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Portuguese Wrap

Agueda, Portugal is one of the most popular circuits on the FIM Motocross World Championship calendar. Whether it is the layout or soil, you rarely hear any complaints from either the riders or spectators. It is because of this that the track has remained on the schedule for a number of years, and looks to for years to come. Although the weather wasn’t as great as the years previous, the action on the track didn’t suffer as both classes provided excellent racing.

Over the years, the track has changed only slightly, and riders arrived at the same similar circuit prior to the weekend. Obviously, some riders had some unfinished business from the French GP, one week earlier. All eyes were on the developing rivalry between Frenchman Gautier Paulin and Christophe Pourcel, and Jeffrey Herlings versus the entire MX2 field. Neither really developed the way they were expected to however as the spectators witnessed a visibly calmer Jeffrey Herlings (on the track, at least) – which was expected following a warning from the FIM last weekend.

Although many talk about the track as if it was a mud race, when you compare it to the Brazilian GP, it really wasn’t bad at all. Sure, in the first MX2 moto it was a little greasy, and there were some wet spots. However, by the time MX1 took to the track it was in quite a good condition. Although where the circuit was soft from earlier rain some deep ruts had developed, it just made the circuit more technical and riders with the ability to negotiate the choppy surface were able to come away with the best results.

Despite being widely known solely because of his sand skills, you have to look no further than last years Portuguese GP to see that Jeffrey Herlings can indeed perform extremely well on the orange soil featured in Agueda. The fact that he ran Ken Roczen’s speed around Agueda last year is often overlooked – and because of this his GP win really doesn’t come as much of a surprise. When news broke that rain had made the circuit a bit sloppy, my thoughts immediately turned to the Brazilian GP and how many points he lost. However, he negotiated the sloppy conditions well in the first moto to take the victory.

Herlings won another GP, but again not without controversy

It looked as though Herlings would be on for a double moto victory as the second moto was winding down, and he had fought off the advances of Tommy Searle for much of the moto. However, an incident with Pocock, which saw Herlings loses a ton of time, meant he lost the lead and had to settle for second, twenty seconds back of Searle. Although the incident caused him to lose the moto, he still won the GP and gained points on Searle in the title fight, so you would think he would just brush it off, right? Wrong. As normal Herlings was interviewed as he pulled off the track, because he won the GP. Rather than answer the generic, how was your race with the usual speech about it all going well, the Dutchman aired his true feelings.

As he swore in front of thousands on live television, and threatened Pocock, the Motocross community watched amazed. Up until that point, it looked as though Herlings would make it through the entire GP without any controversy, but once again he couldn’t escape it. On the Saturday, it looked as though everything was going good for Herlings, as the Dutchman offered an apology to Tonus once again, and the pair shook hands. Searle and Herlings also made a truce, prior to the qualifier on Saturday, stating that they would not cut across each other on the starts anymore. “Let’s fight fair and let the best man win”. At least that truce remained in tact Sunday night, as both riders raced quite clean all weekend long – at least against each other. It sounds as though the Dutchman later found himself with a large fine from the FIM following his post-race actions.

Speaking of Searle, he again dropped two points in the championship to Herlings for the second week in succession, after again going 3-1 on the day. A bad start in the first moto really hurt him, however he did move to third quickly and really wasn’t running a pace capable of catching Van Horebeek for second. Although he would randomly put in a lap faster than anyone, he wasn’t doing it consistently enough to gain ground on the Factory KTM’s out front, which hurt him in the overall classification. From the first MX2 moto in Agueda, it looked as though you need a KTM to get a good start, as not only did the Factory KTM’s hold the top three spots, the Nestaan JM Racing KTM’s held another two spots inside the top six!

Tommy bagged another moto win but still lost points on Herlings. He has to start turning the tables soon if he's going to crack the World title

Searle was able to advance a lot quicker in the second moto, and settled in behind Herlings after just half a lap. But after following him the entire race and sometimes getting right on his back wheel, and at other times drifting more than three seconds away he eventually was gifted the win! In my eyes, the second moto was a must win for Searle. It doesn’t matter how he won it; he left Portugal not to far from Herlings in the points standings. Although twenty-four points is still quite a big gap to overcome.

