Brazilian Wrap

In what can only be described as the complete opposite to the Mexican GP one week earlier, the FIM Motocross World Championship visited Beto Carrero, Brazil for the fifth round of the 2012 series. When riders arrived at the circuit in the week – it resembled something that could be considered paradise for motocross riders. With big jumps, flowing corners and a theme park on the outskirts, just to add to the appeal. Unfortunately, the excitement that was formed around seeing how racing would turn out on the Justin Barclay designed circuit was washed away – quite literally – by torrential rain Saturday night.

If there is one thing that mud races are notorious for, it’s producing surprise results, and both MX1 and MX2 delivered on that front, with three riders making a trip up onto the overall podium for the first time this year. For the second moto’s the track was in much better condition – although still far from perfect.  This was reflected in the lap times, as lap times in MX2 moto two were consistently better than moto one. With the fastest lap time of the race improving by six seconds, which proves the track did indeed get better as the day wore on. Whereas conditions for moto one were more ‘sloppy’, moto two could be considered more ‘claggy’ mud, making it hard work for the riders as it makes the bikes extremely heavy over the course of the moto.

Last week, I wrote that it was time for the rest of the contenders in MX1 and MX2 to start clawing back the points as series leaders Antonio Cairoli and Jeffrey Herlings were looking as though they were starting to break away. Coming into Brazil, they had momentum on their side, and they put it too good use in Saturday’s qualifying races. Both Red Bull Factory KTM riders dominated their qualifiers, leading from start to finish. Herlings was most impressive eventually winning by twenty-five seconds in the MX2 qualifier, despite Searle starting right with him in second.

So already prior to the points-paying races it was looking as though we might have an all orange affair up front. But, as always in Motocross, there are so many variables that can act as a spoiler in the results, and in Brazil, it was the rain. Following a handful of crashes, and off track excursions over the course of the two moto’s, Jeffrey Herlings ended the day with a twelfth and a third – and seventh overall. Most notably, his point’s lead shrank from what was forty points over his teammate, Jeremy Van Horebeek to just twenty over Tommy Searle.

The reason for such a decrease in the Dutchman’s points lead? Tommy Searle. The Brit was undoubtedly the best rider in the conditions, often riding smooth, calm and comfortable picking riders off one by one. Searle’s masterful riding saw him finish with two first places on the day, taking his second grand prix win of the year, and his first double moto win since the final round of the series back in 2008. Despite a couple of falls in the first race (one of which resulted in the Brit having to pull into pit lane for new gloves) Searle put his head down and clocked a handful of lap times quicker than anyone else on track. Eventually ending with his best lap time being just under two seconds quicker than anyone else. It was obvious he was most comfortable in the conditions.

The most surprising thing from the weekend was the two riders who joined him on the podium. As Christophe Charlier and Jose Butron climbed up onto the box for the first time in their careers. In the first moto, Charlier was the only rider who looked even close to pushing Searle, hounding Tommy for the entire race and even taking over the lead at one point – although it was short-lived, lasting only a lap. Christophe looked impressive once more in moto two, quickly inheriting second just two laps in, but a mistake relegated him to seventh, from there it was all about working his way up to fifth. Which in the end was good enough for second overall, a career best.

All season long, and even at the tale end of last year Spaniard Jose Butron has shown glimpses of his true potential, with some solid rides. On a bike, which you have to think is nowhere near as good as the riders around him (he’s already suffered three DNF’s this year). But in those races, he’s been mixing it up with established contenders, which is why; his overall podium in Brazil isn’t really surprising. Although after an eighth in moto one you would of thought his chances of getting on the podium were slim.

However, in the mud anything can happen, and it’s rare a rider will put in two very consistent results, so there was always a chance. The fact that he held off Searle for the amount of time that he did was a bit surprising. But he did look quite comfortable in the conditions of the second moto, most definitely one of the best in the field. It would be interesting to see what Butron can do on a top-level team, whatever happens however, I would say this isn’t the last we see of the DIGA Racing KTM rider up on the podium.

Much like Jeffrey Herlings, the MX1 championship leader, Antonio Cairoli struggled in the conditions, and lost a handful of points to his competitors. Cairoli has really been the only rider to score solid points in every moto thus far this year, but as already mentioned the two had their own problems in Beto Carrero. A ninth and an eighth over the two moto’s is most definitely not what the now five-time world champ was looking for. But, luckily for him, the two riders closest too him in the title chase prior to round five, Clement Desalle and Gautier Paulin didn’t have great days either.

Anyone familiar with the sport would know, the type of conditions witnessed in Brazil work in favour of a rider with a smooth style and natural ability, such as Christophe Pourcel’s. The Frenchman was simply dominant in the first moto, as he balanced his way through the lengthy ruts and slippery off cambers. Eventually winning by an astonishing one minute and twenty-nine seconds. The last time I can remember someone winning by such a margin in the mud is Ricky Carmichael in the AMA National at Millville in 2006 or before that Stefan Everts in any one of his very dominant mud rides. Either way you look at it, it’s an elite group of people that can negotiate the wet conditions so elegantly, and going by his first moto, Christophe Pourcel is one of them.

His second moto didn’t go as smoothly as the first, as after again leading a majority of the race he eventually relinquished the lead and dropped to fourth after a series of small, but crucial mistakes. Again it’s the end of the second moto, when Christophe looked his worst, although you can’t really look too much into that this time around, as in the mud, it’s a lottery.

