The fast, steep, hard packed hillside of Sevlievo, Bulgaria offered both MX1, and MX2 riders a completely different challenge to that of Valkenswaard just two weeks prior. Many riders criticized the fast nature of the circuit, and stated that it made conditions very one lined, especially after rain showers throughout Saturday. However despite this, the racing turned out to be very good throughout the points paying races, as both Gautier Paulin and Tommy Searle took their first wins of 2012.
Before the season, Jeffrey Herlings and Tommy Searle were considered the only two riders with a shot at the world title. No one else really got a look in. However, now we may need to revise those thoughts, as Joel Roelants looks every bit as fast, and consistent as his teammate. Having mentioned prior to the season that if he can’t reach his potential this year, then there are no excuses, as the bike beneath him is more than capable. Many raised their eyebrows at how confident the young Belgian seemed, and he is now backing that up further after taking the first moto win of his career in Sevlievo. With his maiden moto victory coming after a career best second overall in Valkenswaard, Roelants now only sits a mere nine points behind Herlings in the title race. He has shown he can run the speed in deep sand and now slick hard-pack, going forward it’s just a matter of whether he will be able to maintain the pace throughout the year. Every year there’s an underdog, this years seems to be Joel.
In Valkenswaard, it seemed as though Tommy Searle had already focused his efforts on the Bulgarian GP. As Sevlievo is a track he believed he was more than capable of winning at, and he done exactly what he set out too, leaving with the overall victory. Realistically, he should have perhaps walked away with a double moto victory. As he rode away from the competition in moto one, only to lose his front brake around five laps in. The track in Bulgaria is one of the worst to lose your front brake on, as the steep declines make things difficult. Lap after lap, Searle failed to hit the inside line after the finish due to his lack of a front brake, and that ended up costing him immensely, as it’s where both his teammate and Herlings found a way through. The second race was all Tommy however, as he proved that he is every bit as good as Herlings and that resulted in him collecting his first victory of 2012.
Jeffrey Herlings didn’t look happy at all with second overall. But really it was two very strong rides from the Dutchman. Although he did lose one point to Searle in the championship, it could have been a lot worse, after a disastrous qualifying race on Saturday. After sliding out in turn one, and then stopping for fresh goggles Herlings only managed sixteenth place. Which left him in the middle of the start line for Sunday’s main races. Both times, Herlings managed to come out in a good position however, often rounding turn one on the cusp of the top five, which is very good considering where he started from, and the way the first corner favoured the inside gates.
In the first moto he seemed to spend a bit too long working his way around the riders in front of him, which could be his biggest downfall as the series progresses. By the time he had made his way around riders like Harri Kullas, Searle and Roelants had gone and if wasn’t for Searle’s problem, Herlings would have finished third. He clearly learnt from his mistakes second time around though, and moved into second very quickly after again starting just outside of the top five. Despite hounding Tommy the entire race, he was unable to get close enough to at least attempt a pass. It really showed just how close both riders are, in both speed and fitness. After the race, Herlings stated he “let Searle win”, which I didn’t really think was a very cool move, as it was evident to everyone worldwide just how hard he was pushing to catch Tommy. That comment alone might show that Searle is in Herlings head a little bit, which was even evident at Valkenswaard as Jeffrey continuously mentioned Tommy in multiple interviews.
Jeremy Van Horebeek was fourth overall, however I did expect him to be a bit closer to the top three, seeing as he claims to be a better hard-pack rider. However, despite this, he seemed to just ride around by himself in both races. Although his lap times were consistent throughout both moto’s, they were just a bit off the leading pair. I am definitely looking for Jeremy to improve as the series moves forward, and I’m sure Factory KTM are too. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t be matching Roelants every week, which is most likely where he thought he would be also.
Max Anstie rode solid all weekend. If Max could get a good start, then we could see him up on the podium. He proved he could run the pace at the very front of the pack by battling with race one winner Joel Roelants for most of moto two. Unfortunately, Anstie didn’t come out of the battle too good however, after the two banged bars and put some aggressive block passes on each other, Roelants clearly had enough and very nearly ran Max off the side of the track. Following the incident, Roelants seemed to have lost all of his momentum as he failed to advance much further through the pack, which in the end resulted in him finishing third overall. When really he should have been able to advance further through the pack.
Two MX2 riders, who both had terrible – and disappointing – days for different reasons was Frenchman Valentin Teillet, and Elliott Banks Browne. Teillet has really struggled with injuries the last few years, and it really looked as though he was finally on the way to achieving his potential, especially after a second in the qualifying heat. However, after a top ten start in the first race Valentin went down hard over the table top that follows pit lane, and both he and his BUD Racing Kawasaki came crashing down to the ground. While his Kawasaki was visibly mangled, there has been no word on the condition of Teillet. Although if he is out yet again, it will disastrous, as his reputation grows as a rider who just can’t stay healthy for an entire season.
