The 2012 FIM Motocross World Championship tour continued on last weekend, as the series hit the steep, hard-pack hillside of St Jean d’Angely for the sixth round of the series. With a lot of successful French riders contesting the championship, the French GP is an important one and it witnessed some excellent – and controversial racing every time riders took to the track.
The last time most of the riders visited the famous track would have been the 2011 Motocross of Nations. At that time, the track came under criticism from a number of riders, mainly because it was a) to short and b) because the topsoil had gone away almost completely and left a mainly rocky base. Although lap times were again relatively short compared to what is considered normal for a World Championship event. Every GP prior to the French GP had featured lap times above 1:50, whereas the fastest riders were able to break into the low 1:38’s in free practice. However, the surface although not drastically different, was not on the receiving end of as many complaints as last year. In fact, not many were to concerned about the lap times either, even though they were almost exactly the same as the Motocross of Nations last September.
The track was a typical French track, and featured a lot of stereotypes a French circuit is known for, being fast, hard-pack and on a steep hillside. Although some weren’t happy with the lack of lines as almost every corner seemed to funnel into one good line. There was no lack of passing anywhere on the track, even if the circuit did prompt some aggressive moves by some.
Tommy Searle arrived at the St Jean d’Angely with a lot of confidence, and momentum. With the knowledge that he has won the GP at this track, the last two times he has visited the circuit (2008 and 2011) and also the momentum he had on his side from his double moto victory two weeks ago in Brazil. He managed to translate that into pole position on the Saturday, however he couldn’t put it together for the overall victory – despite being the fastest on track in both moto’s.
In my mind at least, there was one pinnacle moment, which can be looked at as a reason why Searle didn’t climb to the very top step of the podium. When the gates dropped for MX2 moto one, Searle didn’t get the greatest jump admittedly. Herlings immediately swung into Searle’s line, blocking the Brit and basically ensuring he would get a bad start. This is just the most recent, in an already long list of aggressive moves exchanged between Herlings and Searle, and something that looks to continue through the remaining rounds, as the rivalry between the two seems to heat up every week.
Herlings did rebound from a pretty disastrous Brazilian GP to take the overall victory, on a surface that he perhaps isn’t most comfortable on. Getting out to an early lead in moto one helped his cause immensely, because it became apparent in moto two that the Dutchman isn’t as quick working his way through the pack. In race one, we got a glimpse of what Searle could do coming through traffic, and he constantly switched lines, squared corners off and jumped to the inside of the riders ahead of him, which saw him make a lot of progress through the pack in a short amount of time.
In the second moto, Herlings was in a position where he had to work his way through traffic, and was very slow when doing so. A prime example of this is he sat behind the returning Arnaud Tonus for three whole laps, whereas in the first race it took Searle just one whole lap to find a way through. It’s wasted time like this, which can decide the fate of the rest of a rider’s race.
The amount of time spent behind Tonus in the second moto evidently led to some frustration from Herlings, which eventually came to a head in quite a questionable move, one that is considered the talking point of the weekend. All race long, on the corner after the table top that followed the finish line, riders were taking the ruts on the inside of the corner to set themselves up for the following step-up. Tonus made a mistake however, which forced him wide in the corner leaving the door wide open for Herlings to make a clean pass for second. But, Herlings decided to put an extremely aggressive block pass on Tonus, in order to ensure the Swiss rider would remain behind him. The pass resulted in Tonus’ in a heap on the ground, something, which was from no fault of his own.
As soon as Tonus hit the ground, the motocross world came to life airing their views on the move and whether it was required. Although Herlings stated that it was an accident, he later stated that he was simply doing to Tonus, what he had done to him. Although I don’t understand this particular quote, as for the duration of the second race Tonus was in front of Herlings, so how was it possible that Tonus had put such an aggressive move on Herlings? The move was clearly recognised by the FIM as unneeded and ‘dirty’ as he was given a warning following the race. So, maybe this warning will see a much calmer Herlings on the track, and no more drastically cutting across riders on the start, or taking guys out – at the next few rounds at least.
In my opinion, the move was completely uncalled for, in fact if Herlings had chosen to just take one of the faster, inside ruts as he had been doing, he most likely would have headed up the hill with a comfortable cushion over Tonus – whilst the Swiss rider recovered from his mistake. The thing that really confuses me is why was it needed when Tonus isn’t a factor in the point’s standings, as this was only his first GP of the year. Something interesting is that Herlings is dating Tonus’ sister, which makes the move even more bizarre!
