The torrid conditions and avalanche of rainfall that lay a foul curse on the second round of the FIM World Championship in Spain is best summed up in two words: Daytona Supercross. As the AMA series never saw weather and a terrain quite unlike the shower-smashed Floridian venue, so the Bellpuig circuit in northern Spain provided Grand Prix with some of the worst race circumstances in living memory, certainly of this century.
Amidst scenes of strewn machinery, glued into the steep uphills during an incomprehensible second MX2 moto like a mechanical montage of carnage normally found in some epic war movie, MX1 world champion Steve Ramon ended a five-year drought to win his first event in the category.
The Belgian clinched the title unexpectedly in 2007, and his maiden victory was also unconventional. His ability to find the uncanny line worked in his favor, as almost every rider or motorcycle swallowed some of the Spanish ooze in Moto 1. His first checkered flag since France last June delivered the overall as the eleven-hour stint of rain became even heavier as the riders lined up in front of scant and loyal fans for Moto 2, only for the MX1 majority to approach race control with concerns about the ocean of water on the start straight and first corner. After some mediation, the Grand Prix was put out of its misery and the second sprint was canceled.
The rider action was understandable. Tommy Searle had managed a holeshot in an absurd second MX2 moto but aquaplaned through the large puddle on the first corner and flopped right into the middle of the chasing pack, amazingly escaping injury. The race was red-flagged with just one lap remaining, as less than half the field were actually still moving.
Ramon, on the Suzuki, won from David Philippaerts (taking his first podium with the Monster Energy factory Yamaha), with series leader and round-one victor Ken De Dycker in third.
Davide Guarneri’s broken shoulder ligament needed painkillers but probably worked in his favor, as the Italian rode well within himself on the YZ250F and managed to keep in motion until the last moments of the second moto to take his second MX2 success. He was in front of another Yamaha rider, Manuel Monni (the pair are actually duking the Italian championship and are separated by 12 points with one round remaining), and works Kawasaki rider Stephen Sword, who grabbed his first rostrum since 2005, after needing more than a year to recover from a shattered right lower leg.
The main character at the race, though, was the freakish weather. Sunshine and blue skies defied forecasts on Saturday and a hard and fast track saw the first nine MX1 riders split by just two seconds. The rain began early Sunday morning and simply didn’t stop.
Bikes were abandoned, goggles were trashed, marshals were exhausted from trying to retrieve motorcycles from thigh-deep mud, spectators were rain-lashed but good-naturedly cheering the latest attempts to mount the step-ups, yellow flags were furiously in use and then eventually given up as the riders still circulating lethargically dodged stationary figures as if part of a video game. The lap chart was equally crazy, and apart from the first two to three riders, it must have been impossible to fathom what was happening and who was who for the audience. Individuals were lapped up to fourth position in MX2 Moto 2, and Monni finished a full two and a half minutes behind Guarneri, as if the parallels with Enduro needed to be allied even harder.
“It was a day in which anything could happen. You could crash be a lap down and win the GP or come away having lost 50 points to someone. To take anything from this type of GP is a bonus,” said Moto 1 winner Tyla Rattray, one of many stuck in the mire in Moto 2 (17th spot) and who now leads the championship by three points from Antonio Cairoli, who rode with a fever from a throat infection on Saturday. The Italian finished a decent second to the South African in Moto 1 but was a victim of Searle’s acrobatic dive at the start of Moto 2 and reached the red flag down in 11th.
The candidates for the Veteran’s championship embarked on their first round of three in 2008 and Toine Van Dijk was a surprise winner after the bog sucked in reigning number one Dave Thorpe in Moto 1. Chuck Sun was a faithful representative for the USA and would cross the finish line just once for 12 place and 20th overall.
Bellpuig – backed by the Catalan government and who seek to improve their facilities each year – will feel the harsh affects of a weather-whacked event. Local TV was covering all the motos live for the first time, and it was hardly a showcase for the thrills and potential of the sport. The club has a contract to run the Grand Prix until 2012, but with unpredictable weather for several years now, they may well push to get the meeting later in the schedule.
The Grand Prix of Portugal at Agueda is another round familiar with an inclement climate, and after many hours of cleaning and preparation during the week for the third stop on the world championship calendar this week, many fingers in the paddock will be crossed for a little sunshine this coming Sunday.