One may argue that the flyaway rounds of the FIM Motocross World Championship offer no real insight into how the season will play out, but the recent Grand Prix of Leon may have indeed offered a glimpse into what the future holds.
The track, although controversial, is not too far from what we will encounter at the next round, the Grand Prix of Trentino. Before you throw your arms up in disgust, hear me out. The slick, hard-pack surface that deteriorated rapidly is the same as what you'll find at a majority of old-school circuits. The preparation may be better, sure, but I would bet that we are looking at something quite similar on Sunday evening in Italy. That being a base that is hard, rocky and blue-groove.
The Grand Prix of Leon was a controversial one for that very reason, but I have to ask why? The circuit was fine last year, according to a lot of riders, but the seal burst this past weekend and complaints flooded the paddock. Were they justified? The circuit could have been managed differently, sure, but that is an issue that can be worked on and improved in the future. If an experienced group of track builders entered the facility on a Monday and began work with extensive watering, we may have something that is acceptable. Let's not discard the Grand Prix based on this one complaint.
The hardcore fans will always throw shots at the amount of spectators who attend these events, compared to what you will find in Europe, and again those grievances are valid. However, I have an interesting anecdote that certainly left me in a state of shock. Long after the final chequered flag had fallen, I wandered into a quiet area of the paddock with Shaun Simpson to conduct a post-race podcast. We were stopped en route, however, as a rampant spectator screamed "Simpson" continuously.
I, like a lot of you, am guilty of thinking that these fans have no real idea what is going on and are simply visiting the event to kill some time. Knowledgeable fans fill all corners of the globe, however, so why would you rob them of the chance to see these stars in action? This also adds weight to the claims that manufacturers have to be racing in front of these people. Now, don't get me wrong, there needs to be more people alongside these fences to make the Grand Prix resemble a high-caliber event, but that could come with some tweaks. All is not lost.
Those who did attend, and the official number from Youthstream sits at 35,000, were witness to yet another flawless performance from Tim Gajser. That is hardly a surprise, as he is simply brilliant on tracks that are as worn down as Leon. Rarely, however, do we see a guy look so superior to the competition and make former winners look mediocre at best.
I alluded to this in my ‘Stat Sheet‘ from the Grand Prix of Patagonia-Argentina, but the place that he is doing the most damage is during the opening laps. His sprint speed across laps one, two and three is simple unfathomable. Where does that come from? I couldn't fight off the hoards of fans to speak to him post-race, but I believe it is that 250F mentality. Max Anstie also mentioned that he feels he is a lot faster than the other guys, the veterans, on the opening laps and can use that to his advantage.
It is obviously not much of a stretch to think that, as we see it everywhere. It is the tortoise and hare, except it seems to work in the hare's favour. This attribute is especially key this year, as the field is just so deep that starting at the back is not an option. If you do have to deal with a mediocre start, you need to do some damage immediately to have a shot at success. This was, of course, much more important on the one-lined circuit that acted as the battleground this past weekend.
I would have been most intrigued to see what would have happened if Gajser had started around eighth, but I think it's safe to assume that his sprint speed would have helped him prevail. He was just so good! If you do not have that speed advantage, like Jeffrey Herlings or Max Nagl, then the start is going to kill you. That's stripping this whole debate to its simplest form.
Not to contradict myself, but I am intrigued to see what happens when we return to Europe and a track that offers some diversity. It is so easy to make up time at a place like Valkenswaard or Kegums, if you are technically brilliant, so perhaps that'll turn this thing on its head? We can only hope, as one must question how long it'll take for Gajser to break his competition.
He did not win at rounds one and two, yeah, but those were anomalies. He was sick in Qatar and then Indonesia was just perplexing. Taking that into account, we haven't actually seen him lose a ‘normal' race yet. Cairoli had something for him in that second moto, momentarily at least, but the track made it almost impossible to pull level with his foe. It obviously didn't help that Gajser managed to respond to each of his advances either.
Whereas this is the type of track that Gajser thrived on, Cairoli typically struggles when conditions deteriorate in this fashion. Some are questioning what's happened to the speed we saw in Qatar, as he had one podium finish in the last five motos, but he was running a similar pace to the series leader in Argentina. Mistakes turned the event into a damage-limitation exercise. That second moto was the first time we have seen the pair start together when they are both at their best, but again the track did not exactly help Cairoli's chances of doing any damage. It would have been a huge momentum swing, had he toppled the series leader.
It is fair to say that these two are the only riders capable of clinching this crown, right? Clement Desalle is actually not that far back but cannot rely on his raw speed to get him to the front and, at the moment, consistency is not in his corner either. Romain Febvre isn't actually out of this thing, but the chances of him actually coming out in Trentino with a bang are so slim. That's obviously what he is clinging onto at the moment, as there aren't too many positives to take from the races.
I find Febvre even more puzzling than Herlings, to be honest, as nothing has changed! He is healthy, on the same bike and doing everything just as he did the last two seasons. I did an awesome interview with him in Switzerland last year, which is unfortunately lost forever, but he stated that he was using those races as testing for this year, as he wanted to work on the engine to find a happy medium between having enough power off the start and it being manageable on the rest of the track.
Well, all of that knowledge has been implemented and the results have gotten worse. The Frenchman admitted to me post-race that he is not overly keen to take risks at the moment, but I would not relate that to his Matterley Basin crash. He doesn't want that to happen again, obviously, but that wasn't actually to do with him being on the ragged edge. It was more to do with being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I just think that he needs something positive that he can use as motivation to push forward. A simple holeshot would be a step in the right direction at this point!
Let's all calm down on reading too much into the MX2 results from Mexico, okay? Pauls Jonass had a massive cut in his arm, which required a lot of stitches, and was fighting that ailment all day. Those in his camp weren’t certain what caused it when we stopped by, but it's thought that he hit a rock when he crashed in warm up. I'm still a firm believer that he is the fastest in the class and Jeremy Seewer is the most consistent.
However, I was impressed with the pace that Seewer showcased in moto one. Did anyone have him down to just drop the hammer and sprint away from his competition? Considering that he had not won a "normal" race before nor had he carried the red plate, it was quite the performance. I still stand by the fact that Jonass is the fastest rider in the class, but that injury that he encountered this past weekend perhaps indicates that consistency is the trait that pays off the most.
Oh yeah, what about Thomas Covington? Covington was dejected in Qatar, as it went horribly, so I’d have to imagine that his mood entering Mexico was pretty poor. ‘64’ was considered a legitimate contender pre-season and now faces a hefty deficit, but let’s not go too far after this one win. Covington has a lot to prove at the Grand Prix of Trentino. In fact, I’ll be watching him closer than any other 250F rider. He has never finished in the top fifteen on the hard-pack circuit!
Although I am confident that Gajser and Cairoli are the only contenders in MXGP, I am not ready to go that far with the MX2 class. Benoit Paturel is still right in this, but just needs to find a way to establish some kind of consistency. Lieber is in there, on the same number of points as Paturel, but that just seems a little far-fetched. Three podiums is a great start, but Lieber just needs to find that intensity that he possessed in the first moto of the season. Hey, Thomas Kjer Olsen has latched onto the back of that lead pack too!
That is all for now, but if you have anything that you want to get off your chest just head on over to our Twitter account (@motocrossvice) or contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: Sean Ogden