April 20th, 2018.

British Champion Paul Holmes begins the defence if his title at Desertmartin in Northern Ireland this Saturday, (21st of April), but he will not be sporting the number one plate. Instead, he will proudly carry the number 39 as a tribute to his late father. Paul's father, also Paul, passed away just days before Holmes clinched an emotional fourth British title at the final round at Canada Heights last October.

Easily spotted at the trackside as he waved his trademark white towel above his head to urge his son on, Holmes senior had been at his son’s side throughout his career, as together they raced to one European title, four British, and numerous international wins, including Pont de Vaux.

“I’ll be riding with the number 39 as a tribute to my father, as that was his racing number. I feel I need to do this for him,” said Holmes. “It’s been a strange winter without my dad, but I’ve kept busy and trained a lot. I’m staying with a very similar winning set-up to 2017 with just a few upgrades and tweaks to my Walsh Yamaha, which I developed and tested through the off-season.”

When Homes clinched last year’s title, his fierce rival and 2016 champion, Mark McLernon, (Yamaha) was one of the first to congratulate him. However, all sentiment will be cast aside at Desertmartin, where local lad McLernon will have the support of the crowd.

Over the last two seasons, Holmes and McLernon have utterly dominated the six-round British Championships sharing overall victory at every round, and rarely even losing a heat. It’s a battle everyone expects to resume in earnest on Saturday in the sand at the superb Grand Prix standard track.

Not that the pair will have it all their own way. Local stars Justin Reid (former British Champion) and Leon Rogers (former British Under 21 Champion) will both be contesting the series and both bring new machines to the fray. Reid uses a Husqvarna in a Can-Am chassis, while Rogers opts for a KTM-powered WSP, and both are capable of a win.

Sand specialist Carl Bunce (Handy Suzuki) is another name capable of a big result. Plus, George Callaway (Yamaha) is an unknown package as he returns from knee surgery that prematurely curtailed his 2017 season. Oli Sansom (Yamaha) also hopes to be back from injuries picked up at the recent European Championship round in France. Plus former British Under 21 Champion Stef Murphy (Yamaha) has committed to a full season.

Other Championship riders include Bradley Frost (Honda), Lindsey Duke (KTM), Adam and Michael Robinson (Suzuki), Gary Atkinson (Suzuki), Luke Davies (Yamaha), Alex Bethell (Yamaha) and Jonathon Waters (Yamaha).

One man who could easily upset the applecart though is Michael McAneney, a member of last year’s podium finishing Irish Quad des Nations team, who will be riding as a Wildcard at Desertmartin. Other Wildcards at Desertmartin include Sheldon Seal, who had some fine run outs in this winter's French Sand Championship, and 2017 Ulster Clubman Champion, Conor Canning.

The Under 21 Championship looks set to be a fiercely contested series this year, with Welshman, Dafydd Davies (KTM), defending his title after a superb 2017 that really saw him come of age. He can expect stiff competition though from a number of riders, including on-form Harry Walker (Yamaha), who become the youngest rider ever to win a British Championship heat in 2017, plus Scotland’s Murray Graham (Honda), a genuine title contender with some consistency.

Irish teenager Dean Dillon (Honda) is set to make his British Championship debut and showed in the recent Ulster Championship round at Desertmartin, where he finished on the podium, that he could be a serious Under 21 challenger too. Other Under 21 riders include James Bevan (Yamaha), Jake Smith (Honda), Lorne Sinclair (Can-Am), Kyle Murphy (Yamaha) and Callum Bates (Yamaha).

The Desertmartin track can be found near Magherafelt (postcode BT45 5QW). The meeting will also include Round One of the British Sidecar Championship.

Full details of the Cromwell Trucks British Championship, the Willcocks Holeformers British Under 21 Championship and the Datum-supported Desertmartin round can be found at

Pictured: British Champion Paul Holmes will carry number 39 this year