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MX Vice Viewpoint: GP of Sweden

Uddevalla in Sweden is an asset to the FIM Motocross World Championship; the picturesque circuit provides a unique challenge for the riders, as the rocky surface makes throttle control key in all conditions. Uddevalla hosted round ten of the 2013 MXGP series this past weekend of course, as the venue was the start of a three-week tour of Northern Europe for the teams and riders.

Personally, I am pleased that Uddevalla has become a staple on the MXGP calendar. It seems as though Uddevalla always serves up some great action, as well as a bit of controversy; so it is great from the viewpoint of a fan. In recent weeks the series has visited a handful of tracks that are considered to be quite ‘old school’. I would put Uddevalla into that category; maybe that is why we are privy to great racing when the travelling tour rolls up to the venue? I think that it is also good to visit Uddevalla, because there are a handful of Swedish riders that grab points on a consistent basis. Sure, they are not title contenders; but it is good that they get a chance to perform in front of their home crowd and local sponsors.

The Swedish GP was certainly testing for all of the riders, as the conditions varied drastically from one day to the next. On the Saturday, you could liken the action to that of a mud race; the rain (that was expected) did hit the facility. It seems as though the Saturday at the GP of Sweden is always a mudder, and then by the time Sunday rolls around the track is perfect. It [the track] was very sloppy in the two qualifying races, hence why most of the front-runners were quite conservative in order to secure a reasonable gate pick for the Sunday.

I wonder how much the varying conditions would affect a rider’s knowledge of the track? On the Sunday the circuit was hard, dry and dusty in most places. But both the riders, and teams would not have been able to fine-tune their setup to suit that on the Saturday. Maybe that is something worth considering when analysing the results from Uddevalla? Although all of the mud had cleared by Sunday, some very deep ruts were still present on-track, which added to the challenge. You cannot argue that there weren’t many lines out there!

Prior to the start of the weekend most riders voiced their concerns about how narrow it [the circuit] looked after walking it – but after the action had begun there were not any complaints really. It seems as though we have heard a few comments about how tight and narrow some of the tracks have been so far this year; specifically, Brazil was really bad. Honestly, I am a bit surprised that there isn’t an FIM rule that states that a track must be a certain width in order to host an event of this calibre. Anyway, in my opinion Uddevalla really was not bad at all.

Shall we move onto the racing? Toni Cairoli further solidified his position in the record books after grabbing the sixtieth GP win of his career at Uddevalla on Sunday. I thought that Cairoli might struggle a little in Sweden, as he had adversity to overcome in the lead up to the  Swedish GP. Remember when Toni tweaked his knee last time out in Italy? Well, the injury is not too much of an issue, but it has negatively affected him. Toni only managed to ride a couple of laps in the two weeks since Maggiora; he also admitted that he was worried about getting the leg caught in the mud on Saturday. Clearly the issue played on his mind. But, despite this he managed to put it to one-side on the Sunday, and claim a double moto victory.

It is important not to forget that Uddevalla was the site of one of the worst GPs of his career, also. Antonio Cairoli scored zero points when he visited the facility last year following a lot of bad luck, I am sure that this was on his mind all weekend long. Simply Toni cannot have been one-hundred-percent (physically or mentally) at the Swedish GP this year.

Despite all of this, Antonio Cairoli was able to erase all of the torrid memories from one year ago, as he recorded his sixth GP victory this season and his fourth double moto sweep. It was the most dominant that we have seen Cairoli since the series returned to Europe after Brazil. Obviously we are passed the halfway point now, and the riders’ fitness is really starting to be tested; this is the point in the year when Cairoli really begins to excel and become dominant. Following Uddevalla last year, Toni lost just one moto. So now that we are at that point in the year again, are we going to see Cairoli begin to assert his dominance?

It was this time last year that Ken de Dycker picked up the pace and became more of a factor when discussing potential winners, also. The Belgian has been slightly inconsistent so far this year, but at Uddevalla (and Maggiora) he has looked like a rejuvenated rider. Isn’t it weird to think that a handful of years ago, KTM were not really a force in the MX1 class and now they have two riders dominate and it seems like just a usual occurrence? But I digress; I was quite shocked to see de Dycker run-down (and get around) his teammate in the second moto. But, I noticed something very intriguing when analysing the lap-times.

Ken de Dycker led moto two from lap ten to lap fifteen, in that time his lap times dropped by about a second per lap. Ken is known for looking behind whenever any pressure is applied to him. Obviously as soon as he got in the lead in moto two, he immediately felt the pressure of having a six-time world champion right on his back wheel. I believe this to be the reason why his lap times dropped.  I find it even more intriguing that when he lost the lead; his lap times went back to where they were at the beginning of the race. But I find it quite hard to believe that Ken wouldn’t be comfortable in the lead; after all he has won a couple of GPs, including the first of his career at Uddevalla in 2007.

Clement Desalle took to the third step of the overall podium yet again; the Belgian occupied this position for the fifth time this season. Desalle is talented, obviously; so when he finishes in third I consider it an average weekend for him. At Uddevalla in 2012 he won both races, this year he had nothing for the leaders. I am perplexed by Clement once again, he just does not seem like the same guy out there – I know I’ve said that a lot this year. Admittedly, he won a moto at Maggiora; but even that was handed to him. It seems as though he is starting to get a bit frustrated post-race, which is a sign something is wrong; the ‘MX Panda’ does not show any emotion usually.

