colarado this year.

W

SIMON MAKKER & GARY BENN

hile Australian motocross racers have enjoyed success in every corner of the globe in the short and illustrious history of the sport, there’s one podium that has always eluded us – the Motocross Of

SIMON CUDBY & ANDREW CLUBB

Nations’ Chamberlain Trophy. Team CDR Yamaha’s technical wizard, Gary Benn, has attended more installments of the historic event than he would care to admit, and 12 of those have been as the Australian team manager. If anyone

has seen it all, it’s Benn. So we sat down with him to get the inside word on what the Motocross Of Nations is really like in the team manager’s shoes, and what happened this year at Thunder Valley, Colorado, USA.

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HERITAGE 2010 MXON Dave Armstrong floats high over the crowd at the 1986 MXoN in Maggiora, Italy.

“There was a national fuel strike while we were in France, so all we had for the rental cars was what was in the tank as we left the airport and whatever we could buy of local farmers! ”

Craig Dack on his way to a mighty fourth place finish in Italy, 1986.

Gary Benn washes down Jeff Leisk’s CR250R after practice of the 1985 MXoN in Germany.

PART ONE - REMINISCING EARLY DAYS

I 2010 marked the 32nd year since Gary Benn first attended the MXoN, and his 12th as Aussie team manager.

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n 1979, I headed over to the Netherlands as the mechanic for Australian motocross rider (and now mechanic on the Cougar Bourbon Honda MX team), Mike Landman. Mike rode for Yamaha and we were able to use the factory team’s facilities in Amsterdam. At the end of that year, the factory mechanic left and I was offered the job. I stayed with the Yamaha Grand Prix team in Europe for a total of 12 years from that point. Spinning spanners for Marc Falcones in the 125ccs for two years, I then worked with Neil Hudson in the 500cc class for another two years. After that, I returned to Australia and worked with Jeff Leisk and Craig Dack at Honda for two years, before returning

to Europe in 1988 after I was offered the team manager position for the Yamaha Grand Prix team. I stayed there for seven years, following the World MX Championship circuit, before returning to Australia in 1995. It was a good time to move back to Australia, as my wife and I didn’t want to have to uproot our children halfway through their schooling in Europe and have them adjust to a new way of life. Once back in Australia I again worked at Honda for two years, before joining forces with Craig Dack as the technical overseer for engine and suspension work on his race team in 2009; a role I still hold.

TAKING UP THE MANTLE Be under no illusions – the team manager job for the Australian MXoN

is a purely voluntary position that the successful candidate will hold for three years. The Motorcycling Australia board has selected me for three terms in a row, and I have one year left before applications will again be called for. During my time in Europe, I attended many installments of the ‘Trophy Des Nations’, as it was called back then. The first one I experienced was as a mechanic at Beilstein, West Germany, in 1981, when the USA team of Chuck Sun, Johnny O’Mara, Donny Hansen and Danny LaPorte began their country’s record 13-year reign of the event. In those days, the Trophy Des Nations felt like just another GP race. While each country brought over four riders, every one of them had their own separate mechanic and truck. There was no such thing as having one big semi for the entire

team to base themselves. The 1999 Motocross Des Nations was my first as the Australian team manager, and it was also the first time the event had ever been held in South America. I’d attended GPs in Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil, so I had a fair idea of what to expect from the Indaiatuba, Brazil, MXdN. However, for the Australian team members Troy Dorron, Andrew McFarlane and Mick Cook, it was an entirely new experience. They had to deal with the vastly different culture, as well as banging bars with the best riders from around the world. In the early days of Australia attending the MXoN we relied a lot on borrowing bikes, transporters and whatever else we could get our hands on. We’d then fly limited bolt-on parts with us on the plane. It was – and still is – always a challenge to try and organise everything, fly halfway around the world with minimal parts and try and be competitive.

