Well, the inaugural GP of Qatar is now behind us; most have an opinion on whether or not it was a good idea to head to the Middle East. It can’t have been all bad, as the GP went ahead without any major problems, which is surprising when you consider the large amount of innovative ideas that Youthstream and the FIM were implementing over the course of the weekend.
Obviously, the teams and Youthstream can gain something from heading over to Qatar; even before the first gate drop, the Kawasaki Racing team were able to reap the benefits of going to Losail. The QMMF elected to sponsor the Kawasaki team for the first round only, which is why the factory Kawasaki’s were decked out in all-white graphics. The team are feeling quite confident that they can work out a deal for the full-year, also. Evidently, travelling outside of Europe is beneficial to everyone; there is not too much sponsorship available over here any more. Therefore the teams need to be able to advertise their racing effort to some other sponsors, in different corners of the world. By travelling to these places, they can do that.
But, the real question is did it work? Well, I think it did. I was sceptical heading into the race, like everyone else; to be honest I didn’t think that it was a good idea at all. But as I alluded to at the beginning of this piece, there were no major problems to speak of; therefore I believe that it was a success. Sure the crowd was practically non-existent, but in regard to the track, and the racing there were few complaints.
I was intrigued to see how the light situation would play out, it was interesting to hear some of the plans that the QMMF have for the track, and lighting in the future. It seems that they will be implementing some permanent fixtures for the lighting over the next twelve months (much like the MotoGP track has); evidently the GP of Qatar is here to stay, to the dismay of some. Why were they no permanent lighting fixtures this time around? Quite simply, it was because of the time constraints that the promoters faced, which is understandable; the size of the project that they are undertaking is huge. Reports suggest that there was triple the amount of lighting on the MotoGP track however, which reveals that the situation was far from perfect.
Although there were some complaints from fans regarding the circuit and the GP, my initial fears disappeared as soon as I saw the track, and the infrastructure. Evidently, we were not dealing with another ‘Mexican fiasco’. Honestly, I thought that the circuit would represent a supercross track rather than a motocross track. But, the circuit wasn’t littered with jumps; it [the layout] wasn’t the terrible. The biggest problem with the Losail track is that it was very one-lined; there were not too many opportunities to make some passes. This was reflected in the riders’ comments following the event; it was ‘follow the leader’ for the most part, until someone made a mistake.
There were a lot of people complaining about the GP on Twitter, but in my opinion all of the problems were magnified because of the lacklustre racing. If there had been some thrilling battles (which we did see in MX1) in every race, everyone would have been commenting on how amazing the GP of Qatar was. But, because this was not the case, it seemed everyone was blaming different aspects of the GP for the poor racing. When really it all came down to the fact that the track was one-lined. They [the promoters] will surely take this into account in the future, I think that the next time we visit the Losail circuit things will be slightly different.
I do think that the opening round should be held in Europe in the future. There seemed to be less hype surrounding the beginning of the FIM Motocross World Championship season, because of the lack of crowd and atmosphere at the Losail circuit. In fact, the riders stated that it felt peculiar; the start of the season should definitely be at a track like Valkenswaard. But then again, if they are going to use the Losail facility I can understand why they need to head over there this early in the year. So, I don’t really know if there is a way to get around that issue. But, something needs to be done; the whole event certainly lacked something.
What about the format? I may be going against the grain here, but I liked the format. Sure, I would not want to see it every single week. However, I think that it works for these flyaway GP’s. It does exactly what it is supposed to; it fills the gate. It was clearly needed, as twenty-three riders started the MX1 qualifier. To be honest, it was interesting to see something that was a little bit different. There were some negatives; there was hardly any coverage for the MX2 riders in the ‘Super Final’. In fact, only Herlings got any TV time. I am sure that when this format was being discussed, Youthstream envisioned more of the MX2 riders being upfront.
