Sweden-based English rider Bartlett and Dutch youngster Kooiker were part of Yamaha’s bLU cRU programme in 2019, contesting the YZ65 European Championship rounds. Both earnt a spot in the YZ bLU cRU FIM Europe Cup SuperFinale at Assen, Netherlands, in support of the Monster Energy FIM Motocross of Nations, where their performances made them one of just 13 riders – out of over 100 – to be invited to the bLU cRU Masterclass just outside of Lleida, Spain.
The three-day event saw Bartlett and Kooiker split into the YZ65 and YZ85 classes respectively, as they received coaching with Monster Energy Yamaha Factory MXGP riders Gautier Paulin and Jeremy Seewer. On the Spanish sand, Bartlett was equally as impressive as he was in the torrential rain in Assen, with Kooiker showing great ability to adapt to the 85cc Yamaha, and the pair were selected to race with Yamaha Motor Europe support for the following season.
Due to Covid-19, unfortunately the European 85cc championship that both Bartlett and Kooiker were in line to contest have been cancelled, but with local championships reopening the Yamaha youngsters will still benefit from further experience to prepare them for next year.
British rider Bartlett might only be 10 years old, but has already been touted as one to watch with his starring role at the Arenacross events in the United Kingdom. In 2017, Bartlett entered the Manchester Arenacross event as one of the youngest competitors, but despite his relative lack of experience he rode to a popular podium finish.
He would eventually go on to take victories in Arenacross events across the country, including the 2019 title, before enlisting in the bLU cRU programme for that year. His father Sebastian expanded: “The Arenacross events were pretty amazing actually. We did it for a laugh in 2017 and somehow he managed to get a podium up against some of the older guys. We then got a call from Mark Chamberlain [Team GB’s MXoN Manager], who wanted us to try and win the Arenacross in 2019 on a Yamaha. We took it up and went on to take the title, which was pretty special. Before then, we’d also done races in the UK, Sweden and Denmark. He won a lot of races in England and then came over to Sweden and started winning there too. He won the Danish championship as well. Everything we entered he seemed to be right there at the front.
“In 2018, we managed to get a 65cc Yamaha from our local dealer and then entered the bLU cRU programme the following year. We had some really good races in Europe and obviously Yamaha saw his talent, so he headed to Assen for the SuperFinale.”
In the bLU cRU SuperFinale at Assen, Bartlett consistently featured among the fastest runners with the third and fourth fastest laps in Free and Time Practice. On Sunday, in the heavily rain-affected race, the 2018 Swedish MX Masters winner continued to show incredible pace to finish second overall, 18 seconds ahead of third.
Remembering that weekend, Sebastian said: “We turned up at Assen and didn’t really know what to expect. There were a lot of Europeans there who’d had much more experience on the sand, so he was up against it a bit. He’d got a pretty solid gate for the final, but he managed to ride through to second. The harder, the rougher, the wetter, the better for Freddie. He never moans about anything, he’s always training in the hardest conditions, particularly when we were back in the UK. He must have a really good technique in those kind of conditions and in the sand. He works hard away from the races and is always out there training, he’d train seven days a week if he could. Meetings like Assen teach you a lot, you don’t learn anything from sitting at home playing Fortnite!” Dutch rider Kooiker also took part in the EMX65 championship last year after entering the bLU cRU programme, following in his brother Dave’s footsteps, who now races for the Hutten Metaal Yamaha Official EMX250 Team in EMX125. The then 10-year-old entered into the EMX65 European Championship final at Loket, in support of the FIM Motocross World Championship, and rode to a respectable 16th overall. He was then invited to the bLU cRU SuperFinale, where he would make his debut at the Assen circuit.
Speaking on his 2019 season, Dex’s older brother Dave said: “Last year, we were in the EMX65 championship and Dex managed to win a couple of rounds. He was sixth after the qualification and then finished 16th in the final in Czech Republic. He’s quite a tall guy for the YZ65 bike, so we knew that if he performed strongly, he would definitely be right up there on the step-up to the YZ85.
“After that, his goal was to try and reach the podium in Assen. He hadn’t ridden there yet, it was a new layout for everyone anyway, so it was more about who could get to grips with the track quickest.”
His speed at Assen was immediately obvious, with the Dutch prodigy topping both Free and Time Practice in changeable conditions. The rain worsened for the EMX65 race and despite a couple of offs, Kooiker charged through to finish fifth with the third fastest lap. Although he missed out on the podium, Kooiker was still called up to participate in the Masterclass in Spain. “The SuperFinale was tough, the weather obviously made things difficult for everyone,” the MJC Yamaha rider said. “In Time Practice Dex was quickest though and we were confident of a good result. He had a crash on the sighting lap before the race because there was a section where the sand was all of a sudden very soft. The steering was bent, so he had to ride in the race without us having a chance to completely fix it.
“In the race, he got the holeshot but had a small off. He recovered to third but another crash saw him finish fifth. He was riding really well but the crashes knocked his confidence a bit. It was still a very good performance though.”
At the Masterclass, Kooiker stepped up to the EMX85 class, while Bartlett entered the EMX65 category. The three-day event saw both earn Yamaha Motor Europe support for the 2020 season, joining EMX125 winner Mairis Pumpurs who now rides for the MJC Yamaha EMX125 squad. “We found out Dex would be taking part in the Masterclass about two weeks after Assen, riding the 85cc bike,” Dave Kooiker revealed. “It was a great experience for him, getting training from Jeremy Seewer, Gautier Paulin and Jacky Vimond, and he performed well enough to get support for the following year.”
Bartlett also found out about his place in the Masterclass after the Assen race. “We were pretty surprised, but Freddie was very excited about riding and learning from Yamaha’s official riders,” Sebastian said. “When we got there and saw the track I knew Freddie would be able to stand out a little bit. He absolutely loved it there. For someone that age to be learning off his idols, it’s like a dream really.”
With the Covid-19 epidemic halting any chance of the European Championships returning this year, Kooiker and Bartlett have been busy training for the 2021 season, while the recent opening of tracks in the Netherlands and Belgium provide an opportunity for both to get back into some local championship races.
“In Sweden, we’ve been quite lucky as all of the tracks have been open, so Freddie’s been out training quite a lot,” Sebastian added. “We’ve even had him riding a 450cc bike, he’s quite a tall lad for his age so it’s good that we can get him some experience now and be physically ready for the step up. It looks like racing’s getting back underway again in some places, so hopefully we’ll get a chance to race a bit this year before we return to the European championship. We’re targeting some UK national races and maybe a few more around Europe.”