Townley, KTM & The 2005 MXoN
Last week’s announcement that the great Ben Townley has re-established ties with KTM for his new NZ-based business venture, Ben Townley Tours, promoted us to think back to the last time the former World and AMA champ rode KTM. Yep, the 2005 MX of Nations, which was arguably the best performance of BT’s stellar career.
Despite being billed as a landmark showdown between Ricky Carmichael and Stefan Everts, that 2005 MXoN in France will best be remembered for the incredible last ride in Europe of Everts’ protégé, Ben Townley. In front of 65,000 spectators, BT rode the wheels off what was a pretty sub-standard KTM 450SX-F back then, and threw down the gauntlet to Carmichael like no one had during RC’s perfect ’05 Outdoor season. It was BT’s final statement in Europe before heading to America to take up a ride alongside Ryan Villopoto on Mitch Payton’s Pro Circuit Kawasaki team, and it’s a memory well worth revisiting.
This content originally appeared in Issue #8 of Transmoto Magazine back in 2011.
The day Ben Townley brought the house down, and almost took down the GOAT in the process!
Ben Townley smoked them in the 2004 World MX2 Championship. KTM’s Kiwi young gun stepped up to the MX1 class the following year but, hampered by wrist problems, could only manage third place in the title chase. He was bettered by Mickael Pichon and the great Stefan Everts, who notched up his ninth world title that year. Instead of staying on in Europe, where he would have been favourite for the MX1 title, Townley surprised many when he signed to race in America for 2006 on Mitch Payton’s Pro Circuit Kawasaki Lites team. But he wanted to make one last statement in Europe before heading Stateside. And two weeks after the final GP, the opportunity arose.
The 2005 Motocross of Nations (MXoN) was held at Ernee, France – an event witnessed by more than 65,000 spectators and will be remembered as one best MXoNs of all time. Everybody – race fans, industry players and a bulging media contingent alike – was there for the long-heralded showdown between the motocross world’s two greatest riders – Europe’s Stefan Everts and the USA’s Ricky Carmichael. What they got instead was a showdown between Townley and Carmichael. Everts had a forgettable weekend, with first-turn crashes costing him any chance of a battle with RC. But BT – the Belgian’s young Kiwi protégé – went at RC as if he was riding to defend the honour of New Zealand, Everts and the entire European motocross community. It was categorically the most enthralling motocross race I’d ever seen.
Remember that RC had come off the back of a perfect Outdoor season, and was simply unbeatable in 2005. But at Ernee, this kid called Ben Townley – who most Americans knew bugger-all about – had very nearly mown down the GOAT at the peak of his powers. And Ernee was the first time I can remember RC actually looking behind him during a race. He tried to disguise the look-backs as if he was adjusting his helmet on his shoulder, but the advancing BT clearly had him rattled.
Of course, both RC and Team USA went on to win the day, but Townley had made his point. On what was a pretty sub-standard KTM 450 back then, he’d caught and very nearly beaten the GOAT, and the post-race media conference was abuzz with the young Kiwi’s ride.
After all nine riders from the podium-placing American, Belgian and Italian teams had bored everyone to tears with their button-down sponsor-talk, long-time MX GP photojournalist, a Holland-based Aussie called Geoff Meyer, jumped up on stage and suggested everyone hear from Ben Townley. There were no objections. In fact, no one moved an inch. They all wanted to hear from this kid who’d rattled RC, and who’d signed with the Pro Circuit Kawasaki team in America the following year.
A casual-looking BT sauntered up to stage. He sat down – one bloke in the middle of a table made for nine – grabbed the closest mic, and smiled at room-full of moto-media, many of whom were connecting name and face for the first time ever. And in stark contrast to the platitudes from riders up there before him, Townley spoke from the heart. He was modest and matter-of-fact. He thanked friends, mentors and the media for making his time in Europe so enjoyable, reflected on a few of the standout memories, reinforced what a special day Ernee had been for him, and then spoke about the opportunities that lay ahead in America. You could hear a pin drop in the massive hall as people were moved by the guy’s honestly and humility in the face of what he’d just accomplished that day.
In the front row of the media conference was a bloke in a wheelchair, who was lifting himself out of his seat to get a better look at Townley and sporting a grin from ear to ear. Yes, it was Pro Circuit’s Mitch Payton – a team boss who must have been thinking he’d recently done the deal of his life, having picked up this Kiwi kid for a fraction of what RC earned. At the end of what was more of a conversation than a press conference Q and A session, Townley finally looked down to Payton – who he seemed to being avoiding up to that point – gave him a quick wink, and said, “And I’ll be seeing you soon, Mitch”.
As we all now know, BT was sidelined for the majority of the 2006 season with a torn ACL, but he went on to win the ’07 East Region Lites crown in the USA. He also ran a narrow second in the ’07 250cc AMA MX series after staging an epic season-long battle with teammate, Ryan Villopoto – another astute Mitch Payton pick-up.