Maggiora, Italy holds a special place in the hearts of most. It [the track] has seen many races in its history – the most famous being the 1986 Motocross of Nations. Maggiora returned to the schedule for the first time this past weekend, after a very long hiatus. It is no secret that motocross fans like to celebrate the past; whether the topic is two-strokes or old races most enjoy reminiscing about yesteryear. Therefore, you can imagine the excitement surrounding the ninth round of the FIM Motocross World Championship, as the steep hillside in Italy was tackled once again.
I was honestly skeptical about how the track would turn out; after all motocross has evolved quite a lot since the last event of this calibre was held on the circuit. However, I thought that the event as a whole was one of the best that we have seen this year and it was good to see another old-school track featured on the schedule. It seems the older circuits provide better racing, Ernée served as proof of that. I can only imagine just how (physically) demanding the track must have been, as it saw a mixture of the following: elevation changes, deep ruts, and massive jumps.
It was obviously a tough circuit for the riders to negotiate, evident by the amount of crashes we saw (on Saturday specifically). Tommy Searle had a very large crash in the pre-qualifying practice, but he still came out and got second in the qualifying heat; luckily he did not injure himself in the fall. Some big names (Clement Desalle, Antonio Cairoli, and Jeffrey Herlings to name a few) had smaller tip-overs during their qualifying heats; clearly the surface was a bit deceiving, as it appeared to be slick and hard-pack in places – typical of an Italian track.
Obviously, there is a lot of history surrounding the circuit; some of the riders chose to honor that by using some retro themed graphics. Davide Guarneri and David Philippaerts were the riders to do this; the concept was great, and it was executed well by both of their respective teams (Marchetti KTM and Gariboldi Honda). Guarneri especially went the extra mile, as the Italian wore a kit that had a replica bib from the 1986 MXoN incorporated within the design. Although Antonio Cairoli kept things very modern, he also had some special gear created for his home grand prix. I am sure it was well received by most of the home fans; the venue was packed! On a somewhat unrelated note, what about the Monster Energy structure! I believe that Monster Energy having a larger presence at the races can only be a good thing.
Intriguingly, KTM announced that they have renewed Stefan Everts’ contract for three more years at the Italian GP. Pit Beirer (the head of KTM Motorsports) revealed that he was happy that they could continue their partnership, as “the factory squad would have both continuity and consistency.” Perhaps this is why KTM have been so successful? We have seen a handful of teams go from one team manager to the other in recent seasons, whereas KTM now have a solid foundation to work off of, as they have made very little changes to their personnel. It is obvious that they are pleased to have him [Stefan] stay with the team; imagine how many people in the paddock would love to have the ten-time world champion in their corner.
Right lets move onto the racing. You would presume that Antonio Cairoli has been dominant in his home GPs over the years. However Toni has won just two (!) of them in his MX1 career (Mantova 2010, and Arco di Trento this year). Honestly this stat really surprised me. Antonio failed to top the podium at Maggiora also, to the surprise of most. Interestingly Toni was not the fastest at any point at Maggiora, which serves as proof that the Sicilian is not a fan of the tracks that are slick and hard-pack; the points leader has stated many times that he prefers a loamy circuit.
Although Antonio Cairoli had a consistent day with a fourth and a second (for third overall) in the two motos, he did sustain a knee injury in the opening MX1 encounter. Currently, the extent of the issue is unknown, as Toni is supposed to head in for a scan today (Monday); most fans are speculating that he may have aggravated the knee injury that he suffered in 2008. Cairoli did have therapy on the knee in between motos, but he believed that it hindered him during the early stages of moto two, as he it was quite stiff and he was in pain. However by the end he started charging, and looked more like the Antonio Cairoli that we are used to seeing.
I was intrigued to see just how emotional Gautier Paulin was after clinching the GP victory, it was great to see that kind of raw emotion from a guy; we rarely see that nowadays. I believe that Gautier Paulin was a deserving winner on the day; he probably could have finished up in the top two in moto one if he had started a little higher. If Paulin can get a start, he can quite easily match Cairoli, it would seem. Gautier has really established himself as the second rider in the series, as he now has a thirty-three-point gap to third in the series, Clement Desalle.
The Kawasaki Racing team is proving to be the main challenger to the Red Bull KTM squad in the MX1 class, as they have got both of their riders (Paulin and Jeremy Van Horebeek) inside of the top five at the previous two rounds. In my opinion, none of the other teams in the MX1 class are capable of getting both of their riders up inside of that top five on a consistent basis. But, KRT has proven that they do have the resources to do that now. I think that it will be interesting to watch this develop in the coming weeks.
Is it just me that thinks that Ken de Dycker has been in a bit of a mid-season slump recently? In recent weeks he has not been much of a podium contender, however he bounced back in Maggiora as he hopped onto the box in second overall. Interestingly he really did not put up much of a fight when Toni Cairoli went around him in moto two, up until that point he could have attempted to make a run at Paulin, and the overall win. Perhaps we are now at a point where team orders are starting to come into play? The lanky Belgian did drop off in the final few laps, so it seems he struggled with stamina in the humid weather also.
