Yes, we know that Jeffrey Herlings is the runaway favourite for MX2 but behind him the racing should be epic in 2014.
Herlings blew away all doubts about his fitness at Hawkstone Park after he annialated the opposition in his first race in six months.
The Dutchman will go for a hat-trick of titles in what will be his final year in MX2. He has a new trainer and will hope to elminate the mistakes and crashes that punctuated his dominant season last year and meant he ended the season on the injured list.
But if he falters there are plenty of riders champing at the bit to beat him.The chasing pack are getting faster thanks to having to chase the incredibly fast Dutchman every week. And there are a number of riders desperate to be the main challenger to Herlings.
Runner-up last year was Jordi Tixier, he has had two years on the Factory KTM team and should now have the mental strength to go along with his raw speed. When he is on Tixier is a class act but sometimes his head just wasn’t in the game last season. Everts will expect more consistency this year and for Tixier to challenge Herlings at times.
Jose Butron got rewarded with a full factory KTM for 2014 but will pit out of the Silver Action KTM team. Butron has worked hard to get this factory bike and should be able to put himself in more good positions off the start. But can he improve on third in the series with a new wave of riders coming through?
Two of these young riders now have a factory Husqvarna ride. Frenchman Romain Febvre was running second early in the championship last year until he broke his leg. But former supermoto championship and late motocross convert could be a real threat this season. He has all the skills and seems to have the mental strength to not be intimidated when he is running at the front.
His teammate is Russian Alex Tonkov. The young Russian really began to show his potential last year on the privateer Honda and was snapped up by Husqvarna. His speed and results in the off-season seems to have went up a notch and Tonkov could be a regular podium threat this season.
Yamaha have two strong riders again this year. Christophe Charlier was fourth last season but won a couple of motos and showed just why he has a factory contract. He also had the fast lap at in a moto at the Nations on a 450. His talent isn’t in question but can he get the starts given his size?
Dixon Yamaha might have another ace up their sleeve. Max Anstie has continually shown a lot of talent but never really put it together on a conistent basis. But this is the year he can show what he has. Anstie is back living in the UK, he has one of it not the fastest bike in the class, so starts should no longer be a problem.
This is a big year for Anstie, a year that might define his future. He has the bike and the experiance, he has no more excuses. It’s time for Max to show the world what he has. Anstie should be minimum top five this season.
Then we have the Kawasaki boys. The CLS team added Dylan Ferrandis to their squad and Ferrandis has been looking good in pre-season. Ferrandis is a big talent as he showed when he ran Herlings close at the French GP last year.
This year he has a big team behind him and fast teammates to learn from. Like Anstie, Ferrandis has the team behind him to do the job on a consistent basis. Ferrandis will be wanting to run up front regularly this year in a bid to establish himself as the man to beat for the title in 2015.
Alex Lupino was good last year but will want to be more consisent in 2014. Although with the depth in the class, starts will be key top consistency. Lupino had a couple of hard fought podiums last b ut as Cairoli said, there is more to come from Lupino.
Arnaud Tonus is back! Maybe the second most talented rider in the class, the Swiss rider has effectively missed the last two season due to injury. Tonus has been on good form in pre-season and if he stays healthy could be the closest man to Herlings during the season. He might just be the most stylish rider in the world too.
The first couple of GPs will see the addition of American Thomas Covington. The young American is preparing for the US nationals with Mitch Payton’s team. But Covington will race out of the Factory Monster Kawasaki team at the GPs.
Team Suzuki have a solid line up. But the question is can they get the bike off the line. Glenn Coldenhoff was a revelation last season and won his first GP ever at the British GP. If the bike has the power (everyone loves the handling) he should be right up there again this season.
Julien Lieber was having a great season last year until he got injured. The young Belgian was top ten in the standings and ahead of Anstie before his injury but has had a fairly quiet pre-season with the odd good result. Lieber is a tidy rider who doesn’t get much publicity but he has class should only get better throughout the season.
The youngster on the team is Jeremy Seewer. The Swiss kid is moving up from EMX2 last year but has already shown he is capable of top ten. The problem is this year there are 20 riders capable of top ten! It will be tough for Seewer but he is a very good rider and this will be his first year as a full time professional as he was still going to school last year and learning a trade! That alone should see him improve a lot through 2014.
Team Honda have come to the party this year and have given their factory machine to potential star Tim Gasjer. The talented Slovenian has shown in the pre-season races that he and the bike seem pretty competitive already but, as with the Suzukis, getting off the line will be important for Gasjer so he can show his impressive talent.
One guy who is easy to overlook but could have a big impact is EMX2 champion Valentin Guillod. Guillod was superb last season and should a regular top ten guy and challenging for the top five this season.
Then there is Mel Pocock. The former European champion is still trying to establish himself as a top ten regular and hopes a switch to Roger Magee’s HM Plant KTM plus an added years experiance in the class will do just that. But with the rest of the riders also stepping up the pace as they gain experiance and an influx of the latest EMX2 talent, it won’t be easy for Pocock.
Maxime Desprey takes over Alex Tonkov’s JTech Honda ride and could show flashes of speed while Australian Luke Styke makes his GP debut but is pretty much an unkown quantity in such a deep field.
Beyond that there are many more riders who can get in amongst it. Harri Kullas can show flashes of brilliance, Petar Petrov is back with Yamaha and the EMX125 Champion Pauls Jonass will turn some heads in the selected MX2 GPs that he competes in.
Magne Klingsheim and Anton Lundgren get a shot on the Dixon Yamaha’s but it will be a big step up for both riders. While Japanese champion Kei Yamamoto will also have a big adjustment to make despite being on Factory Honda.
So the field is stacked and with so many riders capable and expected to be battling for podiums and top fives, the racing will be fast and frantic!
Words: Jonathan McCready
Image: KTM Images/S.Taglioni