The 2013 FIM Motocross World Championship went into the unknown for the second consecutive week; as the series tackled the Si Racha circuit in Thailand this past weekend. The GP was definitely one of the more successful flyaway races. Undoubtedly, the Thai GP was more popular with the riders and fans than the GP of Qatar one week ago.
To be honest, the GP of Thailand pleasantly surprised me; I was a bit skeptical about the title fight heading to a new location, as always. However, the Si Racha facility is definitely worthy of hosting a round of the MXGP series (in my opinion). Slowly, the series is reverting back to normality as the race was held at the usual time of midday, rather than under the lights like last week. But, the Superfinal format was still in place as the GP of Thailand was the second of four flyaway races that the riders will face this season.
So, has my opinion of the Superfinal changed after seeing it take place for the second time, in a different surrounding? Honestly, I was not a fan this time around. I was willing to give it a chance following Qatar. However, I think that it is fair to say that it is not working out as it was intended to. I thought that there was just too much going on; it seemed that this view was reflected in the comments made by fans from around the world . Once again, [Jeffrey] Herlings was the only MX2 rider that was in a position to battle with the MX1 riders. It does seem as though the MX1 riders mainly occupy the top twenty positions, whereas the MX2 riders fill the lower half of the field. Rather than having a constant battle between the two classes, it seems as though some riders are reluctant to fight against riders that they do not have to beat.
Originally, I thought that it was a great idea to put the MX2 guys on the inside gates in the Superfinal, as it would prompt some better racing as the MX2 riders would filter in between the MX1 riders. This does not seem to be the case, however. In Qatar, and Thailand the MX1 guys were able to swoop in and pinch the MX2 riders off heading into turn one. You can’t expect to see the MX2 riders (with the exception of Herlings) fight forwards through the pack, so if they don’t get the start they do not really stand too much of a chance. Obviously the uphill start favored the 450f as well in Thailand, which didn’t help the situation.
Evidently, Youthstream are trying to make the format work. Following the first round, most complained about how the podium was executed. So, in Thailand the MX1 and MX2 overall podiums took place separately (but at the same time). The MX2 guys were put on a smaller podium in front, and below the MX1 riders. Of course, it still is not perfect; to a casual fan it does make the MX2 class seem less important, when the two classes should be considered equal in my opinion. I still think that it would be better to have two separate, overall podiums for both classes, like you have in the European GP’s.
Anyway, onto the track: I was a fan of the circuit. It was an improvement on the Losail track from one week ago, most definitely. With some elevation, and hard-pack soil it was a more typical motocross track that the riders are used to. Fortunately, the track provided a couple of places where the riders could pass; so there was a little more passing than there was in Qatar, also. There were a few pivotal places on the track, namely the huge double that just Gautier Paulin and Evgeny Bobryshev could jump consistently.
On the Saturday morning, a torrential downpour practically flooded the circuit. Thankfully, the Thai GP didn’t turn out to be a mud race; the promoters did a fantastic job to salvage the track, on the Sunday it was perfect. The promoters put in a lot of time in the months leading up to the race. I do think that it showed in the amount of fans that lined the fences, and the positive feedback that was received from the teams and the riders.
It is also worth noting that the 108% rule claimed it’s first well-known victim this weekend, as Alexander Tonkov was unable to start the qualifying race after failing to set a sufficient lap time in the two practice sessions. Obviously, the Russian is more than capable of doing this; the reason for his disappointing performance was that he had a mechanical failure a few laps into the first practice session. His team couldn’t get him back on-track in time to post a good lap time. So, he was left watching from the sidelines all weekend long. Livia Lancelot failed to make the cut for the second week in a row, also.
There were really no surprises in Thailand; the riders who were expected to win did so, in a dominant fashion too. Antonio Cairoli seems to get better every year, remarkably. I do think that at the moment, the Italian is maybe the best that he has ever been. Cairoli seems to be able to put the KTM 350 wherever he wants to, watching him in Si Racha serves as evidence of this. The fact that he was able to pull two holeshots also makes me think that he will be tough to beat in the coming weeks.
Admittedly, when he took the holeshot in the moto one the first thought that ran through my mind was “here comes another Cairoli runaway”. However, Evgeny Bobryshev and Ken de Dycker were able to pass the reigning champion straight up almost immediately. Toni’s experience eventually shone through however; he could negotiate the technical layout to reclaim the lead by the halfway point. Later the Italian admitted that he rode a bit tight in the opening laps, but obviously he was able to overcome the problem. In the Superfinal, there was no competition. Clement Desalle was able to keep Antonio close in the initial stages; however the Italian’s impeccable fitness shone through late in the moto.
Speaking of Evgeny Bobryshev, now seems like a good time to bring up how fast, and strong he looked early in the first moto. The Russian was missing from the podium throughout the entire 2012 season; however judging by his form thus far this year it will not be long before he is back up on the box. But before that happens, he really needs to stop making the small mistakes that cost him dearly in Thailand. It is clear that Bobryshev is at home on the Honda World Motocross machine, the fact that he was the first person to jump the huge double on the Saturday serves as proof of this.
I did think that he would runaway with the win in that first moto, however a slight tip over when the back end came around on him meant that he lost all momentum and two positions. Things went from bad to worse on the penultimate lap of that moto, as he crashed hard two corners from the finish line. Evgeny then struggled to fire up his machine, which meant that he came across the line in eighteenth. He then crashed hard again in the latter stages of the Superfinal, and limped across the line in thirteenth (eleventh best MX1 rider). Clearly, his results were not a true representation of the raw speed that he showed in Thailand.
