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Saturday Report: MXGP of Argentina

A recap from the first day

· 9 minutes read

Prior to the start of the first round, everyone hopes that the season will live up to expectations. It is early, of course, but the first day of racing at the MXGP of Patagonia-Argentina was simply spectacular. The MXGP and MX2 qualifying heats had fans across the globe on the edge of their seats.

Before we get to the on-track action, however, what about the actual circuit? A handful of riders have commented that it gets harder every single year, so it is nowhere near as soft as it was four years ago. It is obviously not a hard-pack track, as some spots are still quite loamy, but there is a solid base underneath and that can be deceiving at times. There is a chance that could not be too much of an issue tomorrow, as showers are still forecast for the morning. Those should clear by the time that the riders actually hit the track for the first time, thankfully, and the track should be in perfect condition by that point.

The waves are particularly difficult for the MX2 riders, but even Antonio Cairoli commented that they are too steep and a little sketchy. There are two options for the MX2 guys, as mentioned previously, as they can go inside and then single out of the section or double through from the outside. It seems that the inside is the best option, after speaking to a handful of the riders earlier, but it also carries the most risk. It is so easy to lose your momentum easily and then you spend the rest of the lap compensating for that. What does that mean? It has been mentioned that there are no places to breathe and collect yourself out there.

Antonio Cairoli will have the first pick of the gates tomorrow (MX July)

Anyway, onto the races. What an odd turn of events, especially after what transpired in practice, as Antonio Cairoli dominated proceedings and clinched pole position for the motos tomorrow. "First of all, it is nice for me to start another season," Cairoli exclaimed following his victory. "I am really happy. I have never really had good results [here], but it is still one of my favourite tracks. After the first half a lap [today] I could take the lead. I had a good rhythm and won the qualification race, which was good, but the real race is tomorrow. Anyway, it is good to have the pole position and I will sleep well tonight."

Perhaps it is not right to label the ride that he had as dominant? Jeffrey Herlings took the holeshot, after all, and only lost ground when he crashed at the beginning of the waves. It was a fairly hard crash and one that could have been disastrous. Herlings hopped back up though and got back into the race in sixth. However, he did not finish there. There is no denying the fact that he struggled, as he lost positions to riders like Jeremy Seewer and did not charge forward in the manner that everyone has come to expect.

Arm pump is the obvious explanation, so perhaps it is best to wait and see what transpires tomorrow? It is important to remember just how good he was in those practice sessions. The fact that he took the holeshot was noteworthy too, because starts have always been his downfall. The rest of the MXGP riders must be really happy to see that he has ironed that issue out. Herlings will head to the line in seventh tomorrow,  but when was the last time that he ended the qualifying race so far down the order? June last year, as he qualified twentieth at Ottobiano.

Jeffrey Herlings had an eventful heat, but was blistering fast at points (MX July)

Jeremy Van Horebeek, Clement Desalle and Romain Febvre chased Antonio Cairoli across the line. The way that Van Horebeek performed should not be much of a surprise, by the way, as he always enters the series on form and is particularly strong at the flyaway events. 9-5-5-4-2-3 is how his scorecard from the Grand Prix of Patagonia-Argentina reads. It may be wise to expect him to land on the podium, but will he continue this form when the series returns to Europe? Oddly, he has struggled to do that over the last twenty-four months.

An insane battle raged on behind those three. Shaun Simpson, Max Anstie, Jeremy Seewer, Gautier Paulin and Jeffrey Herlings swapped positions for the entire moto. It is hardly surprising that some of the guys got tight, with it being the first race of the season and such an intense race. Most are probably surprised to see Simpson in that group, seeing as he ended the previous season at a low point, but he has been rather impressive at the pre-season races and this is where he belongs. It was a positive day for Yamaha and the 2018 YZ450F.

Max Anstie endured a race-long battle with Shaun Simpson, as well as some others (MX July)

How about Julien Lieber? Lieber first spun laps on a Monster Energy KRT machine five weeks ago, but he is clearly operating at a fairly high level already. "I've only been back on the bike for five weeks and this was my first race of the season so it was already a bonus to run with the leaders for several laps," Lieber said in a statement. "MXGP is tough physically and I didn't want to take any risks. It's good to have my first race on a 450 behind me and I'm sure I will be more relaxed tomorrow."

The lap times that Julien Lieber posted, which can be viewed below, make it abundantly clear when he hit the wall. That was to be expected, however, seeing as it was his first race in MXGP, he did not have much time to prepare and he was having such a strong showing. Monster Energy KRT are undoubtedly ecstatic that he simply showed potential and that they may have a star of the future beneath their awning. Clement Desalle is expected to depart following his current contract, which expires at the end of next year, so the timing could be perfect.

Julien Lieber

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A few final notes from the premier division. Why was Tommy Searle so close to the outside on the starting line? ‘100' was docked ten positions following time practice, as he carried too much speed whilst passing a yellow flag. Glenn Coldenhoff finished way down the order, because of a crash in the waves section that cost him a chunk of time and actually caught him out earlier in the day as well. Petar Petrov will not be at his best this weekend, but deserves props for even showing up. The MXGP rookie broke his collarbone around a month ago and has only ridden four times since then.

Julien Lieber had a very positive debut in the premier division (MX July)

Onto the MX2 class, where another champion reigned supreme. Pauls Jonass has been flawless all day long and did more than enough in the qualifying heat. Jonass actually slid past his teammate, Jorge Prado, early on, much like Antonio Cairoli did in MXGP. "I feel really good, you know," Jonass said. "I am really happy with the new bike and we did some good testing this winter. In the race today I got a good start, rode my own race. I always enjoy it in Argentina and, like Tony said, there is nice weather this year. It is always nice to start the season with a win, but tomorrow is the real race. It is a good feeling to be on top."

There was some bad news for those in the Red Bull KTM camp, however, as Jorge Prado had a spectacular crash in the waves and could not continue. Prado actually entered pit lane on the lap that he crashed, spoke to his mechanic briefly and then went back out. It was clearly not worth it though, as he pulled out at the end of the following lap and returned to the paddock. After speaking to Prado briefly at the end of the day, it seems that he is a little banged up and will be sore tomorrow. The flamboyant Spaniard, who is adored by fans in South America, will race though.

Jorge Prado will be sore tomorrow, but behind the starting line (MX July)

Ben Watson was the first breakthrough star in the class, as he opened some eyes with a remarkable ride that left him third. Watson had to push past Thomas Covington, who was racing for the first time since the knee injury that he sustained at the Motocross of Nations, to get there. Covington eventually dropped to seventh, but there is no doubt that the goal was to simply dust off the cobwebs and acquire a solid gate pick for the motos tomorrow. Seventh is certainly a result that will serve him well when the gates drop on moto one tomorrow.

It is rather difficult to judge the rest of the field based on how they performed in the qualifying heat, as it is hard to pass out there. There was a massive freight train from Thomas Covington in seventh to Jed Beaton in eleventh. Nine measly seconds separated those five riders. Calvin Vlaanderen, the newest recruit at Team HRC, deserves props though, as he slid past all of those guys. The official results state that Vlaanderen ended the first lap in thirteenth, but he was actually further back than that and climbed all the way to fifth. It was an impressive ride and one that will undoubtedly go under the radar.

Conrad Mewse deserves recognition for his positive outing (MX July)

If Calvin Vlaanderen deserves recognition, then so does Conrad Mewse. Mewse ended the first lap in eighteenth, after getting hung up in the first corner, and charged up to tenth. Considering how this race went for him a year ago, it was an impressive ride and promising for the future. Another point worth noting from the qualifying race is that Vsevolod Brylyakov, a favourite amongst fans, should have been much closer to the front. A crash in the waves restricted him to seventeenth on what was an eventual day for the Kemea Yamaha rider.

Finally, Adam Sterry was the first casualty of the new season after crashing in turn one and splitting his finger open. That finger was actually already an issue, which most people do not know, as he had stitches in it just over a week ago. The crash ripped those open. Sterry will ride tomorrow, but says it will be sore and he will be in a splint. It could be a long day for the F&H Racing Kawasaki rider.

Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: MX July

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