MX Vice Viewpoint: GP of Belgium

The 2013 FIM Motocross World Championship is nearing the end, as there are now just two rounds remaining following the conclusion of the fifteenth round. Bastogne (the Belgian GP) was the site of the event – the countertype circuit hosted the GP of Belgium for the second time this past weekend.

If I were to say the GP of Belgium, what is the first thing that pops into your mind? I am sure it is a deep, rutted, flat sand track that leaves the best riders questioning their skills? Well, it is quite interesting that Bastogne has none of those features (except for being flat) – it turns out that Belgium can provide a top quality hard-pack track also! Who knew? I’m certain that there are a couple of guys that would like to see Bastogne covered in sand – but most of the riders are overjoyed with the track surface.

I do like Bastogne – I think that it is a good mix between an old-school circuit, and something a little more modern. When the GP of Belgium was first held at the facility last year, we were privy to some great racing (in the MX2 class specifically). So Bastogne certainly made a really good first impression in 2012! Fortunately, the action was good again on Sunday, despite the fact that it is very obvious (or in the case of MX2, confirmed) how the title fights are going to play out. I hope that Bastogne becomes a firm fixture on the MXGP schedule; I believe that it belongs on the calendar (whereas you could certainly make the case that some other circuits do not).

Interestingly, the shadows seem to be a bit of an issue at Bastogne. If you watch some GoPro footage from the venue, it is quite clear that it is hard to see some of the lines out there, as a couple of sections are covered by trees. It seems as though some think that the Belgian track is not much of a challenge for the guys. However, I believe that Bastogne is just as difficult as Loket, the track that the travelling circus was last at. Evidently there is a good mix of features on the circuit, as there are some jumps as well as flat, rutted straights.

If you are looking for positives to take from the Belgian GP, take a look at the MX2 entrants; I was really happy to see that there were thirty-seven of them! Sure it is not a full gate – but it is certainly a step in the right direction. But entries are still a growing problem, as there were just twenty-five guys in MX1, the premier division. However there was almost a full line up in MX2, so hopefully we will see much of the same for the rest of the season.

Obviously, everyone will now know that Jeffrey Herlings didn’t compete in the points paying motos at the Belgian GP, as he crashed in the qualifying heat on the Saturday and dislocated his shoulder. At the moment, the extent of the issue is unknown – he is having an MRI today (Monday) to determine his status for the remainder of the year. Herlings has overcome a lot of niggling injuries thus far this year; so, presumably this is really bothering him. Originally, it seemed as though he would be healthy enough to return at the British GP. But Stefan Everts has stated that he would advise Herlings to sit out next weekend as well. So I do think that it will depend on how he feels closer to the time.

I am sure that the rest of the MX2 field are hoping he will stay at home again next weekend, as they would all like another shot at a GP win. When it became apparent that Jeffrey would not line up, a large list of riders probably thought that the GP of Belgium would be their race to lose, which was apparent in the great racing that we saw all day! It has been quite a while since we last saw unpredictable racing such as that. Hopefully, we will see much of the same at the British GP next weekend.

So, the door was open for a first time GP winner to stand atop the podium at Bastogne. Who took advantage of the opportunity? Dean Ferris – the Australian was unstoppable in Belgium yesterday. It was not much of a surprise to see him up front, as he won the qualifying race. It was already apparent that he had the speed required to do the job. Surprisingly, this was the first time that an Australian has won a GP since Andrew McFarlane stood atop the podium at Matchams in 2005! It was a perfect weekend for Ferris, and he was deserving of the win – he had to work for it in both motos. It has been a disappointing year for Yamaha; this is the only overall win that they have had this year! I’m sure that it means a lot to Dean and his team.

Okay, I’ll be honest. I thought that Jordi Tixier was quite disappointing. Prior to the beginning of the day, I was thinking about the MX2 riders that could grab a GP victory. Tixier seemed to be the most likely candidate I presumed, seeing as he has been the second-best guy this year after his teammate, Jeffrey Herlings. But, he seemingly folded under the pressure; he did not seem like the same aggressive rider. I was a bit surprised that he finished second overall – he did not seem to be worthy of the position. Aside from Ferris, the rest of the MX2 field were a bit inconsistent. If the opportunity arises for Tixier to take the GP win next weekend, I expect to see Tixier much more mentally prepared.

Glenn Coldenhoff rebounded from a lacklustre GP of the Czech Republic to record his second overall podium. The Dutchman was lucky to land on the podium with an eighth and a second – but he did it, nonetheless. It proves just how inconsistent the MX2 guys were; those results would rarely see you with a trophy in your hand. Rumours suggest that he will be on a Suzuki next year, as his Standing Construct team will be changing colours, more than likely. It will be overlooked by most, but Coldenhoff was close to stealing a moto victory in race two – he will be a star of the future if he can stay injury free. I do believe that he has had a good chance to rebuild this year, and he will only grow as a rider because of it.