Jeremy Van Horebeek was again third overall, although his first moto performance was extremely strong, he didn’t look as comfortable the second time out. Although a sixth isn’t a bad result, the showings we have seen from him recently suggest he should be in the top five every moto at least. Jeremy is really in no mans land in the championship standings, as he sits sixty-four points up on fourth, and twenty-five points back of second, so really has no one close to him either side. Every week Van Horebeek inches closer to a victory, maybe the motivation of riding in front of his home crowd next week will make him push that little bit more, and challenge the top two.

Britain really had something to cheer for in MX2 in Agueda. Not only did Tommy finish second overall, but we also had another three Brit’s in the top ten overall. Next in line was Max Anstie in fourth overall. Many thought Max would be a contender for podium’s right off the bat, but following an impressive Valkenswaard he hasn’t really been close to the top three overall. Although he had shown some flashes of brilliance he hadn’t put it all together at one GP – until Agueda. A tenth in moto one definitely wasn’t what most expected, but he more than made up for it in the second moto, with a third. It didn’t come easy either, as he had to make his way past both Jeremy Van Horebeek and Dylan Ferrandis before he had a clear track, and was able to focus on hitting his lines, and bringing home the third spot. Although it wasn’t quite good enough for a podium overall, it was his best result this year and surely something to build off of in the following GP’s.

Jake Nicholls had a great GP considering he was stuck way out on the outside of the startline

The next Brit was Jake Nicholls in fifth overall, and he was forced to work for it. A mechanical issue in the qualification race meant he had to start from the thirty-ninth gate pick, all the way on the outside. Amazingly, he managed to round the first turn on the edge of the top ten in both moto’s, which helped him immensely when it came to getting the results needed. A sixth in the first moto was a solid result, and a fifth in the second moto meant the Portuguese GP went down as a successful one for Jake. His last few GP’s haven’t been as good as his results earlier in the year, hopefully this result signifies he is back on the right track and on the way to his first GP podium.

The final Brit to crack the top ten was Mel Pocock, Mel was drafted in to replace Michael Lieb (who is suffering with health problems) Friday morning, but that didn’t phase him, as he still posted the best MX2 result of his career! An eleventh in moto one was a reasonable result, and was on par with what he had been doing in MX2 earlier in the year. But a seventh in the second moto saw him climb up the leader board to seventh overall, a result, which will surely give him confidence when he next drops down to EMX2 – a series that he currently leads.

Mel Pocock came back into the GP fold and scored his best overall result. Jeffery Herlings wasn't as impressed as the rest of us!

There was one Brit however, who scored no points – but not because he isn’t capable. HM Plant KTM UK’s Elliott Banks Browne again found himself with not a single point to his name, after not even completing a lap of moto one, he was in a better position in moto two. After rounding the first lap in ninth, he eventually finished twenty-second. You have to think his hand is giving him some problems holding on still, especially on such a rough track like the one witnessed in Agueda.

Jordi Tixier seems to be edging closer to a podium finish, the Frenchman only let Tommy Searle past in the first moto before finishing fourth, and then in the second moto was making good progress before quite a big crash dropped him out of the top ten. By the end he was eleventh, which really hurt him in the overall classification. However, although many were questioning Factory KTM’s reason behind signing him earlier in the year, he is now starting to show some potential.

Another Frenchman Dylan Ferrandis was extremely impressive in the second moto, just one week after missing his home GP with an injured wrist. He held his own amongst the established contenders to post a solid fourth, and if not for a DNF in the first moto, might have found himself up on the podium. I feel as though Ferrandis is close to having a break through ride, one, which will see him become a contender for podiums and top five finishes every time he lines up.

The MX1 racing was tight yet again

The MX1 class provided us with some excellent racing all day long, a fact that is over shadowed by the controversy in MX2. Prior to the weekend, everyone was waiting for Desalle to get the monkey off of his back, and take his first win of the year. Judging from his past results in Agueda, he must have been feeling confident coming in after taking the overall win there in the last two years. In the first moto, Clement quickly found his way to the back end of Christophe Pourcel’s Kawasaki, and after pulling up alongside the Kawasaki a few times, finally made the pass for the lead after just one full lap. From there, he never really looked back – consistently clocking lap times as quick as anyone. This speed eventually translated to a moto win, setting him up nicely for the overall victory.

When he first rounded turn one at the beginning of the second moto, he was close to dead last after getting sandwiched by Cairoli and Pourcel. However, some clever line choices saw him advance to sixth at the end of the first lap. Considering the pedigree of the riders ahead of him, it might have been a tall order to expect the Belgian to find a way past all of them. However he done it, and within nine laps also. Once he did find a way to the front of the pack, he didn’t look like the same rider however, and wasn’t flowing like he was earlier. Eventually, he dropped back to third quite a way off of the lead pair, however this was still enough for the overall GP victory, and his first since Loket last year.

