The series leader for 11 of the 14 events leading up to this tense finale became the sixth Italian world champion, the first ever in MX1, and the first in the blue-ribbon class since Alex Puzar wrapped up the 250cc title in 1990. The 24-year-old held the contents of the circuit enraptured with his valiant and risky push to third in Moto 1 and then needed just 3 points over badly misfiring defending world champion Steve Ramon and the Belgian’s teammate Ken de Dycker in Moto 2 (both on factory Suzukis) to stamp his slot in the annals of the sport.
Saturday’s weather forecast for Sunday was ghastly, with storms and a full day of rain predicted. It could have turned the races into a lottery and most certainly robbed the gate of a few thousand spectators; a great shame for the club at Faenza, whose hard work and application at a venue that is possibly too small for world championship motocross seemed to surpass their excellent efforts of last year and their inaugural stab at Grand Prix hosting.
The rain poured Sunday morning but vanished during warm-up, leaving the track sticky in patches, slippery in others, and very rutty. The celebrations and revelry that greeted Philippaerts’ steady ninth position in Moto 2 have rarely been seen before. The partisan crowd flooded the track and engulfed their hero. The well-wishing verged on hysteria and was coated with tears, emotions, and general boisterousness. To say Philippaerts’ achievement in front of a loyal tifosi was popular is a horrible understatement.
To be in the middle of it all was as exhilarating as it was mind-boggling; truly one of those moments where time seems to slip by in an instant and the universe seems to center on one place and a thatch of outpouring.
Nagl, slight and introverted but an incredibly friendly guy, knowingly had to play a supporting role to a crowd gathered to see coronation of another Yamaha champion, the fourth time the factory team has walked off with silverware in five years of MX1. On any other day Nagl’s set of holeshots and flights free from the pack would easily have been headline material. This prime student of Stefan Everts is a very serious prospect for 2009 if he can unveil speed like this on a regular basis. A short and fast track assisted his escape once the good work had been done out of the gate.
In second place overall was De Dycker, who put Philippaerts under pressure in Moto 1 and actually took a few points away from the Italian by finishing second, but in the end was content with runner-up and third in the final table. “Yes, perhaps I could have run him off the track but that is not motocross and I don’t want a bad name,” he confessed, perhaps partly in reference to some of his past gamesmanship.
Third place was won by Jonathan Barragan, making a return to the podium with two fourths, only losing a sniff at spoiling Philippaerts’ destiny with iffy outings in the last two grand prix. He confirmed fourth in the series as a consequence, marking a career-best and record finish for Spain. Barragan is possibly one of the standout riders in MX1 from this season and ends the campaign as the most successful with four victories.
“I did not want to win this GP. The title was always the goal. I had a lot of people helping me when I was young to get to the top and I have to thank all of them,” said Philippaerts, who walked the podium seven times from 15 Grand Prix and also set the most lap records with six. “To be the first Italian winner of the MX1 title means a lot to me.”
Josh Coppins had another grand prix to lament, with front-fork trouble the root of two falls and tenth spot in Moto 1 although the New Zealander showed his grittier side in Moto 2 to front and ultimately win a four-rider chase for thid for the majority of the race. Josh demonstrated his professionalism and amiability by joining the Yamaha post-race festivities, a scene that should have been his in 2007.
Sebastien Pourcel ended the year on a downward curve with a double DNF, the first caused by green fencing in his rear wheel and the second by a double crash. The Frenchman, on the factory fuel-injected Kawasaki, held pole position on Saturday and also trounced the opposition for a 1-1 scorecard in 2007.
Lierop victor Marc de Reuver encountered a different terrain away from his beloved sand and did not feature near the top three, even picking up a DNF in race two after clipping his foot in the gate and retiring with a painful ankle.
While the Yamaha crew dined a few kilometers from the track Sunday evening, Tyla Rattray was the centerpiece of raucous KTM celebrations at the Red Bull hospitality within the circuit. Stefan Everts was DJing and getting hands in the air as the rain belatedly crashed down. The new MX2 world champion took his 13th podium from 15 Grand Prix with a 2-4 and actually started the party/shed the weight from his shoulders after Moto 1 with his hefty 33-point lead coming into the round proving more than an adequate cushion in finishing second to Tommy Searle.
The British rider, now no longer a world championship competitor and set for the U.S. after his bow for team GB at Donington Park, gave KTM a perfect day with another reasonably comfortable 1-1 result. The MX2 races were as static as the MX1, with many riders clocking similar lap times. Rattray gave the second race an air of anticlimax after his team flocked the finish to toast his maiden world title after consecutive seasons wrecked by knee injuries.
After movingly dedicating the win to his late grandfather, whom he lost over the winter in South Africa, Rattray then revealed the secret to his success. “Thursday night is my treat night. I know it is a bit close to the race weekend, but maybe that’s why I have been on the podium so much this year,” said only the second South African world champion this century, tongue planted in cheek. “A group of us normally head down to Starbucks, which is some distance from my place in Belgium, because we are big addicts. We also stuff our faces with Mexican food.”
Burritos and frappucinos aside, a remarkable campaign of consistency also helped, with four victories and 12 moto wins contributing. Team manager Everts heralded his first crown away from the motorcycle: “Getting a title on the bike, you really feel the emotion, whereas now I am a little piece in a great machine and a group of people that did a fantastic job. I think it is also important to remember that Tyla was leading the championship when Tony was injured; this was not handed to him on a plate and Cairoli was under pressure.”
Outgoing #1 Cairoli looked refreshed after his enforced break from the sport due to ACL breakage and took part in a press conference on Saturday in which he declared he will be riding again in November and will climb straight aboard the YZ450F. He will be joined in MX1 by Rattray in 2009 to deepen an already generous pool of talent and potential winners.
Belgian Joel Roelants made the podium for the first time in third position and Yamaha’s Nico Aubin ended a sketchy season by taking third in the championship standings, also modestly admitted that he gained the slot only due to Cairoli’s injury. Zach Osborne finally banished the technical gremlins that have seen him complete just 50 percent of the last two Grand Prix, and if not for a lousy first-moto start and a near-crash in Moto 2, he might have had that extra point to lift him from fourth overall to a first podium position. It was nevertheless an assuring performance and extremely encouraging for what he might be able to do in his first full tenure next season.
Talk quickly turned to the Motocross of Nations only two weeks away as the media corps started to try and summarize a season that was hardly frugal in its exclusivity. Never has the MX1 world championship been this open, tense or unpredictable. Philippaerts’ direct and aggressive approach at times put a target on his back, only adding to the spice. It seems rather pointless to speculate on the nature of 2009 as the dusk ushers on a sizzling 2008 but there is little doubt that amplification of the field will promise further treats in the very near future.