Martin Barr was one of the stand-out performers at Hawkstone park just over a week ago.
In his debut race for the Revo Husqvarna squad, Barr was at the sharp end all day, shadowing MX2 world champ, Pauls Jonass, for much of the first moto in front of a huge crowd and battling again with the world champ in race two until a couple of mistakes dropped Barr out of podium reckoning.
But the job had been done, Barr had proven his speed against some of the best in the world and with his starts on points, it was a positive opening race of the season for both Barr and the Revo Husqvarna squad.
We caught up with Martin to discuss his day at Hawkstone and hopes for the season.
Just starting with qualifying, third place did you think you were going to be that quick straight away?
Yeah it started off decent enough. We had a problem at the start of qualifying so I never really got a lap in until the very last lap. In hindsight it wasn’t too bad, I have known things have been going really good. I have been feeling good on the bike, the team has been brilliant and I knew had done my homework going into it but I just wasn’t exactly sure where I was going to be.
I have been practicing in Lommel quite a bit and a lot of the Grand Prix riders are there and I have been able to pace myself (off them). But I was just looking forward to going racing again and ending up P3 wasn’t bad at all and I was happy with a strong starting point for the day.
In the first moto, there must have a lot of adrenaline going on with that start, you got in behind Jonass and stayed with him pretty good until, I think, a backmarker got in your way for a few turns and you lost touch then?
Yeah, I got a good start and got away fourth then the second corner, I went around the outside of Conrad Mewse and Davy Pootjes. I wasn’t excited I just felt really comfortable, I was talking to myself saying, ” keep it going and don’t get too excited.” Jonass wasn’t really pulling away from me and I was thinking, “this is good.” My pit-board was telling me we had pulled away from third quite quickly and I just tried to keep that pace going. There were no blue flags all day, it was kind of frustrating when you got into the back markers.
Jonass maybe got away a little bit and then he got stuck behind a back-marker and I closed up on him, then he got by the back-marker and I got kind of mucked up by him but in hindsight if someone had told me I was going to battle with the current world champion I would have bit their arm off. I was probably the oldest out there but I am feeling really good and it shows the work and effort me and the team have put in over the winter to come out like that so strong straight away.
I didn’t get over-excited once Jonass got a bit of a gap, I could have maybe put the head down to try and catch him but to come second with such a strong field of riders, I think the first five or six were on factory equipment with factory suspension. I was really happy.
The second one you got a good start and led briefly, then you were battling with Pootjes for the lead when Jonass passed you, and then you went down trying to pass him back, you were so close but didn’t’ quite get on the podium overall after that…
I got another good start and managed to get up the inside of Davy and lead for two straights I think but I wasn’t bothered about that, it was just good to get another good start it was just good to be up front. I was on him for a lap or two then Jonass got me, so it thought I would follow those guys but I came into the finish corner tight and tucked the front and went down. I didn’t panic and thought it was a long race and got going again, but then it happened again, the front end tucked, then again, so three times in total.
I think it was a little bit on my side, the factory guys have spotters on the track in between races seeing which way the conditions were. To me Hawkstone wasn’t the usual Hawkstone it wasn’t deep it was hard underneath, and with the setting I always use there I think the settings were maybe slightly too hard, so it was my own fault but lessoned learned.
It did potentially throw away an overall podium position but the bigger picture I am more than happy with where my pace is at. It would have been a lot worse if I had left Sunday night needing to find four or five seconds, so knowing I am bang on the pace I am more than happy. Yes, it would have been nice to be on the podium but it a very good race to blow the cobwebs out and show everybody where we are at.
Then in the superfinal you ended up battling with Graeme Irwin your countryman for the final few laps!
Yeah, I got another good start which was nice, I think I was lying P2 overall in the MX2 class, but with the snow the rain and the sunlight it got pretty gnarly in places. With doing it so long I didn’t get excited I just stood on the pegs and if somebody passed me they passed me, I didn’t try to go after them, I didn’t want to do anything stupid by then and had no real need to prove anything. With my experience just knowing when to finish the race, take the positives away from the weekend and keep building.
Graeme came back on me with a couple of laps to go and I just stuck with him, there were a couple of corners I was shouting at him and having a bit of craic! That just shows how much I was enjoying my race, if I needed to push on I could have but I just brought it home for 14th overall in the Superfinal.