Although Elliott Banks Browne walks away from Bulgaria still one hundred percent healthy, he still has zero points to his name as yet again, mechanical problems brought him down. Elliott had a very successful qualifying heat on Saturday, and expectations were high ahead of the points paying races. He managed to live up to those expectations for a large portion of race one before his bike rolled to a halt. EBB definitely has top ten-speed on any track. If only his bike could last a full forty minutes plus two laps he would be up there with the rest of the Brits.
I believe Jake Nicholls is a lot better than where he finished in Bulgaria, but he seemed to just struggle all day Sunday. Although his starts were on point, he struggled to maintain the pace at the front of the pack in moto one. If not for a fall early in moto two he would of undoubtedly been a lot higher up the order, but he never got the chance to showcase what he can do after his top three start. In the end, his misfortunes resulted in him finishing seventh and twelfth for ninth overall. Which is a bit below where he expects to be after a very strong season opener.
After the Monster Energy Bike It Yamaha squad of Arnaud Tonus and Zach Osborne succumbed to injury, Michael Lieb got the call to act as a replacement rider alongside Mel Pocock just days before Sevlievo, and with no experience on the Yamaha or with the team, the young American went out and finished twelfth overall with a tenth and an eleventh. With no testing prior to free practice Saturday morning, it was an impressive ride for Lieb. His stint with Husqvarna last year, and BUD Racing Kawasaki the year before were very up and down, but it would be interesting to see how he would do during a full season with a team he is comfortable with. Really he should be a firm fixture in the top ten; unfortunately he only has one more ride with Steve Dixon’s team before he is supposed to jet off back to the USA. So we might not get to see what he is really capable of, at least during this stint at least.
One rider who really impressed me, and seemed to be right in the thick of the action every lap was Alessandro Lupino. The Husqvarna isn’t exactly considered as good as the ‘big five’ manufacturers, but the young Italian looked strong and fast as he sliced his way through the pack. Perhaps it was the slick hard pack that resembles the tracks of his native Italy that brought the best out of him, but something definitely clicked for Lupino this weekend, as he proved the Husky can be competitive in the MX2 class.
Just like Joel Roelants in MX2, Gautier Paulin is a real dark horse for the title in the MX1 class. His maiden MX1 grand prix victory came under similar track conditions in Fermo last year, but the opposition he had to face in Sevlievo was a lot stiffer, with every major contender on the line (aside from Frossard). The Frenchman is better suited to the 450. That is obvious. It remains a mystery why he stayed down in MX2 so long, when he is clearly built for the 450. His line choice, technique and lack of mistakes were crucial in both motos and really allowed him to ride away from everyone else in the second moto. The established MX1 riders are being forced to sit up and take notice of the Frenchman, as he looks like he has his eyes firmly set on the red plate. Paulin will undoubtedly be looking for similar success in similar conditions next week also.
I mentioned the troubles Monster Energy Yamaha have faced in the MX2 class, after Charlier, Tonus and Osborne were all cruelly knocked out with injury before round one. The team has been dealt another devastating blow however, as Steven Frossard had to bow out with injury in Saturdays qualifying race after tweaking his knee. Although Frossard could possibly be back in the near future, his title run for 2012 is almost certainly over, unless he can mount an astonishing comeback.
‘The Crafty Frenchman’ was back in Bulgaria. After many had already written him off following round one, Pourcel silenced all critics and definitely brought his ‘A game’ to Sevlievo. The speed he occupied in race one was unrivalled, as he swiftly moved his way to the front through the first couple of laps, passing virtually ever title contender, and serving notice that he is still capable of winning. Although race two saw him relinquish the lead to Paulin, he still stuck with it for the entire forty minutes – and tied for the overall victory on the day. If only the Pourcel that was in Bulgaria would turn up every weekend, he might join the list of title contenders.
With talks of MX1 being the deepest field in years. Many fans looking for a hard fought battle for the title over the sixteen rounds suddenly looked worried leaving Valkenswaard, as Cairoli waxed the field and looked very capable of taking a sixth world title. However, in Sevlievo the reigning champ looked human and had to fight extremely hard to finish up on the podium in third overall. There were talks of Cairoli maybe very slightly tweaking his knee. However it didn’t seem to affect him because as normal, when the clock began to wind down, he picked up the pace and looked to attack his rivals when they were getting tired. Clement Desalle had to face the challenge in race one and only just managed to hold third place across the line.
