A rather dark day that initially showed so much promise is in the rear-view mirror. Some enthralling qualifying heats took place this afternoon and were followed by the final support race, EMX85. A rider in that division, Igor Cuharciuc, sadly passed away though and caused most to reflect on just how taxing this sport is. It is not just a sad day for the Grand Prix contingent, but for the motorcycling community across the globe.
The show must go on, but Cuharciuc will be in the hearts of those stood on the Czech hillside tomorrow. Those fans will watch Antonio Cairoli, who has not claimed an overall victory at this venue since 2012, head to the starting line first in the premier division, as he romped to a brilliant win in the qualifying heat. “The feeling is okay. It is a track that is not really one of my favourites,” said Cairoli in the post-race press conference. “It is very difficult to get a good feeling and very slippery. Today was actually different to the years before, as there were a few more berms and it was okay. You could do some different lines than in the last fifteen years when the lines seemed to be the same.”
“To have a good start is also really important on this kind of track,” Cairoli continued. “If we are in the top five off the start, then it is already good. We are starting to look at the championship a little bit and it is really important to get good points. We know that it is not always possible to win, so we’ll try to take as much as possible and keep looking for the championship.”
‘222’ started second, behind Tim Gajser, but was then immediately pushed aside by Max Nagl. It seemed that Cairoli simply did not possess the raw speed to attack the slick soil in the same fashion as those ahead of him. The wily veteran was just biding his time though, before pouncing on the race leader and sprinting to an advantage of five seconds. It is quite clear at what point he elected to make his mark.
There was a reason for that sudden change, however, as Tim Gajser explained in that same press conference. “I had some issues with the bike, but it was quite okay,” stated Gajser. “I slowed down a little bit, just to finish the race, so it was okay. I felt good on the track and had a good start,” he continued. “I am really looking forward to tomorrow. I’m closing to my good fitness and just trying to enjoy it a lot.”
A titanic battle for fourth raged on in the second half of the heat. Arminas Jasikonis held the spot initially and even had the fastest lap at one point. An untimely crash cost him dearly, however, and he was forced to charge forward from the cusp of the top twenty. The fact that he is so competitive on this terrain bodes well for the Belgian Grand Prix in two weeks, which will be held on a surface that has been named as his speciality.
Jeffrey Herlings eventually claimed that position, fourth, but did not take control of the position until the final lap. ‘84’ has mentioned to us that he strives to emulate the strategy that Eli Tomac has adopted, which involves starting slow and ending strong. That is exactly what occurred in the qualifying heat, much to the delight of those who did not vacate the premises in order to beat traffic, as he charged from seventh to fourth in the final three laps. Romain Febvre and Gautier Paulin were pushed to one side by the Dutchman.
Further down the order was Kevin Strijbos in tenth, but all is not well for the Belgian. The effects of his back and elbow injuries are still lingering and now an infected arm is giving him trouble. “I have had some bad luck [over] the last few weeks actually,” he said. “First my elbow, then my back in Portugal. Last week I had a crash and lost skin off my arm. Nothing bad, but it got infected. It is quite big and red – I have to take antibiotics in the morning.” Strijbos must rediscover the form that led him to Grand Prix wins in 2005 and 2007 to stay relevant in silly-season discussions.
Evgeny Bobryshev was deserving of a position inside of the top ten, but a fall and gaggle of errors that occurred as a result of him struggling to get comfortable aboard his CRF450RW restricted him to sixteenth. There are positives to take from the day, however, as he showed good speed early on and appears to have escaped the effects of that collarbone injury. “I want to just forget about this race,” he said in a press release. “I will have a meeting with the team tonight to work on a new setting for tomorrow.”
The incident that Evgeny Bobryshev encountered enabled Max Anstie to claim one more position and secure the fourteenth pick of the gate for tomorrow. A stumble in the first turn cost Anstie dearly, as he started the race down in thirty-fifth, but he made progress throughout and secured a respectable pick for tomorrow. The start will be crucial, as many riders are showing the type of speed that makes them deserving of a spot on the box, as shown by the table of fastest lap times below.
The MX2 qualifying heat was fairly mundane, in comparison, as Pauls Jonass rode to yet another convincing win. “I came here feeling really good,” he stated in the post-race press conference. “Last year I had a big crash here, but overall I enjoy this track and like riding here. I have felt good since the beginning of the day. In the qualifying race I had a good start and led the whole race. My feeling was good, so I could just ride my own lines and play around in some spots.”
It is likely that Jonass will extend his championship lead further tomorrow, as Jeremy Seewer will have the twenty-first gate pick. ‘91’ had a terrible start and was then hit in the mouth by a rock, which also compromised his vision, so he was in a considerable amount of discomfort. An additional crash pushed him outside of the top thirty, so salvaging the position that he did was certainly respectable.
Bas Vaessen proved that it is possible to turn a poor gate pick into a good start, which must lift the mood beneath the Suzuki World MXGP awning. ‘98’ was thirtieth in time practice following a dismal time, so opted to gamble and position himself on the outside in the qualifying heat. A good jump was secured and, rather than try to cut across his competitors, he shot straight to the berm and railed around the outside to exit turn one in third. It’ll be most interesting to see if Seewer follows that strategy tomorrow.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: Sean Ogden