The 2008 Motocross of Nations held at Donington Park in Great Britain proved to be quite successful for Teka Suzuki WMX1 riders Ken De Dycker and Steve Ramon as they both finished second overall in their respective classes - MX1 and Open - on their factory RM-Z450s as they headed Team Belgium to third overall in the final team classification.
It was also a successful day for Italian team rider Alex Salvini who scored a very creditable fourth overall in the premier MX1 division and Cody Cooper who was fifth in the Open class for New Zealand.
After qualifying well yesterday the races were more than a little unkind to Team Australia's Chad Reed and his team-mate Michael Byrne. Reigning AMA Supercross Champion Reed yielded eighth overall in his international debut for Suzuki while Byrne piloted his RM-Z450 to 11th in the Open division.
With morning rain dampening the Donington circuit between the Warm-Up session and the first moto of the day's Main Event the riders took to the circuit with some trepidation for their sighting lap. Finding that there was much less grip available than before the rain fell, the 40 riders from the 20 qualified teams anxiously awaited the gate drop for moto one.
De Dycker gated in 10th and was pulling through the pack well until he crashed on lap two after washing out the front wheel in a slippery corner. Wasting no time in getting going again De Dycker soon stomped through the field once more to eventually end the race in eighth position.
De Dycker returned to the circuit for the third and final race of the day - the combined MX1/Open class moto. Starting in the position that he ended his first race he once more rampaged through the pack to reach fourth at half distance. But he would go on to lose places to a charging Max Nagl, local hero Billy MacKenzie and Kiwi Josh Coppins before regrouping and passing all but the German rider back before the end of the 30-minute plus two lap race. De Dycker finally finished fourth as James Stewart handed the Belgian rider an extra position when he crashed out of the lead with five laps remaining.
Second overall in his class on the day and third overall with Team Belgium, De Dycker was relatively happy with his on track performances.
"In the first race I came through pretty good after not getting such a good start but then I slipped the front end away and I crashed," he said. "After that, I struggled to come through again because it was becoming harder to pass as the lines changed through the moto - it was difficult to make consistent laps.
"The second moto was much better for me. I got a much better start and my riding was a lot better. The track was more difficult but that's the way I like it, I was able to find a good rhythm and I finally finished the moto fourth.
"Overall it's not been a bad day; I'd have liked to have challenged for a moto win but today wasn't my day. I've learned a lot again though and I'm satisfied with that."
Riding as the Open class competitor for Team Belgium, Ramon had an unfavourable gate position for his two motos as he took the second pick in both races. However the two-time World Champion was still able to get a great start in his first race - the combined MX2/Open class moto - and he settled into sixth place before powering through the talent stacked pack to claim a strong second place with three laps to go.
Moto two didn't start so well for Ramon though and after one lap he was mired deep in the pack in 24th position. Putting in a solid workman-like performance he made move after move to break into the top 15 by the race's end. Finishing the day with a 2-14 scorecard Ramon only just missed out on taking the Open class win by a meagre two positions.
"My first moto went okay even though my start was not so good - I had the second gate pick for the Belgian team in both motos and my gate position was quite far out in both motos," he said. "I still managed to pull through the pack to second though but the leader - Villopoto - had already pulled out a really big gap and he was too far ahead for me to catch.
"There wasn't much time to prepare between races and it was tough to get ready - the time went quickly.
"In my second moto I didn't get a very good start and on the first lap I made some big mistakes and a few riders were able to pass me. I wasn't feeling so good on the bike and I was struggling in the ruts and stuff. I didn't even know that we'd finished on the podium until the last lap. I'm happy that Team Belgium finished third overall but I'm a little disappointed with my ride in the final race."
Italian MRT Suzuki rider Alex Salvini had been getting quicker and quicker as the 2008 season progressed and ended his season in fine style at the MXoN with a fighting fifth overall in the Open class. Finishing the day with a 5-12 scorecard Salvini was actually only a handful of points behind the Open class overall winner and was therefore really pleased with his day.
"The track here really suits my riding style and I liked it at last year's Grand Prix and also this weekend too," he said. "In the first heat I had a good start and I was riding well. I was pleased to finish the race in fifth - that's good for me in a race with such good riders.
"My start wasn't so good in my second race but I was riding strong and when Ramon passed me I was able to battle with him. I finished the day fourth overall but I was only a few points off winning the Open class - today has been a good end to my season and I was very happy to represent Team Italy as well as Suzuki at this race and to do so well too."
New Zealand's Cody Cooper was also piloting an RM-Z450 in the Open class and after winning Saturday's qualification heat was brimming with confidence coming into today's Main Event. Gating at the front of the pack in his first race of the day - race two - he tried hard to run the pace of Ryan Villopoto who had the advantage of knowing how the track had changed in moto one. Keeping the young American in sight for three laps the Kiwi then lost contact but was still a safe second.
That all changed on lap six though when Cooper cross rutted and crashed hard twisting the front of his bike. Quickly remounting the crash cost him his rhythm and he quickly slipped back a couple of positions to finally finish in fourth.
Cooper got a terrible start in his final moto and had to battle his way through the pack alongside Ramon for a while before fading to finally finish 21st. Currently based in America, Cooper still enjoyed his weekend in Europe and was happy to finish the day fifth overall individually and eighth in the team event with Team New Zealand.