I expected a bit more out of Tommy Searle. However, when you factor in the huge crash that he had in the pre-qualifying practice session, he was lucky to score a reasonable amount of points. Tommy has not really had any really good starts so far this year, for whatever reason. Most would say that the starts are completely mental, but perhaps his machine isn’t quite as strong as some of his competitors out of the gate? I do think that Tommy has to get a decent start before he turns a corner in the class, as that is the only way that he is going to see what all of the leaders are doing.
Tommy ended the Italian GP with a tenth and a fifth, for seventh overall. Currently, he is still sat comfortably in sixth in the series; but I presumed that he would have got around Strijbos and into the top five by now – he is five points behind the Belgian at the moment.
In a somewhat surprising move Billy Mackenzie made a wildcard appearance at Maggiora on the Monster Energy Yamaha squad. When I heard the news the first thing that went through my mind was, could this be an audition for a ride next year? The Scotsman stated that he did look into returning to Europe for this season, so maybe that is still on his mind? Anyway that is all speculation.
Billy Mackenzie’s performance at the Italian GP was typical of what we have come to expect of him. Really, we didn’t get to see what he was capable of, which is unfortunate. I was very excited to see what Mackenzie could do after starting inside of the top five in moto two; but he fell on the first lap and was left fighting his way up from the back. In moto one, he was as high as tenth at one point before falling backwards to sixteenth from lap six onwards. In the end, the Scotsman ended fifteenth overall after a fourteenth in moto two. Currently, there are no plans for Billy to return to the FIM Motocross World Championship again this year.
I was quite surprised to see Jeff Alessi on the starting line at Maggiora aboard a JK Yamaha. Honestly, I do not know how this deal would have come about. It is not like Jeff has been posting impressive results recently; he hasn’t even been racing! I was not expecting much of him, because of these reasons. Unsurprisingly he failed to score some points, as he ended moto one three laps down on the leaders, and the second moto two laps down. Although his wildcard appearance is over, the decision to put him on the bike still baffles me.
In recent weeks, Jeffrey Herlings has not been as dominant as he was earlier in the year; the competitors seem to be getting closer to stealing victories from him. But despite this Jeffrey still took another double win, as he managed the situation in each moto. Perhaps Herlings is riding down to the competition, which would make sense, especially if he is feeling battered and bruised from his Ernée fall (no one seemed to remember this at the Italian GP). In moto one, did anyone really think that Dutchman was not going to win when he was in third? The top two (Butron and Tonkov) were left to battle it out at the front whilst Herlings sat behind and watched them. But as the lap-time comparison shows, he was going fast enough where he could keep them in view, before using his race-craft to edge ahead.
Jeffrey Herlings (1st)
Jose Butron (2nd)
Alexander Tonkov (22nd)
It is evident by looking at those lap times that Alexander Tonkov was deserving of third place in the moto, as he was more than capable. However, the Russian lost third in moto one after crashing on the finish line on the final lap. Currently, this is the source of some controversy; I personally think that they were right to not reward him with third, as he didn’t cross the line with his bike, which is what the rules state must happen. Admittedly it was a tough break for him, but those are the rules. Tonkov rebounded in moto two to finish third, but he didn’t get on the overall podium as he technically finished moto one in twenty-second.
Personally, I am pleased to see a Honda up front, as we have not really seen much red at the front of the pack in the MX2 class. Honda doesn’t have a factory effort in MX2, which is a bit unfortunate. Tonkov is on the privateer Esta Motorsports Honda team, for instance. Quietly, Alexander has made a lot of progress in recent weeks, as he finished fourth overall at Ernée, as well. If he continues to move forward it won’t be long until he does end up on the overall podium, he has the speed, which is evident from his qualifying win on the Saturday in Italy.
It has been quite a while since the Italian fans had a homegrown rider contend for podiums in the MX2 class. However, Alessandro Lupino delighted the partisan Italy fans by getting up onto the box for the second time in his career. Once again Lupino was a bit lucky to finish on the podium, as a sixth and a second only edged out fourth overall by one point. Nonetheless, he did it. Imagine what this could mean for the Italian team at the Motocross of Nations. The CLS Kawasaki rider has seemingly found another gear, which could see the Italians become more of a force this year.
Michael Leib finally made his 2013 MXGP debut at Maggiora, but it was far from uneventful. If you are not aware, Leib split from the Beursfoon Suzuki team in the days leading up to the Italian GP. Initially, it seemed as though Michael was going to return to the USA, however he found a way onto a Gariboldi Honda. Although the team manager of Beursfoon Suzuki threatened to sue Michael if he were to ride for another team (which seems similar to the deal that Marvin Musquin went through in 2009 with NGS Honda) Michael tried to race. In the morning warm-up session, Leib crashed and injured his shoulder. So, after the eventful week leading up to the event, he didn’t even race. Motocross is a cruel sport sometimes.
The 2013 FIM Motocross World Championship will have another weekend off this coming weekend, before the travelling circus goes on a three-week tour of Uddevalla, Kegums and Hyvinkaa. It is worth noting that the FIM and Youthstream will be composing a meeting on Wednesday with the teams and officials to discuss the future of the series, formats, as well as rule changes. It will be quite interesting to see what comes out of the meeting; I believe that we will know more at Uddevalla.
Words by Lewis Phillips
Image courtesy of KTM Images/Ray Archer