Donington Park hosts another GP this weekend – this time it’s on dirt as the penultimate round of the World Motocross championship heads to the UK.
MCN collared MX1 class rider Billy Mackenzie for a chat to preview the round that will race on an all-new track built from scratch on the infield of the famous racing circuit.
Billy Mackenzie will on the receiving end of a great deal of attention from the expected 30,00-plus crowd and as a factory Kawasaki rider he currently leads the British Championship and is the UK’s top racer in the premier MX1 class.
Billy Mackenzie became the first Brit ever to win a Grand Prix in the category when he guided his works Kawasaki KX450F-SR machine to first and second positions in the two Motos at Sugo in Japan last May.
The 23-year-old Scot from Edinburgh is nearing the end of his debut season in the class having won four Motos and two Grand Prix – plus a number of podium results – in MX2 in 2005.
Donington Park is a new circuit and a ‘level playing field’ for most of the riders.
What are your thoughts on the new venue?
BM: I have been staying and practicing with Tommy Searle (other leading Brit in MX2) over the last couple of weeks and he lives near to Jamie Dobb (Britain’s last World Champ in 2001) who is also a few miles from Donington.
We have been watching the track being built since the last car racing meeting there and I’m quite impressed. There are a lot of jumps and it looks quite supercrossy, so it will certainly be spectacular.
We will have to see how the dirt is and whether it makes some good lines. Initially I was sceptical as to the quality of the track they would be able to build but it looks pretty good and now that we are days away I can’t wait for the Grand Prix to start. ‘211’ is my number and like a brand so we hope to have some limited edition t-shirts made especially for the race.
This is your first year in MX1, what is your evaluation of the season?
BM: Well, there have been high points and low points. I am tenth in the series at the moment and it’s not where I wanted to be.
I was already running with the leaders and more experienced riders from rounds two and three in Spain and Portugal but some small mistakes dropped me from the top three to the mid-top ten.
I then entered a phase where I wanted to push for the win but I was also conscious of throwing more points away and didn’t take any risks.
There were a few physical problems. I had snapped my collarbone in February just before pre-season and then just felt knackered at the German Grand Prix for round five. I had some tests done and found some deficiencies with my diet that was leaving me low on sugar – I have a gluten allergy you see.
Anyway, I sorted it going to Japan for the next race and had a great result. I had won for the previous two years there in MX2 and kept the 100% record going this time. Kawasaki was over the moon because it was the first win ever for the 450 and it was also a landmark for me and British Motocross. I just seem to gel with that track. It is prepared so well and becomes so rough.
I had a twenty second lead by lap three in the first Moto so it was a bit mad. After that I made the top three again in Italy and also at Namur in Belgium but had a double DNF after a crash injured some ribs in Bulgaria.
I think I have showed that I have the speed and capability in MX1 and my career is on an upwards curve.
For people who might be thinking of checking out motocross for the first time at Donington what would you say?
BM: Get down there! Motocross has everything; action, jumps, passing, fit and skilful riders.
It is also one of the best spectator sports because the fans can get really close to the track. Sometimes it feels that we are almost jumping over spectators on the big sections.
People can also wander around the paddock and you don’t have that ‘distance’ from the main stars that you get in other sports.
I can say with my hand on my heart that the British fans are the best in the world. We race 15 Grand Prix on two continents and nowhere else are the crowd as noisy and supportive as in the UK.
It gets like football sometimes! If a Brit hits the front or is scrapping hard then the cheers that go round really puts the hairs up on the back of your neck.
I won a Moto at the 2005 English Grand Prix on the Isle of Wight and it is still one of my best memories.
How would you describe your riding style?
BM: In the past I was always a bit wild, and riding the 250 the bike needed that. You often had to be full on the gas or you were going nowhere.
I am six foot so I was at a bit of a handicap especially at the starts compared to the smaller and lighter guys.
Coming on the 450 there was more weight, so the bike is more physical, but also more power and you can play with the throttle and be a bit more precise.
For this year I was looking a lot at Stefan Everts style (former ten times world champion who retired last year after winning his 101st GP) and have tried to use some of his techniques such as keeping smooth, on the footpegs as much as possible and using a higher gear in corners.
You still have to mix it sometimes in MX1 but I’m pleased with how it has gone so far.
You signed your first factory deal last year. How has it been with Kawasaki and what plans do you have for the future?
BM: Kawasaki have been fantastic and the team could not have done any more for me. I think I have given them as much, if not more, than my team-mate Tanel Leok in terms of results and feedback.
We have had a tough year because we lost our Team Manager Jan De Groot to cancer in June and it was obviously a difficult time.
The bike is very strong, as you would expect straight from Japan, and I have to thank people like Steve Guttridge, Martin Van Genderen and my mechanic Luka for giving me their support.
I have already sorted my plans for the next two years but the season is still going and it is not the right time to speak about them just yet, except to say I’m really pumped for my future in the world championship.