Clement finally got that overall win he so desperately wanted. Will he now get on roll? It's going to be interesting to see.

Surprisingly, second overall was Gautier Paulin. I say surprisingly because in the first moto, he was quite off the pace and couldn’t really hang with Desalle, Cairoli and Pourcel. However, he sorted himself out for the second moto, and after being parked by Desalle early on, mounted a charge. It was as if that move had lit a spark, and following that he got to work eventually finding a way to the front. Once he was in front however, it wasn’t particularly easy as Cairoli put on his patented late race charge and hounded him every inch of the way. On the last lap, Cairoli even found a way past, only for Paulin to make a move around the outside on the very next turn, showing just how confident the Frenchman was out there.

If Cairoli had found a way through to the lead, it would have given him the overall victory. However, he was forced to settle for second in the moto, and third overall. That one pass would have had a huge impact on the results – that is how close MX1 is this year! Considering he had a fall around fifteen minutes into moto one, a third in the first race was a good result, although did mean his late race charge didn’t have the same effect as normal. Still, Cairoli isn’t in a ‘must win’ situation when he lines up currently, sticking it on the box every week is getting the job done for the Sicilian.

Christophe Pourcel finished the day up in quite a disappointing fourth overall, following moto one Christophe was in a perfect position to perhaps take an overall win. He was even more so after taking the holeshot in moto two, however once Desalle found a way past he went from first to fourth within half a lap, and was never really a factor again. It’s typical Pourcel. One week he will be at the front of the pack going for the win, and setting an amazing pace and others he will look uninterested off of the podium. Except this week, we saw the change within a moto!

Big K looks like he's getting to grips with his new steed

Ken De Dycker looked a lot more comfortable on the new KTM 450 than he did in France, and this translated into some solid results as the lanky Belgian came away from Portugal with 5-5. Again, the more hard-packed jumpy layout typically wouldn’t suit Ken, but this year he seems capable of posting top five results on all tracks. Something he has been lacking in the last few years. The rejuvenated Ken De Dycker of 2012 sits a comfortable fifth in the championship standings and with his home GP being next week, maybe he’ll find his way onto the podium?

Whilst Jonathan Barragan was battling inside the top five in the first moto, I saw flashes of his former self, and that is extremely good to see! Although he is still nowhere near where he was back when he was challenging for wins, to see him at the front of the pack was a sign that he can still be in a position to post solid results. The same goes for Sebastian Pourcel, for a long time in moto two he was a fixture in the top five, before dropping back big time in the last few laps. But still, it’s good to see these riders getting back to where they once were.

For some reason, it looks as though Tanel Leok can just not put it together in a race. Hopes were high that Leok would finish with a solid result after finishing free practice, pre-qualifying practice and even Sunday mornings warm up session inside the top three. However in the points paying races he couldn’t even crack the top seven surprisingly. I definitely expected Leok to be up there battling with guys like De Dycker, and now that we’re seven races in you’ve got to think he has had enough time to gel with the Suzuki? The Estonian doesn’t seem to be living up to expectations so far this year.

Mattis Karro had his best moto result of the year with a seventh in race one. Unfortunately, a fall on the first lap of moto two meant he got up dead last, and could only fight his way to seventeenth at the finish. Which meant he didn’t get the overall result that he was deserving of. Still, seventh in a moto is a great result for the Latvian and the team in their first year of World Championship competition. Jamie Law managed to collect his first World Championship point in just his second race as a replacement rider on the STR KTM squad. Although it didn’t come easy as he had to work his way through the pack and even after the race he found himself in a fight with home hero Rui Goncalves after some issues on the track.

Rui Goncalves didn't have the best GP in front of his home fans, but they liked his fighting spirit, especially against Jamie Law

That’s all from Portugal. With the MX2 series getting crazier by the week – and not because of what’s going on track, it will be interesting to see if the situation reaches new heights or resolves itself in one week’s time at the new circuit of Bastogne, Belgium. With rumours suggesting there were some issues amongst riders, teams and families long after the racing had finished in the pits. We’ll have to wait for next week to see if the dispute grows.

Lewis Phillips 

Pictures courtesy of Youthstream

MX Vice Editor || 25

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