So, another week of FIM Motocross World Championship action has been and gone after the fifth round was held at the circuit of Sevlievo in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian GP has become a staple on the calendar in recent years, as the promoters celebrated the tenth anniversary this weekend. In regard to the racing this round was certainly one of the better ones that we have seen so far, but that is not to say that every rider and team member present were elated.
Sevlievo has not really changed too much in recent years; in fact, the circuit had not changed at all for the tenth edition of the event. However, although the circuit looked the same there was a slight difference that every rider seemed to express their opinion about: the track was fast, very fast. Of course, the hard baked Bulgarian track has always been quite fast; this year there seemed to be a lack of bumps and ruts on the circuit though.
But how fast was the circuit in comparison to years past? Well the average speed of the MX1 qualifying heat winner last year (Toni Cairoli) was 50.54km/h. Whereas alternatively, this year the winner of the MX1 qualifier (Gautier Paulin) had an average speed of 52.73km/h. So why was there such a large difference? Simply there was not as many riders present as there has been in the past; the track didn’t get as rough as it would have normally because of this.
The MX2 class line-up was consistent with what we have witnessed thus far; thirty-one riders started the qualifying heat on the Saturday. However, that number is still a bit smaller than the other two European rounds that have been run, but only slightly. Disappointingly it was the MX1 class, the sports premier division, which was the subject of much disdain. Most looked on in disbelief, as just twenty riders entered the starting line in the MX1 class.
But what is the reason for the lack of riders? At the 2012 Bulgarian GP, there were thirty-two riders on the starting line and the year before that there were thirty-four. Some people think that the 108% rule is to blame, as maybe some slower riders do not want to spend all of that money and then end up watching from the sidelines. So surely this means that there are just twenty riders capable of posting a time within the 108% rule? You would think, but there are guys like Nicolas Aubin, Steve Ramon and Brad Anderson all sitting the series out because of what it has become. However, that is a completely different topic for another day.
Evidently, Youthstream and the FIM are now beginning to see this as a major issue. When it was time for the MX1 races, a few Monster Energy banners blocked off twenty gates on the starting line. Obviously, the guys in charge did hope that this would give the impression of a full line-up; instead it showed desperation. Arguably, more situations like this will just mean that there is more chance of seeing a full-time Superfinal format in the near future; this may be a solution, but surely there are others? Do you really need to radically change the format of the sport just to fill the gates? If so, then we really are in a bad situation.
It seems that if you have had success at a circuit previously, the next time you show up there you seem to have a bit more of a spring in your step? The same situation applies to any level of racing. Anyway, Gautier Paulin and Tommy Searle (Tommy took the MX2 overall) won the Bulgarian GP last year and both riders looked the best that they have done thus far this year. With the MX1 overall victory under his belt, there is no doubt that Gautier Paulin stepped up his game in Sevlievo again this year, for the most part the Frenchman was superior.
I do wonder if Gautier Paulin chose not to chase after Antonio Cairoli in that second moto to ensure that he would win the GP. There did seem to be a bit of a difference in him from one moto to the next. Astonishingly his fastest lap time in the opening moto was almost a whole second quicker than everyone else; that is the sort of domination that we are used to seeing from Toni Cairoli. Whereas in moto two, Gautier was running times similar to that of Strijbos and Desalle. I believe that Paulin missed a valuable chance to gain some momentum and get in the head of Cairoli; imagine if he had been able to beat the Italian in a straight up fight for the win.
But of course, the overall win was the ultimate goal that everyone was chasing after. Gautier was the man to beat in Bulgaria; this was apparent from the very first practice session. I was surprised to see that this is only the sixth overall victory that Gautier Paulin has won thus far. You definitely presume that a rider like Paulin would have landed on top of the box many times.
Someone other than Antonio Cairoli won the MX1 class! Yes, we are now at a point that if Toni fails to win, it is considered a talking point. Admittedly, the Sevlievo track was not one that Cairoli favours particularly; he does seem to shine when a circuit is rough, and technical. Obviously, these are two factors that I would not use to describe the conditions witnessed in Bulgaria this past weekend.
Arguably, it was the start that cost Antonio a shot at a podium position in that opening MX1 encounter. On any other circuit Toni could easily find a way to advance from the edge of the top ten to the lead; however, Sevlievo was so fast that it was impossible to make up any time on the riders in front of you. Hence why, a lot of the riders finished quite near to where they started the race. Undoubtedly, the track conditions hindered the on-track action. But I digress, it was impressive to see Cairoli come out and win moto two; the victory perhaps served notice that although he occupied the second step on the overall podium, he is still the man to beat.
I do seem to be harping on this quite a lot recently: Clement Desalle was good, but not great once again. With Cairoli off of the podium in the opening moto, it was the perfect chance for him to chip away at the points he has lost in the last three rounds. Although Desalle finished ahead of Cairoli in that moto, I did not think that he capitalised on the situation. Admittedly, this was because of the track conditions in part. The Belgian was desperately trying to find a way around his teammate for second, however it was practically impossible because of how one-lined the track was. Surely Desalle is going to start to get frustrated soon; he is so close, however he just seems to be lacking something.
