At the beginning of the 2011 season, it was announced that for the first time, the FIM Motocross World Championship would visit Mexico in 2012. When it was announced, a few people raised their eyebrows, and wondered how it would turn out. Would Mexico even have a facility capable of holding such a world-class event?
Well now, the Mexican GP is in the past, and I think it’s fair to say it perhaps didn’t go as well as planned. Despite what appears to be positive feedback prior to riding the track, most riders finished the practice sessions less than satisfied. With humid temperatures, and a lack of water, the track was extremely dusty. So dusty in fact, that the regular GP riders (except for two) decided to sit out the two qualifying races because conditions were too dangerous. The two GP regulars that lined up? Michael Leib and Max Anstie. Leib saw it as another opportunity to get more bike time, and Anstie was keen too work out some bike issues which affected him earlier on in the day, so both riders had their reasons for lining up.
Really, you can’t blame the other riders for not wanting to ride. If they felt as though they were putting their safety on the line, then it’s their choice. But really was there ever any doubt that Sunday’s racing would go ahead? The organisers had clearly learnt from Saturday and knew what they needed to do ahead of Sunday, and it’s a lot of time and money for the teams to travel over there to have their rider’s not even race. As Lieb stated on Saturday, they all went there to race.
Once Saturday’s action was done and ‘dusted’ it was declared that overnight the track would be watered a lot to make conditions better for the points paying races. On Sunday morning, riders arrived at drenched circuit, as the track had been watered non-stop for a large portion of the night. The watering had made the track quite technical, with some deep ruts and braking bumps running in and out of the corners. Aside from that however, there wasn’t really a lot to separate the riders. It ended up being quite one lined, or at least there was only one really good line at the beginning of the day. The top riders made it work and were able to make passes, but you could see in some corners the lines all funneled into one.
For the second moto’s, the track was visibly in better shape, with a lot more passing opportunities as evident by the way Herlings sliced through the pack on the opening lap going from fifth to first. The one thing, which did seem difficult about the track, was the fact that it was very stop and start, therefore making it hard for riders to get in a rhythm. The uphill ‘waves’ section was crucial for the MX2 guys especially, as even the tiniest of mistake could see you lose all momentum and a lot of time.
There were two things which played a factor in the racing all weekend long, the altitude and the backmarkers. As with any grand prix located far away from the heart of the series in Europe, there were a handful of top local riders that tested their speed against some of the best riders in the world. With no GP regulars starting the MX1 Qualifier, it looked more like the Mexican Championship, than the World Championship. In the race however, there were local riders getting lapped just a handful of laps into the race, and really they just looked out of their depth.
Just over a week ago, it was reported that Jeffrey Herlings had had a big crash while training in his home country. Although immediate rumours of him being injured were false, he did have to take a few days off in order to rest up. By the time the gate dropped for the first moto on Sunday, he appeared to have no lingering effects as he won the first moto pretty easily after working his way past his teammate, Van Horebeek. In the second moto he simply ran away with the victory after taking the lead on lap one. As every rider around him seems to have had at least one bad moto so far this year, Jeffrey continues to build his points lead, and confidence (one thing he certainly isn’t lacking) every week.
Herlings and Cairoli seem to have had a very similar season thus far. Although both may not have been the fastest every time the gate has dropped, they have remained consistent. Whilst other title contenders have already suffered from problems, which have caused them to drop some points, the KTM duo has remained strong. Much like his younger teammate, Cairoli looked to be the fastest rider on the day in Mexico, and took the first moto win in dominating fashion, with a fastest lap time almost a second faster than anyone else. Cairoli executed his normal ‘wait until the midway point and attack’ strategy and it worked perfectly. If you’re the other riders, it’s got to be frustrating knowing that in the closing stages of a moto, Cairoli will always be strong. If not for a fall in the middle part of the second moto, there was a good chance Cairoli would have taken a double moto victory. However that fall left him in third, which was still enough to win the overall by one point.
