The inaugural Grand Prix of Asia went fairly well at the weekend. The all-new circuit of Semarang was spectacular, both in person and on television, similar to the Grand Prix of Patagonia-Argentina in many ways. There were some teething problems with the way that the track was prepared, but there were very few complaints other than that. It is rare for a new race to be met by such little criticism. Teething problems should always be expected.
The fact that there were less than twenty riders in the MX2 class prompted questions. It seems that there may be a reason for that though. Neuquen in Argentina is arguably harder and more expensive for teams to reach, but then there were almost full gates at that venue and no complaints. Twelve guys, who would have travelled to the other side of the world, were on the sidelines with injuries, then additionally Hunter Lawrence opted out of both events. Those factors obviously did not help at all. A handful of the other teams, like Hitachi ASA KTM Racing and Marchetti KTM, simply elected to keep their riders at home.
It is fairly normal for smaller teams to set targets for their riders. If someone is in a certain position in the championship, then the team will make the trip to the overseas events, and if they are not then they will stay at home. The Indonesian leg of the FIM Motocross World Championship had to deal with that as it is run quite late in the season, whereas those teams will spring to money to get to the opening rounds in an effort to start the championship off in the right fashion. Earlier overseas events may be the answer, based on that theory alone, but then the weather would have caused the Indonesian events to be a write off anyway.
Another point to consider is that the local Indonesian riders came under some heat for their speed, or lack of raw pace, but they were going up against the best of the best. The elite riders were the only ones who travelled across to Indonesia. Had this been a European Grand Prix and all the non-points scorers shown up, the gap would not have been as large and they would not have looked as out of place. It is just worth considering. The IMI, the Indonesian federation, are putting academies in place to improve their riders and give them opportunities like this, hence why they are so grateful that the FIM Motocross World Championship travels to their nation.
Jeffrey Herlings (1-1): It is insane to reflect on what has happened over the last two weeks! Although perusing the results may not prompt many surprises, it is important to remember where Jeffrey Herlings came from. Prior to the twelfth round, the first Asian stop, it was really not known if Herlings would be able to ride around, let alone contend for a victory. The advantage that he has in the series has doubled, as it is up to twenty-four points, and he is only going to get stronger and closer to one hundred percent from this point on. One could argue that it is likely that he will boost his lead to more than fifty points and win the title at his home Grand Prix, Assen, in September.
Tim Gajser (2-3): The one that got away. If there was going to be an opportunity for Tim Gajser to win a race this season, then this was it. Both Jeffrey Herlings and Antonio Cairoli were not one hundred percent at round thirteen, most importantly, so the door was swung wide open for someone else to stand atop the box. Add in the fact that Gajser was very quick in practice and had great starts, then it almost becomes unbelievable that he could not hold on for a moto win. It is tough to picture a non-KTM rider atop the box through the remaining seven rounds of the FIM Motocross World Championship. It will only get tougher to defeat the duo from this point on.
Clement Desalle (4-2): How about the fact that this was the first podium for Clement Desalle since his Grand Prix victory in Russia more than two months ago? A drought of sixty-nine days is quite long for a factory rider who is proven at this level and, although it is surprising that it took this long to get back up there, exactly the same thing happened last year. Desalle kicked off that year with some podium finishes and won the Russian Grand Prix, but very little happened after that though. It was the same as this season! It is a little peculiar that this is a theme and, seeing as memories are so short in the paddock, most actually forget just how good he was in March.
Antonio Cairoli (3-4): There were a few things that stood out from the post-race podcast with Antonio Cairoli at the Grand Prix of Asia. First of all, he was fairly adamant that the thumb injury would not hinder or stop his charge moving forward. Additionally, however, he said that it will take three weeks for it to get back to one hundred percent. Loket and Lommel could be a problem if that is indeed the case, then there are just five rounds left after that. Another intriguing point was that he said it is now time to get aggressive. What does that mean exactly? It will soon become apparent just how much he is willing to force things, but it could prompt some more fireworks. Buckle up!
Tommy Searle (7-7): Another positive point for Tommy Searle. It is actually funny that he had his best result in years at round thirteen, as his programme was fairly simple. Searle and his mechanic were the only members from Bike It DRT Kawasaki on Asian soil and, after the engine problems that he had last week, things could have ended up going south in a hurry. This was a positive showing and further confirmation that things are heading in the right direction. Based on the fact that he is comfortably a top-eight guy in all conditions, it is fairly obvious that he needs to be put on the Motocross of Nations team. It would be simply mind-blowing if he does not get sent to RedBud!
