I have long been in favour of the FIM Motocross World Championship returning to Ernée, in France. So you can imagine my excitement when the title fight rolled into the French facility that is carved in the steep hillside this past weekend, for the eighth round. In comparison to what the riders faced at the previous round in Brazil, Ernée was the polar opposite, which is a feature of the MXGP series that most applaud; the riders face a unique test at each round.
The FIM Motocross World Championship last visited Ernée in 2009, so the circuit was absent from the calendar for an extended period of time. I am in favour of switching it up from time to time; so I was happy to see Ernée replace St Jean d’Angely as the venue for the French GP this year. Although the French track has made sparse appearances on the world stage, it has played host to a few memorable battles, like the one Antonio Cairoli and Christophe Pourcel had at the 2006 series finale.
Simply, Ernée is a venue worthy of hosting an event such as this. I would love to see it have a more permanent position on the FIM Motocross World Championship calendar; but it seems that it will be alternating with St Jean d’Angely in the coming years. Admittedly, it [the track] was a bit narrow in places. Unlike Beto Carrero, there were various places to pass though, as a handful of lines opened up after some overnight rain. On the Saturday, every rider was not happy with the track preparation prior to the qualification races. However, they managed to turn that around for the points paying motos, as the circuit lent itself to some superb racing.
Stereotypically, the French GP takes place on a slick, dry circuit with not too many deep ruts. However, Ernée was not too similar to this as there were some deep, nasty ruts in places. So deep were the ruts on the take-off to the big step down that Herlings crashed on in the MX2 qualifying race that most MX2 riders were not jumping down that hill in their second moto. I felt this helped promote passing, as the riders were forced to either venture off of the racing line or go the defensive route and put themselves in a deep rut. In the races we saw a couple of riders get creative with their line choice as a result of this, which I found very interesting.
Some riders chose to land on the banking that outlined the track, for example, to avoid some of the ruts. Tommy Searle is a great example of a rider that was getting creative out there, as he was squaring up corners and cutting across all of the ruts on the inside. Searle had a great line in one section also; he doubled over a takeoff that was littered with ruts, he managed to make up a lot of time on that jump alone, as he was the only rider to jump it. I think that the round at Ernée served as proof that an old-school track can still provide some great on-track action.
Undoubtedly the French GP was the GP of the year (so far – the British GP will probably be a contender for that title) and not just because of the track condition. I feel as though we have been robbed of any real bar banging thus far this season. But we were treated to a lot of this on Sunday; the opening moto for the MX1 class was the best race that we have seen in quite some time. I was surprised that the race played out as it did, as I thought that we were going to witness another Antonio Cairoli runaway; when was the last time that he was caught after garnering a holeshot?
Ernée was quite different to the rest of the GP’s for a handful of reasons; one being that Toni Cairoli’s best just wasn’t good enough in that opening moto. How often do you hear that? At first the Sicilian actually pulled away from the pack, however Gautier Paulin continuously cut into his lead once he moved into second position. Eventually, Toni lost the lead on lap eleven in the penultimate turn. Interestingly the Red Bull KTM rider struggled in that section all race long, which was peculiar also. Usually he is the definition of perfection. However, even when Gautier passed him he continued to bobble and lose balance entering and exiting the corner. This intrigued me; perhaps it was an issue with bike setup?
It was not just that section that he was struggling in though, as he lost traction in a couple of different spots whilst trying to close down the gap that Gautier Paulin had established. But it [the track] was a contributing factor to this, as he was going off of the main line and hitting a handful of slick spots. Still, this proved just how hard the Italian was pushing. Despite this, he could not do anything about Gautier and the speed that he possessed; his best was not quite good enough on the day. It is also worth noting that backmarkers hindered Cairoli slightly, so much so that he decided to approach them [Matiss Karro was the main antagonist] following the race. In my opinion, they did not affect the moto too much; but they should have moved out of the way sooner.
In the second moto, Antonio Cairoli ran away from the rest after another holeshot. Really, it was an uneventful race for the Red Bull KTM rider – especially in comparison to the first. But it would have been interesting to see what Gautier Paulin could have done if he was up front off of the start. Cairoli took the overall win with an unbeatable result of 2-1 in the motos, his lead in the series extended to fifty-six points, which is a great position to be in at the halfway point.
In the opening encounter, Gautier Paulin made a massive statement. I cannot remember the last time that someone ran Antonio Cairoli down and got around him in a moto. Currently he does not have the consistency to challenge Toni throughout a season – evident by his second moto result – but he does have the speed, and conditioning. Remarkably, the Frenchman set his fastest lap time on the final lap of moto one (a 1:51.670). Paulin had only broken into the 1:51 second range once before (lap four) and Cairoli set just one 1:51 lap time. Quite clearly, the lap time comparison below shows that Paulin was the better rider during the final stages of the first moto. If you compare those times to the man in third place – Clement Desalle – it is evident that both Paulin and Cairoli were on another level.
MX1 Moto One
Gautier Paulin (1st)
Antonio Cairoli (2nd)
Clement Desalle (3rd)
Prior to Ernée I was interested to see what sort of knowledge Clement Desalle could apply to the race that he learnt whilst over in the USA. It is no secret that the level of intensity (in the opening laps) is much higher over there. So, I thought that Desalle would be moving forward during the first few laps – instead he was the man that was getting passed! Honestly I do not really consider the Belgian a threat for the win at the moment, he doesn’t look like the same rider as we saw in 2011. Really something has to be done. Although Desalle was a clear third overall, he had nothing for the top two in moto one (despite starting with them).
