Heading into the Belgian round, Hitachi ASA KTM UK team embraced the challenge posed by one of the most brutal circuits on the MXGP calendar. The deep sands of Lommel with a backdrop of windmills are a familiar sight to the many teams and riders based in the country and a packed house was prepared to welcome a new master of the dunes. With high temperatures making the conditions even tougher, Graeme Irwin and Conrad Mewse got an opportunity to prove their worth in the sand in MXGP and MX2, respectively.
It was a highly successful mission for Mewse after a long recovery from injury, both him and Irwin adding significant points to their tally and climbing a couple of positions in the world championship standings.
After an excellent qualifying race finished in fourth, Mewse held on to the lead group at the start of the first moto and chased down Michele Cervellin from 7th position. The Italian was easy prey to the young Brit by lap two and Mewse distanced him soon after, setting his sights on Calvin Vlaanderen. The #426 and his KTM 250 SX-F followed the Honda man in pursuit of the podium battle, but the energy sapping conditions towards the end of race one had Mewse fighting to defend position. A spirited fight with local favourite, Jago Geerts, finished in favour of the British rider, who took the chequered flag in sixth.
Race two once again started with Mewse amongst the leaders. Out the gate and straight into fourth position, knocking on the doors of the podium. After another quick encounter with Geerts, Mewse held onto fifth position until fatigue from the lack of mileage over several weeks forced him to surrender more positions to Vlaanderen, Ben Watson and eventually Pauls Jonass, who was recovering from an early tumble. After a late exchange with Vlaaderen, Mewse cruised home in eighth place.
With the qualifying race the only time of the weekend that Irwin did not join the top 15, missing out by just one position, normal service was resumed in the first moto, when a good start saw him climb into tenth position. Initially losing a couple of places until the #55 found some rhythm, he held strong in 13th position for most of the race. As Irwin fought with the ever bumpier track, he eventually relinquished two more positions to take the flag in 15th on his KTM 450 SX-F.
The surface was hot and treacherous for the final race of the day but that did not hinder Irwin in defending another top-15 position that he snatched at the start. The British rider enjoyed a few battles for 13th place throughout the 36 minutes and kept his rivals honest to claim 14th after a late encounter with Gautier Paulin.
Graeme Irwin #55: “The whole weekend started off really good and we were constantly inside the top 15. The only time we were just outside was the qualifying race, where I had a bad start and I was 26th at one point, then I got up to 16th. In Sunday’s morning warm up we were 13th and our speed was still there, I didn’t feel too tired, I didn’t burn myself out the day before and then I had a really good start in the first race. I was in 10th, then dropped to 11th and I was there for quite a while, but then lost a bit of rhythm and then dropped to 15th. In the second race, I’m not exactly sure where I started, I think I started probably around 17th or 18th and then worked my way up and picked riders off, fighting my way to 14th.
“Obviously, this weekend I had two of my best results this year and it feels like it’s been a long time coming. It’s strange trying to be happy with a 15th and a 14th because we always want more but it was definitely a step in the right direction. It was definitely nice to show a little bit of what I had his weekend and now we’re just looking forward to Hawkstone to try to bring the win home there and get the KTM back where it belongs.”
With KTM factory riders Jeffrey Herlings and Jorge Prado dominating the GP in their respective classes, the world championship moves to Switzerland on the 19th of August. Meanwhile, Irwin and Mewse have a date with the Maxxis British Motocross Championship at Hawkstone Park in less than a week.
Photos by Ray Archer