It was just to round off a really good day and we will just carry on with our work and I’m looking forward to round one of the Maxxis British championship at Lyng in a couple of weeks’ time.
The starts, last year you had to come from behind a lot, but although it was just round do the good starts at Hawkstone give you confidence that you wile in the right position in the British and EMX in the first lap?
Definitely, it all boils down to the start, you need to be in that top five or six to really make headway whereas a lot of times last year I was coming from outside the top ten and by the time I did get into third or fourth the top couple of riders where gone, it was something I struggled with.
But last year is in the past and with three good starts at Hawkstone, it has given me a lot confidence, hopefully I can carry it on and it will make racing a little bit easier than trying to chase through the pack the whole time. I’m not saying it will easier to win, it just makes your race mentality a lot easier. There will be a lot of fast people in the British and European championship, so the start is going to be crucial and I am looking forward to it.
Are you able to learn anything when you are following a guy of Jonass‘ calibre?
I felt really comfortable when I was out there and was just telling myself to breath and just go with it, I wasn’t on the ragged edge trying to stay with him. I stayed as close as I could and tried to learn as much as I could with the way he was approaching things and the different line choices, all in all I was really happy.
It nearly reminded me of racing at home (N. Ireland) for the first ten minutes the amount of people waving me on was fantastic, you could hear the commentator shouting your name. It was really good and just shows the amount of effort me and the team have been putting in and how good the bike is.
And I think your team manager was pretty excited – it shows everything in the winter has been going in the right direction.
Yeah Mark was really happy, last year when we done the deal, it showed he had a lot of faith in me and it was just nice to go out and show in a race situation where I am at. We have been doing a lot of testing and practicing but until you do a race and the gate drops that’s when you really see how somebody is going.
It is great to repay him and it shows I do my business as well as the team They have really stepped it up this year with a three-man team and big truck, they are doing it properly and it was nice to show him everything is paying off. We are out there to win races and win championships, hopefully we can keep the whole thing going, keep our feet on the round and keep putting the work in and we will see how it all plans out.
Going into Hawkstone, it’s maybe bigger than a British championship crowd-wise, a bit of a step down from a British GP but it’s one of the biggest races of the year, so how hard is it to want to put a good race in for yourself and the team with such a big crowd and event yet also not throw it away in a pre-season race?
Yeah you are spending such a long time behind the gate everyone is eager to get behind the gate, but you have to pinch yourself and remind yourself it is only a pre-season race and not actually for a championship. But at the same time, you have to go out and perform, it’s getting that happy medium but also just being relaxed. Like I said before I just kept on talking to myself during the race and took it all in and learn as much as I could.
It was fantastic to see such a big crowd there again, it was the first time I had done Hawkstone in a few years, before we had been doing the Italian championship, it was nice to be bike, Hawkstone is one of my favourite tracks and it was nice to see all the British crowd there. A lot of people are bringing their new team for 2018 and it’s nice to showcase that.
Finally, you were practicing at Redsand a few weeks ago, the site of the first round of the EMX250 championship, what did you think of the track?
Yeah, we went there for ten days before Christmas and got quite a bit of riding done there. It is a fantastic facility, the tracks are awesome every day they are all watered and they are up from the early hours of the morning getting everything prepped and that’s why there are so many people going there.
The track itself is very enjoyable with some nice big jumps and stuff, I’m not too sure what way, depending on the weather, it could get quite rutty and has a hard base to it. It is something I’m looking forward too. It’s a long season and with EMX, I’ve been studying it, there are riders very fast one week then the next week outside the top 15. I am going to go at it with my experience and try to be there each week and get the points and let that sort itself out at the end of the year.
It is a championship I am really looking forward too, to line-up behind a gate with different riders. With the British I have been doing it so long, you know the tracks and how they cut up, so it’s nice to do something fresh.
Just a big thanks to all my sponsors; Revo Husqvarna, BCL, RSR, Travel, Agnew recovery, NH trade frames, Discount Beds Belfast, Robinsons NISA Extra, Magilligan MX Park, Gary Hutchinson, Lyndsey Haggan, Planet suspension, Pod knee braces, Leatt neck braces
Interview: Jonathan McCready
Pics: Scott Dunne, Paul McCready, Jonathan McCready