As an example, when Dan Reardon was riding for Kawasaki, we arranged a bike through Kawasaki England. And as soon as we landed, we had to find time to pick up the bike, ride it and make sure everything was running smoothly, bolt on the extras we brought over with us, test it again and try a few different settings, then try and get to the event and qualify! As you’d expect, there are sometimes events that are out of your control, which can affect you. In 2000 at St Jean d’Angely in France, there happened to be a national fuel strike the exact time we were there, and the only fuel we had for the rental cars was what was in the tank as we left the airport! We had to buy diesel from farmers to try and get by. Another incident happened while I was still at the Yamaha Grand Prix team. We loaned the Australian riders the use of the Yamaha truck to get to the race and they lost the keys to it. As a result they had to cut the hinges off the back door to get their bikes out! We weren’t overly

impressed and it definitely left a sour taste in my mouth trying to explain to my Yamaha bosses what had happened! To this day, I still don’t know the full story.

THE AUSTRALIAN RECORD To be honest, I think Australia has been fairly unlucky to have never landed on the podium at the MXoN. Our best effort was at the 1988 event in Dung, France, when Jeff Leisk, Glen Bell and Craig Dack tied for third place, but were relegated to fourth on a countback. On paper, I think our 2009 team should’ve comfortably been on the podium, and even challenging for the top spot. Chad Reed had come off a dominant season in the AMA Motocross, Brett Metcalfe had had an impressive year in the Pro Lites, and Michael Byrne was consistently in and around the top four or five riders at each round.

MXoN BY THE NUMB3RS • Germany’s last podium finish was in Gouldorf, West Germany, in 1985. • USA won the event from 1981 to 1994 – that’s 13 on the trot. • USA has now won six events on the trot since their 2005 win in Ernee, France. • Roger DeCoster has been the USA team manager for the past 21 years since 1989 in Germany. • DeCoster has also won with the Belgian team six times between 1969 and 1979. •

AMA Motocross champ Ryan Dungey came in 5.56 seconds ahead of world champ Antonio Carioli in the first moto this year.

Jay Marmont finished one point ahead of Brad Anderson – the Pom who schooled the Aussies at the Raymond Terrace round of the MX Natonals earier this year – to knock Great Britain off the Overall podium.

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HERITAGE 2010 MXON

“Every country could tell you a story of ‘ifs or buts’ from each year, but that simply didn’t come off because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Twenty-year-old Dean Ferris had to adjust to riding a 250 after campaigning a 450 all year.

After running near the front of the AMA Outdoors all year, Brett Metcalfe posted a very impressive 3-5 in his two motos.

But if there’s one thing you can count on with the MXoN, it’s its unpredictability. I can almost guarantee that every country could tell you a story of ‘ifs or buts’ from each year, but that simply didn’t come off because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jay Marmont coming together with Trey Canard this year was one such story; had that not happened we would’ve finished third instead of sixth Overall – that’s how easily you can slip backwards. While I think there is an element of luck involved, the USA has proven that you need more than that to win … you don’t win 20 MXoNs by fluke! The US riders have always excelled at pulling out three or four fast laps and getting themselves into dominating positions, then riding smart from there to the chequered flag. 72

Back in the early to mid-2000s there was a period when, for whatever reason, Australia ended up with riders based in the US and Europe, but due to injuries and the Australian supercross season about to start, the majority of the

top-tier Aussie riders weren’t available for selection and the Australian team consisted of Danny Ham, Andrew McFarlane and Paul Broomfield. I’m not casting aspersions at those guys,

but with a team like that the best we could do was cross our fingers and hope we could qualify. The issues with rider contracts and clashes with the supercross calendar have now been cleared up and we can again field the top three available Australian riders. Generally speaking though, over the 20 year history of Australia taking part in the MXoN, we haven’t been that far off the pace of the world’s top riders. The Europeans complain about travelling to the US and vice-versa, but most people forget that we have to fly from the other side of the world every year to take part. Going by the pace of the current group of Australian riders who proved themselves in this year’s event, I can’t see why we can’t bring the Chamberlain trophy back to these shores in the near future.

The Aussie team had the boxing kanga on their side, but nothig could match some Team USA supporter’s costumes.

