Culham Park in Oxfordshire hosted round three of the Red Bull Pro National series and it was a weekend to forget for the Heads & All Threads Suzuki team.
e22 Sports had prepared the Culham Park track well – a natural track typically favoured amongst riders and with the glorious sunshine and picturesque backdrop of the Oxfordshire countryside, it should have been a great weekend of racing for the Suzuki team.
Heads & All Threads’ MX1 pilot, Luke Burton had twisted his knee at the previous British Championship round in Northern Ireland and he now looks to be out of action for a few more weeks.
The Red Bull Pro National, as always, is a two day event and the MX1 and MX2 Pro classes qualify and race in one open group. During practice, Irwin was showing good speed and was fifth fastest despite a few cuts and bruises from a big training crash on the previous Wednesday.
He carried a similar pace into qualifying an hour later, and took eighth pick for the gate, but there was less than a second separating him from fifth qualifier and championship leader, Steven Lenoir.
The gate dropped a little behind schedule for the first and only race for the Pro classes on Saturday and Irwin got a good start in eighth of the mixed group, third in MX2. Moving past Matthew Moffat (MX1) early he was put under pressure by his championship rival Neville Bradshaw, but Irwin dropped his RM-Z250 on lap four, which relegated him to 10th in the race.
He rode hard to get back with Bradshaw, and in the closing stages was right on him. One corner to go and Irwin tried to square it off, but didn’t quite get the drive up the long hill and crossed the line in ninth – fourth in MX2.
Saturday held three races for the rookie riders, and it was a tough day for Olly Townsend. The track became quite gnarly and sapped energy easily. He struggled to gate in all three races which made for exhausting riding and little mistakes cost him more energy and places.
His lap times were consistent, but as the track became rougher, and the sun hotter throughout the day – it became more important to get good starts and conserve energy. His final positions in the three races were 36th, 35th, and 33rd respectively.
Sadly, Sunday went downhill for Irwin, a string of bad luck, and small crashes caused him to constantly have to fight through in the second and third races. Being a mixed open group, the 250s struggled to make passes against the much more powerful 450 machines, so making good headway through the field was a tall task. But Irwin did manage to get into the top 10 for MX2 in both races, finishing 10th in race two and eighth in the third after a hard fall.
Obviously not happy with seventh overall, and his general performance, Irwin said: “It’s was a bad weekend to be honest. I had the speed of the front guys with lap times, but I didn’t get away with them. On this track it’s quite hard to go that much faster, and also to come through the field.
We’re going to do some more testing this week to try and get a bit more comfortable ready for the next round.”
Olly did a little better on Sunday in his fourth race of the weekend. The Pros had been out early on for practice and with them a few more lines developed offering a little more choice, and he just crept into the top 30.
As the track roughed up towards the end of the day, and riding four races already over the weekend took it’s toll, he crossed the line in 34th in the final race to take 35th overall.
The next Red Bull Pro National Event is on July 20-21 at Skelder Bank, Whitby, North Yorkshire.