PREVIEW: AX Fest explodes into life at Bolesworth Castle!
You wouldn’t put Formula One cars onto a Kart track – that’s just a traffic jam – but sticking full-size dirt bikes onto a hectic, jump-filled, tight-cornered Arenacross circuit works a treat, and the results are endlessly entertaining. With no issues on conserving energy for a 30-minute plus race, and with no time to hold back and settle in for safety, the best dirt bike racers on the island give it everything from the instant the gate drops, and the constant cut-and-thrust provides exciting racing throughout the pack! The new season begins this weekend at Bolesworth Castle near Chester. If you haven’t thought about it, do! It’s going to be incredible!
Words: Ben Rumbold, Images: Arenacross UK
The Arenacross experience now moves into the realms of a Festival weekend, with shows from the like of Rick Parfitt Junior and Sister Bliss from dance legends Faithless added to the incredible site. And the Arenacross circuit itself is now build into a wild SuperEnduro course, as the team uses the extra space at Bolesworth to give a showcase to the amazing riders who will tackle obstacles that are almost impossible to even walk over! The Super Enduro Pros will race on Friday & Saturday, the Clubman class on Saturday and Sunday. Prepare to be amazed!
See the amazing site map here for a taste of what you’ll be seeing:
While you get a lot of flash for your cash, there is still plenty of substance to go with the style. The Arenacross crew are consummate professionals, having run these events for over a decade across all areas of the UK. With the adjustment in 2023 of making the series a full-blooded official ACU British Championship, the series rebooted in fine style after the pandemic-enforced break, and attracted most of the top names in the nation to ply their trade indoors, many for the first time.
The AX Fest contains races for 9 different classes over the three days, with the AX Pro Class running on each of the three nights, and their schedule is unique in that as well as practice and timed qualifying in the daytime, each rider will have a heat race to qualify directly at the start of the evening show. Those left after the heats will face the fiendish and dramatic Head-to-Head qualifying races – two riders on track at a time, for two laps, in a Quarter-, then Semi-, then Final format for a single qualifying position to the winner. Everyone else then has one last chance – literally called the Last Chance Qualifier, a short race for all remaining riders to grab that last spot for the Main Event, where the Championship points will be bitterly fought for!
The rest of the Arenacross classes are split over the first two days, before they all come together for Sunday’s packed matinee show, which starts three hours earlier.
Friday will see one class each for Amateurs on 450cc four-strokes or 250cc two-strokes, then Lites bikes – 250cc four-stroke or 125cc two-stroke, plus the AX Futures class for riders of 15-21 years old. These classes will have Practice, Timed Qualifying, then Qualifying Races earlier in the day, before joining the main evening show with their Main Events after the Pro Heat Races.
Saturday will see a similar format but for the Youth classes – AX Auto 50cc machines for 6 to 8 year-olds, AX E5 Electric bikes for 6 to 9 year-olds, 65cc geared machines for 7 to 10 year-olds, Small-Wheel 85cc for 9 to 12 year-olds, and Big-Wheel 85cc for 11 to 14 year-olds.
They will all race full programmes on Sunday to complete what should be an epic and enthralling weekend for all, both on-track and off. What a way to kick-start the new 2023-24 British Arenacross Championship!
The list of Pro Riders contains a mix of British Champions past & present, AX specialists defending their territory, an intriguing mix of MX characters, and most uniquely of all, a fully electric machine being raced against standard combustion-engined bikes. It will be the first time ever for an electric dirt bike to be competing for points in an officially-registered series, so not only are you going to see an incredible show of racing action, but you will also bear witness to a little bit of racing history here at Bolesworth.
There’s no doubt that the stars of the show coming in are Tommy Searle, Conrad Mewse, and Jack Brunell – the top three from the first Championship who between them occupied all but two of the podium positions through the entire series.
35-year-old Brunell – although his hairstyle makes him look 20 years younger – has great pace, and regularly gets a great start, but his injuries got to him all through the Tour, leaving him 3rd in every single round after that disastrous first night. Now healthy and armed with a new FUS Geartec Husqvarna machine, he is ready to take on the outdoor boys who have invaded his patch!
“I rode a 500cc two-stroke Honda at the VMXdN Foxhill [3 weeks ago] and it was the most fun I’ve ever had there. I considered racing it at Arenacross but the suspension is waaay too soft! I feel the best I’ve felt in a long time, and I’ve got something to prove after the ’23 series. I wanna take it to ‘em,” said London boy Jack in his Cockney twang, “I like that this track looks more technical, with bigger jumps in the rhythm sections. I wanna do ‘em!”
Kent-born Searle, who’s similar accent will be familiar to all who watch his massively successful video blogs – check them out if you haven’t already – is also well up for the challenge. “I feel good coming in. I’m glad to see the end of the outdoor season, it’s been painful with some rib injuries and niggling problems, and I’ll have a new bike for the 2024 races which looks great. Conrad will be good, and seeing the Stark on track will be great as well!”
