Preview: Arenacross UK finale – Wembley

It’s all going down in London town on the 18th of February when the OVO Arena Wembley hosts the final round of the Arenacross powered by Fix Auto Tour. Official Arenacross British Champions will be crowned with titles in all amateur and youth classes still up for grabs, as well as the big-money, ultra-prestigious Pro Class headlining championship.

The Pro class is poised to be a head-to-head Wembley shootout between the nation’s two fastest riders, the current British Motocross Champions – MX1 maestro GTCI Revo Kawasaki’s Tommy Searle and his MX2 counterpart Crendon Fastrack Honda’s Conrad Mewse.

After five fast, frenetic and fantastically hard-fought rounds, the leading pair are separated by just two points heading into the season finale meaning it’s pretty much a winner-takes-all scrap to the finish.

The battle for championship bronze is even tighter with Conrad’s Crendon Fastrack Honda team-mate Josh Gilbert and local lad Jack Brunell (Troy Lee Designs GASGAS) tied on 46-points apiece – 25 behind pace-setter Searle.

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Also, challenging for victory in London will be is two-time British Champion Elliott Banks-Browne (Mark McCann 64 YouTube Channel), inaugural tour champion Adam Chatfield (FUS Geartec Husqvarna) and former Lites champ Joe Clayton (Mark McCann 64 YouTube Channel). All riders have shown race-winning pace but failed to put it all together for the 14 laps necessary to win a Main Event. This will be their last chance to do so this year and they will be highly motivated to top the podium before the season is out.

So that’s how things stand right now but how did we get here?

Well, the series kicked off in Belfast’s SSE Arena with a Friday/Saturday night doubleheader. The iconic arena in the city’s Titanic Quarter is no stranger to selling out on a Saturday but when news broke that all the seats for Friday’s season-opener were gone too, the off-road world woke up and realised that the return of Arenacross as an all-British-rider series was the real deal and resonating with the racers and fans like never before.

The opening night in Northern Ireland was action-packed, to say the least with indoor specialist and pre-season favourite Brunell getting wiped out in his opening heat and derailing his title tilt before it had even properly begun. He lost big points while getting checked out in the hospital but, incredibly, returned with a broken rib and bruised lung for night two.

Overcoming opening night nerves, Searle took the win in the Main Event after coming under some serious pressure from Mewse in the latter stages of the race when the backmarkers came into play. Joining Searle and Mewse on the podium was Josh Gilbert who’d had a nightmare run through the qualifiers and had to book his spot in the final by winning the Head-to-Heads which also had the bonus of an additional championship point.

The second night’s Main saw Mewse jump out into an early lead and immediately gap the competition although Searle kept him honest. Brunell somehow ignored the pain to take third and prove his worth as a potential champion although overcoming the lost points from night one would make it an uphill struggle.

From Belfast, the championship moved to Scotland and Aberdeen’s brand-new P&J Live Arena. The large floor space allowed the AX Track Crew to build an absolute humdinger of a track that kept the riders on their toes and the fans on the edge of their seats.

Staying true to form, Searle took the holeshot and put in 14 error-free laps to take the win on night one. He was followed home by series contender Mewse, with Brunell again in close contention despite being far from 100 per cent physically.

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A Sunday afternoon matinee was served up for round four and what a show it was with all hell breaking loose in the Main Event.

Clear that good starts would be the key to his success long before the championship began, Searle had been practising hard and when the gate dropped nailed yet another holeshot on his green machine. Mewse was right there with him along with two riders who had started from the very outside of the start gate – Head-to-Head winner Mel Pocock and LCQ supremo Banks-Browne.

From the off there was so much going on it was tough for the fans to take it all in. Brunell had started fifth but shuffled Pocock aside to take fourth and then tried to blockpass Banks-Browne. The Husqvarna rider cut back though and Brunell, not wanting to send him into the cheap seats, hit the brakes and immediately got blitzed by Pocock and Gilbert who also wanted in on the action.

EBB was in the flow and chasing down the lead pair, while Brunell recovered quickly and repassed Pocock who crashed hard in the next rhythm section collecting a couple more riders in the ensuing carnage. Even without home hero Shaun Simpson (Gabriel KTM) in the mix, the Aberdeen crowd was going wild while viewers around the globe were screaming with excitement at whatever device they were using to watch the AX live stream on YouTube. The crazy thing was, things were about to get even wilder…

Mewse had a huge wake-up call when Banks-Browne blitzed by him in a technical rhythm section to move up into second. The Honda man was having none of it though and immediately upped his pace taking the spot back with an aggressive pass before closing the gap to Searle who was looking rock solid at the front.

Mewse was in the flow and amped on adrenaline. Two laps later he had Searle in his sights and attempted an ill-conceived move that put him right in Searle’s path as he exited a berm on full gas. Both riders slammed into the dirt hard but were somehow unharmed although the controls on Searle’s handlebars were looking very secondhand.

In the meantime, Banks-Browne had inherited the lead and was looking to add another Arenacross win to his tally – his last victory coming in Newcastle back in 2015! Gilbert and Brunell were now running second and third while Clayton had secured fourth as Searle and Mewse slowly got going again.

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Of the six, Gilbert was looking the strongest and sensing an opportunity to take the win made a clean move to the front – diving underneath Banks-Browne and powering away through the whoops. Brunell pulled the same move two laps later and a rejuvenated Mewse secured third in a similar way with just two laps left to go.

