Interview: Martin Barr
Martin Barr will become only the second rider from Northern Ireland to have led the British championship going into his home round at Desertmartin, in two week’s time.
The other rider was his hero, Gordon Crockard, and now after a blistering win at Hawkstone park to take the championship lead and win his first round of the year, Barr will come to Desertmartin on a high and follow in the footsteps of his childhood hero.
We caught up with a relaxed and chatty Barr just before he headed off to the MX Nationals at Duns this weekend to talk about his win at Hawkstone and get his thoughts on his upcoming home race that will see him have the red plate for the first time in his career.
Gatedrop: I guess we should start with Hawkstone, the first moto you didn’t have the best start but still nearly caught Sterry for second by the end!
Barr: Going into it I was looking forward to it because it was one of my favourite tracks. Qualifying went pretty good I was second in that, the first race I got a lot of wheel spin off the concrete and kind of mucked it up on my own behalf. I was just outside the top ten, but I knew it was going to be a long race and my fitness was good. I picked riders off when I could and got up to fourth behind Clarkey and once I passed him I really put the hammer down.
I was getting the pit-board from my mechanic Nick how far back I was from Sterry and Mackenzie, I think with four or five laps to go I was 21 seconds behind them but I was still doing really good lap times and pulled the gap back to six seconds behind BryMac and I was only a second of Sterry crossing the line. I was a little disappointed because I knew I had the speed to win it but I knew there was another one to go.
Going into the second race I knew I had the speed to win but it was all down to my start.
Gatedrop: You got by Pocock into the lead and just kept pulling away even when you had a big lead, did you just feel that comfortable that you could keep pushing the pace without any risk?
Barr: Yeah once I got on the back of Mel I followed him for a lap or two and knew where I was stronger, once I passed him I started putting the hammer down, although I did make a mistake and he closed in a bit, but I got going again and started pulling away and I think he crashed or something.
I think I was pulling two or three seconds a lap, it was just one of the those races where, not that it was easy, just that everything was clicking into place. I had the lead up to 21 seconds at one stage and cruised home on the last lap to win by 17 seconds or so. It was a really good moto, my start was a lot better so that was one of the main things I needed to do and I done that, so it was a very convincing win and my first one of the season. To get my first win and the championship lead, it was a really good day.
Gatedrop: How much of a motivating factor was it to have the red plate for your home race Desertmartin, another one of your favourite tracks?
Barr: Yeah definitely, although I felt that I should have been leading after Canada Heights, the last moto there I would have been leading (the championship) but made a silly mistake with three laps to go closing in on Clarkey (for the win) and that put be back to fourth, so I was one point behind him going into Hawkstone.
Before we went to Hawkstone I was saying to my dad and stuff it would be brilliant to bring the red plate home to Desertmartin and keep it for the remainder of the year. But Desertmartin, it’s going to be fantastic, first time with the red plate and coming to my home race. I am going to have a target on my back and everyone thinking it’s my home race and that I should just go and win it. But I have only raced there twice since there was a last British championship round where BryMac won it that year. It’s not going to be easy, it’s a very close championship and no-one is walking away with it but hopefully the home crowd will be behind me and it will give that little bit extra push, and hopefully by the end of the day I’ll still have that red plate and pulled a few more points on the opposition.
Gatedrop: Gordon Crockard was the only other rider from Northern Ireland to lead the championship on home turf, do you have any memories of that time and what it was like?
Barr: Yeah I still in schoolboys then so I wasn’t really getting to the races, but looking at the magazines and the races I used to go to, the support was absolutely fantastic. I have always looked up to Gordy, he was one of my heroes and to be in the same boat and have the red plate going into my home race, it’s going to be brilliant. I just hope they get the weather and the crowd comes to support me and all the other local riders. I hope everyone gets behind us which I’m sure they will, it’s going to be electric. There are so many petrol heads over here, I’m sure it will be a fantastic day.
Gatedrop: From a Northern Ireland perspective you have Graeme Irwin, your teammate doing well in MX1, it wasn’t a bad year for Buildbase Honda to have two Irish riders with the return of Desertmartin to the championship!
