Antonio Cairoli seems to have an extremely tight grasp on the MX1 World title currently. But, this year there will be a whole host of riders desperate to end his streak of four successive titles. Max Nagl, the latest addition to the Honda World Motocross lineup, is at the forefront of that list of contenders. After some troublesome years the German is hungry and eager to grab that elusive title.
I do believe that the German [Max Nagl] has not yet reached his full potential, despite being twenty-five years of age. Surprisingly, Max has not ridden one of the four Japanese bikes once in his professional career; he has always remained loyal to KTM. But unfortunately, his loyalty was not enough to persuade the Austrian manufacturer to present him with another contract for 2013, for the first time Max had to look at other options within the paddock. Following intense negotiations with many factory teams, he did eventually decide to settle down on the all-new CRF450.
It was a huge gamble for the Honda World Motocross team to sign Max; Nagl does struggle to stay injury free over the course of a season. The biggest hurdle that Max has had to overcome was the back injury, which knocked him out of parts of the 2011 and 2012 season. It was this injury, which prompted factory KTM to drop Nagl from their team. But, it was not just the injury that influenced their decision. It turns out that they wanted a rider that would not challenge Cairoli’s position at the top of the class. Clearly, KTM saw Max Nagl as a threat to Toni’s throne, hence why the German was such a hot property this off-season.
But still, the back injury left most doubting whether Max Nagl would return to the sport, let alone the podium. In the early stages of 2012, his comeback was postponed three times; clearly the problems that he was dealing with were more serious than most thought. He has now stated that he did not reveal just how serious his injuries were. But, the extra time off evidently helped the German recuperate, both physically and mentally.
When Max Nagl did return at the GP of the Czech Republic in the latter stages of 2012, most were apprehensive. However, from the very first lap of practice it was evident that this was not the Max Nagl that we had seen previously. It was a faster, and stronger rider. Previously, Max was always quite serious about his racing, maybe he was too serious; he admits that now. I think that it was evident in his style once he had returned that he had loosened up, and this translated into better results. Although he wasn’t able to acquire a GP victory in his final few GP’s with the KTM team, he did prove that he has the raw speed to challenge Toni Cairoli.
I do believe that when Max Nagl returned to racing last year, he thrived because of the low expectations people had of him. Although, you would think that pressure would have been applied from angles; he had just been told by KTM that he would not have a job for the following year, and he needed to prove that he was still capable of winning. Everyone seemed to think that he would slowly ease himself back into racing; the reality was much different. Maybe, this is what Nagl needs in order to thrive, a low-pressure environment?
At first, 2012 did seem to be a disastrous year for Max Nagl. However, everything did seem to improve for Max as the year progressed. Eventually, his gradual improvement in the FIM World Motocross Championship culminated in an overall victory for Germany at the season ending Motocross of Nations. It was at this point that I (and most others) realised that Max Nagl was back. On maybe the toughest track in the world, he had excelled; clearly his back was no longer an issue. For Nagl to win the MXoN with Germany, it was a great comeback story and one that forced everyone to sit up and take notice.
Although you could argue that Max Nagl might find getting accustomed to the Honda World Motocross machine difficult. I think that the fresh challenge of jumping on an all-new team, and bike will be a great thing for his career. After spending so long on a KTM, maybe it was the right time for a change? The first images and videos of Max on a Honda surfaced last week (you can find them on MX Vice); he does look comfortable on the bike. Also, he sounds happy with the mechanics and team personnel; a happy rider is a fast rider!
One factor, which will certainly help Max Nagl this year, is that he is the number one guy at Honda. Previously, he has always been the second best to Cairoli at factory KTM. But, now he will undoubtedly have everyone on the team trying to make everything perfect for him. So, that he has the best possible shot at a title. This could be his key to success, I think. After, spending so much time around Antonio in recent years, Max knows what his weaknesses are. Everything points to the fact that this could be the best year of Nagl’s career. Especially when you consider that he has been able to get a solid, injury-free off-season under his belt, which is something that he has not had in recent years.
Undoubtedly, Max Nagl has the work ethic to grab that elusive world title. With things seemingly going his way, maybe this is the year that Max takes that next step? We are only a few weeks away from finding out.
Words by Lewis Phillips
Picture courtesy of Honda MX