Max Anstie (9-6): Sticking with the Motocross of Nations theme, it is crazy that some think that Max Anstie should not represent Team Great Britain. Does anyone remember Matterley Basin? Anstie is the only British rider who has landed on the MXGP podium this season, additionally, and has actually raced RedBud before. Things are going quite well for him currently as well, as he was blistering fast at Pangkal Pinang and again showed good speed in moto two at Semarang. It was interesting to hear him say that seeing Jeremy Seewer and Julien Lieber collide in the air in moto one spooked him and immediately made him think of the time that he got landed on at the Motocross of Nations in France.
Alessandro Lupino (8-8): Is this normal? Alessandro Lupino has arguably been the breakthrough star this year, not that anyone appears to have noticed, and does not look out of place whilst battling for positions inside of the top ten. Look at that consistent scorecard! Lupino slotted into the top ten five times in three years with Assomotor Honda and has already done it four times this season. It seems as though there is one clear change that can be pointed to as the reason for this rise in form, that being the switch to Gebben Van Venrooy Kawasaki. When was the last time that someone actually exceeded expectations or even met them with his previous squad?
Gautier Paulin (5-11): Gautier Paulin has not had the easiest time recently, for whatever reason, and even when it looks like things are going to turn around, there is an odd crash or something that halts that progress. See the second moto at Semarang for an example. It must have been a frustrating period, but it is important to remember that he was on the box just two rounds ago. It is not like things are going terribly and there have not been any bright spots. The fact that he has slipped to sixth in the series standings is obviously not great though, especially considering that Tim Gajser is ahead of him after missing a round. It is surprising that the HRC-mounted rider has pulled that off with limited podiums!
Jeremy Van Horebeek (6-13): It is going to be very interesting to see what Jeremy Van Horebeek does next season. Van Horebeek has to leave the Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing squad, as someone who was outside of the top ten at Semarang is taking that deal, and it sounds like he wants the second spot at Standing Construct KTM. Valentin Guillod is not under contract for next season, but hopes to go back to the team, so a lot of guys are going to be duking it out for that ride. Another question to consider is whether or not Standing Construct can afford to run Glenn Coldenhoff and then another rider of that level? It would certainly be an impressive roster for a satellite team.
Kevin Strijbos (10-15): How about taking tenth overall with that scorecard! It is easy to feel sorry for Kevin Strijbos, as there has just been one problem after another that has stopped him fulfilling his potential. Strijbos was inside of the top five at the end of last season, so how much could have changed in the last nine months? It is not like he is just not capable anymore. The common consensus is that he is going to retire at the end of the season, but he is not set on that at all. Speaking to MX Vice exclusively, he claimed that he was going to see what rides are out there and then assess the situation. It is tough to imagine him getting a full Grand Prix ride currently though.
Jorge Prado (2-1): Hey, remember the Grand Prix of Patagonia-Argentina? Prado got nineteen points and faced a thirty-one-point deficit to Pauls Jonass out of the gate. Considering that will undoubtedly alter the way that you view the title fight between those two, as Prado has just been pulling back those points ever since. Imagine if he started the campaign with a podium finish? Things would be so different right now, as he would actually have around a thirty-point advantage. There is no doubt that he is the favourite for the title currently and, hey, it seems that he can do no wrong. The fact that he has dropped off of the moto podium just twice in the last twenty-four motos also deserves more recognition.
Pauls Jonass (1-6): The image below perfectly sums up the way that Pauls Jonass must feel currently and how this title fight is shaping up. It must be said, however, that Jonass was the best rider at Semarang and would have swept both motos, had he not fell in the first turn. It sounds like he rung his bell in that crash and that is why it took him a little while to make significant progress. Although most like to presume that he cannot deal with adversity or whatever, that second moto cannot be pointed to as an example of that. What is the problem that is stopping him from hitting the level that he did at the beginning of the season? It is bizarre that he managed to win the first six motos on the bounce.