Whilst glancing through the results, the first thought that went through my mind when I saw Gautier Paulin in fifth overall was “oh no”. It was at this time in 2012 that Gautier seemingly dropped off the pace; following the Swedish GP he never reclaimed race-winning speed until the beginning of this year. Could the same thing be happening again? Fortunately, I do not think so; he [Paulin] had some bad luck with crashes, which hindered his result. In MX1 moto one, Gautier got tangled with two others riders (in separate incidents), which meant that the Frenchman could not advance any further through the field than seventh.

It was clear that Gautier Paulin meant business in moto two; he punted Steven Frossard out of the way on lap one to give himself more of a chance to go after Toni Cairoli. But Paulin fell not too long after; he then had to fight through the field from ninth up to fourth at the finish line – whilst moving forward, he set the fastest lap time of the race as well! Evidently, it was just an unlucky weekend for the Kawasaki pilot; he finished fifth overall, and lost eighteen points to Antonio Cairoli in the series standings as a result. It was a costly day for him.

Earlier in this article I mentioned that Uddevalla always presents us with a bit of controversy, Tommy Searle was at the heart of it on Sunday as he was docked ten spots after jumping on a yellow flag. Unfortunately, you will be hard pressed to find any footage of the incident, as no one seemed to capture it. However, it does sound as though he was not the only one to do it. Clement Desalle was also being investigated – however he was not penalized. In my opinion it was over the top to penalize him ten spots, which is not the typical punishment for an action such as this.

Anyway, what’s done is done. I am sure that it is even harder for Tommy Searle to accept the punishment, as he had just put in a great ride to clinch third in moto two. It would have been his second moto podium of the year and another confidence booster – instead Searle is listed as thirteenth and tenth overall, as he finished sixth in the opening MX1 encounter. If Tommy had gotten the points for third in that moto, he would have moved up into fifth in the points standings as well; but instead Searle is nine points down on Strijbos. I am a bit surprised that he has not passed Kevin yet; the Belgian has struggled recently.

Steven Frossard made an unexpected return from injury at Uddevalla; although some would argue that it was a bit premature, his performance on the Saturday indicates that he is close to one hundred percent. Honestly his win in the qualification heat came out of nowhere. I’m certain that not one person predicted that he would come out and take pole. But remember that the Monster Energy Yamaha rider has enjoyed quite a lot of success at Uddevalla in the past, including GP victories in both the MX1 and MX2 class.

Admittedly the two motos on Sunday did not go as well for Steven Frossard, as he finished in eighth in moto one and he failed to finish the second moto. Frossard has to focus on building himself back up in the final half of this season, as he has not spent a solid amount of time on the Monster Energy Yamaha in quite some time. If Steven can finish the year, and get a bit of momentum on his side it will help him going into 2014, which has to be his main goal.

Well, Jeffrey Herlings lost another moto. Honestly I believe that this one was more surprising than the first one that he lost back in Brazil. It was a crash in turn one that cost him this time around, as he could only climb as high as third before the finish. I did expect Herlings to slice through the pack a bit quicker than he did, as he only snuck into third on the last lap. Jeffrey got stuck behind Alexander Tonkov for four laps in the middle moto, which is surprising also. But then again, Uddevalla has never been one of the circuits that Jeffrey has excelled at; this overall victory was the first time that he has topped the podium at the venue.

In the second MX2 race normality was resumed, as Jeffrey Herlings led a large portion of the moto on his way to the win. But, for once Herlings’ fate was in someone else’s hands. Jeffrey has stated in many places that his goal this year is to win every single grand prix. However, if Christophe Charlier could have gotten around Jordi Tixier, Herlings would have lost his streak right there. It was interesting to watch, as Jeffrey has been in control for much of the year. In a few years time, the record books won’t show all of that however, they will just have Jeffrey Herlings listed as the Swedish GP winner, and he deserved the win – it wasn’t an easy day for him.

If you are a regular reader of this column, you will have noticed that I have been very critical of Christophe Charlier so far this year, as he had not done much to justify his ride before the Swedish GP. At Uddevalla the Frenchman broke through however, as he won the first moto after taking advantage of Herlings’ first turn mishap. Although he led every lap, it was not an easy ride for him – Jake Nicholls was applying some pressure for much of the moto. Although he missed out on the overall win, he still claimed the first moto victory of his career, which is always a welcome site. Can he do it again in the coming weeks? We’ll have to wait and see.

I was quite surprised to see how strong Jake Nicholls was at Uddevalla, as he was still feeling the affects of an illness that knocked him out of the Dutch Championship one week earlier. It was an issue that required some antibiotics [the illness], so most did expect him to struggle. I do not think that anyone expected him to come out and tie the best moto finish of his career so far. It makes me wonder if Nicholls would have been able to pass Christophe and take the win in the first moto if he had been healthy? After some tough weeks, it was certainly a solid start to the Northern Europe tour for Jake Nicholls and his squad.

Okay, I am really starting to believe that there is an underlying issue with Max Anstie; but no one has any answers! Recently, the Rockstar Energy Suzuki Europe team has not even really been mentioning Anstie at all; I’m sure that they’re wondering what has happened to the guy that wanted to challenge for the world title this year. Anstie has not finished inside of the top five in a moto since Bulgaria, and he has finished in the top ten twice in the last ten motos, which is even more surprising! I cannot see Max getting any better in the next two rounds, unfortunately, as there is not really any room for improvement when the series runs through successive weeks.

So, another edition of the GP of Sweden has been and gone; whilst some riders are probably wishing that they could have a weekend off to sort out all of their problems, others will hope to keep their momentum rolling heading into Kegums, Latvia this weekend; a venue that has proved to be costly for a few riders in the past.

Words by Lewis Phillips

Image courtesy of KTM Images/Ray Archer

MX Vice Editor || 25

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