The first day of racing at the Grand Prix of Patagonia-Argentina, a race like no other on the schedule, is now over. What a way to start! There were surprises, shocks, talking points aplenty and so much more. It is not like the action today has changed the way one views at the 2019 FIM Motocross World Championship, but it has thrown some question marks in the mix.
Where to even begin analysing the action? Romain Febvre took the qualifying race win, which was not that surprising. It is fair to say that he has been the best rider today, even though Tim Gajser toppled him in one of the sessions, and this is exactly the confidence boost that he needs. I have been very vocal about the fact that he needs to find a way to win a Grand Prix and get that monkey off his back, before even looking at the bigger picture, but I think the heat win is almost just as good. A victory tomorrow could make him dangerous, as he actually looks more in control than ever before. Is the Romain Febvre of 2016 back?
"It is really good to start the season like this," Romain Febvre said in the post-race press conference. "I did the pre-season races, but like I said I was feeling tight. After last week I have been really loose on the bike and I think you can see that from the outside. We did a lot of hard work with the team to have a good start and finally, now, we can start from the front to make the life easier. Even if today I was maybe fifth. I passed the guys at the front and then Tim made a mistake, so I took the lead with five minutes to go. I am really happy about my riding, but tomorrow is another day."
There was one line that really made Romain Febvre stand out from the rest of the field. The rollers that are immediately after the first turn are not built up too much, hence why no rider has really looked at them as doubles. Until now, that is, as Febvre tried to hit it on a few occasions and was successful. "In the practice I tried, and I came really short a few times, but I think I can gain time. It is something that we try to figure out, lines to pass, so you need to try and, on those things, you do not risk anything. The impact is high, but it is not dangerous," he said about the line.
Will the others cotton onto this line? Will this be something that can be executed on every lap of a race? It remains to be seen, but it could really be a game changer. This track is known as being one that is tough to pass on, so any advantage would really help. Time will tell. A final note on Romain Febvre is that he has not won a premier-class heat since the Grand Prix of Lombardia, Ottobiano, in June last year. That triumph was two hundred and sixty days ago.
Romain Febvre has been thrown into the same category to Tim Gajser in pre-season chatter, and rightfully so, but there was a vital difference between the two in qualifying at the Grand Prix of Patagonia-Argentina: Febvre kept it together. It seemed that Gajser was going to have a consistent showing and get pole position, but two late falls left him on the cusp of the top ten and without a visor. This is obviously a scenario that a lot of fans are all too familiar with now. Can a leopard change its spots? Will eliminating the first-race jitters help Gajser put a trouble-free race together? Time will tell.
It is also worth noting that Tim Gajser made significant changes to his training programme in the off-season, as did Romain Febvre. Febvre started working with Jacky Vimond, and therefore Ben Watson, but Gajser is remaining tight-lipped about the steps forward that he took. ‘243' had this to say at the end of the first day though: "The day was okay, I was feeling good on the bike and I was fast on the track," Gajser said in a team statement. "The qualification race was going well until I crashed as I took the holeshot and I was riding well.
"When Febvre closed up I started riding a little tight and made some little mistakes," Gajser continued. "I had a small crash and then in the same lap I changed my line in the wave section, caught a square edge and had quite big get-off. Thankfully I was able to continue without any pain and ended up finishing in ninth place. This should still be a good enough gate pick for tomorrow, which is a day I have been looking forward to all winter."
Julien Lieber was impressive in second, which did not shock everyone. Most pundits have differing opinions on him, but it is important to remember that he put his Monster Energy KRT machine inside the top five at points last year. Lieber is another year stronger and experienced now, plus he has a much-improved KX450 between his legs. Do not be shocked to see him on the box or at least in the mix tomorrow. Another Belgian, Jeremy Van Horebeek, was more of an unknown quantity heading into the qualifying heat but silenced his doubters in a big way on Saturday.
Now, there are multiple ways to look at this; Jeremy Van Horebeek has always been strong at the beginning of the season, as well as overseas races and specifically this one at Neuquen. Is this speed sustainable? The past indicates that it is not, so it is another case of waiting to see if a leopard can change its spots, but there is additional incentive for him. It seems that he is on a bike that is straight from a local dealer and any gains that the team has made would have been done internally. There is nothing to lose for him at this point nor are there expectations. A third is now thought of a small win, whereas more was expected last year.
Much further down the order lies Antonio Cairoli, who failed to make it through the fifth lap of the race. A rare mechanical issue for the Red Bull KTM team prompted raised eyebrows across pit lane, but it was just a minor electrical issue that caused him to grind to a halt. "Already at the start I felt like everything was not running perfect, so I had a bad start," Cairoli said after the race. "I kept riding and tried to make as much time as possible, as I did not know how long the bike would stay, so I made it to tenth or twelfth and tried to catch the guys in front.
"At one time the bike stopped completely and would not start anymore. Luckily it was not on a dangerous place," he continued. "I could just ride out and try to stay healthy. It is part of the game and it can happen. I am not worried at all. It is really important tomorrow to get a good start and if I can get a good start tomorrow, like in the top ten, then I can attack. Hopefully we can make two not too bad starts and try to stay in front."
How about the MX2 division? Well, this was arguably the greatest surprise of them all: Jorge Prado did not completely wipe the floor with his competition! It was just qualifying, admittedly, but he begun right at the front and could not stay there. Henry Jacobi was the first to make his way around the reigning world champ and then Thomas Kjer Olsen did the same, before clinching the win and his first pole position since the Grand Prix of Latvia in 2017! How long ago was that? Six hundred and sixty-six days ago. Is this a breakthrough for him in a sense? It certainly should not be ruled out.
"I felt really good on the bike all day," Olsen commented. "This is the first time I have been first in everything, even though it was only on the Saturday, but it feels really good to open up the GPs like this. It gives me confidence for tomorrow. I just want to try and focus on the starts for tomorrow, really be up there and show that I have the speed to win. I just want to focus on the starts and be loose on the bike, because it is the first round and I know how long the season is. This is my third year, so I am getting a little bit more experience. I am going to take it moto by moto."
Henry Jacobi will have plenty of eyes on him tomorrow, as he has now proven exactly what he can do on a Kawasaki. I was not too surprised when he briefly took the lead in the qualifying race, then gave it back, as that was the first time that he has been in that spot and the situation must have caught up to him. The fact that he then took the lead again was a statement though and it may not be that long before he is stood on the box again, which would be a significant step forward for F&H Racing Kawasaki. It looks like Marc de Reuver has worked his magic again!
A handful of notes before signing off and continuing with the rest of the Saturday content that needs to be pushed onto MX Vice this evening.
– What happened to Tommy Searle in the free practice session? Fans across the UK were concerned when he did not do one lap. That was not actually the case though, even though it may have looked like it on live timing, because his transponder did not work. Searle was posting laps that were not being recorded. The issue was resurrected for the timed session and he had the fourteenth-fastest lap.
– Evgeny Bobryshev was in exactly the same boat, as his transponder did not work either, but he was out on track and later slotted into twenty-first in time practice. Bobryshev is struggling along with that wrist injury that was suffered at the start of January and hoping to race himself into shape, but he is nowhere near one hundred percent. What will it take to get him to that point? Who knows, but he has not ridden much at all since the Hawkstone International.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: ConwayMX