Saturday Report: MXGP of Latvia

Comments, analysis and more.

Comments, analysis and more.

The 2017 FIM Motocross World Championship has been phenomenal thus far, but it is only going to get better. Some new contenders have emerged on day one of the Grand Prix of Latvia, which acts as the seventh round, so the action may now be more unpredictable than ever.

Much like at Valkenswaard, a majority of bench-racing has revolved around Jeffrey Herlings. Herlings, who has only won five of the ten motos that he has completed at Kegums, topped both practice sessions, then remained composed in the qualifying race and hunted down Max Nagl on the final lap! “It has been a while since I last won," he said in the post-race press conference. “It has been so long that I can’t even remember. It is good to be up here again.

“It doesn’t really count, you know, it is just a qualifying win and there are no points up for grabs," he continued. “Hopefully tomorrow I can get two good starts. I was fastest in each practice and the heat race. Once we get a start we can work from there and hopefully we can be on the podium. There are many good guys, so the start is really key. On this track it is a big advantage when you are on the inside, so that is something positive. Like I said, I just need a good start."

It seemed as though Nagl was going to dominate the heat, as he established and then maintained a lead of around five seconds for a majority of the race. Things started to unravel for him towards the end, however, as he lost chunks of time to Herlings on each lap. The table below shows the time that was lost and just how quickly it happened.

Jeffrey Herlings

Max Nagl Difference
Lap 9 1:53.265 1:55.162

-1.897

Lap 10

1:53.471

1:54.779

-1.308

Lap 11

1:54.713

1:55.723

-1.010

Lap 12

1:56.665

1:59.954

-3.289

Herlings referred to the fact that he really turned it on towards the end and, surprisingly, it seems there were actually a few reasons for it. “In the beginning I had some arm pump, but that is no excuse," he said. “Towards the end of the race it started to go away, because I have just been doing sprint laps in qualifying and stuff. I will do a little more riding tomorrow morning and then we will be good.

“It sounds weird, but I have been looking to [Eli] Tomac. He is fast, but at the end of the motos he is so strong and so fast. I thought I would do the same; ride good at the beginning of the moto and then attack the last couple of laps. It is a long race. Obviously tomorrow is ten minutes longer, but that is a thing I have learnt from another rider," he explained. 

A lot of action went on behind those top two riders too. Jeremy Van Horebeek slid past the Honda HRC duo to secure the third gate pick for tomorrow, so continued his run of strong finishes. Tim Gajser salvaged a fourth, after starting third, and was content. “All day was tough," he said in a Honda HRC press release. “I was struggling to get a good pace in free practice and timed practice so, really, the qualifying race wasn’t so bad. I had a good start in third and the beginning of the race was ok until I got arm pump, lost the speed and one position."

Antonio Cairoli had a quiet ride, as he started eighth and made two passes throughout the race. A relatively big crash on the final lap cost him a position and will force him to head to the starting line in seventh tomorrow. ‘222’ actually had the third-fastest lap, even though his race was not spectacular, so the speed is clearly where it needs to be. It is worth noting that the last time he qualified outside of the top six, like he did today, was at the Grand Prix of the USA last year! That was two hundred and thirty-two days ago.

One of the most intriguing stories to follow in the MXGP division is the progress that Romain Febvre makes. Febvre, a former moto winner at this circuit, hit his femur with his handlebars in a hard crash during practice, but did not appear to be too out of sorts when the gates dropped. Salvaging points will undoubtedly be the goal for tomorrow but, at this point, any hopes that he may have had of reclaiming his crown are gone. Believe it or not, he only has an average-qualifying position of tenth this season.

In more Yamaha-related news, Arnaud Tonus withdrew with some mechanical gremlins. Tonus is raring to go tomorrow though, much to the delight of the many players who have him on their Fox MX Manager team, but will face an uphill climb from an awful gate pick. The start here massively favours the inside, so those on the right-hand side are almost guaranteed to exit turn one in a good position. That happened to Jeffrey Herlings, for instance, who was actually buried entering the first corner.

Onto MX2, where the action was just as enthralling at the head of the field! There were three different leaders throughout the heat. Jeremy Seewer showcased the type of intensity that we have not seen from him in the past, as he blew past Pauls Jonass immediately and then had multiple stabs at Jorge Prado, but that ended up costing him. After taking the lead, ‘91’ threw it away and then had another crash that restricted him to eighth in the heat. Brake issues also made life difficult for him.

We should not go too far without actually acknowledging the winner, Thomas Kjer Olsen, who seemed extremely comfortable at the head of the field. “I got off to a pretty good start, but had a little bit of trouble turning in the first corner so I went wide," he said in the post-race press conference. “I’m on the inside again for tomorrow, so we’ll try to get a good start and get turning in the first corner.

“I’m really happy with this race," Olsen continued. “I felt like I really took my time in the beginning and felt really good on my bike. I felt really good on my bike and I could charge past some of the guys. Jeremy went down, which made it a little bit easier for me. I felt like I was riding good and riding like myself. There were no small mistakes this time. We are getting better and better in the qualifying races, so now we have just got to do it in the motos. I am pretty confident that with two good starts tomorrow we’ll be pretty good," he concluded.

What else went on in the MX2 class? Anton Gole withdrew with bike issues and Julien Lieber did well to salvage a twenty-fourth after a crash early on. The most-intriguing point, in my opinion, is the fact that Benoit Paturel made no progress at all. The fact that the Frenchman has struggled with his starts has been well-documented, but he did very little after starting outside of the top ten. Perhaps there is more to that situation than meets the eye?

Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: ConwayMX

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