Somerset star Mewse is “very excited” for Arenacross to return. Having had no indoor experience since “rolling everything on a 65” over a decade before, he loved the AX series earlier this year, saying that “it was almost too nice, especially when we went outdoors to some seriously wet races! I was like ‘Bring back Arenacross’! I feel great on the Honda, hardly changed a thing on it all year, and you’ll see me race Arenacross for many years to come I’m sure.”
One rider that may give them the most trouble is Elliott Banks-Browne. “EBB” has enjoyed a career renaissance this season, kicked off by some great speed in the Arenacross Tour. Having raced a 250 both indoors and out, the 2012 & ’13 MX2 British Champ has risen back to the top of the division this season, with two moto wins and a style that makes it look easy. He joins Brunell on the FUS Geartec Husqvarna squad, alongside Spiral Graphics boss Jake Preston.
“There’s a good team atmosphere, and we have a real chance of pushing for that Team Championship. I enjoyed the 250 in the AX Tour, but you lose too much time on the start and rhythm sections, so I’ll race a 450 this year which should help me man-up for the big jumps and compete for the win!” Also beating Searle and others to a race win at the VMXdN Foxhill recently, Elliott is a third-generation talent as both his Grandfather and Uncle also won National titles, and the 32-year-old family man will be a real threat if he gets out of the gate.
Adam Sterry could be a real surprise package, coming across from his home in Belgium, the Welsh flyer was 2016 MX2 British Champ and although his indoor experience is limited, as one of the more local riders he will be fired-up. Now 27, he has raced in the ultra-professional German ADAC series for the last two years on a quality Sarholz KTM, so he will have the equipment and the tenacity!
Jake Nichols’ cheerful, approachable exterior conceals a determined racer who won’t hold back on track. He’s racing again for Crendon Fastrack Honda, for whom he so nearly won the 2018 MX1 British title before a late injury cruelly denied him. Although semi-retired now, the TRU7 Managing Director – imagine seeing your company boss do this at the weekend – is fiercely competitive and will want good results to show to his own video blog followers.
Talking about fierce competitors, two Honda-mounted privateers will compete at Arenacross for the first time on the red machines. Cumbrian strong-man Brad Todd makes his AX debut, now that he’s “free enough to race these things with no team telling me what to do. I’ve no idea what the racing will be like but I’m not coming in blind as I’ve done a lot of practice on small AX-style tracks.” Todd’s appearance may be in doubt as he has been diagnosed with COVID after being sick at the final round of the Revo British Championship.
Dubliner Stuart Edmonds returns to AX for the first time since 2020, and having endured stolen bikes and niggly injuries this season, he will for sure be battling hard on the S Briggs Commercials Honda. He is joined on that squad by AX veterans Matt Bayliss and Ashley Greedy. Cheerful chippie Matt from Reading has years of indoor racing experience and won a heat race earlier in the year. The return of Tarmac-laying Welsh Dragon Greedy might send shudders up some riders’ spines, however, as he has a hard-riding reputation forged from some true bar-banging incidents in years gone by. Also a Weston Beach Race winner, he brings true character to the sport and is always great value to watch and get you waving any Red Dragon flags you might have with you!
Hereford-based AJP Husqvarna field two further indoor specialists, although Adam Chatfield has raced around the world, with results including a top ten finish in an American outdoor National, Brazilian Motocross and Arenacross championship wins, and was the first ever AX Tour Champion (before it earned British Championship status), back in 2013. He’s joined by Ben Clayton, one of the youngest on the track who showed good speed earlier this year.
Two British riders in their early twenties also join the AX Tour from opposing ends of the team environment, with Jamie Carpenter racing for the Cab Screens Crescent squad, the official Yamaha UK team. He made a solid start to his 450cc career this season after winning the MX2 Michelin MX Nationals title in 2022. In contrast, Welsh journeyman Joel Rizzi has had a difficult year with his Grand Prix team folding in April, leaving him to ride “here there and everywhere. It’s been so difficult but at the same time I’ve had some great experiences like racing in the USA. I’m not riding for a team but doing it myself with a stock 250cc GASGAS. The site map looks unreal and I can’t wait to see it in person.”
From Joel’s solo effort, to something completely full-factory, the British Arenacross Championship will be the first ever official series to include electric dirt bikes in a full points-earning capacity.
The aptly-named Stark Future team is being managed by former double World Champion Sebastien Tortelli, and after several outings in French racing, but not counting for points, the silent machines add a new and unknown element to proceedings at Bolesworth.
Young British rider Eddie Jay Wade says that “it feels a lot faster than a normal bike, and easier to use with no gears or clutch, it’s always in ‘the sweet spot’. It feels lighter even though it’s the same weight as a 450. I have never set foot on an AX track before, so I am in at the deep end but have picked it up quite quickly.” He is joined by seasoned Swiss veteran Arnaud Tonus, the 32-year-old 2011 British MX2 Champion and one-time Grand Prix winner, plus another former AX star Carl Osterman.
