Clement Desalle and Kevin Strijbos have been riding and racing RM-Z450 technology over the course of a generous geographical spread of the United States for the past two weeks but the Grand Prix of France – round eight of 17 in the FIM Motocross World Championship – represents an appointment closer to home.
The Lommel-based team will again roll out their factory bikes for the two Belgians as they return to GP duty having impressed with top 10 results and decent speed in Colorado and Tennessee for the second and third rounds of the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship. The circuit of Ernee is welcomed back to the FIM calendar after a hiatus of three years and starts a run of five races in six weeks with Italy, Sweden, Latvia and Finland following consecutively. Much has been commented and written about the American adventure in which Desalle and Strijbos were able to keep sharp at an extremely high level while their Grand Prix peers sampled a break in Europe after the late cancellation of the Mexican round at the end of May.
Strijbos gave his overall feeling of the U.S. experience as the 28 year old and his team-mate part-deputised for native Rockstar Suzuki rider Davi Millsaps on the rapid AMA scene. “I’m very glad that we went and it was definitely interesting, if a bit hectic and tiring, especially in that first week when we’d be riding, heading back to the hotel each day then suddenly flying out to the race itself,” he said. “Mentally I think it was a good move because we kept alert and were having to deal with a whole new set of conditions; the track, timetable, other riders, bike settings. I won’t come out and say that we are faster because of racing in the U.S. but I think our speed and results were not too bad and now I’m thinking of the podium I took in Brazil and will be trying to repeat the result as soon as I can.”
The distinctive white-fenced climbs and tight corners of Ernee usually present a hard-pack and rutted racing test. The layout winds back on itself several times as it rises and descends the steep hillside opposite the vast spectator banking and the ‘wall of racing’ mirrored by (an expected) big crowd creates a special atmosphere. The early weather forecast indicates changeable conditions for the weekend with temperatures poking above 20 degrees, the chance of rain on Saturday, but clear skies for Sunday.
While Clement Desalle scored a fifth position overall on his last appearance at Ernee in 2009 for his breakthrough term in MX1, Strijbos has even better memories and can reflect on a podium trophy for third place in 2007: “I like the track more than St Jean D’Angely because of the ground; it offers more grip and is less rocky. It can be difficult to pass in some places because the layout gets quite narrow but for sure riding there will be good and I’m looking forward to getting rid of this jetlag and driving down!”
The Rockstar Suzuki World MX1 duo holds positions in the top five of the MX1 World Championship standings. Desalle needs to out-point local favourite Gautier Paulin by a total of 11 to rise to second spot behind Antonio Cairoli while Strijbos stares at a gap of 25 points to Ken De Dycker in fourth place.