But, overall it was good; why shouldn’t we change it up a bit at certain rounds? It is exciting to see forty riders on the gate that all have some credibility to their name. There is a huge advantage to having the last chance broadcast live on television also. When the series heads to Europe, Jens Getteman and Jason Dougan won’t get any coverage for their sponsors. But, in the last chance race they had an entire race where the focus was on them, which is great exposure for their teams, and sponsors. Obviously, this was at the cost of the MX2 guys. If you are good enough to climb onto the podium (Dean Ferris and Romain Febvre) you need at least some recognition on live television. This was one of the biggest problems, in my opinion.
Okay, onto the racing. The Clement Desalle that I saw in the opening MX1 moto was the one that we have grown to love; he was attacking the track, and was aggressive with his passes. It seemed that this style was missing for most of last year, what I saw from him in Qatar was quite promising. Personally, I think that it could have been very beneficial for him to win the ‘Super Final’. He was in the perfect position to do so, and if he had been able to hold off Cairoli he would have made a huge statement, and halted the Sicilian’s momentum. But, it was not to be; at least he is leaving Qatar as the series leader (not that you would know from the TV coverage).
Obviously, keeping that red plate is going to be the hardest task, as Antonio Cairoli seems to be hungry to claim the title of series leader as soon as possible. There has been a lot of talk about how deep the MX1 field is this year; we saw proof of this in the opening MX1 moto. It was interesting to see that even the Sicilian couldn’t just slice through the field with ease, he was met with a fight by every rider in the top ten. But, Toni did eventually work his way into third; so it can be done. I was particularly impressed with the way that he passed Searle; he had set up the move in the corners before, and knew exactly what he was doing and where he was going; it was the definition of a perfect pass.
Antonio Cairoli’s biggest strength is consistency throughout the entire moto, still. Just take a look at how consistent his lap times were throughout the entire race; evidently Toni has the ability to maintain a very high speed over the full forty-minutes, which does make him hard to beat most of the time. However, I think that Clement [Desalle] was trying to replicate this formula, as the Belgian looked like he trying to pace himself at the start of the motos rather than sprinting away and fading back late. Let’s take a look at how their lap times compared in the final moments of the first MX1 moto, shall we?
Antonio Cairoli (3rd)
Clement Desalle (1st)
Quite clearly, Antonio Cairoli has the field covered in regard to raw speed; this was evident as soon as the first free practice session had concluded. Sure, some riders won’t have been pushing their hardest in the session, but for Cairoli to post a time almost a full second faster than anyone else is very impressive; the pack still have some catching up to do, evidently. It is inevitable that he will only get stronger, and faster as the season progresses. I’m intrigued to see if anyone can latch onto him this year, as he seemed to separate himself in 2012.
I have heard a lot about Gautier Paulin, and his performance at the Valence pre-season race, it seemed plenty of people were jumping on the Paulin bandwagon because of the intensity and speed that he showed. I think we saw that in Losail, at times he seemed to be very good, even better than he was last year. As I had alluded to above, on multiple occasions he was in a position to pressure Cairoli, despite not getting the best of starts. His lap times were very consistent also, and he was able to maintain that speed for the duration of the race. Third overall is a great way for the Frenchman to kick off the title fight.
After a disastrous 2012, Evgeny Bobryshev seemed to be back to his form of 2011; his speed was impressive at different points throughout the weekend, but he needs to work on trying to maintain that speed for a full forty-minutes. Once he can do that, he could be dangerous. A fifth overall (5-4) and two moto finishes inside the top five is a good consistent start to the year for the Russian, which is exactly what he needs after his problems last year.
I did wonder heading into Qatar if Tommy Searle’s lack of race time on the 450f would affect him; I think that it did. He did admit that it might of hurt him in the qualifying race, you could see that he was getting better every single time he was out on-track. Although he slipped back a bit in the opening moto, in the ‘Super Final’ he was very strong. He seemed to follow Paulin for the duration of the ‘Super Final’; he came very close to stealing fourth from Bobryshev in the final corner! With a field this deep, it is positive to come away from Qatar in sixth overall; it certainly gives him something to build off of in the coming weeks.