This fascinating addition to an already complex line-up will make the AX Festival racing an incredible spectacle. For all of the other attractions available, the racing is sure to provide a memorable experience.
Amateurs & Youth
The “Pro-Am” class has been split for the AX Fest, at the behest of riders on smaller machines, into Amateur 450 and Amateur Lites classes. So that’s 450cc four-strokes, with 250cc two-strokes in one class, with the Lites incorporating 250cc four-strokes and those buzzy bees you might hear will be the 125cc two-strokes getting in the mix.
The Amateur classes should provide plenty of thrills and inevitably some spills as they bang bars on the tight Arenacross circuit. In the 450 class, Welsh wizards Sion Talbot & Josh Greedy will resume their battle from the winter, when they took the Pro-Am title down to the wire, separated by just two points going into the last race. Talbot won that final encounter to take the Championship from Josh, Ashley’s younger brother, by a single point at the end! What’s even more remarkable is that, both sponsored by Darjen Engineering, they went back to the same pit box to laugh about it after!
“That final race was mega,” says Josh, “the whole atmosphere and experience you get with Arenacross, especially in the time of year when you would normally be killing your bike in muddy practice sessions, is why I keep returning each year. You’re in the big cities, on professional tracks, comparing your lap times with the pro boys, it’s enjoyable for everyone.”
According to Josh, with the same bikes they race outdoors of course, “there are two major changes for AX – run a shorter gearing to give you more pop over the big jumps, and most importantly the suspension has to be much harder to cope with harsh landings and help you attack the whoops and jumps a lot more.” Josh gets help from Moto33 suspension, just to make sure we get the plug in there!
The Welsh boyos should face some strong opposition from Kyle Lane, 3rd in the same series, Matt Lomas who was 5th, and Aaron Ongley who will be looking to throw some two-stroke spice into the mix! His teammate, fiery long-haired Fantic rider Raife Broadley should be a real contender after he took 2 wins at the Birmingham event in February. “The two-stroke is a beast to handle as you have to be smooth with the power, but there is more of it, so I think it equals out.”
The Amateur Lites class is tough to call as there was no such class in the winter. Ben White was strong in the Pro-Ams, and Ezra Blackwell is a teenage prospect fresh from the AX Futures class that could fight hard for glory.
Speaking of the AX Futures, this is for riders between 15 & 21 years old, although most run closer to the younger end of that bracket. Reigning Champion from this class, Joel Fisher on the #711 KTM, is back to defend his title, but he will have serious pressure from Charley Irwin, who won 6 of the first 8 races in the 2023 series before breaking his leg in practice for the Birmingham event.
They will be joined by two graduates from the Supermini (85cc) class, the top two in this winter’s championship in fact, now on the bigger bikes to see what they can do. Isaac Ash won every single main event in the Superminis to easily win the title, and if he can carry that speed to the Futures class then we should all watch out – we could have a seriously hot prospect for the future on our hands here! Austin Beasty also moves up and should be a contender as he is a strong enough kid for the bigger bike.
The slightly larger figure of Mark Morris, complete with Donut graphics, is a YouTube star in the making and well worth checking out online, whilst another crowd favourite is Beanie Reece, one of the UK’s fastest female racers in her age group who always gets the audience behind her.
The remaining top contenders from the Supermini Championship, namely the 3rd & 4th place riders Lewis Spratt and Harry Lee, have stuck together like glue all year, even outdoors, so expect some thrilling racing between those two in the Big-Wheel 85 class, while Jack Leese, Fabian Junior Morrison, and AMCA championship star Oakley Kettle should also be near the front.
The Small-Wheel 85s see another fast female in Olivia Reynolds, sporting her favourite rider Travis Pastrana’s #199 plate, but she will have the boys looking to deny her the victory, possibly led by Wil Evans, Harley Pastoor, and Brooklyn Gabbitas, who have all seen British Championship action this summer.
As always, the AX65 Youth class is tough to call with all of the riders being between 7 & 10 years old, but 2023 Championship runner-up John Slade should be fast again, with Jenson Branney and Freddie Bailey likely to be in the mix.
Finally, save a big cheer for the smallest of our weekend warriors, the AXE5s and AX Auto classes, as some riders compete in both categories with the 6 to 9 yr-old age limit. Austin Edwards won both the electric and petrol-bike titles in the winter, but again there are a sea of racers looking to chase him down!
Practice and Qualification is run before the doors open to the public at 12 noon on Friday, with the qualifying races starting at 1pm. The Main Event gets underway at 5pm with the Opening Ceremonies and Freestyle show revving things up before the first Pro Heat at 17:20.
Saturday’s schedule is similar, although starting half an hour later, whilst on Sunday the main races start at 2pm to get things wrapped in time to get you home before work on Monday morning! You should then be telling all of your workmates about an amazing dirt bike experience!