After being MIA for two years, the iconic Mountain Man MX was back on the calendar and the racing this year did not disappoint!
Top level motocross finally made its long-awaited return to Echo Valley after a two-year hiatus, with the iconic long running Mountain Man MX event. Since its inception way back in 1975, the title of Mountain Man has been eagerly sought after by this county’s best riders. Riders of the calibre of Flood, Gall, Leisk, Dack, Gibbs, Ferris, Waters and many more, over the years have all risen to the challenge, that is the Echo Valley track in Toowoomba.
Echo Valley is one of the best motocross venues in Australia due to its location on the escarpment of the Great Dividing Range. The track itself has an elevation of around one hundred metres from top to bottom. Add in the infamous red clay ruts and some massive jumps and you have an epic track to ride.
This year’s event was held earlier in the year than usual, to reduce the impact of clashing with the ever-increasing number of events on the motocross calendar. Being one of the first major events for the year, there was a bit of uncertainty around as to who was in form. With around $17,500 in prizemoney up for grabs, you would expect that the key players had all put in the hard work during the off-season.
As usual the Queensland weather turned it on for the competitors with a weekend of beautiful sunshine. A heat wave was forecast to come through with temperatures of a staggering 33 degrees on Saturday and a brutal 38 degrees for the main event on Sunday.
The track had been prepped to perfection and it wasn’t long until action got underway with practice. Practice is critically important, especially if you have never raced at this track before. Riders get a last-minute chance to assess track conditions and ensure that their bike has been setup correctly.
With the morning sun bursting through the magnificent gum trees that surround the track, there was plenty of hustle and bustle up in the pits, with riders and teams unloading bikes and gear. Classes on track for the first day would be: Women, Veterans. Mini-Lites, Sidecars and the exhibition classes of Quads and UTV’s.
Most of the hype and anticipation on Day 1 surrounded the current WMX Champion Charli Cannon from the Yamalube Yamaha Racing team. Cannon was the pre-event favourite to take out the coveted Queen of the Mountain title.
Even after coming back from a broken collar bone, it was soon apparent to all that Charli was in a class of her own. She claimed the title of Queen of the Mountain, by taking out all three women’s races by some considerable margins. Behind Cannon, evenly matched, Haylee Miller and Tahlia Drew battled it out for the other two podium spots.
In the Veterans Class (Mountain Man Masters), one very well-known rider would dominate, Robbie Marshall. Awesome to see Robbie back at a track he knows and rides so well. The crowd loved seeing the old bikes back on track and the loudest cheers were for Brad Van Barrelo on his immaculate looking 1981 Maico 490.
The Mini-Lites was won by the very talented Max Stevenson, who won all three races. Lachlan Allen and Lachlan Grant were on equal points coming into the final moto but when they crossed the line it was Grant who had gotten the upper hand for second, with Allen taking out the third place.
The craziest of machines definitely belong to the lunatic fringe that are the motocross sidecar riders. Ideas for these bikes generally come from too many late nights in the shed with mates and copious amounts of alcohol. The sidecars were clear favourites with the spectators and despite the clear lack of grey matter, the skill level to pilot these incredible machines is something to behold.
Weighing in at around 200 kg’s (without the rider and passenger), these machines are a real handful to ride. David Mattock’s sidecar #779, is circa 1984 and has a 650cc power plant (that has been stroked out to around 900cc), inside an EML frame. It was made in Holland and imported by David some ten years ago. In the late 70’s and 80’s quite a few of the World Sidecar Championships were won by riders on these unique EML based bikes.
Wayne Holaway/David Rotherham with three from three race wins, claimed the victory in the sidecar class. Mattock/Fletcher and Ikla/Maguire, filled out the other two spots on the podium.
A couple of young ladies, Haylee Miller (rider) and Georgia Say (swinger) decided to give sidecar motocross a go. Earlier in the day the girls competed against each other in the Women’s event, but put their rivalry aside to have a bit of fun on a sidecar. The girls even managed a get a much-deserved third-place finish in the final race of the day.