PART TWO - THE 2010 MXoN THE PREPARATION

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he FIM made a rule change for the 2010 MXoN, stipulating the rider for the Lites (MX2) class had to be under the age of 23. For MA’s Motocross Commission, including myself, this made our selection process a bit more difficult than it was in previous years. Generally, MA calls for expressions of interests from riders who are keen to make up the Australian team, then the Commission (made up of a team of six people) have phone link-ups to discuss the pros and cons of who has put their hand up to ride. We have a look at everyone’s form, but it can be difficult with the racers based in different parts of the world. How do you compare the form of Jay Marmont to, say, Brett Metcalfe if they haven’t raced each other all year? It is a complex process

and there will always be people who will second-guess our final decision. Our initial team consisted of Chad Reed, Brett Metcalfe and Dean Ferris, who was our U23 rider, with Marmont initially on the reserves list. Chad let us know early on that he was struggling with the chronic fatigue syndrome that forced his withdrawal from the AMA Motocross Championship. He was clear that he really wanted to ride for Australia, but would keep us in the loop with how he was feeling, because he wanted to do it properly and not just circulate on the track. By mid to late August, he had notified us that he couldn’t represent Australia, so Jay, who was the first reserve, got the nod. After the Australian Motocross Championship had wrapped up, Ferris flew to Europe to compete in a couple of the World MX Championship races and

get some international experience under his belt. Jay, who normally would’ve gone straight into preparation for the upcoming Super X season, continued to race 30-minute motos in Australia, then flew to California three weeks prior to the MXoN to immerse himself in the SoCal moto scene again. About 10 days before the event, Dean flew into the US and met up with the rest of the team, but was suffering from a severe case of the flu and couldn’t ride. Metty – who has a lot of connections in the US now after many years racing there – was a huge asset and helped Dean see the doctors and the right people to get him back to full fitness before the weekend.

COLORADO, USA The high-altitude Thunder Valley track in Colorado plays havoc both with

GARY BENN’S ICONIC MXoN MEMORIES Jeff Leisk’s race against US legend Ron “The Machine” Lechein in France in 1988 Jeff won what was an epic battle. Craig Dack’s race in Maggiora, Italy, in 1986 against Johnny O’Mara, David Bailey and three-time world champion, Englishman Dave Thorpe had the crowd on its feet. Dack finished an excellent fourth. Chad Reed’s epic race with Italian multi-time world champion Antonio Cairoli in 2009 in Franciacorta, Italy. Reed finished just 1.5 seconds behind Cairoli after 30 minutes of heart-in-mouth racing. Jeff Leisk, Craig Dack and Glen Bell getting Australia’s best-ever result – an equal third at the 1988 MXdN at Dung, France.

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HERITAGE 2010 MXON

Dean Ferris (#20) lined up against the best in the world, including Trey Canard and Ken Roczen, and went 18-27.

MARMONT’S TAKE

MXoN rookie Jay Marmont showed why he’s a three-time Aussie champ by having the speed to run top-10.

the bikes’ power and athletes’ energy levels. Brett had raced here a few times before and knew the high altitude and uphill start meant it wasn’t possible to charge off the gate in second gear; all riders had to use first gear off the line to get enough power to the ground. As the senior team member and the most experienced US-based racer on the team, Brett was of great value to the other team riders and could provide plenty of advice. A lot of people who haven’t visited an MXoN event may not know that, regardless of where in the world it is held, the facilities and layout of the pits are identical every year. The FIM brings in its own team of track-waterers to each event (and probably put a few of the local’s noses out of joint at the same time) and the conditions are perfect. The crowd turnout was good, but generally the US installments of the event don’t attract anywhere near the crowd of the European events. The Americans aren’t as fanatical and because it’s such a 74

Mad Kiwi fans were out in full force to support their boys: Ben Townley, Josh Coppins and Brad Groombridge.

huge country it’s more of an effort for the fans to get there.

RACE DAY On paper, it looks like we had a fairly run-of-the-mill outing at the 2010 Red Bull Motocross of Nations. A sixth Overall isn’t our best result, but it’s a long way from our worst, too. The race format for the MXoN is unique in the way two classes are run together. So in the first of the three motos, MX1 riders race against the MX2 class, then MX2 compete against MX Open. In the third race, the MX 1 class goes head-to-head with the MX Opens. The only time the riders actually race solely against their own capacity is in qualifying, where the Australian riders definitely held their own. Metcalfe qualified second (MX1), Ferris ninth (MX2) and Marmont 10th (Open), setting us up for seventh Overall at the end of qualifying. Considering we had drawn

