After the success of the Redbull X-Fighters event in 2014, the powers that be decided that the Union Buildings in Pretoria would again be a perfect spot to host one of the 2015 rounds of the brilliant series. Last year we hosted the final round while this year it was to be the 2nd last leg of the tour. Freestyle motocross fans flocked to Pretoria in their thousands (17 000 to be exact) to again lend their support. Even though we just crossed over into spring, the weather couldn’t have been any better; in fact, it was on the rather warm side of things, which is the norm for Pretoria.
This year the Redbull X-Fighters event was a little different for me. Last year I was there as a photographer to snap pics for my site (even though I was under-equipped with a basic 75-300mm lens, actually I was again this year but plans are afoot to rectify that) but this year I was there representing my mates at topCar Magazine as a media guest of Toyota South Africa. Toyota SA is a main sponsor to the event and they also used it as a platform to introduce their all-new Aygo to the local market. Clever, especially when you see the front of the new Agyo. The grille is basically a big, black X, it fits right in.
Being a media guest was a much better experience, we were looked after by the Toyota SA crew in every respect, we didn’t even have to drive home after practice on the Saturday because they put us up in the funky new Fire & Ice hotel in Menlyn. This meant we could partake in the consumption of alcohol because driving anywhere was off the table. Ok, that sounds like we were getting out of hand, but we were well-behaved, it was just great to be able to have a good time and let loose because we didn’t have to drive anywhere.
Friday’s track and pit walk session was cool, the layout of the track was simplified from last year’s layout but that doesn’t mean it was any less technical. The layout gave competitors a chance to do more on the course in the allotted time, which is not only a bonus for them, but for the spectators too. The practice session was brilliant, the guys didn’t seem to hold back, we even saw Josh Sheehan’s signature double backflip. Everything went off smoothly for the riders with the exception of Spain’s Danny Torres, a Redbull X-Fighters veteran, who came off hard and reportedly broke his ankle which put him out of the competition.
On game day the atmosphere was electric, after a good breakfast at the hotel we were shuttled through to the Union Buildings where we were put up in the Redbull VIP section. I love it when that happens, mingling with all the larney and well-known people. After a few Redbulls I headed on down to the opposite side of the track and set up shop with the rest of the photographers, all the while updating the followers of the topCar social media accounts of the day’s proceedings.
The opening ceremony was brilliant, once again we got to see traditional dancers adding in some real South African flavour. They were carrying shields painted to look like the flags of each rider’s home country. The star of the ceremony was local legend Johnny Clegg performing some of his classic hits that really got the crowds revved up; I don’t think there was a single person present who didn’t sing along to the chorus of each song, even the young ‘uns. After that things became a blur for me because in photographer mode you end up watching the event through a viewfinder. Some runs stood out above others of course, the crowd favourite was definitely Sheehan, but he had hard work on his hands if he wanted to snatch a win. Representing the continent was Alistair Sayer from Botswana, he had a chance to advance to the main competition in the three-way knockout but sadly he didn’t get the vote to join the rest of the guys that qualified. A few of us on the photography deck were sure he had done enough to go through, alas, we’re more skilled at taking pics than assigning points to FMX runs.
The competition works in a knock out setup, and the guys had some pretty insane runs against each other. I missed a couple of them when I decided to head back up to the VIP section on the other side of the track, but until then the run that stood out for me was from Japan’s Taka Higashino. His runs would eventually clinch him 3rd spot on the podium, mainly due the perfectly executed, hard to pull off Rock-Solid Backflip. Once on the other side I was in time to watch Australia’s Josh Sheehan, who I was backing to win. His run was great, but not enough to get him into the final. It’s mad that a Double Back Flip isn’t enough to advance anymore. For the finals it was Clinton Moore, also from Australia and the current series leader, up against Tom Pagès. Moore headed out first and gave it everything. His routine included the Bundy, his signature move, and he also pulled off the first dirt-to-dirt Volt to ever be landed in competition. It was a power run, and the cheers from the crowds, who admittedly know more about the sport than I do, signaled that it should have clinched him the top podium spot.
Pagès had to attack the course with his A-game if he wanted to take out Moore, but it seems that he’s the kind of rider who thrives under pressure because he had the best run I’ve seen in competition. It just didn’t stop; it ran super smooth no matter what he did. His routine included a Special Flip, a Transfer Flip, and Alley-Oop Flair and the coolest trick I’ve seen so far, a Bike Flip. The crowd agreed too, 17 000 people sure can make a lot of noise! As soon as his run was over, Pagès dropped the bike and headed on into the crowd just below where I was standing on the Redbull VIP deck. Pagès knew he’d done enough to secure the win; it was a proper goosebump moment. It would have been awkward if the judges had disagreed, but it was unanimous in every aspect that was scored. The final round in Abu-Dhabi is going to be absolutely mental!
It was a brilliant event in every aspect. Great action, great people and a great time. Redbull have once again outdone themselves and I’m sure the 2016 event will be just as good, if not better. A big thanks goes to the topCar crew for sending me through and a bigger thanks goes to the Toyota SA crew for everything they did for us media people; Kerry, Riaan, Clynton and Jeanette – you all rock!
While many of us had a pretty damn cool weekend, one chap had an even better one. I'll edit when I find his name, but for now let's call him Mr Lucky. Mr Lucky entered an amateur photography competition that Toyota SA held. Along with some other contestants he was invited to take shots of the new Aygo on an FMX track with an FMX rider in the shot in some way. The end prize was a brand new Aygo and the chance to watch the event from the comfort of an Aygo parked on the Red Bull X-Fighters track - Mr Lucky's shot was chosen as the best, which gave him the best seat in the house and a brand new car. Way to Aygo!
Results - Pretoria:
1. Thomas Pagès (FRA)
2. Clinton Moore (AUS)
3. Taka Higashino (JPN)
4. Josh Sheehan (AUS)
5. Rob Adelberg (AUS)
6. David Rinaldo (FRA)
7. Maikel Melero (ESP)
8. Rémi Bizouard (FRA)
9. Adam Jones (USA)
10. Javier Villegas (CHI)
11. Alastair Sayer (BOT)
12. Dany Torres (ESP)
Check out how Thomas Pagès took top honours:
Track layout pic and video courtesy Redbull Content Pool