MX-GP 2009 World ChampionshipThursday, March 26, 2009 | 12:03 PM
This weekend the FIM Motocross World Championship ignites into life with the first round of fifteen in the 2009 series set to take place at the tight Faenza circuit, near Bologna, in Italy. The Italian Grand Prix will be the opening meeting in a contest that will end with the first trip to Brazil this century in mid-September. At the heart of contention for the premier MX1-GP title and the MX2-GP crown is a fortified Yamaha effort with the strong basis of the YZ450F and YZ250F machinery again looking to vie for victory and podium success at the highest level.
The YZ450FM and the Yamaha Monster Energy Motocross Team again begin a MX1-GP term as defending champions. The effort between Yamaha Motor Europe and the Rinaldi Group is nothing short of prolific with eight titles in the last ten years; three of which are MX1-GP championships since the inception of the category in 2004. With David Philippaerts and Josh Coppins again representing the Italian-based factory effort Yamaha will once more be among the leading protagonists of what has become a very open, competitive and enormously entertaining series; 2008 delivered ten different winners alone (Coppins and Philippaerts among them) before Philippaerts was able to clinch the championship at his home Grand Prix.
Faenza will be a sentimental weekend for Philippaerts and the team. Only seven months ago celebrations with a delirious public occurred at the final round of 2008 as the 25 year old become the very first Italian MX1-GP champion and confirmed his splendid form during the season (his first with Yamaha and just his second in the class) after leading the previous eleven rounds.
Philippaerts has been on fine form during the phase of 2009 pre-season testing-racing. ‘DP’ won the Valence International in France and clinched victory in the two rounds of the Italian Championship he contested, meaning an impressive three wins from four appearances.
Coppins has also been lively in a busy winter period in which he became a father for the first time (to daughter Myla) changed his trainer and relocated from Belgium to the UK. The New Zealander took podium results at Valence and in Italy and has spent many weeks in southern Europe dialling-in his 09 YZ450FM.
The Yamaha Monster Energy Motocross Team may have altered their name slightly from 2008 but the same key set of seven personnel (backed in the workshop by the excellent efforts of the YRRD - Yamaha Rinaldi Research and Development - crew) and headed by Massimo Raspanti, will return in the confines of a brand new race truck.
For the first time in MX1-GP, Yamaha will count on a double force. After winning two MX2-GP world championships with Antonio Cairoli in 2005 and 2007 the Yamaha Red Bull De Carli team has changed cylinder size. De Carli’s famed tuning skills have now turned to the YZ450F with the immensely talented Cairoli (1st and 2nd in the 2008 and 2009 Italian MX1 championship) making his first full attempt at the class. Faenza will be his second MX1 Grand Prix since his emphatic and victorious wild-card debut at Donington Park in 2007. For Cairoli the Italian round will also mark his first GP since sustaining a left knee injury at the South African Grand Prix in July last year while fighting for a third MX2 title. The Sicilian will share the awning with new Italian MX1 Champion and fresh recruit Tanel Leok; the victor of the 2008 Irish GP. The Estonian has already showed some electric pace on the De Carli YZ and is an under-rated prospect for victories in 2009.
With De Carli leaving a space in MX2-GP, Yamaha’s main hopes for the category rely on the Yamaha Ricci Racing Team and American Zach Osborne from Utag Yamaha.com. Ricci enjoy the GP-winning talents of Nico Aubin (1 chequered flag) – who rose to 3rd in the 2008 championship on the YZ250F – and Davide Guarneri (2 victories) who is fit and ready to return after a knee injury which prevented the Italian operating at 100% fitness for the latter half of last season. The duo will negotiate their third year together for the Italian set-up while they are joined by highly-rated rookie Löic Larrieu. The 18 year old Frenchman was a race winner (despite a shoulder ailment) in the competitive European championship in 2008 and also took his first grand prix points in only his second world championship outing in France last June.
Osborne will start his first serious crack at the world championship after being drafted into the British Utag team in the second half of 2008. The hard-charging 19 year old immediately shone with his speed and won a moto at the Grand Prix of Ireland in what was only his third appearance in the FIM competition.
2009 will see the second edition of the FIM Women’s World Championship with the calendar extended by two rounds to seven meetings. Yamaha led the series in 2008 thanks to the brave performances of double World Cup winner Katherine Prumm, who competed with broken knee ligaments until a shoulder break ended her participation. The New Zealander has since suffered a serious back injury while training and, while is on the road to recovery, is unlikely to take any part in this year’s races. The YZ250F in female hands is still likely to be a sight this season and Puerto Rican Tarah Geiger’s presence for the first three races with the Utag Yamaha.com team before heading off to realise her AMA goals means that Yamaha still hopes to figure highly in the developing competition. Other hopes in the start gate lie with girls such as Chiara Fontanesi, who rides a YZ125.
Faenza is a fast and hard-pack circuit that weaves across the side of a steep hill, several kilometres outside of the small town of the same name. The compact confines mean the atmosphere generated by the crowd permeates the site with decent viewing opportunities making the venue a popular draw. After two seasons of the world championship beginning in the Dutch sand of Valkenswaard near Eindhoven, the trip to Faenza should create a slightly more level playing field; even if local hope, expectation and attention will be mostly hoisted onto the shoulders of Philippaerts and Cairoli.
A new rule change for 2009 sees the fields of both categories widened to 40 riders and the MX1-GP Time Practice replaced by a 20 minute qualification race on Saturday; the finishing order determining the ranking on the start gate for the two GP motos.
With factory representation by six manufacturers in Faenza, a new internet deal that sees every 2009 Grand Prix moto broadcast live and free online (www.freecaster.tv) and the promise of a terrific and open tussle for the crown for the next six month the fast-approaching world championship is a salivating prospect that should not be missed.
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Jean-Michel Bayle, the iconic superstar of yesteryear, raced motocross for the first time in twenty-one years at the Vets MXdN in England. Page 126.