The Arenacross Tour began with a bang for SR75 HRS Suzuki in Belfast with the first two rounds back to back against the strongest ever line-up of Pro riders the series has ever seen in its eight-year history.
Charles Lefrancois was in a calm and focussed mood from the off and he worked with the team to settle their new ‘young gun’ Nico Dercourt into his role in the team as he was racing a 250 for the first time in over two years.
The Arenacross Tour is a different sport and challenge to anyone new coming in and there is a very steep learning curve so they worked hard to get Dercourt comfortable in the format and ready to give his maximum which as it turns out is simply always the case with this young charger!
Their bikes once again reached new levels as the squad have worked 24/7 in the short build-up to the series to make the RM-Z250SR and RM-Z450SR race bikes absolutely perfect for the guys. With one unfortunate twist in the preparation Dercourt’s HRS SR75 Race Suspension was held up in the airport system in France and never made it to the race but the team made everything work.
Round 1 – Belfast
Both Lefrancois and Dercourt dialled the track in during the free training sessions and pushed as hard as possible without going over the edge on day one. Qualifying third and sixth respectively in 450 and 250 classes.
With the race format being two 250 finals and two 450 finals followed by the top five points scorers from each class plus the winner of the Head-to-Head races and the winner of the Last Chance Qualifier as the 12 racers in the Superfinal it was vital to race hard every fine to make the points stack up.
Dercourt took an unfortunate crash off the start in final number one which would, of course, have a knock-on effect as he battled through the pack in both finals to make it to sixth overall in the 250 class and ending up second to Angelo Pelligrini in the LCQ therefore just missing out on the Superfinal but managing good points in the overall 250 AX class championship.
Lefrancois took command early in the first 450 final and dominated the race to take an absolutely fantastic victory. A small mistake on the final corner cost Lefrancois a place in the second final taking him to the Superfinal as the third-place qualifier in the 450 Championship going into the Superfinal where the big points are available for the racers and teams.
Lefrancois made a great start considering he had one of the last choices on the start gate and he controlled his RM-Z450 on the ever-changing track to stay within his limits running in a podium third place and first 450 to the chequered flag for a brilliant podium performance and was presented with the red #1 AXUK leaders plate for victory on the night in the 450 AX championship.
Round 2 – Belfast
To say the guys were fired up for Round Two was an understatement and with the AXUK crew changing the track to make a new challenge the team were all buzzing to bring another solid day’s progress and success for everyone involved in the team and for the incredible race fans of Northern Ireland.
Both guys were into their stride and looking smooth and fast with Dercourt getting faster by the session as he gelled more and more with the bike and track.
Lefrancois would end up second overall after the two timed sessions with Dercourt progressing to fifth in the 250 class.
Dercourt knew he had to aim for top five places to make a direct qualification and he pushed after a tough first lap which saw him drop back a few places in the first 250 Final.
As we are learning from this young man he posses a fantastic ‘never back down’ attitude and he fought his way back in sight of a fourth-place finish only to take a tumble when making a pass. Sixth in the first final and Dercourt blasted out to another start and battled hard in the second 250 Final where he wasn’t to be denied as he made a great solid last lap move for a top five automatic qualification into the Superfinal while gaining valuable points in the 250 AX championship.
Lefrancois was riding with great control and he raced to a smooth second position in the first 450 final showing great speed.
Final number two and there was no stopping Lefrancois as he took off to a great start and commanded the lead while testing line choices and feeling his way into the top qualifying 450 position and sixth gate pick for the Superfinal.
SR75 were delighted to see both their guys in the Superfinal – Dercourt had fifth gate pick as a 250 racer and Lefrancois with sixth gate pick as first 450 racer.
Lefrancois absolutely blasted the start on his RM-Z450SR machine to take the holeshot and the lead. The level of controlled speed CL225 showed as he reeled off the laps was impressive as he showed everyone what he is capable of.
Smooth racing and the never say die attitude of Dercourt was on show further back in the pack. This young man never gave up and kept his head down making moves and progressing through the high-class field as he battled into the top five.
In the final lap, Lefrancois set himself up to take an insane victory in front of the packed SSE Arena – to say Lefrancois and Dercourt were happy is an understatement as they showed their passion and emotion after a brilliant night’s racing.
Charles Lefrancois: “I am very very very happy. I feel good as I make a good focus and I feel great on my awesome bike for these two nights racing. My bike and my team have been perfect and I am so happy for this result and for this Superfinal victory.
“I cannot believe how loud the fans are here in Belfast tonight and it is a pleasure to make a great performance for everyone here and for our team. Thanks to Jerome, Paul and Tony for working with me this weekend and also everyone involved and I cannot wait to get to Birmingham and race Rounds Three and Four of this championship.”
Nico Dercourt: “I am a little disappointed with my first night and I know tonight I had to make progress. I fight every lap and I am more used to my bike after the small trouble with my suspension not arriving.
“The team works hard for me and we all work together and this is a fantastic experience for me. I thank Jerome, Paul and Tony and everyone at SR75 as it was awesome to finish fifth tonight and show I will always fight every second every race.
“It has been fantastic to race here in Belfast for Arenacross and I look forward to Birmingham.”
Geoff Walker, team owner: “I am incredibly happy with the guys over the last two days as we have had a few things to smooth out and everyone has pulled together as we do to push hard for success to the level we require.
“Charles has been on a new level and his professionalism is showing through as he elevates himself to championship contender after collecting his 450 leaders plate both nights here in my homeland.
“Nico is feeling his way with the 250 and progressing every lap and for him to make a top five in the Superfinal was off the scale cool as he never gives up.
“The team has worked so hard for these results and you can see how much it means to the riders and everyone by the reaction of the victory tonight. That’s unreal. Thanks as always to everyone involved in what we do, to our team sponsors and partners and to AXUK for the show.”