Motocross

Shark attack!

Shark attack!

will witness a major influx of foreign talent next year as the big UK teams regroup to launch their assault on the scene at home and abroad – and no-one has landed a bigger coup than Dixon Yamaha in signing Andrew BRITISH MOTOCROSS will witness a major influx of foreign talent next year as the big UK teams regroup to launch their assault on the scene at home and abroad – and no-one has landed a bigger coup than Dixon Yamaha in signing Andrew McFarlane.
After three seasons in Europe the 26-year-old Aussie has just completed his most successful GP season so far, finishing sixth in the prestige MXGP class. After two years with the De Groot factory Kawasaki squad he returns to Yamaha, the marque on which he rode his first full GP campaign, with the backing of their racing manager Michele Rinaldi with a single-minded aim – to win the MX2 crown!
Ironically, Andrew’s most successful GP campaign to date came on the back of the most difficult start he has faced since travelling from the other side of the globe. "I struggled in the beginning of the year. I damaged my shoulder at the Hawkstone international and that set me back a lot. With two years of GP racing behind me I’d trained harder than ever all winter and I’d set myself a target of top five. I was pretty close in the end but those 13th/14th placings in the early GPs cost me. I knew that wasn’t where I belonged and as I progressed I had races where I was chasing down the top five guys.
"I went to the last round just three points behind Kenneth Gundersen for fifth and I think I was faster on the day – but I got taken down by Vincent Turpin and that was that, I was sixth."
Andrew’s not complaining but 2003 was a difficult season to be riding two-stroke. "The season in Europe was so dry and hot so all the tracks were hard-pack and slippery. They didn’t rip up the tracks so when they watered them they got slippery and it was difficult to control the bike. I think myself, Kenneth and Pichon battled all year but the four-strokes had a definite advantage.
"It was frustrating because out of the corners and where it was slippery they would make one or two bike lengths on you and you’d spend the whole race playing catch-up. That’s racing but I think the four-strokes are definitely the stronger bike for the future.
"On the tracks we raced this year I don’t think the two-strokes have any future. If they changed the circuits and we went to tracks where the ground is tacky and the layout a little more technical then for sure a 250 can still be competitive – but the tracks we had this year and the preparation they did was quite bad. At the Belgian championship races like Kester where there was good grip I could race with Smets and Everts no problem."
It was surely no coincidence that Andrew’s best results both came on good old-fashioned tracks in Bulgaria and Czecho. "The European tracks have tended to go away from the old natural terrain tracks which is sad because I like those, particularly if they get bumpy. That’s what I was used to from Australia.
"We had a lot of traction at those two races. I don’t think the two-strokes were any better up the hills but those tracks had some nice turns and the ground was tacky. I could get good corner speed and could fight with the four-strokes there.
"It was the same with the starts. I’ve always been a good starter – I think I holeshot just about every GP in 2001 – and even this summer I could get out of the gate in front where the starts had a lot of traction."
After his difficult start to the campaign, Andrew made top seven in five races out of eight. Not earth-shattering perhaps – until you realise that he was headed by just one other two-stroke in six of those eight races, including Austria where he achieved the distinction with a 12th-placed finish!
The two races where another two-stroke rider other than Pichon or Coppins headed Andrew were that French finale – where Turpin had intervened – and Holland.
"I know sand is my weakness and it’s something I have to work on because I can’t be going to sand races just waiting for the weekend to end. My technique in sand is improving – I just need to find the speed – and I have a nice sand track back home in Australia where I intend to practice a lot this winter."
It was around the middle of the season that Andrew realised he needed to get a four-stroke deal for 2004. Steve Dixon’s timing could not have been better. "I never really wanted to put it in my mind that I needed a four-stroke because I was committed to racing a two-stroke until the end of the year, Jan De Groot was giving us the best bike possible and I didn’t want to be distracted from my aim of top five. At the time I just wanted to achieve the best results possible to help me land a good deal for 2004.
"If Kawasaki had had a good 450 four-stroke I would have liked to stay with them in MX1 but they haven’t and Steve Dixon approached me to ask if I would be interested in MX2 on the Yamaha.
"For sure I was interested because Yamaha have had the bike for three years and with the whole support Steve has put together for me – the Rinaldi engine, a really good mechanic and Steve’s own set-up – I was really happy to secure such a good deal so early in the season."
Rejoining the Rinaldi ‘family’ was another major plus. "We’ve always stayed real good friends – even after I left at the end of 2001 to go with Jan on the 250. They’re a great bunch of people – almost like a second family away from home – and I believe that can also happen with the Dixon family. Natalie and myself have already spent quite a lot of time with them in the last month and I’m looking forward to working with them next year.
"The engine is pretty much the same as what Bartolini got this year, so we’ll have one of the best engines out there. I think I’ve got the package, I just have to do the job."
Indeed, the signs are that MX2 could even overshadow MX1 next summer. "There’s a bunch of guys coming from MX1 to MX2 and it should be really strong. Add to that everyone has a four-stroke next year with the new bikes from Honda, Suzuki and Kawasaki – but I think the choice I have made, riding the bike which has been on the market for three years and undergone continual development, gives me confidence.
"I think the 125 development is pretty much on the limit and the four-strokes are only just beginning. The feel of a 250 four-stroke is more like a bigger bike, the torque and the power. And for sure it makes life a little easier for the riders who have been away from the 125 class for some time."
In addition to the world series, Andrew also has his eyes firmly set on the British MX2 championship. "It looks like it will be very strong. Sword will be riding and I hear Maschio, Townley and Rattray plan to be there too so it will be a very strong class."
And in his handful of UK appearances so far, Andrew is not the first person to notice that the British riders all ride so well on their home tracks. "The guys seem to ride really good at home, then when they come to the GPs they don’t seem to show their full potential. I don’t know why it is, perhaps it is the tension, nerves.
"I have no doubt that the competition will be very tough in every race next year. It will certainly be good training for the GPs and no matter where I race I always want to give 100 per cent anyway. I also appreciate that the British series is very important for Steve, Yamaha UK, Fox Europe and the other sponsors and also the fans so it’s important for me to do as well as I possibly can and I hope I can get some UK fans next summer."
But Andrew has never been afraid of a tough fight, as one might guess by his nickname – ‘Sharky’. "I don’t know who gave me the name. It came when I raced at home in the Nationals – I often seemed to be racing comfortable in second for most of the race and then attacked at the last corner, just like a shark stalks its prey."
So watch out UK motocross, Andrew is ready to bite!
Words by Alex Hodgkinson