Undoubtedly there was some added pressure for the MX2 frontrunners – some excelled and others faltered. Who struggled the most? Jose Butron. Butron was very nervous in the hours leading up to the event; his mind was running wild when thinking about what could happen. The Spaniard was on Twitter on Saturday night stating that taking the GP win is possible – so it really played on his mind, which ultimately led to his downfall. Usually, Jose is such a great starter, but he didn’t get out of the gate well in the first race – I do believe that this was why – the pressure got to him. Whereas when moto two began, the GP win was not in reach, and he was back to his usual self. Eventually, a seventh and a third gave him fourth overall; but it could have been much better.

The Romain Febvre that we saw back at the beginning of the year has returned! It has taken this long for the Frenchman to show some podium speed – but he has now returned to that level, and just in time for the off-season! I think that the British GP next weekend could be a good one for him; it seems to be the type of place that he would perform well. Anyway back to this past weekend – Febvre finished with a fifth and a fourth; he was one of three guys to finish in the top five in both motos. Still, this left him in fifth overall, which was unlucky. But, it was clear that he was better than that.

What happened to Christophe Charlier? I’m not going to lie – that was really odd. Christophe went backwards in a hurry at the start of that second moto; he looked like he did not belong out there! Eventually, he picked it up a little bit, but it will still peculiar – especially when you consider that he looked great out there at the start of race one. Charlier was one of the guys that I would have considered to be a favourite for the overall victory; but he struggled. In my opinion, it was down to pressure again. I think that he will be better at Matterley Basin.

Honestly, I don’t really know what has happened to Jake Nicholls’ speed. I know he has been forced to overcome a long list of issues this year, but that is behind him now; so I expect him to be more of a factor in the fight for podiums. I guess it’s just taking some time to build himself back up. It is a shame, if he was riding like he was last year, he could have won a race by now – instead he is left battling in the depths of the top ten. When you look at his finishes from this year, it really looks like he has struggled to string two motos together. However his ride at Bastogne was slightly better, as he posted a strong sixth in race two. I think that a top three finish is going to be a little out of reach at his home GP, unfortunately. But, two results in the top five is probably an attainable goal.

Clement Desalle is really finding his stride now, strangely – it was just a couple of weeks ago that he was struggling to climb onto the podium. So why can’t this Clement Desalle show up every week? Who knows? In the last two rounds he has proven to be capable of challenging Cairoli; he actually broke the Sicilian in moto two! Clement also seems to be a changed rider off of the track, as well as on it. In interviews, the Belgian has seemingly lightened up, which is great to see, as that was an area that he struggled. Surprisingly this was the first time that he has won his home GP, so it was certainly a big moment in his career.

Antonio Cairoli seemed desperate for redemption this past weekend, after a lacklustre GP of the Czech Republic. The Sicilian was on top form for most of the weekend – but he still could not beat Clement, which proves just how well the Belgian was riding. Cairoli will have to wait until the British GP before he can be crowned the 2013 MX1 world champion. If you’re trying to decide whether to make the trip to Matterley Basin next weekend that sight will be worth the ticket price alone! I can’t help but think that Antonio may have backed it down in the last moto at Bastogne in an effort to avoid falling – it certainly seemed that way.

In recent weeks, something must have changed for Evgeny Bobryshev. The Russian has gone from riding around towards the back of the top ten to battling for podiums in the blink of an eye! Of course, it really isn’t surprising, as the Russian has always had the speed to battle up front. Perhaps the difference is that he is now healthy, and he has momentum on his side? I am pleased to see the Honda World Motocross rider return to form – he has had a tough go of it the last few years. Hopefully he will go into the off-season injury free; I’m not sure if his body can take any more injuries!

If you take a look further down the field, you will that Shaun Simpson had a good day ending in eighth overall with a season-best moto finish of seventh in race one. Simpson has finished in the top ten in the last five motos. So, Shaun is improving – just in time for the British GP! I wonder where he will end up in 2014? It seems as though sticking with the JK Yamaha squad is most likely, which seems to be a good fit for Simpson. The Scotsman is down in eleventh in the standings now, twenty-three points back of Philippaerts. So, it would be tough for him to get into the top ten – I don’t see it happening, to be honest.

In his return to racing Gautier Paulin had an up and down day, as he finished with a third and a DNF. Gautier was reasonably strong in moto one, as he finished third. However, he was not as fast as he was prior to his concussion, as Clement and Cairoli gapped him very quickly. The Frenchman had a very inconsistent time in moto two, as he made a few mistakes, including a crash into some fencing. At that point, the Frenchman decided to pull it in, rather than make a costly mistake, which was certainly a smart move. I wonder if the mistakes he made in race two were because of the concussion? It is possible that he is still not one-hundred-percent.

So, that is it for round fifteen. Bastogne is behind us, and the riders and teams will now head to the GP of the year, the MXGP Festival – Matterley Basin. We’ll be there, will you? It will be a great weekend, undoubtedly, and the weather looks like it is going to be amazing as well! I would recommend that you get yourself down there next weekend – you don’t want to miss out!

Words by Lewis Phillips

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