The upcoming FIM Motocross World Championship is drawing closer with each day that passes and, because of that, countless bench-racing discussions are beginning to arise. When the Grand Prix contingent roll into the spectacular facility of Neuquen for the opening round, fans will demand answers to certain questions. What could some of those be?
Will Jeffrey Herlings start the MXGP series with the same conviction that he signed off with four months ago? It is actually a rather unique situation. Antonio Cairoli did enough to claim the title a round early last year, but may not be considered the favourite entering the fast-approaching season. There is no doubt that Herlings has the ability to raise the bar in the premier class, hence why he won so much once the teething issues were overcome, so could he turn this thing into a snoozer? Another hot topic will be whether he can stay healthy across twenty rounds. Although he attended every single event last season, there were still health issues along the way.
Signing a three-year contract with Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing was undoubtedly the best move that Romain Febvre has made. However, he has not been the same rider since that point. The concussion that he sustained at Matterley Basin, just two weeks after the contract was announced, led to this downward spiral that has included a single moto win in eighteen months. Can he return to that elite level and contend for the MXGP title? The all-new YZ450F appears to have helped somewhat, but he still has a lot of progress to make. This is going to be a make-or-break year and there is no doubt that he needs to make a splash sooner rather than later.
Tim Gajser should not have anything to prove, but it seems that most have forgotten what he is truly capable of. The two-time champion was unbeatable at events in Argentina and Mexico last year – no one could even get close. An injury derailed his title defence after that and then various hurdles were encountered once he returned, just as one would expect, but that caused most to forget that he can run the pace of the leaders. Can he silence the doubters right out of the gate? It would not be too much of a surprise. An interesting point to consider is that Gajser has not yet battled with Jeffrey Herlings at one hundred percent. The prospect of that is rather exciting!
Max Anstie gradually pushed towards the front in the premier class last season and completed that process with an exceptional performance at the Motocross of Nations. Anstie was actually great before that as well, as he landed on the podium in The Netherlands and France. Will he manage to maintain that level across the next twenty rounds? There is no doubt that he will be much closer to the front than he was last year and a consistent threat, but where will that leave him? Another intriguing point to ponder is who will be the best finisher beneath the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing awning? Although Gautier Paulin appears to be an easy pick on paper, the difference between the pair may not be as large as it once was.
Can Clement Desalle maintain the pace of the elite group? It seems like an odd question to ask, especially considering that he won two events just last season, but there is no doubt that he is not quite on the same level as he once was. It seems that the circumstances have to be perfect in order for him to contend and that window gets smaller with each season that passes, so it would not be too surprising to see him drop back into that second tier when the FIM Motocross World Championship fires into life. Can he continue to push forward? There is no doubt that Kawasaki desperately need him to, as they have effectively put all of their eggs in one basket.
Where does Shaun Simpson fit in? There is not enough data to make an educated guess on this, but there is no doubt that he is still capable of making a splash at the highest level. Injuries restricted his progress during his maiden term with the Wilvo Yamaha MXGP squad, of course, but he did win a Grand Prix and contend for a spot on the box in Latvia. Now that he has had an adequate amount of time aboard the all-new YZ450F, can he balance on the verge of the top five consistently? There is no doubt that is where he deserves to be, but the same could be said for ten of his competitors.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: Monster Energy Media/Ray Archer