Motocross

Aussies prepared for Battle of France

Author: Mark Fattore

Posted:

After a captivating build-up, the 2005 Fox Motocross of Nations (MoN) will finally be played out on French soil this weekend, complete with one of the strongest fields in recent memory.
Danny Ham. Photo: Garry Morrow
A total of 36 countries will compete in the 59th instalment of the iconic annual teams' event, which first began in 1947 ‰ÛÒ a decade before the first individual world motocross champion was crowned. Once again, Australia will field a three-man team in the MoN, where it will come up against the might of world motocross, including Belgium, France, America and Italy ‰ÛÒ and minnows including Iran, Guatemala and Columbia. On Saturday, 20 teams will qualify for the main event, before the best five results (out of six) on Sunday will count towards the final standings. Australia will be represented by locally based duo Danny Ham (Suzuki RM-Z450) and Lee Ellis (KTM 450SX), and world championship campaigner Andrew McFarlane (Yamaha YZ250F), who has just finished second in the MX2 (125cc 2T vs. 250cc 4T) title behind Italian Antonio Cairoli. McFarlane, who has competed in five MoNs for Australia, starting in 1997, will also ride in the MX2 class on September 24-25, with Ham and Ellis slated for MX1 (250cc 2T vs. 450cc 4T) and MX3 (500cc 2T vs. 650cc 4T) duties respectively. McFarlane's final few rounds of the world championship were scarred by untimely mechanical failure, so he would like nothing better than to make a big impression in the MoN, as Australia chases a maiden rostrum finish.
Lee Ellis. Photo: Garry Morrow
"We had problems in the last three or four GPs and it was not acceptable," said the Brisbane rider, who will now move to America in 2006. "I wanted to be fighting for the title to the end, and that didn't happen ‰ÛÒ although second place is still not too bad. "I'm now after redemption in the MoN, as it has been a bit of a struggle in the past few years." McFarlane, after being selected, missed last year's MoN with a broken collarbone. Meanwhile, 27-year-old Ham, who finished fifth in the 2005 Australian Pro Open motocross title, is making his first appearance in the MoN, and will race in the same class as revered American Ricky Carmichael (Suzuki) and Belgian master Stefan Everts (Yamaha). The latter motored to his ninth world title in 2005 ‰ÛÒ now three more than anyone else ‰ÛÒ in the MX1 class, while Carmichael has just gone through his third American season undefeated. The rolling scrum between Carmichael and Everts was one of the highlights of the 2003 MoN, and the same pyrotechnics are expected again this year ‰ÛÒ with Ham in the best seat in the house to witness the full repartee. "I have competed in France before and it was one of the highlights of my racing career ‰ÛÒ to go back there again and race for Australia is a once in a lifetime opportunity," Ham said. "The Suzuki RM-Z450 is the motocross bike to be on right now - Carmichael won the AMA motocross title on the four-stroke and (Daryl) Hurley took out the Australian Motocross Championship with it, so I hope to have a solid result on it. "Carmichael and Everts are the benchmarks right now, so it will be really good to go up against them and use the opportunity to improve my skills." Finally, 28-year-old Ellis will return to the MoN cauldron after competing in 2004 alongside Cheyne Boyd and Paul Broomfield, and is hoping that the event is a profitable one after what has been an injury-plagued year for the talented Victorian. Australia's best result in the MoN (nee Motocross des Nations) remains the superb fourth place of 1988, when then legends Glen Bell, Jeff Leisk and Craig Dack melded beautifully to scare the pants off the established heavyweights. America won that year ‰ÛÒ as it had for seven years previously and five years afterwards! The 13 victories in a row by America from 1981-1993, with stars such as David Bailey, Broc Glover, Jeff Ward, Damon Bradshaw, Jeff Emig and Jeremy McGrath in all-conquering form, remains a MoN benchmark that is unlikely to be eclipsed. In terms of sheer brilliance, Carmichael is probably another level above his forebears, and he'll be looking to win his second MoN at Ernee after first tasting success in 2000 alongside Ryan Hughes and Travis Pastrana. This year, Carmichael will be joined by Kevin Windham (Honda) and Ivan Tedesco (Kawasaki) in the American fellowship, where they stand as one of the favourites alongside Belgium (Everts, KTM's Steve Ramon and Suzuki's Kevin Strijbos) and France ‰ÛÒ two-time world champions Mickael Pichon (Honda) and Sebastien Tortelli (KTM), as well as David Vuillemin (Yamaha). Vuillemin played a paramount role France's one and only MoN win in 2001, while Belgium has been a serial top three finisher for the last 20 years. It's won five MoNs during that time, and has 14 in total, behind America (15) and inaugural champion Great Britain (16). Only four other countries have won the MoN ‰ÛÒ Italy (two times), the former communist states of USSR (two) and Czechoslovakia (one), and Sweden (six). Meanwhile, New Zealand is shaping as another serious threat at Ernee, notwithstanding that reigning Australian motocross champion Daryl Hurley (Suzuki) is a late withdrawal with injury, and has been hastily replaced by Honda-riding Cody Cooper. Josh Coppins (Honda) and Ben Townley (KTM), who completed this year's world MX1 rostrum, remain in the Kiwi fold, and would love to knock the Everts-led Belgians down a peg, as well as testing their resolve against Carmichael.

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