In my opinion, the GP of Latvia (held at the circuit of Kegums) is one of the most underrated rounds of the FIM Motocross World Championship. There isn’t really much hype around the race, for whatever reason. But whenever the series visits the venue it doesn’t disappoint, as the round serves up some great action. Fortunately, this past weekend was no different.
It seemed as though the promoters had dumped some more sand onto the track surface for the event this year; the track was visibly deeper than in years past. However, it did still have that hard-pack base, which left the riders with sharp, braking bumps to deal with all around the circuit. It was interesting to see what slight changes had been made to the track, as this past weekend was their final test run before the 2014 Motocross des Nations. Of course there will not be a Latvian GP next year to allow them time to prepare.
I felt as though Kegums had not changed too much (aside from the surface). I guess if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it? Surprisingly, you rarely hear a rider complain about the Latvian track, and you know how picky these riders are! Although, it did seem a bit narrow again, which has been a trait of the GP circuits thus far. In comparison to the tracks in the USA (it is hard not to make that comparison) they generally seem to be this way, for whatever reason. Perhaps opening them up a bit more would make for more lines, more battles and better racing?
Honestly, I am not sure that Kegums is a circuit worthy of hosting the Motocross of Nations, it is very tight in places, and it doesn’t have that ‘wow factor’. Obviously, there is time; right now the event is ages away. Although it is quite tight, there are some opportunities to pass; some of the little knuckles on the inside of corners open up the lines a little bit. Of course, it is a testing circuit as well, which was evident by the amount of crashes that we saw. Clearly, the track gets quite cupped out because of the sand; we saw a handful of holes on the faces of jumps as a result of this. I do think that this was the cause of the crashes that Mel Pocock and Aleksandr Tonkov had on the rise after pit lane in moto one.
I am not a big fan of the start at Kegums, as it massively favours the inside gates. But there is nowhere else to put it, so the promoters do not really have another option. Of course, all the tracks in the series do favour the gates on the inside; Youthstream state that the inside gates must be a certain distance from turn one, which always leaves gate one with a nice clear line into the first turn. However, the fact that the GP of Latvia has a first turn that is one hundred and eighty degrees only puts more emphasis on the issue. In all of the motos we saw crashes off the start, because of this.
In the past, Kegums (the Grand Prix of Latvia) has been a poignant point in the series. It does seem to symbolise the start of the final run towards the end of the series, as we are past the halfway point now, temperatures are climbing and the grind is just starting. Coincidentally, it is at this point that Antonio Cairoli begins to excel, also. I do think technique is a key factor in a rider’s ability to do well around Kegums; perhaps this is the reason why Cairoli does so well there.
Since the first Latvian GP in 2009, Toni has lost at the venue only once (2010). So the place is clearly to his liking. Cairoli seems to have broken his title rivals (Clement Desalle and Gautier Paulin) in the last two weeks, as he has gained a large amount of points in the championship standings. Cairoli is obviously experienced when it comes to going for a title, he knows what it takes, and he is beginning to prove again that this knowledge is superior. Antonio now has an eighty-two point lead to his name, so he is in a very comfortable position.
Kegums is obviously a track that suits Ken de Dycker, also. The GP of Latvia was the home of his first podium aboard a Red Bull KTM in 2012, and then he had another great ride this past weekend. Rumours suggest that the Belgian has inked a deal with the factory KTM squad for 2014; his ride in Northern Europe will have only helped his cause. It was reasonably hot over in Latvia, at the weekend; I was surprised to see that he really did not tire at all.
In moto two, Ken de Dycker was shadowing Antonio Cairoli all moto long, ready to pounce if the six-time world champion were to make an uncharacteristic mistake. Whilst I was looking at the series standings, I was very shocked to see that de Dycker is just eight points down on third place (Clement Desalle). De Dycker has been chipping away at that gap recently; it will be interesting to watch that battle develop in the coming weeks – I’m sure Clement doesn’t want to give up that position to his fellow countryman.
I said it last week, and I’ll say it again: It was at this time last year that Gautier Paulin fell into a mid-season slump, and for the second week in a row, he failed to climb onto the podium. I don’t think that he is going to struggle like this for the rest of the season. But, it will be quite difficult to break out of this and get some momentum rolling again. I would not be surprised to see the Frenchman off of the podium again next week; it’s hard to make improvements in three successive weeks. However after the break he should be better; but his title hopes are now practically extinct, unfortunately. A fifth and a fourth is not going to cut it when you are in the midst of a title fight, and hoping to dethrone the unstoppable force that is Toni Cairoli.
Jeremy Van Horebeek is probably the most underrated MX1 rider currently; in recent weeks he has been very, very impressive. Since Ernée, his moto results have been as follows: 4-6-5-4-5-5-4-5. Simply, he has been really good. At the beginning of the year, Jeremy was in the bottom half of the top ten for the most part. Clearly he has progressed and bettered himself as the year has moved on. I never would have expected these results from Van Horebeek; it is even more impressive that these have come on varying conditions. Interestingly Jeremy is going to be a free agent at the end of the year, and it sounds as though he has had a lot of interest from a few teams.
It looks like it was another dismal day for Tommy Searle, with results of a seventh and a sixth in the two motos – however, the reality is much different. Remember the ride that he had at the French GP? Well how he performed in the second moto at Kegums was similar to that; it was very impressive to see him slice his way through the field passed a couple of established names in the class. However, whilst he was mounting an attack on Desalle for third, a backmarker got out of his line in a turn and halted Searle’s forward momentum; he stalled the bike as a result. In the past he has struggled at the venue (he had a double DNF there last year), it hasn’t been too kind to him. Unfortunately this year was no different.
