Stefan's First WR250 Ride:

Posted: Tue 02 Mar 2004

By - Lexy Thorogood:

Check out the WEBSITE: of Stefan Merriman, the Kiwi born Enduro ace for photos (including this event) his profile, events calendar, etc.

Extreme conditions at Italian Enduro Champs in Sardenia:

The first round of the Italian Enduro Championships got underway on the weekend in extreme conditions on the Italian Island of Sardenia. As we arrived on the ferry on Wednesday from the Italian port of Genova grey skies warned of the ugly weather to follow. The first Italian round of the season is usually in southern Italy to avoid the wintery conditions experienced in the north at this time of the year. No one expected the weather to be this brutal in Sardenia, famous for it\'s warm conditions and sunny weather. We drove 2 hours south to the small town of Iglesias, nestled amongst the mountains inland. Merriman had been planning to ride a Yamaha WR450 for the Italian Champs and a WR250F for the World Enduro Champs. However after working on the WR250F set up and testing, Merriman decided to put the WR250F to the test, to better understand the setup in race conditions before the first World Championship round in two weeks.

There were two cross tests, one extreme and one enduro test for the first round. The organisers were hoping for the riders to complete 4 loops of the trail and tests on the first day and three loops on the second day. However after days of rain, sleet and snow they were forced to re-evaluate the situation and scaled the race back to three laps on day one and two on the second day. Constant rain and thunderstorms struck the area prior to the race, completely saturating the tests. When the race commenced on Saturday morning the skies opened up and pelted hailstones the size of marbles at the riders trying to battle the first cross test immediately after the start. The first riders in the 125cc class had the advantage over the rest of the classes as they were able to get better traction on the grass.
After the first 20 riders, there was no more grass on the track and the riders floundered all over the place in the soupy mud. The leading rider was Rickard Larsson with a time of 4:01.32, Merriman did 4:25.82 on the same test, almost thirty seconds behind, yet he was the fastest 250cc four stroke. Next up was the enduro test which started almost 40 minutes from the paddock in a mining pit. Merriman crashed once on the first time through this test and twice on the second loop.

Following the changes in World Championship, the Italian Championship have now included the \'Extreme test\' into their race format. The test was situated on a steep, rocky hillface. It wasn\'t too bad when the riders walked it on Friday, but after the riders made one loop the slippery mud from their tyres was carried onto the stony surface making it very slippery and difficult. Merriman crashed on the first day in this test as well.

About the race, Merriman said, \" I was really disappointed that I crashed so many times on Saturday. I started making some changes to the suspension settings, and by Sunday afternoon I found a good set up for the forks and suspension for the extreme stony conditions. \"

The first day was won by Rickard Larsson on a 125, after gaining a 30 second buffer in the first test. Merriman won 3 tests overall but lost too much time in crashes in the rocky enduro and extreme. The second day was much the same as the first with more rain and snow overnight, however all riders faced the same conditions this day. The wind, rain and mud played havoc with the timekeeping. As the chronometrists struggled to read the numbers on the muddy bikes. Stefan was surprised to learn that he made a time of 7.55.60 in the first time through the enduro test and a time of 7.41.87 in the second time through. He believed he made the same time as he didn\'t crash in either, yet the timekeeping showed a 14 second difference! Due to the fact the enduro test was in such a remote inaccessable area the times couldn\'t be verified by our team. During the day Stefan made some adjustments to his suspension and finished second to Mika Ahola in the overall classification.

About the bike, Merriman said, \"I really love the Yamaha 250 four stroke, it is much lighter than the 450 and the power is very good for enduro. I have been training over the last month to adjust my riding style to suit the four stroke and I now just need to do a bit more work with Solva to get my suspension settings right.\"

Italian enduro overall classification at the end of Race 1:
1. Ahola (Husqvarna) 45,
2. Botturi (KTM) 36,
3. Merriman (Yamaha) 33