Speaking of Desalle, the Belgian might have been the unluckiest rider on the day, and if not for a hard crash late in the second race, might have knocked Cairoli off the podium. The three points Desalle managed to gain in the second moto – after having to pull in too pit lane to try and straighten out his handlebars – could be crucial in the latter part of the season.
Jumping on board the Factory KTM, and ditching the LS Honda has already proven to be a very good decision for lanky Belgian, Ken De Dycker. After a solid sixth overall last week, Ken fell just short of the podium this week with fourth overall. Currently, these results are considerably better than last year’s performance on the Honda. At this point, Ken must be looking for some kind of support from KTM for the rest of the year, as his time under the factory rig is supposed to end five rounds in. But he definitely is looking more like the Ken De Dycker from old, and hopefully it will continue whether he is on or off the factory bike.
Another rider who I was glad to see at least show a glimpse of his previous form is Sebastian Pourcel. Ever since the 2008 Motocross of Nations, Sebastian just hasn’t been the same rider as injury after injury has practically destroyed his confidence. Finally however, Sebastian posted a top six result in the second moto. Although sixth is still not quite as good as back when he beat James Stewart in 2008. It’s step by step at the moment, and hopefully Seb’s sixth will give him the confidence to keep improving over the next few rounds, and maybe regain his previous form by the end of the season.
Carrying a few niggling injuries from Valkenswaard, Evgeny Bobryshev ended the day with a top five overall result. However he was never really a threat to the leaders, as his lap times were a little inconsistent often ranging anywhere from 1:52 to 1:57 in the second moto, whilst the leaders managed to stay within the 1:52 to 1:54 range the entire moto. He may have just been a tick off, but it’s going to take time for the Russian to be back 100% fit.
Rui Goncalves – Bobryshev’s teammate over on the Honda World Motocross team had a pretty disastrous day, which cost him a lot of points, and saw him slip down the point’s standings. Although a ninth in moto one is a little below what he was expecting, on a track which didn’t seem to suit his style it wasn’t a bad result. In moto two he looked as though he would improve on that, riding around in eighth the entire moto before crashing out with only a few laps to go. With that DNF in the second moto, Rui slipped to a lowly eleventh in the title chase, still two positions ahead of his teammate however. So far it’s been a tough year for the Factory Honda team.
Yet another French rider in the top ten was KRT’s Xavier Boog. I have always thought of Boog as a podium contender, and he’s proved to have the speed in both MX2 and MX1. His sixth and seventh was a much better result than he had at Valkenswaard, as the Sevlievo circuit undoubtedly suited his style a lot better. The Frenchman clearly had top five speed, as his lap times were better than the two riders ahead of him in the second moto, it was just bad starts which held him back. Xavier is definitely a rider to keep an eye on in Fermo, as he seems to be improving all the time.
Top Brit in MX1, as he should be for most of the year, Shaun Simpson had a day very similar to that of the first round. Praying for rain Saturday night as he too felt the track was a little fast. Shaun posted an eleventh and ninth for ninth overall, and again met his goal of top ten, which he aims to do all season long. Simpson is clearly a lot more comfortable on the Yamaha and under Steve Dixons awning as his results are much improved over last year. His speed and fitness are good, so there is really no reason why he shouldn’t start edging closer to the top five as the season progresses.
Tanel Leok’s performance was again a little subpar as the Estonian struggles to regain full fitness after a small pre season injury. Eleventh overall just isn’t what you expect from a full factory rider, and you would think that his results would improve dramatically on the Suzuki, however he has yet to impress. David Philippaerts seems to be in the same situation. Admittedly still struggling with his wrist injury from last year, David had to fight very hard throughout both moto’s for his seventh overall. But you would expect the former world champ to be winning races rather than filling out the top ten.
Matiss Karro has exceeded virtually all expectations so far this year, not many people expected him to be battling for the British Championship title, and now he’s running top ten in MX1 GP’s! If not for a huge crash late in the second moto, which left him with a DNF he would have ended up ninth ahead of a handful of established front-runners. Karro seems to be fine following the crash however, as he has stated that he just banged his head and needs a good rest. His teammate Nathan Parker also scored his first GP points with a nineteenth in moto two, so it was a very successful weekend for the STR team!
The series now heads to round three of the series in Fermo, Italy on the twenty-ninth of April. Track conditions should be very similar to that of Sevlievo, as the hillside should once again get very hard and slick. The Kawasaki duo of Paulin and Searle both have previous success at this track, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the points standing tighten up considerably before the two South-America rounds in the middle of May.
For more detail on the FIM World championship go to http://www.youthstream.org/