The European season is just about to begin. The opening round of the FIM Motocross World Championship is still twenty-nine days away, of course, but a pre-season international is set to run in Italy on Sunday. There are certain questions that we demand answers to at Riola Sardo, following such a tedious off-season, so what could be learnt at the sandy venue?
Based on the poll that was run on MX Vice earlier this week, it seems as though a majority of fans expect Jeffrey Herlings to dominate the upcoming FIM Motocross World Championship. It is hardly surprising, of course, seeing as he won so frequently towards the end of the previous season. It seemed as though no one could match that pace. Herlings has another year of experience and a solid off-season under his belt, which is something that he did not have at this point last year, so is he about to raise the bar yet again?
The common consensus is that the premier division will be stacked this season, but there is no doubt that Jeffrey Herlings could turn this thing into a snoozer. The opening round of the Internazionali D’Italia series will be run at Riola Sardo and could indicate whether that will indeed be the case. It is difficult to make predictions ahead of these off-season races, as there is no current data to make assumptions off of, but it would certainly be quite the upset if he does not stand atop the podium. Seeing as he will face off against the reigning MXGP champion, just typing that seems ludicrous!
The biggest question of all, one could argue. The previous season was disastrous for Romain Febvre and he needs to turn this ship around. Febvre had encouraging rides towards the end of last year and won a single moto, sure, but that was far from what he expected. A complete off-season has been spent on the all-new YZ450F and enabled him to refine his craft, so will he be back where he belongs when the gates drop at Riola Sardo? It is not like he needs to go out and beat Antonio Cairoli, Jeffrey Herlings and Tim Gajser though.
If Romain Febvre goes out and finishes fourth overall, but mixes it up with those three and matches their lap times, then that would be a huge mental victory and restore some belief beneath the Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing awning. What happens if he goes out, rolls around in the lower half of the top ten and gets beat by his teammate? It may be time to panic. It is just an off-season race, of course, but these races do offer a realistic look at what lies ahead.
Jeremy Seewer had some intriguing things to say in a recent MX Vice interview, as it seemed as though he was desperately trying to temper expectations. “The pressure has been really high the last few years, so at the moment I am just trying to keep it low,” he told us exclusively. “I have nothing to show at the moment. It is my rookie year and I will just try to do my best.” The opening round of the Internazionali D’Italia series will be his debut with the Wilvo Yamaha MXGP outfit and a great way to determine where he slots in, because the field will be rather strong.
There is an interesting dynamic beneath that awning, as it almost seems as though there is no set hierarchy. Jeremy Seewer arguably has the most potential and could establish himself as the fastest rider as soon as this weekend. Will his debut be full of positive vibes or give off the impression that there is more work to be done? It is a question that most will eagerly anticipate the answer to and should set the tone for what lies ahead. Who knows, Seewer may just transform into a title contender.
It is simply incredible that so many heavyweights are willing to show all of their cards a month before the real season begins. The premier division is being discussed a lot, ahead of Riola Sardo, but the MX2 class may be even more intriguing. All eyes will be on Pauls Jonass and Hunter Lawrence. Jonass will sport the number one plate in a race situation for the first time and be considered the favourite, just as one would expect, but will Lawrence be able to steal a win and make a statement right out of the gate? There is no doubt that it would be quite the advantage if he can draw first blood.
One could argue that Hunter Lawrence is at a bit of a disadvantage though. Pauls Jonass has a lot of experience with everyone at Red Bull KTM and knows his bike well, whereas this will be the first time that Lawrence has piloted a CRF250R in anger. This is actually going to be the first race for 114 Motorsports Honda as a whole! Teething problems are expected, as these races were designed to work out some of those kinks, so that would make it even more impressive if he can win immediately.
This is a bit of a curveball, but really should be interesting. Tristan Charboneau has a year beneath his belt now and will pilot a YZ250F on an official team. The flamboyant American was dominant at times in the feeder series, EMX250, last season, so it will be most intriguing to see how his pace matches up against some of the bigger names in MX2. Charboneau will contest two or three of the MX2 rounds this year and could play the role of a spoiler in those, but more will be known after his ride on Sunday.
The same could be said about Mikkel Haarup actually, a star on the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing team. Haarup is about to step up to the EMX250 division for the first time, but will contest the MX2 class at Riola Sardo on Sunday. How will he shake up against someone like Tristian Charboneau, who has finished in the top ten at Lucas Oil Pro Motocross rounds? This could offer a great look at the level that both riders are currently at.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: Suzuki Racing