Clement Desalle finished second both times out for second overall, but once again he just couldn’t put it together for a win. Aside from a disastrous second moto in Bulgaria, Clement hasn’t dropped outside of the top four all year long. But the longer it takes for him to get a win, the further Cairoli will stretch away, and the last thing anyone will want to do is give Cairoli some breathing room and confidence. In both moto’s he looked more than capable of winning, as he led for a few laps each time out, he just hasn’t been able to collect those 25 points yet.
Ever since the first moto in Bulgaria, Christophe Pourcel has consistently been on the podium, and building momentum. That momentum was killed in the first moto however, as after battling for the win for most of the race, he made a mistake and got the dreaded green fencing caught in his rear wheel, forcing him to pull out. Fortunately for him however, he managed to still score points, as he had enough of a lead over the riders behind him to score five points. Still at this point in the year, and after a dismal performance at the first round, Pourcel’s title chances took a huge hit.
At the end of the second moto, Pourcel lacked a lot of intensity, and that seems to have been his downfall at many points this year. Perhaps this problem is linked back to his crash from a few years ago? While he was riding in the states, he was having the same problem – struggling at the end of the second moto. Many pointed their fingers at the crash from the Irish GP in ’07 as the reason for this and maybe it is? Although the heat and altitude probably didn’t help, Pourcel looked very strong at the beginning but at the end, he really didn’t have anything for the top three.
Tommy Searle needs to start chipping away at Herlings points lead very soon. It looked as though we were going to see the showdown we had been waiting for at the start of the second moto when both riders were basically side by side for much of the first lap. However, Searle ended up crashing and yet again had to work his way through the field to second place. With Herlings now 41 points ahead of Searle (who sits third in the point’s standings), Tommy is in a position where he can’t really let that gap get any bigger if he is going to win the championship at the end of the year.
The rider who sits between Herlings and Searle in the point’s standings, and hasn’t really got a lot of recognition for it, is Jeremy Van Horebeek. After climbing up onto the podium for the first time this year in Fermo, he was clearly feeling confident coming into Mexico and led the first portion of moto one before succumbing to Searle and his Dutch teammate. I’d imagine KTM are very happy with Van Horebeek’s results so far this year. After an injury filled 2011, he’s really having a much better run in 2012 and it’s showing in his results.
After scoring zero points in Fermo after suffering from a concussion in the first moto, Joel Roelants lined up in Mexico and scored some solid points. You could see late in the race that he still wasn’t feeling one hundred percent, but a fourth overall really isn’t a bad result all things considered.
Jordi Tixier is starting to prove why Factory KTM hired him, as he continues to improve weekly with a sixth overall in Mexico. Although some would still argue Jake Nicholls is more deserving of the ride, you can’t deny Tixier is improving, and that’s surely all KTM want to see from him. He wasn’t hired with the plan to win races immediately, and by putting it in the top five in some moto’s he doing what is expected from him this early in his career.
Monster Energy Yamaha are undoubtedly having the worst luck out of anyone in the pits thus far this year, with a team already plagued with injuries, two more of their riders hit the dirt hard in Mexico and left feeling the effects. Shaun Simpson went down hard on the very first lap of the first moto, which resulted in a dislocated shoulder. Shaun’s shoulder will be assessed this week, which is when a plan for the future will be determined. Either way, it’s a tough break for the Scotsman, as he had had a very strong and consistent start to the year.
Steven Frossard also had to retire from the GP halfway through the first moto, when he caught his recently injured knee and aggravated it further. It’s been a painful season for the Frenchman so far, and now that he is clearly out of the running for the championship, you’ve got to think it would be better for him to sit out a few rounds and come back when he is one-hundred percent and ready to win again. Although it does looks as though he will at least try again in Brazil.
The third rider who joined the Monster Energy Yamaha ‘injured list’ was American Michael Leib, who was riding in what looked to be his final race as a replacement rider on the Dixon squad. Leib was a revelation in Italy, and looked to be on his way to another solid result after dominating the qualifying race. But after sitting top six early in the first moto, one of the wildcards crashed into Leib when he was being lapped, which forced Michael to retire with an injured hand.