Tommy Searle looked like a completely different rider in the second MX1 moto at Ernée; he seemed to be forcing the issue much more than he had done at the previous seven rounds. I was surprised to see him move forward like that, as he proved to be just as fast as the riders at the head of the field. Obviously, I’ve already alluded to this; but his line choice was pretty spectacular, which resulted in a third in moto two and fourth overall – the closest Searle has been to the overall podium this year. In the opening moto, the Brit had a fantastic battle for the positions in the lower half of the top ten with Max Nagl. It was a great race between the two; it was actually impressive to see them both pushing so hard for seventh. I do think that we will see Searle up on the overall podium in the coming weeks; he is making progress with his program, evidently.
Jeffrey Herlings is making this hard on himself, is he not? Although he has had it easy (as the Dutchman is not being pushed too hard by his competitors on-track), he has made a handful of big mistakes, which have been self-inflicted. On the Saturday, at the GP of France, we saw it happen again, as he got cross-rutted on a take-off and went tumbling down a hill. Herlings was seen walking around the paddock on crutches on Saturday night, and Sunday morning; I believe that at one point they thought about sitting him out for the weekend. But Jeffrey did line up, and it turned out to be a great decision by the Red Bull KTM squad.
Although he seemed the most vulnerable that he has done thus far this year, he achieved his goals going into the weekend despite this. I was actually surprised that he did win both races on the day, as you could argue that he was not the fastest, that title belonged to Ferrandis. It seemed as though he could win the race by managing the situation; Herlings’ race craft does appear to be much stronger than the rest of the pack; this really helps him when he is put in a difficult situation. I was surprised to see Jeffrey get the sort of starts that he did from that gate pick, also. I was sure that he would get pinched off heading into the second turn, but the power of his KTM and his technique prevailed clearly.
Dylan Ferrandis had the sort of day that he will never forget. Although he didn’t win, he had the speed to, and that alone will be a huge mental gain for the talented Frenchman. I would have been surprised to see him take the victory, as that would have been a huge upset. But, although he looked like the fastest guy all day long, I did not think that he would be capable of passing Herlings. Whilst Ferrandis was battling for the lead, I was very interested to see if the pressure would have a negative affect on him. Previously the Bud Racing Kawasaki rider had not battled for the lead on the world stage, so I thought that he may tail-off at the end. However, he pushed it all race long, impressively. It was cool to see how pumped he was, it seems as though we never see that kind of raw emotion anymore – it was definitely cool.
The MX2 class was littered with inconsistency in Ernée – aside from the top two of course. In my opinion, Christophe Charlier was very lucky to land on the box at the home GP; the result was sort of handed to him after Jake Nicholls stalled his KTM. But still moto results of a ninth and a third will rarely get a rider onto the overall podium. Charlier did tweak his knee slightly in the morning warm-up session, so the result was impressive. It is very surprising that Ernée was his first overall podium this season. I have said it before and I will say it again: Surely the Monster Energy Yamaha team is looking for more out of the Frenchman.
So what about Max Anstie? In my mind, Max is the biggest disappointment so far this year; I am sure that the Rockstar Energy Suzuki Europe team feels the same way. In recent weeks, I feel as though we have heard the same thing prior to each round previously. It seems Anstie keeps making a huge gains with the bike and “is ready to finish on the podium”. So, I do now pay a lot of attention to him on the weekend to see if he is actually making any gains, but he is still just average out there. Maybe there is an underlying issue that they are trying to keep quiet? Anstie should be in contention for the podium positions regularly, especially with this depleted MX2 field – he shouldn’t be finishing tenth overall.
I was quite shocked to see Maxime Desprey finish second in the qualifying heat on Saturday, as he had not finished inside the top ten prior to the GP of France. Maybe part of the reason that he rode so well was that the home crowd was spurring him on? Dylan Ferrandis proved how that support could influence your riding. On Sunday, he slotted back into his usual positions, however he finished eleventh overall after starting outside of the top twenty both times. I’m sure everyone thought that he could do a little more after Saturday though.
Romain Febvre made his return; but it went terribly. Febvre himself admitted that there was some pain in his injured leg still, but he wanted to get out there in front of the French fans. I feel as though this was one of the misguided, poor decisions that young riders tend to make early on in their career. The Frenchman pulled out of moto one on lap ten; he then didn’t line up for the second moto. Whether Febvre will line up this weekend remains to be seen, I believe he should sit Maggiora out, personally.
Oh Jimmy Decotis. This is not going well at all, is it? The American scored a point in the first moto, but he should be doing much more by now. I wonder if it is going to get any better as the year progresses, I cannot think what gains he could make that would help him jump ten positions and move into the top ten! At first I didn’t expect much from him, as I understood that he had a lot to overcome in regard to bike setup, fitness and the culture change. But in my opinion he should be in (or around) the top ten by now! When Decotis was stuck under that fence in moto two, I imagine that he would have given anything to be at High Point.
The GP of France was undoubtedly the GP of the year, as mentioned previously. There were so many storylines following the race, most of them touched on in this ‘GP of France Wrap’. I expect to see the same sort of results in Italy this weekend; the track surface should be hard-pack like Ernée.
Words by Lewis Phillips