Anyway, Herlings took the GP win after not being on the podium in Brazil and in doing so, extended his point’s lead to twenty-two points. Which at this point in the year is really nothing, and could be a lot closer as soon as the next moto. Next week’s track should be interesting, as Agueda is a track Herlings has previous victories at, and is also one I believe Searle will be strong at. As I said earlier, the rivalry is just getting started!
Third overall was Herlings’ best friend, and teammate Jeremy Van Horebeek. After being landed on in morning warm up, the Belgian showed no ill effects as in the second moto he wasn’t far off of Herlings at all, and in the first moto managed to maintain the gap between himself and Searle all the way to the finish! In recent weeks, Jeremy has really grabbed the ‘best of the rest’ tag behind the top two. Something, which really gets overlooked, is that he is only a handful of points behind Searle in the championship. Many immediately presume Jeffrey and Tommy would be far ahead, but in reality Van Horebeek is right in it, at least for the time being.
Yet another controversial move from the points paying races, which involved Jeffrey and Van Horebeek, was the pass Herlings made on Jeremy for third in the second moto. As the two made their way up another of the steep inclines, the Belgian just drifted to the outside leaving the door wide open for Herlings to advance through to third easily. Although this raised some eyebrows, not much was thought of it. Until, on the next straight Herlings raised his hand – which looked as though it was to thank his teammate. In my opinion, it’s way to early for team orders on the track, we’re only at round six, the championship is far from being decided and there was no reason why Van Horebeek needed to let Herlings through.
As more moto’s are completed, it’s starting to become evident the effect Roelants’ concussion from round three has had on him. Whereas prior to it he was a contender for the win, he has now slipped into the second tier group of guys, and just doesn’t seem to have the same intensity as he did at the first two rounds. Still, two fourths was a consistent day and he really wasn’t to far out of the lead in moto two! As he crossed the line he was just five seconds out. Four riders separated by just five seconds after a forty-minute moto? MX2 is very exciting this year!
It’s been a long time coming, but Arnaud Tonus finally raced his first GP of the year – after a relatively short time on the bike following his injuries sustained back in March. Whenever someone returns after such a long time out, their speed and fitness is immediately called into question. But after seeing what the Swiss rider can do right out of the gate, it’s evident that he is ready to start challenging for the first GP win of his career. His second moto was most impressive, as he held his ground at the front of the pack before settling into second. Obviously, ‘the incident’ with Herlings put an end to his charge, as he was slow to get going again after hitting the ground hard. When Herlings came round to lap him, he could have had a shot at revenge, but as he has stated he decided against it. The Swiss rider is a class act.
Jordi Tixier was consistent in his home GP, although he was not a factor for the win despite starting up front in both moto’s. However he was consistently around the top five – on a track that suited his style – which was his goal prior to the season, so you could say it was a successful weekend for the Frenchman. Right behind him, and the second best Frenchman on the day was Valentin Teillet. Very surprisingly, St Jean d’Angely marked the first time Teillet has scored points all year, after multiple crashes and injuries have halted his progress. With that in mind, the French GP went quite well for Valentin. Hopefully, he can avoid any further crashes and start to build off of this, and get some momentum going!
The Brit’s were again impressive, as Jake Nicholls and Max Anstie both joined Tommy Searle in the top ten overall. Both riders were mostly moving forward all weekend. It looks as though Jake Nicholls very good starts from earlier in the year have almost disappeared. If he wants his maiden Grand Prix podium, he’s going to need some good starts because starting outside of the top ten leaves him with way too much work to do! The same applies for Anstie, after ending the first lap in nineteenth in moto one, he managed to fight his way through to twelfth, but was unable to advance any further. A ninth place start in moto two helped him finish seventh to salvage eighth overall on the weekend, and remain fifth in the championship, just one point ahead of Tixier!
Although the patriotic French fans may have not had much to cheer for in MX2, it was a different story in MX1. Five French riders finished in the top ten overall, with another just outside of the top ten in eleventh! However, not one of them could stop reigning champion, Antonio Cairoli as he won both moto’s, and the overall – his first double moto victory since Valkenswaard this year. Although it has looked as though the competition are a lot closer to challenging Cairoli this year, in France he proved himself to be superior once again with two dominating rides, which helped him regain some of the points lost to his competitors in France.
