Now that the pre-season internationals are firmly in the rear-view mirror, attention has turned to the opening round of the FIM Motocross World Championship that will be held in Argentina in just twelve days. There is so much to discuss and, with that in mind, various MX2 previews and discussions will be featured on MX Vice this week. First up, a look at the title contenders.
There is no denying the fact that Pauls Jonass is the heavy favourite to claim the MX2 crown. Based on the data that has been collected in recent years, the reigning champion must be placed slightly higher on the pecking order than those looking to steal the number one plate. It is not like he is light years ahead, of course, but he certainly has a slight edge and is the man to beat. There is not just one trait that has left him in this position of power though – he really is the complete package.
Pauls Jonass had great starts, mind-blowing bursts of speed and consistency last year. Can he really get any better? Well, now he has experience on his side as well. Jonass knows what it takes to win titles, whereas the four riders below have just seven Grand Prix victories between them. There is no doubt that experience will serve him well. Confidence has to be more of a factor too, seeing as his main rival from a year ago has vacated the division. There is no doubt that he can find comfort in the fact that he handled these riders with relative ease in his championship-winning season.
Believe it or not, there is actually potential for Pauls Jonass to be much improved this year. The aftermath of a pre-season head injury really hampered his progress last year and prevented him from testing midweek. Jonass has claimed many times that is no longer a problem, after a much-needed break in the off-season, so one would presume that he will be considerably stronger in the coming months, especially as the season begins to wind down. If that does indeed turn out to be the case, it is worrying news for his competition. The sky may be the limit here.
The ultimate wildcard in all of this, especially as he has not shown any of his cards at the pre-season events. Jorge Prado was very hot and cold last year, which was to be expected in his rookie season, but has he had enough time to iron out the kinks and make a serious run at a title? It is a difficult question to answer. There were four events last year, from rounds thirteen to sixteen, where he kept it together and was a consistent threat, but then everything fell apart in the Floridian heat. The next round, Assen, was positive though and he returned to the podium, so he certainly seemed to figure things out.
The problems that he has had in the heat may be enough to stop him making a run at the title, although he will not have to deal with an American event this time around. Temperatures can, however, soar at any of the European events, just as look at Ottobiano last year. Is this something that he can even work on? It is not like he is unfit – some people just struggle in extreme temperatures. It will be most intriguing to see what occurs when the first hot race of the season arises, as his campaign may take a serious knock at that point.
Starts are obviously going to be his greatest strength and, honestly, it may be worth just handing him the holeshot award now. If he puts himself in a position to win consistently, then will his competitors really be able to run him down? It will come down to whether he can remain composed and implement some level of consistency. Another point that may be a concern is his ability in the mud, as those races did not go well for him last year either. Indonesia was obviously an anomaly and no conclusions can really be pulled from that, for that reason, but Villars sous Ecot was also disappointing. There are holes in his programme that must be filled.
Thomas Covington has had a very quiet off-season, mainly because he spent a majority of it off of the bike. It was so long ago that he sustained that injury that some fans have probably forgotten what actually happened. Covington tweaked his knee in the mud at the Motocross of Nations and did not think that things were too serious, but further examinations revealed that he tore his ACL. The eleventh of January was the day that he finally returned to riding. By the time that the Grand Prix of Patagonia-Argentina rolls around, he’ll have a month and a half of testing beneath his belt.
Although he only won two events last year, there were countless encouraging moments compared to previous years. Thomas Covington once struggled at the stereotypical European tracks like Pietramurata, but overcame that in his second term with Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing. That significant issue has been pushed to one side, thankfully, so what would stop him from claiming the title in his final year in MX2? Consistency will be pointed to, but he really was not too erratic last season. The only reason that he did not end the year inside of the top three was because of the multiple issues that he encountered at the beginning of the season.
Following the third round in Argentina, Covington had just forty points to his name and faced a substantial deficit. There were seventy points between him and Pauls Jonass at that time. Now, admittedly, things did not get too much better following that, as the gap ended up being one hundred and thirty-nine points at the end of the season, but there is no doubt that the ranking that he acquired was not a true representation of how well he performed. The level that he is at right out of the gate will indicate whether he will be a title contender or not – he simply cannot afford to put himself in a hole again.
Thomas Kjer Olsen
One could argue that Thomas Kjer Olsen is a question mark, despite the fact that his maiden term as a professional was so impressive. The former EMX250 champion burst out of the gate and finished top three in the series immediately. More than one hundred points separated him from riders like Jorge Prado and Hunter Lawrence, who were in the same position. However, for whatever reason, those two are dominating conversations whilst Olsen lurks in the shadows. Why is that? There is no denying the fact that Olsen is not as exuberant, both on and off of the bike, and that does cause him to be forgotten about by some.
Consistency was his greatest strength last year, which is certainly an unorthodox trait for a rookie to boast. Aside from the Grand Prix of Latvia, where he claimed his first and only overall victory, there were no other points where he stole the show with a blistering fast lap or great start. There was the moto win that he claimed in Russia, but that event was so muddy that there were countless topics to pay close attention to. Consistency is great, but at some point a champion must reel off some victories and grab the thing by the horns. Does he possess the ability to do that?
The first pre-season international that he contested, Hawkstone Park, caused some to question his status as a title contender, but LaCapelle Marival was much more positive. Would it be a surprise if Thomas Kjer Olsen is holding a number one plate at the end of the season? There is no doubt that he possesses the tag of underdog heading into Argentina, but equally no one will be floored if he wins at the first event of the year. There is a reason why he managed to secure third in the final standings a year ago.
Of all the riders in the MX2 division, Hunter Lawrence may have the most hype surrounding him as the Grand Prix of Patagonia-Argentina begins to edge closer. There are also a lot of question marks hovering over his programme though. Will the 114 Motorsports outfit be poised to give him the tools necessary to contend in their first attempt? Will the CRF250R be good enough to stop the Red Bull KTM and Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing riders from running away the second that the gate drops? It is easy to forget that the CRF250R has not enjoyed much success, aside from that term with Tim Gajser.
Thankfully, the pre-season internationals have provided the answers to some of those questions. There is no doubt that his speed and conditioning is more than good enough to win, although that was already apparent a year ago, and that the team are in a great place. Lawrence was not even on his race bike when he claimed that victory at Riola Sardo a couple of weeks ago and that fact alone should quell any doubts that one may be wrestling with. The opening round of the Italian Championship, which he won, took place on a surface that could be considered his weakness too. The fact that he conquered that is yet another positive point.
This is going to be a massive year for Lawrence. Even if he does not score a single point across all nineteen rounds, which obviously will not happen, he will be chasing the bright lights in the United States when October rolls around. A slight error will cost him dearly and stop him from acquiring a gold plate in Europe. There is no doubt that he may put more pressure on himself, for that reason alone, but will that have any impact on his on-track performance? Time will tell. It would be an incredible story if he claims the crown in his second attempt and then moves onto pastures new.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: KTM Images/Ray Archer