The MXGP contingent are reflecting on an intriguing first day at the Grand Prix of Leon, as the sun sets alongside the man-made circuit. The MXGP division appears to be falling into a pattern, not too dissimilar to last year, whilst new faces continue to emerge at the front of the MX2 field.
Tim Gajser hogs all headlines currently and rightfully so, as a scintillating performance helped him acquire pole position ahead of tomorrow. Just how good has he been recently? The Slovenian has led fifty-nine of the last sixty-two laps, but this may have been his most dominant performance yet. Although he attempted to take stock of where the competition was with some long looks over his shoulder, they were of no use. The rest of the pack were squabbling over a spot on the box in the distance. The fact that his fastest lap was more than a second quicker than anyone else should open your eyes to his prowess at this venue.
“I felt really good," Gajser stated in the press conference. “Actually I felt really good all day already. I enjoyed the track; it is pretty nice. In the qualification race I had a solid start, made a quick pass and a gap then controlled the race. I was really enjoying it and am looking forward to the first moto.
“That is the goal [to keep the ball rolling]," he continued. “I started enjoying it again in Argentina, you know. In the first race I was sick, then the second race in Indonesia was really strange. Then in Argentina it was the first normal race with free practice, a qualification race and everything. I am really enjoying it."
Gautier Paulin was a picture of consistency behind him, as his lap times rarely fluctuated, but it was Max Anstie who caught my eye. With speed that secured him the second-fastest lap of the race, ‘99’ charged forward from the cusp of the top five and was edging towards his teammate near the end of the heat. Could a podium be on the cards tomorrow? Perhaps, his speed is certainly something that no one can question. He was the fastest man on track on multiple occasions in that qualifying race.
It was quite the turnaround for Anstie, as he finished a lowly sixteenth in the timed session. That was not exactly a cause for concern though, as he explains. “We have been working hard with our starts and the bike," he told us. “We were just trying some things with the bike in the first two practices and went a little bit of the wrong way in time training, but brought it back for the race."
A hungry pack will be hoping to steal one of the podium positions from Anstie, however, as a whole host of former winners chased him across the finish line. Antonio Cairoli was amongst that group and will be hoping to bring more to the party tomorrow, following an uninspired sixth in the heat. This has never been a happy stomping ground for Cairoli though; he had a sixth and a ninth here twelve months ago. In his first trip to the venue he claimed third overall, admittedly, but that was in what most would describe as a weaker field.
Romain Febvre is at the opposite end of the spectrum, as he has enjoyed a lot of success in Leon. The Frenchman has dropped out of the top two just once in the six motos that he has completed at the venue, in fact, but he’ll have his work cut out tomorrow after he failed to finish the qualifying heat.
“My start was not so bad, but I crashed on the first or second lap," he explained in the press conference. “I came back again, but crashed again and I was stuck. I had a lot of mud on my rear brake, so I could not really brake with my rear brake. I just pulled off; I was pretty far away and could not do anything."
It was not those sentiments that sparked intrigue, however, but his views of the circuit that has given him so much. It really has not changed much compared to the last two years, when he was being showered with champagne, but he made his stance quite clear.
“Honestly, it is not the best track ever. I don’t know what they think, the others. I have no words to qualify the track. It is like on the start line, you have this ground with thick mud everywhere and it makes no sense. In the first corner it is muddy like this. It is not my best track, for sure. I don’t know. They worked on the track and between the qualifying races we went to see what they did, but I think it is better that they don’t touch the track."
This is obviously all relative. Febvre, who struggled, felt that way, but Gajser was a fan of the conditions. “I am enjoying the track," he confidently stated in a press release. A common concern seems to be the amount of watering that is done, but there is very little that can be done about that now. Tracks need to be soaked in the week leading up to a race, in order for the moisture to seep into the soil and become more effective.
Vsevolod Brylyakov echoed these concerns. “This track brings me good memories from last year, but this year is a bit different," he said. “They changed the track a little bit and the preparation of the track is a bit different also. We are getting too much water, I can say, before qualifying. I am still feeling good."
He endured a testing qualifying heat, in which he crashed and had to charge forward, so could only salvage a ninth. Thomas Covington, on the other hand, enjoyed an uneventful heat out front. The American led every lap whilst en route to the first qualifying heat win of his career and, funnily enough, that occurred at the same track that he won his first Grand Prix at.
“The race was actually pretty easy after the start," he stated post-race. “The track was a little bit difficult and hard to pass on, but after the start I found some good lines and rode smooth. It was a pretty boring race. I don’t think it is the track really [that causes him to ride so well at the GP of Leon]. Most of the time I get to go home for a couple of weeks before I come here. Just being at home with my family and doing my regular training routine on the local tracks puts me in a good place mentally; I can also get some good riding in."
Pauls Jonass was second, and the only rider with a lap time that was within a second of the quickest one that Covington set, so appears to have a good shot at reclaiming the red plate tomorrow. Jeremy Seewer was down in eighth, but should not be counted out. “In the second corner Pauls Jonass almost crashed in front of me so I lost a couple of spots avoiding that, then the next corner I hit neutral and tried to accelerate but I wasn’t in gear so I just fell over," he explained in a team statement.
What other notes emerged from the first day of racing? Glenn Coldenhoff hurt his shoulder in that spectacular fall, which was caused by hitting neutral on the take off. He will try to ride tomorrow. Evgeny Bobryshev finished tenth, but a fall that pushed him to eighteenth at one point meant that he had to fight hard for it. The HRC pilot should be a contender for a spot on the box again tomorrow.
In MX2, Hunter Lawrence circulated in dead last for a majority of the moto. “I was coming around a corner and slid-out into another rider and gave my head a bit of a bang and knocked the wind out of me," he explained in a press release. “I got back up and tried to ride and get some laps in on this track." It remains to be seen what caused another MX2 rookie, Darian Sanayei, to pull in, but he looked like a shadow of himself for a majority of the day.
Those titbits should keep your mind ticking until the gates drop, which is around twelve hours away. The good news for European fans is that the clocks go forward in Mexico tonight, so we'll be an hour closer to you tomorrow.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: Sean Ogden