I definitely didn’t think that Kevin Strijbos would excel on the hard-packed Bulgarian hillside, however he rode the best that he has done all-year long. Kevin managed to jump up into the lead pack from the second tier, but to be honest I expected to see it happen a bit sooner. At the Mantova Starcross in the winter Kevin dominated, which elevated the expectations that were on his shoulders coming into the season. But, he now seems to be getting to that level to the delight of his team. It was disappointing to see him miss out on the overall podium on a tie-break; but now he knows that he is capable of getting up there.
What about Jeremy Van Horebeek? It was a very successful weekend for the KRT team; they managed to get both of their factory bikes inside of the top five for the first time this year. Honestly, Jeremy was quite quiet on his way to fifth overall; he did not make too much of a splash out there. But, he got the job done in the end. Van Horebeek has been dealing with a handful of niggling injuries so far this year; his result in Sevlievo indicates that he may be getting to one hundred percent. Maybe we will be seeing more performances like this from him in the next few rounds?
I alluded to the fact earlier that Tommy Searle looked the best that he has done thus far this year; however, his results do not reflect this. I do think that it is only a matter of time before Tommy has a breakout ride, but he has to stop putting himself in bad situations. It was a fall early on in moto two that hindered him this week; Searle ran into the back of Rui Goncalves, and ended up on the floor. In that moto he got up in fifteenth and charged back to eighth. I was actually quite impressed with this, as I have stated many times in this piece it was quite difficult for riders to make passes and make up time in Sevlievo.
To the surprise of no one, Jeffrey Herlings was on another level at the GP of Bulgaria. But he again had to work his way around his teammate in the first moto of the day, which has been a regular occurrence in recent weeks. Jordi Tixier has really stepped up his program over the winter and it is starting to show now as the Frenchman spends more time at the front of the pack than he did before. Interestingly, he ran a similar pace to his teammate whilst out front in the first moto.
Jordi led the first seven laps of that moto with Herlings sat in second, unable to grab the spot from him. However, once Herlings did breakthrough his lap times dropped immediately. I do think that this could have had something to do with the one-lined track; but let’s take a look at those lap times.
You can see a sudden drop in the times of Jeffrey once he was into the lead on that seventh lap; before then Tixier did have a faster time than him once, intriguingly. However, I believe this to be because the Dutchman was forced off of the racing line and to try new things, as I mentioned above. It must have been great for Tixier to fight off his teammate for a number of laps; you can see that his confidence is gradually building by the week.
Surprisingly, Alessandro Lupino took to the overall podium in third overall; I think that even he was slightly shocked that an eighth and a third garnered him a spot on the box. Anyway, it was the first overall podium of his career; what makes this performance more impressive is that he was riding with a handful of broken ribs. In the past we have seen how negatively this can affect the performance of a rider, hence why it was interesting to see the Italian on top form. Now Alessandro is buried in eighth in the championship standings following some inconsistent results; it will be quite intriguing to see if he can continue his Bulgarian success in the coming weeks.
Whenever I see Max Anstie he seems to be riding quite well, however that is not translating into great results for whatever reason. Evidently his endurance and speed is good, he had to fight through the pack in both motos following a lacklustre qualifying result. In moto one, he climbed from twenty-first to ninth; on the Sevlievo circuit this was particularly impressive. In the second moto he went from eighth to fourth; I am sure he would have been able to climb onto the box if he had gotten out of the gate. I seem to remember Anstie getting a lot of bad starts last year, and this was blamed on the Honda that he was riding. But even now his starts are not too good, I am starting to wonder how much of it is because of the rider.
The MX2 class is chucking up so many surprises at the moment and we saw a few in Bulgaria, like Valentin Teillet finishing third in moto one. The Frenchman has been missing since round two with a shoulder injury, however he came back with a bang in that opening moto. But his injury is still not one-hundred-percent; Teillet will return to the doctors this week to have his shoulder further examined, he is not too confident in it. This is why he pulled in during moto two. Teillet is very hot and cold; whether he will be able to perform like this when he is one hundred percent remains to be seen.
It was another disappointing week for Jimmy Decotis. I am beginning to wonder if all of that hype that surrounded him prior to his debut is having a negative affect on him, it does seem as though he feels pressure to perform. In the first MX2 moto he came close to grabbing the holeshot, which is very hard to do from the middle of the gate as all of the GP starts seem to massively favour the inside gates. However, he crashed on that first lap; whether he could of stayed inside of the top ten with that sort of start remains to be seen.
Undoubtedly, Jake Nicholls is much faster this year than he was in 2012; however he is much more inconsistent as well. Numerous crashes hindered Jake in Sevlievo, as he had to fight up from the back both times despite good starts. In the first moto, Nicholls crashed into a fallen Dean Ferris and dropped back to eighth. By the end of the race, he could only garner sixth in the moto. Although he started near the front once again in moto two, a fall relegated him to twenty-ninth; remarkably he charged back to fourteenth. However he needs to eliminate all of the mistakes that we are seeing from him quite frequently.
So, that is the GP of Bulgaria all wrapped up. It is fair to say that the tenth edition of the event was not the most successful. Now, the riders and teams have two weeks to get ready for the sixth round of the series held at the very popular Agueda circuit in Portugal.
Words by Lewis Phillips