David Philippaerts continued his climb to regain his former speed, and took second overall. His fitness is clearly where it needs to be, as in the first moto he moved forward from sixth at a consistent rate and never looked to be backing it down. However, he obviously didn’t have anything for Christophe Pourcel – no one did – but he appeared to have everyone else covered, in the first moto at least. He again had to work his way forward from the outskirts of the top ten, which had to have been tough. Everyone who rounded the first corner further back then second, would have just been covered in mud, and using all of their tear offs. So for a rider to overcome that, and eat roost for the duration of the race, but continue to gain positions is pretty impressive.

Third overall, was the Maxxis British Championship leader Kevin Strijbos, who seems to be looking a lot more like his former self. It’s been a bumpy road for the Belgian these past few years, but taking his first podium since the penultimate grand prix of the 2007 season, is a sign he’s improving. It’s really been ever since he climbed on the Factory Suzuki as a replacement rider at the tail end of last year that’s he’s started inching closer to the podium again, and he finally got it in Brazil! Hopefully this result won’t be his last, and the true Kevin Strijbos, a former title contender, will continue to show up at the next few rounds.

Xavier Boog was another rider that shined in the sloppy conditions – in the second moto at least. After a lowly sixteenth in moto one, Xavier wasn’t on many people’s radars as a possible winner of moto two, and with no previous wins under his belt most wouldn’t have predicted that he would run down Pourcel, and pull away to take a sensational moto victory. You could see the excitement from him, and his team as he crossed the finish line, although after his troubles in the first race he wasn’t able to climb onto the overall podium. He has most definitely proven to the Kawasaki Racing Team that keeping him on through 2012 was a good idea.

After an extremely disappointing second moto in Mexico, Gautier Paulin went to work in trying to claw back the points lost, and the mud looked like his best chance. Although he finished down in fourth overall, two of the riders ahead of him aren’t in a position to challenge for the title yet (Philippaerts is quickly making up ground in the points chase) so it wasn’t a bad result all things considered.

If not for a fall by Clement Desalle late in the first moto, Cairoli’s lead could have shrank even more but unfortunately the Belgian’s mistake meant he could only capture eight points in the first moto. In the second however, he was once again at the front end of the pack, and managed to stay there for the duration of the moto. He also found himself in the late race battle for the lead, involving himself, Boog, Strijbos and Pourcel. Although he came up just short, despite attempting to make a pass with two corners to go, he did finish second, to close down a measly five points on Cairoli in the title chase.  Once again, Clement leaves without a race win to his name thus far in 2012. The longer it takes, the harder it will become mentally, in my opinion it’s crucial that he wins a moto in the coming weeks.

For Shaun Simpson, the rain was probably the best scenario as it slowed the racing down considerably and forced riders to not jump the huge jumps in the centre of the track, meaning less of an impact on his shoulder injury sustained last week. At the beginning of the year his goal was top ten at every GP, and after a rough time in the two GP’s previous he achieved that in Beto Carrero, with a seventh and a twelfth through the two moto’s.

For the rest of the Brit’s, the Brazilian GP was quite successful also. Gariboldi Honda’s Max Anstie finished sixth overall, which was one of his better results so far this year, after a fourth and a seventh through the two motos. After spending most of his time in the USA in recent years, you think the sloppy conditions would be quite foreign too him, but he appeared to negotiate them quite well as he was up front in both moto’s. Jake Nicholls – who was feeling under the weather throughout the day’s action – finished a reasonable eighth overall, and the points he scored will be valuable in the title chase as at the moment he looks more than capable of getting into the top five in the championship standings.

One Brit who lined up in MX1, someone who most seem to forget about for most of the year, was Adam Chatfield. Having ridden just about every series worldwide, whether it is the British Championship, AMA Supercross series, or the Brazilian National Championship, Adam made his yearly appearance in Beto Carrero but the results surely weren’t what he was looking for, with two non-points scoring rides. Chatfield has been representing the UK in the Brazilian National Championship thus far this year, and currently sits second in the championship standings with one win to his name after four rounds.

Alfie Smith on the JK Racing Yamaha scored an impressive nine points over the two moto’s, to add to his three from the previous rounds. Alfie has been on the tour for a few years, and this year looks to be really improving in what could be described as one of the most competitive MX1 series in recent history.

There’s always one rider, whose results don’t reflect how good they were riding, in Beto Carrero that rider was Dean Ferris, of the Ice-One Racing Kawasaki team. Having finished a career best in the qualifying race, the Australian carried that form over to the drastically different conditions witnessed in the points paying races. Although in the results he finished a disappointing sixteenth overall, Dean was running second for half of the first race before the sloppy conditions bit him. In the second moto, he got a terrible start, and after again making a costly mistake pulled out after seven laps. The potential he showed alone proves that the decision to bring him over was a good one, as he is capable of running top three on his good days. He should only get better as the series goes on also, as he was left playing catch up after a pre-season injury forced him to miss the first round.

Beto Carrero marked the end of the South-American tour for 2012, although it’s fair to say it didn’t go as planned, with one round suffering from rider protests and the other basically a wash out. From here riders will travel back to the more familiar surroundings of Europe for the French GP in two weeks time, where the fight for the title will pick back up, and local hero Steven Frossard will once again try and ride through the pain of an injured knee, which again forced him out of the Brazilian GP.

For a lot of riders suffering from niggling injuries, the two week break should allow them time to heal up, and be at their best as the series heads into three consecutive weeks of racing.

Lewis Phillips

Pictures courtesy of Youthstream-Zanzani

MX Vice Editor || 25

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