Since it first exploded into arenas across the country seven years ago, the UK Arenacross Tour has staged more than 50 action-packed events and entertained over 250,000 fans with its incendiary cocktail of white-hot racing and electrifying Freestyle Motocross, all combined with a pumping soundtrack and jaw-dropping light show.
At a time of year that’s been traditionally known as the ‘off-season’ in the UK, Arenacross has breathed new life into the scene and given riders an invaluable early opportunity to top up their bank accounts as well as a platform to showcase their sponsors. Oh and then there’s the not-so-little matter of entertaining upwards of a quarter-of-a-million fans! Matt Bates, the man at the wheel of Arena Sports Live, is a former Grand Prix racer and knows the sport inside out. Having run the phenomenally successful UK Supercross series in the late ’90s he could see the potential of promoting an indoor championship in the New Year and in January 2013 he assembled a high-quality line-up of racers and Freestyle Motocross athletes at London’s O2 Arena.
The 2013 Tour belonged to Adam Chatfield. The West Country rider was based in Brazil at the time but flew home for a couple of months in the New Year to show off the silky-smooth supercross skills he’d honed racing in America. Sure enough – despite fierce opposition from riders including Tom Church, Gordon Crockard, Jack Brunell and Neville Bradshaw – Chatfield won in London and backed this up with a second victory in Belfast.
The first chink in his armour came at round three in Birmingham where he was pushed back to second by Brunell with France’s Cyrille Coulon taking third to set up a white-knuckle finale in Liverpool. South African Bradshaw – a former British SX champion – won that night on the banks of the mighty Mersey with Coulon second and Ireland’s Martin Barr taking third. But a safe and solid fourth placed finish was enough to give Chatfield the inaugural Pro title by six points from Bradshaw with Brunell a further four points adrift in third.
For 2014 the series expanded to seven rounds, kicking off with a double-header in Belfast before travelling to Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield and then signed off at Wembley in London. Chatfield was back to defend his title but it was French star Fabien Izoird who dominated, sewing up the crown with one round still to run after racing to victory – his third in six rounds – in Sheffield.
The series continued to grow in 2015 with races in Manchester and London followed by two nights in Belfast and then rounds in Birmingham, Newcastle, Glasgow and Sheffield. An injured Izoird was unable to defend his title, paving the way for the Tour’s first superstar – his fellow Frenchman Thomas Ramette. Ramette was a revelation, taking the Tour by the scruff of the neck from the get-go and then simply refusing to loosen his grip. Competing against an incredibly high-quality field, he out-scored his rivals at four of the eight rounds.
Despite slipping off the pace momentarily in Birmingham he fought back strongly to take the title by a commanding 28 points from Italy’s Angelo Pellegrini who ended the tour just two points clear of Florent Richier from France. It’s often said that it’s easier to win a title than to defend one but Ramette was again the man to beat in 2016 across 11 nights of full-on action. The championship had expanded yet again with an opening night in Manchester followed by two-night stands in Glasgow, Belfast, Birmingham and Newcastle before single-night shows in Sheffield and Wembley.
Ramette started off strongly again but this time he had Soubeyras to contend with and the pair went toe-to toe for virtually the full duration of the championship. Pulling ahead on the opening night in Scotland, Soubeyras wasted little time in establishing himself as the man to beat and led all the way to the final night of competition. Heading into London with a healthy points lead, a disastrous performance from Soubeyras handed Ramette his second title on a plate following a bad-tempered, adrenalin-charged evening of racing when tensions boiled over. The end result was Ramette ran out champion by 25 points from Soubeyras with Chatfield preventing a French whitewash of the podium positions in third, albeit a further 20 points behind.
In 2017 Manchester was once again the chosen venue for the opening night of action. From there it was on to Glasgow, then Birmingham followed by two nights in Belfast before the series climaxed in Sheffield and at Wembley. Pellegrini started off the strongest as Ramette struggled. Coulon then emerged as a title challenger and took the lion’s share of the points in Glasgow and Birmingham but all the time Ramette –with his eye on an unthinkable hat-trick of titles – was building his points total with a string of consistent scores. Heading into the final round, Pellegrini held a slender one-point advantage over the defending champ but, as we’d seen so often before, Ramette kept his cool and got the job done to make it three in a row. Pellegrini ended the Tour seven points behind in second and just two points clear of third-placed Soubeyras.
The 2018 title fight was a bare knuckle brawl between Ramette and Soubeyras that raged across seven rounds but it was another Frenchman– Charles François – who came away from the opening round in Manchester with the points lead. Soubeyras and Ramette then took turns to score heavily in Newcastle and Birmingham and following two nights in Belfast were just a handful of points apart.
After a thrilling night in Wembley it was Soubeyras who held a three-point advantage heading into the decider at Sheffield. Aussie Dan Reardon did the business in the Steel City but the title went to
Soubeyras after he matched Ramette point-for-point in Sheffield with François another 24 points behind. With Ramette out in 2019, the way was clear for Soubeyras to take his second Pro title and he did – but not without a fight. With a leaner, meaner schedule taking in double-headers in Belfast, Birmingham and Sheffield the intensity was at an all-time high and in the new Super Final category that decided the ultimate destination of the Pro AX title Soubeyras went head-to-head with his compatriot Greg Aranda. Soubeyras dominated the Pro Lites division and Aranda did the same in the
Pro 450 class, setting up a clash of the Titans in the Super Final races. Aranda came out on top on both nights in Northern Ireland before Soubeyras struck back with a pair of victories in Birmingham and heading into Sheffield it was Aranda who led by four points. Soubeyras cancelled out this lead on the opening night in Sheffield before holding his nerve and charging to victory in the final Main Event of the series to clinch the crown. Aranda was just four points behind with former GP racer Valentin Teillet a distant third.