In the end, Tommy Searle dropped down to sixth in moto two, which left him in sixth overall when coupled with his seventh from moto one. But, that was not without controversy, as he got caught up in turn one, and had to fight his way up from the back. Tommy still got back to seventh in that moto in a credible ride. In the last two weeks he has certainly ran into a bit of bad luck; it has to turn around soon for him, he will be up on the overall podium before long.
Rui Goncalves returned from injury with a pretty good ride; it was definitely one of his better showings this year. I was actually impressed that he jumped straight back in and mixed it up, he even got the holeshot in the second moto. It would have been interesting to see what Rui could have done had he not stalled his KTM. The Ice1 Racing KTM rider dropped to third, but he did look comfortable in the position before his mistake; he had even established a bit of a gap over fourth. Anyway, eighth overall is good and where a guy like Rui should be in this deep field, I think.
In the second MX1 moto, Joel Roelants finished in ninth. I’m sure you’re wondering why that is deserving of a mention here. But, it was his second best race finish this year, and it was his best finish since Thailand. Joel actually won the MX2 overall at the venue last year; I am sure that this lifted his confidence going in, despite the eye problem he was coming back from. At the moment, silly season is ramping up; so Roelants needs to ramp up his program, and grab some positions better than tenth overall if he is going to gain a respectable ride in 2014.
The STR KTM pairing of Matiss Karro and Jonathan Barragan deserve props for their showing in Latvia; the team almost had two riders inside of the top ten in the second moto! It has not been an easy year for them, as they expected much more from Jonathan specifically, but still it was a positive weekend, and a step in the right direction. I was happy to see Karro grab his first top ten moto finish this year in front of his home fans, also. Matiss ended the day down in thirteenth overall, with Barragan fourteenth.
Now, I am sure that this will shock you, but Jeffrey Herlings won both motos. It is considered a foregone conclusion, as it has been all year long, but the dominant was Dutchman was not in reach for any of the other twenty-seven riders. Honestly, the track was slightly sandy, was there any ever doubt? Of course there wasn’t. I was slightly surprised that it took so long for him to find a way around Jose Butron at the start of moto one. But, as soon as he did, he was gone. Jeffrey won moto one by forty seconds, and the second moto by fifty seconds, which made for a demoralising defeat for his competitors.
Following the first moto win of his career, Jose Butron slipped into a bit of a slump, however he has rebounded in the last two weeks; there is no doubt that he was the second best MX2 rider in Latvia. I was surprised to see him put up so much of a fight, whilst leading in the first moto; perhaps he wanted to see how long he could keep Jeffrey behind him if he pushed his hardest? The Silver Action KTM pilot is the subject of a lot of silly season debate currently, as every team is interested in acquiring his signature for the 2014 season. However, the factory KTM team already have two riders locked up for 2014; will Jose go to another manufacturer? Stay tuned.
In another triumphant weekend for KTM, Jordi Tixier jumped up onto the overall podium for the second consecutive week. Jordi is very quiet in the way that he goes about things on and off of the bike; rarely do you look at him out there and think, “Wow, he is really going for it”. I do think that the Frenchman fills the spot of ‘second rider’ at Red Bull KTM perfectly, hence why he has already inked a contract for next year. Anyway, he was good, and solid again this past weekend; he shouldn’t really lose second in the series barring any major issues. In moto one Jordi finished fourth, but it could have quite easily been second if not for a mistake.
I was shocked to see that Petar Petrov finished fourth overall, at the GP of Latvia. Honestly, I didn’t really notice him up front at all during the day; consistency got him that position I feel. Somehow, an eighth and a fourth gained him the position; his competition could not put two solid motos together. The MX2 class was very inconsistent, again. Petar is tenth in the series, it hasn’t exactly been a bad year for him; he has gone unnoticed for the most part though. In my opinion he belongs towards the lower half of the top ten; I would not be surprised to see him get picked up by a slightly stronger team higher up in the hierarchy for next year.
Romain Febvre is another rider that had a quiet, but successful outing. I have been observing the Frenchman in recent rounds, to see what sort of progress he has been making ever since his injury. Febvre posted a fifth overall in Latvia, which indicates that he is getting back to the form he showed in the first few rounds. Febvre seemed to be much more comfortable with the speed at the front this week, as he was around the top five in moto one before falling to seventh. But, the second moto was most impressive, as he climbed up from sixth to fourth, before settling in fifth for the remainder of the race. Really, there is nothing for Romain to gain out there in regard to the series standings, but he can improve on his program for next year and gain confidence.
In my honest opinion, Glenn Coldenhoff is the most underrated guy in the MX2 class. Quietly he has posted many, many good results thus far this year; he has backed those results up, as well. Although Coldenhoff has not had an overall podium (in the eleven rounds run) thus far, he has been more than capable. It seemed as though Glenn was going to get the elusive first podium of the year at Kegums following a third in moto one; but his shifter got destroyed on lap one of moto two, which destroyed his chances. Still, onwards and upwards for him, the Dutchman will be on the podium eventually, I believe.
So, the riders and teams have just one round left in the three-race tour of Northern Europe; the GP of Finland next weekend could be the most challenging, as they do not know what to expect from the track or facility. It sounds as though the circuit will be quite loamy, similar to Kegums perhaps? I am sure the Red Bull KTM would not mind that, as they enjoyed a lot of success on Sunday.
Words by Lewis Phillips