Calvin Vlaanderen (4-2): What the hell is going on with the federation in South Africa? Calvin Vlaanderen celebrated his first Grand Prix win at Pangkal Pinang and raised the South African flag up above the podium, which is something that one would presume that those in the nation celebrated. Instead, however, MSA (Motorsport South Africa) rung Youthstream and complained that he did not have permission to use the flag. Why do the MSA feel that the flag is their property and something that they control? Who even has the time to ring Youthstream, which must be quite a hard thing to do, to complain? Anyway, Vlaanderen used the Dutch flag this week for that reason. Listen to this exclusive post-race podcast for raw emotion.
Ben Watson (3-5): It is quite crazy that a result like this is now considered disappointing for Ben Watson, but it just shows how far he has come. This quote from Marnicq Bervoets, which was in a recent press release from Kemea Yamaha, sums things up. “Somewhere between the third and seventh place is where Watson and [Jago] Geerts belong at this moment. Both guys have already made huge steps during the season. We cannot expect too much now. They need some time to make the next step,” Bervoets said. It is just difficult to not expect more from Watson now, as he has proven that he can win one of these things. It may even happen before the end of the season!
Thomas Covington (7-3): It is a shame that Thomas Covington will not get another opportunity to chase the MX2 title in the FIM Motocross World Championship; the last five rounds are proof that he can string a consistent run together. Poor luck is all that can be blamed for the way that he started the season. Anyway, after picking up one hundred and two points through the first six rounds, it is going to be most interesting to see where he gets up to in the standings. A position in the top five will be fairly easy to obtain, especially in his current form, and maybe he will be able to inch closer to the top three. A string of victories would be needed to make that happen though.
Anthony Rodriguez (4-7): It was a surprise to see Anthony Rodriguez push up to fourth in the first of two motos at the Grand Prix of Asia, but not because he is not capable of finishing in the top five. Rodriguez was just so beat up last week! A crash in practice on Saturday, where the YZ250F struck his shoulder, left him battered and bruised and contemplating a weekend on the sidelines. Thirteenth overall was the result that he limped to. There were just five days between that and round thirteen, Semarang, but somehow he recovered enough to record a career-best finish. Rodriguez earned that as well, as he pushed past some experienced guys in the first moto and was then the best of the rest in the second one.
Thomas Kjer Olsen (10-4): It is tough to figure out what to make of Thomas Kjer Olsen. Firstly, Olsen has been on the overall podium just once since his Grand Prix win in Latvia. It seems as though most think of him as a consistent threat and title contender, but is he at this point? Additionally, however, this is just his second full year in the FIM Motocross World Championship. Pull Pauls Jonass and Thomas Covington from these results, seeing as they will not be in the class next season, and then suddenly he would have had a lot more success this year. There are a lot of factors at play there, so it is fairly obvious why there is some confusion.
Michele Cervellin (6-11): There were a lot of raised eyebrows when Michele Cervellin moved across from the Martin Racing Technology awning to the SM Action Yamaha outfit. Could it really be better? Although he has not reached the moto podium, which he managed aboard red machinery earlier in the season, he has been consistently better. It is still baffling that he could not achieve similar results with a full-factory ride. Cervellin is clearly making progress, but question marks will soon turn to his future. It sounds like next season will be his last in MX2, so what is he going to be able to do after that? A ton of MX2 riders are going to have to shop around for a premier-class ride.
Brent Van Doninck (9-9): This was a better performance for Brent Van Doninck. Those results were better than what he has achieved with Husqvarna thus far, firstly, but the way that he was riding was just a clear improvement. From the beginning of the weekend, it was obvious that there was some additional aggression and more of a spark. Van Doninck is in desperate need of momentum and hopefully this will ignite something that he will be able to carry through the final seven rounds. There is no doubt that he needs to perform if he is going to manage to stay in the Grand Prix paddock and still travel to exotic locations like Indonesia.
Adam Sterry (8-10): This is just what Adam Sterry needed. There have been so many stops and starts over the last twenty-four months, due to injuries or illnesses, so getting two points-scoring motos on the board is a great way to establish a base to build off of through the final seven rounds of the FIM Motocross World Championship. Admittedly things can still turn sour, as it also looked like the Grand Prix of Portugal was going to be a turning point for him, but this is a boost. Sterry is capable of so much more and just needs momentum, so getting on a bit of a roll and then carrying that into his final term in MX2 would be the best-case scenario.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: KTM Images/Ray Archer