On the final lap, the running order was Gilbert, Brunell, Mewse and there wasn’t much in it until Brunell made two small errors – the second allowing Mewse to make a pass and ensure a one-two for Dave Thorpe’s Crendon Fastrack Honda team. Brunell hung on for third with EBB fourth and Searle fifth – the 33-year-old star giving up the series lead to Mewse for the first time. Obviously annoyed by what he saw to be an unnecessary blockpass he was heard to say “what goes around comes around”. There could be trouble ahead.

The Resorts World Arena in Birmingham’s NEC complex has been a constant stop on the Arenacross Tour since 2013. A good-sized floorspace and great dirt make it a favourite for the fans and for the fourth time in five nights, all the seats were sold ahead of the show getting underway. It was going to be a great night.

Adding to the excitement was the fact that Searle was penalised in qualifying for a rule infringement. This put him at the bottom of the results sheet and would mean he’d have the last pick at the gate in his first heat. The pressure was well and truly on.

However, Searle was in beast mode and rode flawlessly when it mattered, taking two dominant heat wins which not only ensured first pick of the gate for the Main Event but also came with a much-needed bonus championship point.

A missed gear coming out of the gate for the points-paying 14-lapper put Searle at the back of the pack but another solid performance from the champion elect saw him move from the rear of the 12-rider field right to the very front – passing Mewse and giving him a little love tap along the way – in next to no time at all.

Clayton had been leading but hit a fallen lapped rider which took him out of the running and put Brunell out front. However, not even Britain’s #1 indoor specialist could keep Searle at bay and in the latter stages lost out to Mewse too as the two title candidates finished one-two for the fourth time this year. This leaves them two points apart in the championship and sets up an epic final round in Wembley.

Tommy Searle:

I’m gutted the series is coming to an end. I’ve looked forward to every weekend with the new tracks, new stadiums, the atmosphere as a whole, the crowds and being with the other riders in the pits. It’s been a fun series to be a part of.

I’m really excited to be going to a new venue for the final at Wembley. I’m sure Conrad will give it his best, but I’ll pull out all the stops to go one better and I’m aiming to come out on top.

To win another British Championship and add it to my tally is really important. The Arenacross trophy will be a great addition to my collection.

Conrad Mewse:

It’s been a fantastic series so far, a lot better than I expected it to be. With just a couple of points between me and Tommy, the final at London is going to be mega.

It will be brilliant to win the championship and come away with the trophy. I am really focussed on it – so much so that I’m in Spain right now practicing for Arenacross. Tommy has been riding really well but we’ve been swapping positions throughout the series and it’s anyone’s race right up until the final flag falls. I want to finish off on a high at Wembley, and hope to be back next year!

Things aren’t quite so close in the Team Championship where the Crendon Fastrack Honda pairing of Mewse and Gilbert have racked up an impressive 34-point lead over Searle and Pocock who are representing GTCI Revo Kawasaki. The men in green are coming under increasing pressure from Mark McCann 64 YouTube Channel team-mates Clayton and Banks-Browne – just seven points separate the two teams going into the final round.

Dave Thorpe:

As a team, we believe there is huge value in being involved with Arenacross and it benefits our partners too. When you have an association with a manufacturer such as Honda, you automatically think of them as winning so when you’re an official team the role carries a certain amount of pressure. We are delighted to be winning the team championship. Personally, I am amazed at how well our riders are doing, not through lack of ability, but the different pace and style of Arenacross. They haven’t ridden in the series before and have learnt it very quickly. I take my hat off to them.

Going into the final at Wembley, Conrad is second, and Josh joint third. At the start of the series, I would have said I’d take that. However, now with just two points in it, we have a real chance of winning the individual title. Tommy is a formidable rider, but Conrad will give it his all and I expect both Honda riders to put on a brilliant show as they have at every round. Whatever happens will be a bonus as we didn’t expect to be in this position.

Arenacross is a great event and the potential for Honda and corporate sponsorship is really valuable. I hope all manufacturers inside and outside the industry see its worth. The interest from Honda is such that senior marketing management are going to Wembley – that’s how important it is.

It’s fair to say that the London race fans are in for a real treat but the full Arenacross experience is so much more than just the racing with a whole heap of interactive exhibits to enjoy before the show begins and from there on out expect a full-on three hours of adrenaline-fuelled sensory overload – a feast of sounds and sights that will most likely blow your socks off.

Overall Pro Championship results:

  1. Tommy Searle, 71 points
  2. Conrad Mewse, 69 points
  3. Josh Gilbert, 46 points
  4. Jack Brunell, 46 points
  5. Elliott Banks-Browne, 37points
  6. Joe Clayton, 36 points

Overall Arenacross Team results:

  1. Crendon Fastrack Honda Racing, 112 points
  2. GTCI Revo Kawasaki, 80 points
  3. Mark Mccan 64 YouTube Channel, 71 points
  4. Troy Lee Designs GasGas, 44 points
  5. FUS Geartec Husqvarna, 34 points
  6. Darjen Kawasaki, 32 points

Book your tickets – and fast because they’re selling quickly – and then strap your shoes on tight because the final of the 2023 British Arenacross Championship at the OVO Arena Wembley is poised to be one night of racing that’s going down in history…

Visit www.arenacrossuk.com for more Arenacross news and to secure tickets.

Words: Press Release

Images: Nigel McKinstry