Christophe Pourcel was the top Frenchman on the day, but in reality had nothing for Cairoli. He was very vocal about a move fellow Frenchman Gautier Paulin put on him to gain second in moto one. In his own words, Pourcel stated, “I don’t like that guy at all” so you get the impression a rivalry is brewing between the two Frenchman. Although the pass was aggressive, I didn’t think it was as bad as Pourcel made it seem, as it didn’t have a drastic affect the outcome of the race for either rider.
Although on paper Gautier Paulin finished third overall, he was evidently the fastest rider on the day, and was unlucky to not win a moto at least. It’s no secret the St Jean d’Angely track suits him – he beat the best of the best there at the Motocross of Nations in 2011. The way in which he carved his way through the field after two starts towards the tail end of the top ten was amazing, and he wasted no time in working his way into the top three. The fact that he set the fastest lap time in both moto’s further solidified that he was the fastest man on the day.
Clement Desalle looked a bit ‘off’ all day long, and was never really a contender for the podium. Following the race he revealed he had lost his grandfather in the days leading up to the French GP, so obviously he wasn’t really feeling up for it this weekend. Still, salvaging fourth overall on the day kept him third in the championship, just one point behind Pourcel, and one point ahead of Paulin. Those three and Cairoli have really established themselves as the ‘big four’ and when all is said and done, will most likely end up in the top four at most GP’s.
Seb Pourcel again showed flashes of his former self, as he battled with the stars of the class early in both moto’s. Past the halfway mark he started to lose touch with the top five, but still it’s step by step and now he knows exactly what the pace is like at the front of the pack, he knows where he needs to be. Undoubtedly racing in front of his home crowd urged him on a bit, and now with the French championship under his belt maybe with all efforts on the GP’s he can post some results closer to the podium in the future.
Once again Steven Frossard attempted to race with the knee he injured back at round two. For the first twenty minutes of each moto, he looked like the Frossard we saw in Valkenswaard as he diced with the championship contenders and in the second moto even passed Cairoli, much to the delight of the home crowd. After holding the lead for a handful of laps, Cairoli finally found a way back past, and then one corner later Philippaerts found a way past his teammate. Then in the next corner, Paulin found a way past his fellow countryman. Once he lost the lead things started happening very quickly for Frossard, and he admitted that once past the halfway point, his injured knee would start giving him trouble, and he started getting tired, which is the reason why he dropped down to eighth in each moto.
Ken De Dycker appeared to struggle in his first GP aboard the new KTM 450 that Ryan Dungey has been riding in the USA. The surface isn’t particularly to Ken’s liking, which resulted in a seventh and tenth in the points paying races, leaving him in ninth overall. I’d imagine the upcoming tracks will suit him a little better, especially his home GP in two weeks time, which should be when we really get to see what De Dycker can do on the new bike.
Shaun Simpson was top Brit yet again, but finished a lowly eighteenth overall after struggling all weekend long. He admitted that in the second race his speed was not where it needed to be. The fast nature of the circuit made the start crucial, and good starts escaped the Brit all day – as they have done all season long.
Jamie Law made his first appearance on the STR KTM team as a replacement rider for the injured Nathan Parker. Law was unlucky not to score points, as his lap times were quite competitive. Once he has more time to adjust to the forty-minute moto’s and the pace at the GP’s in the coming weeks, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him posting some solid results.
There was a British GP winner at the weekend, and it came in the E-MX2 race, as Mel Pocock took a double moto victory and the red plate in the first round of the series. Mel has been extremely impressive this year, and he simply dominated round one of the series on his Monster Energy BikeIt Yamaha. He won the qualifier, he set the fastest lap times and won both moto’s convincingly, you’ve got to think Mel is a good bet for the title at this early stage.
The French GP is over for another year, but riders have no time to rest as teams already make their way to the popular Agueda circuit in Portugal for round seven in a weeks time. The following weeks will be extremely tough on the riders, as St Jean d’Angely marked the first in three straight weeks of GP’s. Agueda is certainly a round not to be missed, as all eyes will be on Herlings and his growing list of rivals, to see if any revenge is served.
Pictures courtesy of Youthstream