It seemed that the entire motocross community were desperately looking for details on the injuries that Jeffrey Herlings sustained last week whilst practicing in Lommel. A question that was asked a lot in the build up to round one was would he even be able to race? It looks like nothing will stop the reigning champion this year; I stated a few times in the off-season that the only person that could stop him winning the title this year was himself. But, it looks like it will take a lot more than a practice crash to keep him off of the top step.
Really, [Jeffrey] Herlings was the only MX2 rider that was capable of mixing it up at the front of the pack in the ‘Super Final’; I honestly believe that his confidence played a huge role in that race. When Jeffrey sees Cairoli in front of him, he believes that he can beat him; the reigning champion is confident in his own ability, as we all know. But, some of the MX2 riders that have not won a moto in the World Championship may doubt themselves; well that is my theory at least. Injured or not, a double moto victory was the best possible way for the Dutchman to kick off his title defence. I think that we will see him atop the podium a lot this year.
What about Dean Ferris? The Australian was good, really good. I did think that Ferris had the potential to do very well, but I never expected him to jump onto the overall podium at round one! This is what we can expect from the MX2 class; any one of ten different riders could be following Herlings up onto the podium. It was not a fluke either; Ferris was hovering around the top five in all of the practice sessions. Let’s not forget that he did show good speed last year on the 450. Perhaps the fact that he has ridden in the MX1 class previously is a slight mental advantage in the ‘Super Final’, as he knows what to expect from some of the 450 riders?
Romain Febvre is another rider that has now climbed onto the MX2 overall podium; he and Ferris were maybe a bit overshadowed by the ‘Super Final’. Both riders were not welcomed onto the podium immediately, which was unfortunate as it was a milestone in their careers. However, nonetheless Febvre was very impressive. It was his raw speed that impressed me the most; although he was a tick off of Herlings’ times, he was faster than the riders around him, as the table of fastest lap times (from the first MX2 moto) below shows. Romain was the only rider who got into the same second as Herlings in the first moto; his speed is there.
Fastest Lap Time (MX2 Moto 1)
1st Jeffrey Herlings
2nd Glenn Coldenhoff
3rd Christophe Charlier
4th Romain Febvre
5th Dean Ferris
6th Alessandro Lupino
Glenn Coldenhoff is another rider that showed some flashes of brilliance, which indicate that he could be a threat in the future. The MX2 class reminds me a lot of 2009, as there are not too many established contenders out there, we are going to get some crazy results this year. Like Glenn Coldenhoff finishing second (a career best) in moto one, surprisingly he led for a handful of laps also. He will be able to fall back on that experience in the next few weeks; it will prove valuable in the future undoubtedly. Glenn Coldenhoff finished down in twenty-third in the ‘Super Final’ (which was the seventh MX2 overall), which left him in fourth overall; a great start to the year for the Dutchman.
One final note, I was interested to see if the ‘108% rule’ would be enforced this weekend if Livia Lancelot (who was riding in the MX2 class for the first time) failed to meet the specified time. Well, following pre-qualifying practice Lancelot missed the time by just over a second, and she wasn’t allowed to compete in the GP any further. After changing the age restriction rule to allow her to race I did fear that the FIM would alter the 108% rule, also. However, they did everything that they said they would; Lancelot will get another shot at making the cut next week in Thailand. She did get the opportunity to participate in the national support race, as she was invited to compete following the pre-qualifying practice on the Friday.
So, that’s a wrap from the inaugural GP of Qatar; whilst some will leave the facility pleased with the changes that were made to the format, others will be looking forward to the GP of the Netherlands on April 1st when the series returns to normality. But, until then the riders will have to battle this format again next week in Thailand. But, not everyone is happy. I am interested to see if any changes are made in the next few days to try and make the format work a little better; I guess we will have to wait and see.
Words by Lewis Phillips