However the Monster Energy Yamaha team did have something to celebrate on Sunday evening, as a rejuvenated David Philippaerts ran away with the second moto victory, and climbed onto the overall podium in third for the first time this year. Funnily enough, it was the fourth round last year where David really found his stride and took the second moto win, and he done it again in Mexico! It’s been a long road back after two broken wrists at the tail end of 2011, but now he’s maybe going to get some momentum with the reassurance of knowing he’s more than capable of winning every time he lines up.
It’s not as if his second moto win came easy either, as he ended the first lap in fifth, and had to work his way past four title contenders to get to the front of the pack, in what many would call the race of the year. When he did get too the front, Desalle battled him hard and they swapped positions several times before the Italian managed to get away a little bit. You could really see who was fit enough for a 40 minute moto in the heat, and Philippaerts and Desalle battled all the way to the final seconds.
Former Monster Energy Yamaha rider and now Factory Kawasaki rider Gautier Paulin had his problems also. The Frenchman, who has been extremely impressive all year long, struggled in the first moto, as he started eighth and really didn’t make a lot of progress early in the race. By the time he had made his way into the top five, the riders in front of him had disappeared. He inherited fourth when Pourcel pulled out to salvage some solid points, but with Cairoli taking the win he needed a very good performance in moto two. As it turned out, he didn’t even make it to the line, as a problem with his Kawasaki on the sighting lap, meant he couldn’t make the start. The problems dropped him to third in the title chase, only a handful points ahead of both Pourcel and De Dycker.
Speaking of De Dycker he was again very impressive (and I seem to be writing that on a regular basis). The Belgian was a threat for the victory at one point in both moto’s, and once he gets on the ‘new’ KTM 450 I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the box. It’s amazing the improvement De Dycker has made since last year, and it really is a testament to just how good the infrastructure and bike is that KTM provides to their riders.
2012 just hasn’t gone very well for the Honda World Motocross team. With Bobryshev struggling with niggling injuries since round one, he looked as though he was finally getting nearer to being one-hundred percent before illness forced him out of the Mexican GP. The riders are some of the toughest people in this world, so for him to pull out because of illness, you know it must have been serious. Whether or not he will be fully recovered and on the line in Brazil remains to be seen. But he, just like Frossard, really will be ‘The X-Factor’ when he is fully recovered. With nothing on the line but pride, both riders will be going for the win every time out and potentially taking points away from the other title contenders.
At last, the second Factory Suzuki rider Tanel Leok showed a glimpse of his true potential with fifth overall after finishing sixth in both moto’s. The Estonian can be one of the fastest riders in the world when he is feeling comfortable and after a pretty troubled start to the year, he seems to finally be on the up. Something I’m sure both he and the team are more than happy about.
Jonathan Barragan put in his strongest showing of the year for eighth overall, but it’s still not what I expect from him. Just a handful of years ago, Jonathan looked like he would be the next big thing. With the support of a Factory team, and undeniable speed he was challenging for victories on a consistent basis. But ever since he moved over to the Factory Kawasaki team, he just hasn’t been the same. Having been on a downward spiral for most of the last two years, and posting results not even close to where many – including myself – expect him to be, eighth is a good result (considering he hadn’t been inside the top ten prior to the Mexican GP). On the LS Honda which De Dycker ditched just a week before the season, Barragan will hopefully carry this momentum forward and recapture some previous speed. If he can, he will be battling for the win.
All Brit’s who started in the MX2 class ended up in the top ten, as Jake Nicholls and Max Anstie finished seventh and eighth respectively. Although it’s not quite where both riders really expect to be after showing some good speed in recent weeks, it wasn’t a bad result. Jake is surely still struggling slightly with the hand problems aggravated in Fermo, and Anstie was moving forward in both moto’s. Anstie also set some of his fastest laps at the very end of the second moto, so his fitness is clearly on point.
The GP series will now move forward to the track of ‘Beto Carrero’ for the Brazilian GP this weekend to wrap up the South American tour for 2012. With the series leaders in both MX1 and MX2 edging away, it’s time for the rest to start clawing back some points before it’s too late.
Pictures courtesy of Youthstream