Most were seeing red in Latvia today, as the HRC trio of Gautier Paulin, Evgeny Bobryshev and Tim Gajser dominated for much of the day. However, the Japanese manufacturer didn’t have it all their own way; Max Anstie took a clear win in the MX2 qualifier after leading from start to finish.
- Gautier Paulin certainly feels at home in the sand, as he added to his Valkenswaard win by dominating proceedings today. The positive vibes from the last time that he was here, for the MXoN, undoubtedly served him well also. He was almost a full second faster in free practice, then topped the time practice charts and won the heat. He’ll be tough to beat tomorrow, although there are a few riders who will be keen to stop the Frenchman.
- One of those would be Romain Febvre, his fellow countryman, who chased him home in the qualifier today. I was initially worried about how Romain’s skillset would serve him in the sand, as he could only muster up the twelfth fastest time in time practice, but he showed no signs of struggling in the MXGP heat. He could have backed it down to take a safe second, but he kept pushing the whole way and even attempted a last corner pass. Things are looking very, very good for the Yamaha Factory Racing rider.
- Bobryshev continued his run of recent good form to post a third in the MXGP qualifying heat, although he was a tick off the top two. A win isn’t out of the question for the Russian, but he’d have to have a few things go his way in order to pull it off.
- For a second I thought that Tommy Searle was going to claim the qualifying heat win, although he was eventually swallowed up by Paulin, Febvre and Bobryshev. It was still a promising ride for Searle, who was on the pace in each session and is battling stitches in his arm and a slight fracture to the elbow.
- It seems Kevin Strijbos is either battling for the lead or charging through the field after a poor start at the moment; today it was the latter. After ending lap one twelfth, he pushed through to sixth and was right on the back of the group consisting of Bobryshev, Searle and Coldenhoff (who finished a fine fifth). The speed is there, once again, he just needs a pair of good starts to go along with that.
- Filip Bengtsson and Nathan Watson (who both returned to racing just last week) were pleasant surprises, as their speed was competitive with those on the cusp of the top five in the practice sessions. They eventually ended up tenth and twelfth, but the potential is there for so much more. However, a lack of bike time will, more than likely, restrict them tomorrow.
- Davide Guarneri returned to racing, after recovering from a handful of huge crashes at the beginning of the season. He’ll have to work his way back to race pace, but a fourteenth today was a good place to start.
- Steven Frossard debuted on the Monster Energy KRT machine at the track which he last rode the machine, although things didn’t go as well this time around. His times were better and he seemed more fired up than he has been. However, he couldn’t do much after a first lap fall – he ended fifteenth.
- Most, including the man himself I’m sure, were hoping that Antonio Cairoli’s injuries had improved somewhat after his third place in moto two last week. However, a mistake whilst running second early on in the qualifier relegated him to fifteenth. He was still pushing when in that position, but ultimately had to slow towards the end and take an eighteenth. How he’ll hold up in the two, longer motos tomorrow remains to be seen – the initial signs certainly aren’t good though.
- Jake Nicholls, who is also on the comeback trail, crashed quite hard in the time practice session and hurt (but didn’t break or fracture) his lower back. He withdrew from the qualifying heat early on in an attempt to save himself for tomorrow, according to the team.
- Todd Waters could have perhaps surprised had he not fallen in the qualifier. He did crash, though, and quite hard too! He unsurprisingly failed to finish although from what we saw no injuries were sustained. The Australian looked a little beaten up though!
- In MX2 Max Anstie again proved that, if he could get out of the gate consistently, he would be a regular race win contender. He holeshot and led from start to finish – he also set a lap time almost a second quicker than anyone else. He’s certainly feeling it this weekend, but the outcome of the two motos tomorrow will again depend on whether he starts with the leaders or not.
- The start he should actually help him; it massively favours the inside, which is where he will now be. Even if he gets an awful jump, he should be able to sneak up the inside and come out around the top five.
- Tim Gajser ensured the gap to Max didn’t alter too much early on, but ultimately settled for second as the race drew to a close. He was very, very strong in practice – his time in the second practice session was a second and a half quicker than anyone else! The pressure to gain fifty points tomorrow must be starting to play on his mind, however.
- Ben Watson was arguably the rider that impressed me the most, as he made multiple passes to take tenth and actually closed on Julien Lieber towards the end. He fastest lap time would have put him top six – we’ve been waiting for a flash of brilliance like this! The question is, what does tomorrow have in store for him?
- Harri Kullas was relatively strong on the first day of his Wilvo Nestaan Husqvarna fill in stint. He finished thirteenth in the qualifier and, when you compare that to his results in Britain, it’s pretty good.
- Jordi Tixier, Henry Jacobi, Jorge Zaragoza and Kevin Fors all got caught up on lap one and found themselves fighting to gain ground. Tixier’s clutch lever was all bent up, so it was tough outing for him – he ended twentieth.
- Vsevolod Brylyakov failed to finish, just one week after posting a career best pair of fifths in Uddevalla. He walked off with the medics and seemed to be supporting his shoulder; his status for tomorrow is unknown.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Image: Sean Ogden