"I got a good start in my first moto," said Cooper. "After that I just put my head down and tried to stay with Villopoto but he edged away until I started finding my rhythm around the middle of the moto. I put in some good laps then and edged away from the guys behind me in third and fourth.
"I got a little bit cross rutted and crashed and that allowed the guys behind to catch me up. The front of the bike was all twisted up after that and it took a few laps to get adjusted. After that I got a little bit of arm pump too and so I was definitely happy to finish fourth in that race even though I'm sure I could have finished second if I hadn't crashed.
"In moto two I got a bit of wheel spin coming out of the gate and after that any chance of getting a good start was history for me. I came through quite well and charge quite hard for a while but then I just blew out and my arms cramped up.
"It's been a real fun weekend, everything went well and I was happy with my riding even if my fitness - due to my month's break from riding - let me down a little."
Supercross specialist Chad Reed's international debut for Suzuki resulted in less than stellar results for the Australian team-leader who hadn't raced outdoors since the MXoN of last year.
A little race rusty, Reed started race one in 22nd position but bravely battled through the pack to 12th position by the end of the race. His second moto start was much better and after starting seventh he ended the race eighth. Finishing the day eighth overall Reed was disappointed with his performance but well pleased with his new ride.
"It was a rough day and I'm a little bit embarrassed by my performance really," he said. "I didn't feel good all weekend and I just struggled with the track. The Australian team needed a leader today and I wasn't there - I'm very disappointed with myself.
"My bike was awesome though and it's only a shame that I wasn't able to twist the throttle and steer it in the right direction - I was a little off today. I'm really looking forward to getting back to Supercross so I can get my groove on."
Reed's Aussie-team team-mate Michael Byrne also had a difficult day at the races finishing with an 8-36 scorecard after struggling to find a good set-up with his bike's suspension due to the lack of track time that the MXoN format offers.
Byrne started strongly in his opening race and after gating 12th he soon powered through the pack to eighth place which is where he'd stay until the end. Starting the second moto strongly too Michael reached the edge of the top 10 before making his first big mistake that would see him hit the deck. Remounting in 14th he made another error four laps later and that pretty much ended his weekend early.
"My weekend started off well and I had a good result in my qualifier," said Byrne. "But today I struggled with my starts and that made it difficult because this track is very difficult to pass on. I made lots of little mistakes and some small crashes. It was a tough weekend and I fell twice in the second moto - it was a rough race for me but I came through it."
2008 Motocross of Nations Results:
MX1/ MX2: 1 James Stewart (Kawasaki - USA) 35:25.692, 2 Sebastien Pourcel (Kawasaki - FRA) +0:21.030, 3 David Philippaerts (Yamaha - ITA) +0:33.076, 4 Jonathan Barragan (KTM - ESP) +0:35.481, 5 Julien Bill (Honda - SUI) +0:44.913, 6 Billy MacKenzie (Honda - GB) +0:50.640, 7 Josh Coppins (Yamaha - NZL) +0:52.266, 8 Ken de Dycker (Suzuki - BEL) +0:52.266, 9 Tommy Searle (KTM - GB) +0:52.901, 10 Ryan Villopoto (Kawasaki - USA) +0:53.267
MX2/ Open: 1 Ryan Villopoto (Kawasaki - USA) 36:14.798, 2 Steve Ramon (Suzuki - BEL) +0:24.632, 3 Tommy Searle (KTM - GB) +0:25.490, 4 Cody Cooper (Suzuki - NZL) +0:27.281, 5 Alex Salvini (Suzuki - ITA) +0:39.243, 6 Zach Osborne (Yamaha - PUR) +0:46.750, 7 Nico Aubin (Yamaha - FRA) +0:48.469, 8 Michael Byrne (Suzuki - AUS) +0:49.480, 9 Tim Ferry (Kawasaki - USA) +0:51.446, 10 Brett Metcalfe (Kawasaki - AUS) +1:05.336
MX1/ Open: 1 Sebastien Pourcel (Kawasaki - FRA) 35:55.949, 2 Tanel Leok (Kawasaki - EST) +0:05.763, 3 Max Nagl (KTM - GER) +0:26.044, 4 Ken de Dycker (Suzuki - BEL) +0:37.085, 5 Tim Ferry (Kawasaki - USA) +0:40.251, 6 Josh Coppins (Yamaha - NZL) +0:42.053, 7 Julien Bill (Honda - SUI) +0:42.641, 8 Chad Reed (Suzuki - AUS) +0:43.527, 9 Jonathan Barragan (KTM - ESP) +0:53.260, 10 Nico Aubin (Yamaha - FRA) +0:57.885
Motocross of Nation Overall: 1 USA (Stewart/Villopoto/Ferry) 26 points, 2 France (Pourcel/Boissiere/Aubin) 31, 3 Belgium (De Dycker/Van Horebeek/Ramon) 41, 4 Great Britain (MacKenzie/Searle/Simpson) 42, 5 Italy (Philippaerts/Monni/Salvini) 45, 6 Australia (Reed/Byrne/Metcalfe) 55, 7 Spain (Barragan/Campano/Lazano) 58, 8 New Zealand (Coppins/Columb/Cooper) 63, 9 Switzerland (Bill/Tonus/Wicht) 82, 10 Germany (Nagl/Siegl/Chittaro) 96.