Day One: MXGP of Belgium

Reflecting on the first day of racing

· 5 minutes read

Jorge Prado has had all of the momentum in his corner for what feels like months now, but it seemed as though Pauls Jonass was going to shut down his charge after pushing past him in the qualifying race at the fifteenth round of the FIM Motocross World Championship, held in the power-sapping sand of Lommel. Jonass even established a slight advantage after making that move and, with four laps to go, it seemed the race was over. Minds began to wander. Prado found another gear though and went around the outside of his rival, quite literally, and then established a comfortable advantage. It was quite the turnaround, considering that he trailed Jonass in both practice sessions and appeared to be powerless at the beginning of the heat.

The heat certainly did not help quell any doubts that pundits have about Pauls Jonass. The race was fairly similar to Loket actually, as he battled hard and then lost his way as soon as a position was lost. Jorge Prado made a substantial mistake coming back onto the start straight with a lap or two to go and, had Jonass stayed close, he would have been able to take advantage and claim pole position. Instead he had already conceded and was content with second place. The intensity seems to evaporate as soon as he goes backwards, even if the race is far from over. It is an odd scenario and one that those on the outside looking in may never get to the bottom of.

Pauls Jonass was dealt another crushing blow in the qualifying heat (Sean Ogden)

There is an argument that one can make against this, as it was only qualifying and there were no points on the line. Perhaps Jonass just felt that there was no need to push past his limit? Red Bull KTM did write exactly that on the pit board whilst he was leading. This is not just a random occurrence though, because this narrative has played out many times in the past. The blow that Jonass received when Prado slid by was yet another mental setback and, bearing that in mind, it will be most interesting to see how he rebounds tomorrow. There is no doubt that those two will meet on track once again.

Jorge Prado was fairly nonchalant about his victory. "With three laps to go I could make a pass and take the qualifying-race win," he said in the post-race press conference. "I am really happy, but the race is tomorrow, and we will see how it goes. It is pretty warm in Belgium right now. It is crazy. The track is really rough and that is the main reason why we get tired, not the heat. My feeling is okay, and the weather is better than the rain last year, so I am happy."

Although the pre-race favourite reigned supreme in the premier-class qualifying race too, the way in which the action unfolded was very different. Jeffrey Herlings took control of the lead on lap one, despite the fact that he did not even start in the top two, then laid down a single fast lap that gave him some valuable breathing room. The gap was then maintained all the way to the chequered flag. The advantage that he had hovered around five seconds for a large majority of the moto, which left some intrigued. Fans across the globe are obviously used to him extending his lead at an incredible rate and then ending with a gap of more than a minute.

Jeffrey Herlings stole pole position, just as a majority of fans predicted (Sean Ogden)

"Yeah, definitely. I love coming here," Herlings exclaimed following his triumph. "I missed a couple of years in a row with injuries, because I always got injured just before this, but last year we were here and won. To come out with a win would be nice for the people and the championship, we are almost seventy-five percent into the championship. Six rounds to go in less than two months and anything can happen. My plan for tomorrow is to try and get two good starts and fight for the victory. It will not be easy, because the competition is strong, but we will see how it goes."

There is still some uncertainty surrounding Antonio Cairoli and just how much he is restricted by that thumb injury. Cairoli managed to train in the sand in the days following Loket and then appeared to be close to one hundred percent in the practice sessions, but he just took a while to get going in the qualifying heat. A last-lap pass on Romain Febvre left him in second at the chequered flag, which was not bad at all, but he was almost unnoticeable before that. Consistent laps were just clocked by the nine-time world champion. Again, however, was there really a need to waste energy in demanding conditions? There is not too much of a difference between having the first or third pick.

The way that Jeffrey Herlings performed is interesting for that very reason. Although he was just saving energy and doing all that was needed, did that spur on his competition and give them false hope? There is no denying the fact that the protagonists enter Lommel expecting to fight for second. Antonio Cairoli has acknowledged that it is very, very tough to win on a surface like this nowadays. So, considering that those guys were closer to the front than they have been, it would be most intriguing to find out more about how they rate their chances for tomorrow. The lap times confirm that Jeffrey Herlings had more in the tank.

Jeffrey Herlings

Romain Febvre

Difference

Lap 1

1:53.599

1:56.589

-2.990

Lap 2

1:56.530

1:55.664

+0.866

Lap 3

1:55.596

1:56.431

-0.835

Lap 4

1:56.382

1:56.357

-0.049

Lap 5

1:57.420

1:55.492

+1.928

Lap 6

1:58.154

1:58.806

-0.652

Kevin Strijbos deserves props for fighting into the top five in what could be labelled as a highlight of his year. If things do not work out as planned, this could end up being his final home Grand Prix. Perhaps there is the potential for him to achieve a great result? Shaun Simpson and Evgeny Bobryshev also need recognition for slotting into the top ten, as neither guy is at one hundred percent currently. Positions inside of the top ten opened up after Tim Gajser crashed early on and Gautier Paulin struggled to move forward after a poor start. Paulin looked uninspired as he pushed up to twelfth.

That is all from day one at the Grand Prix of Belgium, where most are left wondering what tomorrow will bring. Conditions will be brutal and only the toughest will survive. Will some of the protagonists from today fall by the wayside as the going gets tough? Join the conversation on social media (motocrossvice on Twitter).

Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: KTM Images/Ray Archer

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