Interview: Jacky Martens on a rollercoaster 2020 and Dylan Walsh

The successful JM Racing team of Jacky Martens underwent a real transformation in 2020: new class, new bike and two new riders. After Julien Lieber’s farewell and Benoit Paturel’s back injury, the spectacular Dylan Walsh turned out to be a new fan favourite in MXGP. Come Sunday, JM Honda Racing will go to battle in its own Lommel.

The year of the “reset” would always be a tough one for the ex-500cc world champion. In terms of bad luck, he got more than his fair share this year.

Behind the scenes Martens and his crew fought hard the past few months. “We also had to start again this season. However, since a few months we have now put together a very good group of mechanics. As far as the engine is concerned, we were actually already at a good level, but we have always continued to refine”.

No coincidence

This article continues below

The level of that JM Honda CRF450R is especially highlighted by Lieber’s replacement, Dylan Walsh. From his 2nd GP Walsh entered the top-15.  Four GP’s later the MXGP rookie led the race in Mantova for more than 4 laps. “After all the bad luck we had this season, Dylan’s performance was certainly a boost. Benoit started quite well but Walsh is often very strong at the start. The fact that he was in the lead in Mantova for almost 11 minutes says something about what he’s up to and where we are now with the engine. Purely on luck you can’t keep it up at the front for that long! I am very happy that we were able to show that”.

The challenge to constantly improve the material is and remains Martens’ priority. With the proven Honda he has a trump card in his hands. “The base of the Honda is super, actually the bike is very easy to adapt to the rider. But to really tailor it to the rider you still need time. Testing is now less labour-intensive. We are at a good level in terms of the possibilities we have.

Walsh image: Bavo

Super substitute Walsh

For many MXGP fans, Dylan Walsh is a new discovery. The young New Zealander only finished his first year in the World Championship last year, but that was in the MX2. Yet he adapts well to the premier class. “From March, Walsh had not ridden any races, plus he missed the specific winter preparation to be physically top fit for the GP’s on a 450. His first races in England were positive but the level difference with the World Championship is of course very big”. 

Walsh pic: Bavo

“Admittedly, there are already a few riders out injured, but the level in the MXGP remains high. After that great performance in Mantova we had hoped that Dylan would be able to continue the line in Spain last weekend, but he wasn’t lucky there. What really appeals to me in him is his fighting spirit. You saw that with Tim Gajser in Mantova, he is going to duel with everyone!”

Three-man formation in Lommel

Next to Walsh and the Russian Artem Guryev, a second down-under rider, the Australian Kyle Webster, will join the team this weekend. Webster was originally scheduled make his MXGP debut in Mantova but was hurt during the ADAC MX Masters in Grevenbroich the weekend before. “As we saw last year in Assen during the MX of Nations, Webster is well able to ride the sand. He also showed some nice things during training and Kyle has a good technique. Of course he will appear at the start without any preparation races, but we won’t put any pressure on him.”

Webster Pic: Sevenonepictures

With riders at this stage of the season looking ahead to 2021 and trying to secure a ride next season, it’s a high pressure part of the season. The pressure on drivers and teams and the nervousness are noticeable, both on and off the track. “There is a lot of pressure on everyone at the moment,” Martens agrees. “A lot of guys, like Dylan Walsh, have to prove themselves now. But he’s handling it well, Dylan stays calm. I can’t complain about the commitment of the riders. Guryev has also taken steps forward in recent weeks. After a series of consecutive minor injuries, he lost a lot of time, but now things are getting better and better. With Artem we are working hard on his riding technique so he is also making progress in terms of speed”. 

In Lommel the team will compete with three riders, Walsh, Gurev and Webster, the Limburg GP is still too early for the recovering Paturel. 

Words: Tom Jacobs