Ben Townley made a determined if somewhat dramatic comeback to MXGP action at Kegums for the Grand Prix of Latvia on Sunday.
A good enthusiastic crowd filled the shallow banks at the dry, loose and extremely bumpy circuit and the New Zealander, on his first visit to Kegums, rode to eighth overall on his works RM-Z450 as team-mate Kevin Strijbos was forced to retire from the second moto with a damaged clutch as a result of a collision between the athletes.
After requiring a quick medical check on a bashed left ring finger and knee due to his collision in the Saturday Qualification Heat, Townley was still able to enter the start gate with designs on the top-five of the MXGP pack and in his first appearance since recovering the from the virus that caused him to miss trips to Argentina and Mexico.
Bright skies threw generous light onto the orange Kegums soil and the surface churned into a plethora of punishing ruts and treacherous bumps that required elements of risk as much as a calculated approach. Townley rode positively in the first moto (despite touching the gate) to made good on a top-10 first lap slot and follow Strijbos across the line with both Suzukis going 6-7 in a steady initial sprint.
In the second moto the team-mates came together on the opening lap in a smash that saw Townley hit the ground and Strijbos sustain some damage (a holed clutch) that caused the bike to smoke. Strijbos ‰ÛÒ who was dealing with the effects of a painful back ‰ÛÒ was riding well and moved up to third place by passing Jeremy Van Horebeek until he lost power and stopped on the 12th lap of 17. The Belgian was forced out and returned to the paddock. Townley, who was almost last on the first lap, climbed all the way from last to 13th in what was a damage-limitation exercise.
‰ÛÏA bit of a shocker to be honest." Townley commented. "I moved too early along with Clement [Desalle] in the first moto and just had to put my head down and see where I‰Ûªd end up.
"On the first lap of the second race there was a lot of jostling going on. I went inside and I saw Kevin go wide but didn't expect him to come back as quickly as he did. We touched and I went down and he obviously paid for it later.
"If it had happened on lap 15, say, then I‰Ûªd understand people being upset but it was on the first and pretty chaotic. Just one of those racing things and it was a shame.
"After that I just did what I could. Stefan had told me that the track would get rough and demanding so I played it safe out there.
"There are some positive signs from this weekend and I really just need to put everything together in one Grand Prix to show what I can do and it hasn‰Ûªt happened yet this year.‰Û