Barr: Yeah hats off to Graeme he had been putting the work in and has been riding very well, with Buildbase Honda it has been working out very well for both me and Graeme. From my perspective I feel really good on the bike, my dad has got the bike running absolutely fantastic (MB performance racing) everybody in the past has always doubted the Hondas but I am leading all three championships now in England. Dave Thorpe has so much experience and runs such a professional team it’s really good to be part of it and get his input at times and he does help us with line choice and bits and pieces. Me and Graeme not only come from Northern Ireland but the came place, we went to the same school and everything! So for us both to be at the top of our game in our chosen sport it’s absolutely fantastic.
Gatedrop: You ran you own team last year is it a bit more stress free this year with Buildbase Honda?
Barr: Not so much, no! Because my deal was so late I am still sorting stuff out behind the scenes, I am driving home every weekend, I’m doing the graphics, the plastics. It’s not just turn up and everything is done and dusted, whereas the other riders have their full-time mechanics and stuff. I have my dad doing my engines and I kind of put the rest of it together. It’s not just that I turn up and ride, it’s something similar to last year although the sponsor side of things with product, bike and team that is all taken care of. But it is still a lot of work, when I get back on a Monday morning I am stripping and washing bikes and all the rest of it and trying to get my riding and training in, it s pretty hectic! But it is what it is and I just get on with it and I have a routine that seems to be working so I am happy enough.
Gatedrop: Just going back to Canada Heights, it looked like you had the speed to win maybe both motos there, did that give you confidence that you could challenge for the title this year?
Barr: Coming into the year I knew I wasn’t going to be far away. In the first round Max and Conrad were 1-2 but I was third from a bad start. So from then on and even the build up to the season with how I was feeling on the bike and my fitness thanks to Bodylab and Lynsey, everything was just clicking. We had a good off-season in Spain and went to Italy and did the Italian championship, the speed I showed there gave me a lot of confidence. It just seems I’m in a happy place, my bike is working fantastic with my dad doing the engines, Planet advanced suspension have my suspension working, things have just been clicking and going really good. I’m not really thinking about championships just at the minute because it is such a tight class and anything can happen. Each week I am making sure I put in 100% work and then going to the races I know I’m going to race knowing I couldn’t have done any more.
Gatedrop: The MX2 class is pretty interesting this year, you have the younger guys like Sterry and Watson against the more veteran guys like yourself, Mackenzie and Clarke. Is that an interesting dynamic to be racing the older guys then have the youngster’s mixed in?
Barr: A lot of people have been thinking or saying the MX2 class is the easiest it’s been in a few years but I don’t think it is. There’s myself and Mackenzie the older at the sharp end then the likes of Adam Sterry who was running fourth or fifth at GP the week before Hawkstone, then with Steven Clarke and the experience he has of winning European championships so it’s definitely not easy. It’s an all round class and it’s interesting, but from my point of view things are working well and I’m feeling happy within myself, them team and having my dad around me an Nick all my sponsors, and I will keep putting the effort in.
Gatedrop: You’ve said how comfortable you feel on the bike, did that take long to get to that point or did you feel good straight away?
Barr: It didn’t take long at all. 2010 was the last time I was on Honda and I liked the bike then and won the Red Bull pro national championship that year. So I knew getting back onto it with my dad behind me it wouldn’t take long, Scott from Planet suspension has been with me for a few years so I had every faith in him getting the bike how I wanted it, my dad knows the way like my engines so he can set it up pretty quickly for me. I’m really lucky and grateful that I have him there and he can do that for me. Everyone has their own little thing and it’s working, as a bike the Honda 250f, I absolutely love it, you can put it where you want, when you want it’s a really nice bike.
Gatedrop: Just finally, you are friends with Alastair Seeley, he has had some experience of tight championship battles and performing in front of the home crowd at the NW200, has he given you much advice with the position you’re in now?
Barr: Yeah me and Alastair and very friendly, we go out motocrossing all the time, he uses it for part of him training and we train a lot during the week with each other. We are always talking and giving each other advice, it’s cool to have him on-board and it’s hats off to him for what he achieved this year at the North West 200, it’s absolutely fantastic and he deals with the pressure very, very well so have been learning off him and we have been chatting about various things so it’s cool to have him in my corner and we push each other as hard as we can.
I’d just like to thank Buildbase Honda Racing team and all my personal sponsors RSR, BCL, Nick,M B performance racing, Planet suspension, Agnew recovery, Robinson Nisa extra, Isaac Agnew van centre, Discount Beds Belfast, Chilltec,Gary’s plumbing and boiler services, Bodylab, DryBrow, Pod knee braces, Leatt, Nutt travel for all their help and support