Once again, the season has not started how the Honda World Motocross squad thought it would; following a turbulent time in 2012 I though that things would improve for them this year, because of their very strong lineup. But, Max Nagl did not even make it out for the Saturday practice sessions, as he was admitted to hospital with a stomach infection. It turns out that he had been struggling with his condition since the first round of the series, the situation only worsened as the days went by. Nagl will return to his home in the coming days, when he is deemed fit enough to fly. Fortunately, he will have a couple of weeks to prepare for the next round of the series. But, already the start of the year has been trying for the German.
Gautier Paulin climbed onto the overall podium for the second consecutive week, in second overall. The Frenchman was fast again in Thailand; he also grabbed the attention of most by the way he was flying off of that double. Some argued that it was not any quicker to jump it, as you carried so much speed that you had to go to the outside in the following turn. But, in the Superfinal he did the jump as soon as he passed Clement Desalle, to try and establish a gap between himself and the Belgian. On this lap, he posted a time that was five seconds quicker than Clement, clearly jumping the double was a risk worth taking.
What about Clement Desalle? The Belgian can extract some positives, and some negatives from his Thai GP experience. He seemed to have the speed to challenge Antonio Cairoli; he just couldn’t put it together for the duration of the forty-minute moto. Honestly, he is lucky to leave the GP with third overall. The crash that the Rockstar Energy Suzuki rider had a few laps into moto one could have turned out really bad. Quite simply he did a superman off of the double that Paulin was jumping, as he caught a footpeg whilst trying to scrub the jump. Reports suggest that he had to have stitches following the moto. So all things considered he should be thankful that he didn’t hand too many points over to Cairoli.
In the Superfinal, Clement Desalle rounded the first turn behind Antonio Cairoli; the opening laps were reminiscent of last week’s Superfinal. He may have not been able to sustain the pace for the duration of the moto, but in those first few laps Desalle was actually faster than Toni at certain points. The difference is that he was unable to stay consistent in those laps, whereas Cairoli was incredibly consistent with his lap times.
Antonio Cairoli (1st)
Clement Desalle (3rd)
Tommy Searle was consistent again at the inaugural GP of Thailand; the Brit does seem to be content with the progress that he has made each week thus far. It will not be long before he is up on the podium, I’m sure. His result in the Superfinal (a fifth in the moto, but fourth MX1 rider) was actually the best finish of his short MX1 career thus far; you can’t get much closer to the podium than that! Tommy is now fifth in the point’s standings, but I would argue that he has been the fourth best rider so far.
Unsurprisingly, Jeffrey Herlings recorded another easy double moto victory at the Thai GP. It is quite easy to predict who will win the MX2 class at the moment; evidently he [Herlings] is on another level. He won the first moto convincingly, leading every lap on his way to a forty-second lead. Although he finished fourth in the Superfinal, Jeffrey was the top MX2 rider; the closest 250f rider to him was Febvre forty-three seconds behind in eleventh. That is a huge deficit for anyone to overcome; as I have stated many times, it looks like the only person that could beat Herlings this year, is himself.
What about Romain Febvre? The Frenchman is for real; evidently his performance last week was not just a fluke. Once again, his lap times were better than everyone else (excluding Jeffrey) and he even mixed it up with some of the factory MX1 riders in the Superfinal. Febvre was one of the only MX2 riders that actually moved forward, rather than slipping down the order. Now, the next round is in the sand; this might be his toughest challenge yet, as he did struggle in the Dutch GP’s last year.
I am not going to lie; at the opening round I did not notice Jose Butron at all. The Spaniard was outside of the top five all weekend, and did not really have too much of an impact on the racing. Hence why, his third overall at Si Racha is quite a surprise. In both motos, Jose was just outside of the top three; but consistency saw him jump up onto the smaller MX2 podium following a fourth and a fifth. Of course, this is the second overall podium of his career, as he climbed onto the box at the Brazilian GP last year.
Honestly, I thought that Dean Ferris would do very well in Thailand. He did have momentum from his first overall podium last week, and the hot and humid temperatures surely wouldn’t be too different from his native Australia? But despite this, Dean faded in moto one and two. He was actually the best starting MX2 rider in the Superfinal; he rounded the first turn up in fourth. Although I expected a handful of MX1 riders to fight their way past him, I did not think that Charlier, Lupino and Butron would run him down. It wasn’t the best weekend for the Aussie, but at least he salvaged a sixth overall; he still sits third in the series standings, also.
It seems that not one of the British MX2 riders has started the season how they would have hoped to. Max Anstie was looking good to secure an overall podium following the first moto, as he placed third and looked like he had the speed to climb further up the leaderboard. But a terrible start in the Superfinal meant that he struggled to fight through the 450’s, Max had to settle for sixteenth in the moto, and ninth overall because of this. Mel Pocock struggled in Thailand also; his goggle strap broke when the fifteen-second board went up for the start of moto one. So, Mel started the race with no goggles; he eventually pulled into pit lane for a fresh pair, hence why he ended up in fifteenth, and fourteenth overall.
For the second consecutive week, the new Superfinal format cost a high-profile MX2 rider. It seems that there is always a top MX2 rider who finds himself in the last chance race. It was Dylan Ferrandis last week, the Frenchman failed to make it to the Superfinal in Qatar. But, it was our own Elliott Banks Browne in Thailand. Elliott pulled out of the first MX2 moto on lap seven; then in the last chance race he had an issue whilst outside of a transfer position. James Dunn and James Cottrell failed to make it to the Superfinal, also.
With the first two flyaway races over and done with, the riders now face a two-week break to prepare themselves for the first ‘traditional’ GP of the season in Valkenswaard at the end of the month. Evidently, the riders chasing the two points leaders have some work to do in the break. Judging by their performance in Thailand, Antonio Cairoli and Jeffrey Herlings may be looking to separate themselves from the field.
Words by Lewis Phillips
Image courtesy of Suzuki Racing