The INTENSE Factory Racing team (IFR) of Aaron Gwin, Neko Mulally and junior Seth Sherlock barely had time to dry their race kits before they headed out to walk the two tracks. For round 1 the weather once again played its part. The track in Maribor was mostly already well ridden, meaning that there were plenty of roots and rocks already very visible, and that the riding surface was compact. This meant that it was super fast in the dry, but like an ice rink in the wet… very tricky conditions, and at this level any small mistake would leave riders on the deck and way off the podium.
None of the team were particularly pleased with their results from round 1 – Aaron finished in 21st, Neko in 27th and Seth in 13th (Junior) – but there was no time to dwell on ‘what could have been’. After racing on Friday there was only time for a few practise runs on Saturday morning before qualification later that day. Come race day the rain had stopped but the conditions could have been classed as intermediate or ‘in-between’. Neither dry nor wet, and still with plenty of places where you could slip or slide out (the second corner being a prime example), but the track was running faster.
After qualifying in fifth Seth looked to be set and ready for a podium position, but a crash put an end to any hopes he had. He then somehow rode the last minute of the track minus a shoe and just in his sock!
Neko finished up in 39th after missing a few of his lines, “I was looking for more but pushed the bike off line in a few places and could feel the time ticking by. Rest, reset and get ready for the next one."
For Aaron Maribor #2 was good. A tenth in qualifying and then a sixth in finals was what he and the team needed. He finished just half a second back from a fifth place podium finish and only 1.5 sec back from first place. Racing is super tight at the top, “I got real close to the podium. I messed up some things on the top part of the track and gave up too much time… on a track like Maribor you can’t do those things. I think I was reeling back in some of those guys at the bottom, where I was riding pretty good.”
The team now travels to Lousa in Portugal for the final two rounds of this much compressed World Cup series. Racing takes place on Friday October 30th and Sunday November 1st. Hopefully the conditions will be better than in the mounatins, and looking at the long term weather report it is currently looking dry, sunny and warm (19-21ºc)! We will have to wait and see.
It has been a massive team effort by everyone involved just to get to the races. Add into that the poor weather, the pressure of competition and a super tight schedule and you could have a recipe for disaster, but the IFR team have nailed it.