Only an exhibition class at this year’s MM, it was so good to see quads back on a serious MX track. Hopefully going forward, everyone gets the opportunity to see them on more tracks across the country.
In the Senior Quad class, Craig Blackburn aboard his stunning looking Suzuki LTR450 Quadracer quickly adapted to the Echo Valley track. Together with John Sherlock and Chevy Green, they showed the spectators what we have been sadly missing here in Queensland. Smashing berms and grabbing some good air over the jumps. Hopefully the powers that be, will allow quads to get back to racing motocross in the near future.
Quite a few talented junior quad racers including, Braith Burkin-Paul, Bailey Northcott and the no-fear Nash Green ripped all afternoon. The organisers must be commended for making some last-minute changes to the capacity size for the Juniors, which allowed Nash to ride his 90cc quad.
In the main game, the 2022 MX1 Champion, Aaron Tanti from the CDR Yamaha Monster Energy Team, aboard the YZ450F came into the event as the one to beat. In addition to winning last year’s MX series, he recently gained some valuable experience and good results competing in the both the World & Australian Supercross Championships.
Dean Ferris, the 2018 MM winner, pulled off a John Farnham comeback and was back out of retirement for another season. The hard charging Kirk Gibbs (2017 winner) and local Kaleb Barham aboard a Husqvarna, are no strangers to Echo Valley and both were looking to perform well.
Race 1 was an epic 30-minute (17 lap) challenge in the oppressive heat. Even after a year off, Ferris still produced the goods and put on a masterful performance to claim victory, in the first of four races for the title. Very quick out of the gates, he grabbed the holeshot and was in a good battle with Tanti, until Aaron went down and then Dean pushed on to take the win ahead of Kirk Gibbs, with Tanti recovering to finish in third.
The final races for the Mountain Man title would consist of three, five lap back-to-back races, with only a brief five-minute break in between. Good race management and fitness would prove to be the key.
The first B2B race was a repeat of the early longer race, with Ferris finishing ahead of Gibbs and Tanti. Aaron Tanti put down the fastest lap of all, so he definitely had the pace. The shorter race must have suited the old fella, Robbie Marshall, who finished in a very credible fourth. During the five minute break between races, the riders took on much needed fluids and sought shelter under umbrellas.
B2B#2 it was Ferris again who would lead from start to finish and claim the win with a gap of nine seconds from Gibbs and Tanti.
In the final B2B race, the big question was could anyone stop Ferris from running away with a clean sweep? The first lap saw some really close and exciting racing between Dean and Aaron, until Tanti went down hard, in the uphill right-hander heading up to skyline. Ferris finished the day off strong and now had won all four races and proved that the decision to comeback to racing was the right one. The very consistent Gibbs, just couldn’t quite close the gap to Ferris and finished less than two seconds back in second, with Rhys Budd crossing the line in third.
In a post-race interview between Dean Ferris and club spokesman John Armstrong, Dean seemed pleased with how it all panned out and said, “it was a really good day for me – clean sweeping all four races … and now I’m a two-time Mountain Man Champion”.
The Mountain Man Junior title is awarded to the best Junior Lites rider and right from the outset, it was a fight between two very talented young riders. Jake Cannon and Liam Owens were streets ahead of the competition in this class. After three gruelling races it was Cannon who reigned supreme and would go on a finish atop the podium.
Two-stroke motocross was still alive and well at Echo Valley. All two-stroke classes (125, 250, over 250cc), were well represented. Local rider, Kaleb Barham rang the neck out of his little 125cc Husqvarna, to not only claim the overall two-stroke class victory, but also managed to nail all the holeshots as well, quite an achievement on a 125cc.
The dust has finally settled on Echo Valley Raceway for another year and what a great way to start of the 2023 motocross season. A lot of credit for the success must go to the Toowoomba Motocross Club and its members, the officials, volunteers and the very generous sponsors. The Toowoomba Motocross Club is now looking forward to hosting a round of the ProMX series in June and welcoming back to Echo Valley Raceway, some of this country’s best riders.
WORDS AND PHOTOS || ALAN MCINTOSH SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY