The Grand Prix contingent ventured out onto a perfectly groomed track earlier today, despite the fact that torrential rain has battered the Portuguese city of Agueda in recent weeks, as the track crew have done a phenomenal job of uncovering the dry soil and created a circuit that will be perfect for the qualifying heats later on.
There is not a single puddle out there, which is just remarkable, but the surface is soft and spongy. It is hardly surprising that soil like that is producing countless ruts, particularly on the faces of jumps, but that is brilliant for racing. There are countless options and areas to gain ground, just as certain riders proved in the practice sessions earlier today. Jeffrey Herlings went fastest in free practice, which is not a surprise at all now, as the last time that he failed to do that was at the Grand Prix of Lombardia in June last year. A phenomenal statistic.
The way in which he did that was rather interesting, as he obviously recorded a time that was almost two seconds quicker than anybody else. There was a part of the track, sector two, that let him down though and stopped him from going even quicker than the competition. Antonio Cairoli recorded a 0:28.264 in that section of the track on the penultimate lap, but had already backed it up earlier in the race. The quickest time that Jeffrey Herlings recorded in that sector, on the other hand, was a 0:29.151. Even Gautier Paulin, who ended the free session in second, managed to log a 0:28.914.
Sector two stretches from the second turn to the start of the new section, which was implemented last year. Jeffrey Herlings corrected whatever mistake he made, as he ended up going quicker than anyone in time practice an hour ago. That did not quite translate to a much faster time, however, although the track conditions would have played a part in that. The streak that Herlings has in time practice is not as impressive as the one mentioned earlier, although he has been fastest in that session at every round that has been run this year. There is no denying the fact that his raw speed is one of his greatest strengths.
A majority of the quickest times were registered towards the beginning of each session, mainly because that was when the track was at its smoothest. Sixteen of the top twenty-five riders in MXGP set their fastest lap in the first six laps that they completed, which paints that picture perfectly, so not much changed towards the end. Certain riders almost improved their time in the latter stages, like Antonio Cairoli, but just missed out by a couple of tenths. Pauls Jonass was in a similar position, as it seemed that he was actually going to go even quicker at points.
It is actually remarkable that the MX2 class is so close, as just three tenths separated the top four in time practice. The last time that the leading riders were that close in the session was at the Grand Prix of Russia, which was held in June last year, when the top four were separated by a little over two tenths. With a bit of luck, the level of parity that has been prevalent thus far will be evident in the qualifying race that is just moments away.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: Sean Ogden