Storm Ciara brought torrential rain and strong winds but it failed to stop Josh Gotts taking his first overall victory at round one of the 2020 ACU Michelin British Enduro Championship at Warren Heath, near Yateley in Hampshire, run by Witley MCC/Normandy MCC.
Weather conditions sapped the riders’ energy as they were battered by rain and wind making the going very boggy on the 30-mile lap across the heath and woodland.
This traditional ‘one-dayer’ to start the season consisted of two special tests early in the lap set out to maximise the use of the woodland terrain, including several water hazards, ditches and the endless game of ‘dodge the tree stump’.
The Enduro Tyres Smiths Test was slightly quicker with the Wincanton Paint Alldred Test, including part of Baggott’s bog offering a more of a technical challenge.
A tight early time check was included by the club to avoid the special tests being the only deciding factor and this impacted on the times of all riders with the exception of the top two Championship runners and Over 40 winner Andrew Edwards.
With several top contenders including 2019 champion Danny McCanney not committed to the championship this year, the door was open for a new champion.
Jack Edmondson – the only rider to take a round from McCanney in 2019 – was high on the list of potential winners, along with Tom Sagar and the unknown quantity of a group of strong Expert riders, including 2019 champion Aaron Gordon.
It was Sagar and Edmondson who made the time check and posted the fastest times on the first special test ahead of the chasing Gotts.
Sagar was also almost three seconds quicker on the second test than Gotts but the unlucky Edmondson’s challenge came to an end early after he fell heavily at the end of the test breaking his arm in two places.
Both Sagar and Gotts managed to keep to time and, although he took four fastest test times, Sagar made mistakes and lost 12 seconds each to Gotts first on the Smiths Test and then on the final Alldred Test to finish just 12 seconds back.
Gotts and Sagar finished over one second ahead of the rest of the field but – as predicted – the time penalties came into play.
Charlie Evans got into a good rhythm and put in a consistent performance for one of his best rides to third overall.
He only lost a minute on time but, without the time, penalties it would have been very different for other riders.
Thomas Ellwood, who took fourth, lost two minutes which robbed him of a third-place finish while Max Ditchfield lost nine minutes.
This included five minutes for changing a gear lever at a check and another four for not keeping up to time, which dropped him from fourth to 11th overall.
Ricky Wiggins put in a solid ride, showing great consistency with times just slowing in the conditions, losing three minutes on time for fifth.
Frazer Flockhart was only eight seconds back in sixth.
Moving up from the Experts, Henry Yardley was an excellent seventh on his 125cc Husqvarna while fellow championship debutant Harry Edmondson was well in the mix before making it a ‘family day out’ to forget as he dropped out with a mechanical problem to add to the family woes of brother Jack’s injury.
Ninth-placed Aaron Gordon was pleased with his steady start saying he lost six minutes on time ‘getting stuck in the multiple bogs’, which was a common reason for lost time by many in the field.
The day belonged to Gotts, who said: “It was a real tough day, with the driving rain and wind from the word go, my aim was to keep it on two wheels and clean the checks.
“The event was great, the club did a great job despite the weather, absolutely stoked to win and it’s a great foundation for the rest of the year. I’ve got to keep the ball rolling now.”
Roger Holland and Richard Ely were neck and neck all day in the experts, with Ely up by two seconds after the first test but then falling two behind after the second.
Holland then built a lead of eight seconds going into the last test and, although Ely clawed back five seconds on the Aldred Test, with both losing a second on time, Holland was victorious by just three seconds after over five hours of riding.
Harry Hillier Rees and Aaron Coupland were next up two minutes and four minutes back from the top two.
Young Charlie Chater gunned his 125cc Yamaha through the special tests encouraged by his vocal supporters to a creditable fifth overall.
Notable riders ‘timed out’ in the challenging conditions were top Lady rider Rosie Rowett – despite a monumental effort – and 2019 Clubman Champion James Palmer.
Welshman Jac George took a good win in the Clubman class by three minutes to follow up his strong finish to the 2019 season.
Second-placed Alan Morrison was only half-a-minute ahead of Jack Nixey in third, while Luke Murphy missed out on a top-three finish losing eight minutes on time.
Half of the 72 runners failed to make it to the finish succumbing to the effects of Storm Ciara but Rhian George, Ellie Cooke and Megan Wilson finished the course with George being the highest Lady finisher within the time limit.
Andrew Edwards started the defence of his 2019 Over 40 crown on top form leaving John Shirt looking forward to when Edwards moves into the over 50s.
Edwards received no time penalties and took the class by eight minutes overall from regular rival Shirt, who lost four minutes on time to finish a minute ahead of Andrew Davies.
Russell Millward took a three-minute win from Mark Kirby in the Over 50 class with Kirby’s test times slower as the course became more energy-sapping.
Gary McCoy weighed in with third just 13 seconds down on Kirby, his extra one-minute time penalty making the difference between second and third.