the 22nd gate pick by ballot for each qualifying race, we were happy with our position; especially as the boys tried to leave something in the tank for their two motos each. In the first MX1 and MX2 moto, both Brett and Dean avoided the pile-up that claimed Trey Canard, Zach Osborne and young German Ken Roczen, and set about chasing Ryan Dungey and Antonio Cairoli, who both checked out early. Brett ran a very consistent race and passed Jonathan Barragan for third place, while Dean, racing against the bigger-bore bikes, managed an 18th. As a result Australia was placed fourth in the standings behind the USA, Germany and Belgium. In the second race, Jay and Dean fronted up on the line. Marmont got a great start and was sitting in sixth place, before he came together with Trey Canard in a corner with just a couple laps to go and dropped him right back in the pack. He finished 18th, and Ferris, who had just done back-to-back races, finished 27th.

In hindsight, that one incident with Canard cost Australia an Overall podium spot. Each country gets to drop their one worst result, which throws up a lot of what-ifs going into the last race, and nothing is guaranteed until every rider has crossed the line after the third moto. Jay was still feeling the effects of his crash when he started Moto 3 with Metty, but still put in a great effort. He stalled in a corner and had to come back through the pack to his final 10th placing. But it was an exciting race; Brett held a solid sixth for the entire race until Ben Townley crashed and promoted him to fifth, but every position Jay made up shifted Australia higher in the rankings, with our country finally finishing sixth Overall. Considering both Jay and Dean are really just national racers, we were very happy with our result, and it proves the speed in the Australian scene is very good at the moment. Like all MXoN events, there are always ifs and buts, but we were still very content with our result.

PIT GOSSIP As with any motocross race meeting, there’re always rumours and buzz going around among the teams and riders. There was a lot of silly-season gossip about what riders are supposed to be heading where, and the biggest scandal was that the Italian Motorcycling Federation was at loggerheads with the riders over their race jerseys. For years the Italians have run plain blue jerseys with the sole Federation logo on it. This year, the riders got to the point where they wanted to run their personal and team sponsors on the jerseys, but the Federation wouldn’t let them. It all got sorted out at the 11th hour where they could run logos on the bottom half of their jersey, but it’s sad that the world’s biggest motocross race boiled down to money and politics. The other big talking point was the young German kid, Ken Roczen. He’s only just turned 16 and looks more like a skater than a motocross racer, but he

is unbelievably fast and his speed blew everyone away. To put it into perspective Roczen, racing a 250, passed Andrew Short on a 450 … and Thunder Valley is Short’s home track! He won the Ricky Carmichael Award for his outstanding performance and is definitely a kid we’re going to hear a lot more about in the future.

THE FINAL WASH-UP For a team where two riders have had only limited international race experience, I think Australia’s result was more than respectable. The US team again took the spoils for the sixth year running, which was to be expected; especially on home soil. There are 300 million people in the USA and their motocross and supercross scene is healthy. In saying that, the gap between the US and the rest of the world is small … but there is a gap. Their current streak is more than just dumb luck, and the Americans will remain the team to beat going into the 2011 event.

“The 2010 MXoN was the first time I’d attended the event and I definitely wanted to make a good impression. I landed in the US three weeks prior to the weekend to put in as much preparation as possible. One of the biggest eye-openers for me was at a practice day at Pala the weekend before Colorado, where a lot of the European riders turned up to test. I couldn’t believe how fast and evenly paced everyone was. “After what I felt was a perfect preparation, I was ready for a big weekend. In my first race I started in seventh, then dropped back to eighth before waking up and realising I had the pace to run with these guys and that I did actually deserve to be there. With two laps to go, I came together with Trey Canard in a rutted corner and came off second-best. If that hadn’t of happened, Australia probably would’ve finished on the podium. It was just a racing incident and I don’t blame Trey – he even came over and apologised to me afterwards. After the crash I was still dizzy and didn’t know if I should even ride my second 30-minutes-plustwo-lap race, especially after just a half-hour break between races. “But I got a good start and was running sixth, then bumped into a rider ahead of me in a corner and I stalled it. By the time I was up and running, I was in 25th and just gave it my all and tried to make up as many points as I could. I finished 10th, which I was really happy with. To be honest I kind of doubted my speed going into the first race, as I’d never banged bars with that level of riders. But I ran with the top-10 easily in both races, so that has given me a lot of confidence in my pace. I can’t wait to get back next year and have another crack!”

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