'Retired' motocross world champ Ben Townley still a winner
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The 2004 Motocross World Championship season seems like such a long time ago and, let's face it, 14 years can be a lifetime in the sporting world.
But former world motocross champion Ben Townley showed he'd not forgotten how to twist the throttle, turning up "just for fun" at the 2018 New Zealand Mini TT Championships near Taupiri just over a week ago and winning yet another domestic title.
Though now retired from racing fulltime, the Bay of Plenty father-of-three used some of that 2004 MX2 (250cc) world championship-winning experience to good use at Taupiri, borrowing a KTM 125 SX bike and winning four out of five races in the senior 125cc class, although he actually only clinched the title by one point in the end.
The two-day affair, on rolling grassland just east of Huntly, was the perfect place for the now 33-year-old Townley to strut his stuff, the flat paddock style of racing not too demanding in terms of fitness, although still requiring that he know how to pick lines and how to twist the throttle to the max.
As it turned out, the event also forced him to deal with the psychological stress of dealing with a major set-back, a test he also passed with flying colours.
"I didn't come here to win. I only entered for fun and to have a weekend of riding with my old Taupo mates," explained the former Taupo man, now living with his wife and children in Oropi. "But I always try to win, even though I don't do any training these days.
"I had so much fun riding a KTM125 recently that I just had to see if I could get one to race this weekend and the CML KTM Racing Team helped me out.
"You don't really need so much strength or fitness for TT racing, so I figured I'd go okay in the races."
That was a classic understatement.
Townley comfortably won both 125cc races on Saturday and was out in front in the third race, early on Sunday morning, when disaster struck.
Former world champion Ben Townley, back on track and winning, “just for fun”. Photo / Andy McGechan
He suddenly slowed and handed the lead to Orewa rider Joseph Andrell (Yamaha YZ125). Then, losing power, he continued to drop back through the field, eventually nursing the bike home in seventh.
The problem was traced afterwards to failed spark plug and that was easily replaced, but this result had opened the door for Andrell to take over the championship lead.
However, Townley was back to his best in winning the final two 125cc races of the weekend and he eventually clinched the trophy by just one point from Andrell. Third overall was Taupiri's Zak Fuller (KTM), finishing 25 points further back.
Landscape gardener Andrell shifts dirt for a living, but he obviously went into overdrive at the two-day TT nationals.
Though not successful in winning the title on this occasion, Andrell's performance was remarkable nonetheless and, as he was quick to comment that "finishing second to someone like Townley is as good as winning anyway".
To further emphasise how great was Andrell's achievement at the weekend was the fact that he has been plagued by injuries over recent years and was still not 100 per cent fit.
"It was a pleasure to race against a Kiwi legend like Townley and a bonus to get such a good result."
Other class winners at the TT nationals were Taupo's Cohen Chase (MX1 class); Massey's Hayden Smith (MX2 class); Te Awamutu's Rachael Archer (women's class); Hamilton's Reef Wheki (Junior 12-16 years 125cc and 14-16 years 250cc class); Oparau's Hunter Scott (Junior 13-16 years 85cc class); Cambridge's Jared Hannon (Junior 8-12 years 85cc class); New Plymouth's David Furze (Enduro class); Taupo's Jake Tomblin (Classic bikes class); Cambridge's Damien King (Veterans 35-44 years class); New Plymouth's Mitch Rowe (Veterans over-45 years class); Stratford's Scott Keegan (ATV premier grade); Patea's Tyler Campbell (ATV 450cc production grade); Stratford's Nicola Reid (ATV Veterans, over-40 years, grade).