We may say it every year but the new championship season is shaping up to be a cracker…
Cast your mind back to the start of any one of the past 10 years and I’ll bet that not once was the new sporting season ushered in with anything other than enthusiasm and optimism.
Reading that ‘this year’s going to be s**t’ or ‘there’s no way this year’s going to be as good as last year’ simply never happens. We’re always optimistic that the new will be better than the old. I guess it’s human nature but are we right to expect every new season to be better and more exciting than the last?
More often than not I reckon we are. Part of what makes all motorsport great is the pre-season anticipation, the uncertainty and mystery that precedes the competitive season that lies ahead. The looking forward to is almost as enjoyable as the doing for many. Even when it’s not obvious why the new season will deliver more we rarely stop believing that it will.
When it comes to the 2011 Enduro World Championship there’s plenty to look forward to. In fact I’d go as far as to say the series has all the makings of a stand-out year. Whereas the 2010 championship under-delivered due largely to the early collapse of the Antoine Meo vs Johnny Aubert fight for the Enduro 1 title, this year’s series has a lot going for it.
Juha Salminen’s return to the Enduro 1 class is going to be worth keeping an eye on. It might have been a while since the seven-time world champ claimed championship glory – and Juha might be a lot closer to the end of his career than he is to the start of it – but the Finn is, well, one of only a handful of riders you’d put money on winning a championship. Whether he’ll be able to do it in 2011 remains to be seen but if I were a betting man I wouldn’t put my money too far away from Mr Salminen.
What makes Juha’s return to the E1 class all the more interesting is the fact that he’s doing it on the bike, of sorts, that topped the class in 2010 – Husqvarna’s TE250. Juha is a known lover of horsepower so down-sizing from a 450 to a 250 won’t be without its challenges for Salminen. But as a rider that can adjust to new machinery better than pretty much any other, if anyone can do it then Juha can.
The Enduro 2 class will feature just one world champion – Antoine Meo, last year’s E1 title winner. Moving up to the Blue Ribbon category on Husqvarna’s TE310 machine, Antoine will face seriously tough competition. Firstly, there’s Johnny Aubert who will race the highly anticipated enduro version of KTM’s hugely successful 350cc four-stroke. Secondly, there’ll be Ivan Cervantes on his 250cc two-stroke Gas Gas. Three very different riders on three very different bikes all wanting to win every bit as much as each other. And backed by three different manufacturers all equally as keen to come out on top.
The second coming together of Meo and Aubert means that the battle that failed to materialise in 2010 gets another chance. Both mounted on 300-and-something cc bikes, both riders and their respective teams won’t be happy with anything less than the E2 title. Throw into the mix Cervantes aboard his Gasser smoker and Husaberg new boy Pierre Renet and the E2 class certainly doesn’t look like it’s going to be dull.
What’s going to make the battle for the Enduro 3 title so interesting is the fact that the sport’s most successful and consistent rider in recent years – Mika Ahola – is stepping up into the class that’s well and truly owned by David Knight. More than just being two of the most successful riders in the EWC today, both come armed with an arsenal of skills that have seen them join an elite group of riders that can be relied upon to deliver winning results no matter where and no matter what conditions.
Different in so many ways, both are at the top of their game and hungry for more successes. While Mika will venture into the E3 class for the first time ever it comes after four consecutive titles – two in E2 and two in E1. Looking to claim the ‘full set’ and continue his winning ways while at the same time refreshing his motivation by competing in a new class, nothing suggests Mika will be anything but up for a championship fight.
Two things will be new for David in 2011, despite the fact that he’ll be competing in the E3 class for another season. Firstly, he’ll be racing aboard new – yet familiar – machinery. Secondly, unlike last year, his expected closest championship rival won’t be mounted on two-stroke machinery. It can be argued that David, in knowing the class and knowing what it takes to win in it, holds an important early season advantage. But with both Mika and David as hard working as they are experienced and determined, the fight for the 2011 Enduro 3 championship should go down to the wire.
Add into the mix three if not four two-stroke mounted riders – all of which will play an important role in the championship’s outcome – and just like the E2 class it’s easy to see that the E3 category certainly won’t be lacking in any way this year…