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Grand Prix of Bulgaria Report

By Adam Wheeler

Umbrellas and gum boots were swapped for shades and sun cream, much to the blessed relief of the FIM World Championship paddock at Sevlievo in Bulgaria for the second round of fifteen in the 2009 series. Just one week after the complete washout and part-cancellation of the Italian Grand Prix, the superb facilities and setting of the government-backed venue in eastern Europe could not have come at a better time. Yamaha Monster Energy’s Josh Coppins remembered what it was like to taste victory champagne in the MX1 class while supercross hot-shot Marvin Musquin marked a special date in his career and broke Honda’s winless streak in MX2.

The fall-out from Faenza led to more than a sustained bout of power-washing for the teams. Several riders were carrying illnesses or aches from the dip into the Italian ooze. In MX1, Italian victor Tanel Leok was still not completely over his ear infection and tonsillitis, Kawasaki’s Greg Aranda complained of a lack of energy, as did Martin Honda’s Marc de Reuver, who circulated far behind the pack and out of the points in moto two, much to the ire of his Italian team. CCM’s Tom Church had the Flu, while in MX2 Nico Aubin took fifth place overall despite a stomach virus. Thankfully, the only complaint in Turkey next week should be of sunburn.

  • MX1 Start
  • Josh Coppins
The hard and fast circuit is an acquired taste, but the technical level of the course rose through the weekend with some devilish bumps and ruts forming by the second motos on a sun-dripped Sunday.

As is becoming the norm, the MX1 class – with its fantastically wide array of potential winners – provided the most entertainment with a close de Dycker/Coppins duel for the flag in moto one and then a frantic scrabble involving Coppins, teammate and world champion David Philippaerts, and MX1 rookie Antonio Cairoli for second spot in moto two.

Teka Suzuki’s de Dycker fended off the Yamaha for victory in the first contest by less than two seconds, but a bad start banished him to the bottom half of the top ten later on. KTM’s Jonathan Barragan suffered a bike stall while third in moto one, but set the most impressive speed seen all weekend to pick through from the top five and disappear with moto two. Coppins was the most consistent and, thanks to bright starts, determination and a consistent pace, was able to attack-and-defend to ensure his first win since June 2008 (German GP) and the eleventh triumph of his career.

Elsewhere, Philippaerts was fourth (a poor getaway leaving him fifth in moto one), Cairoli was fifth and immediately eye-catching, as his mouth-watering capability with his old 250F was beginning to show in the way he flicked and maneuvered his YZ450F; returning from a collision with Clement Desalle and deep in the pack to seventh, and then proving equally adept at overtaking to almost slide past Philippaerts and Coppins in the final two laps of moto two.

Barragan (second for the third year in a row at Sevlievo) and de Dycker, the new championship leader by a slender point from Coppins, also mounted the podium.

“This is still sinking in, but to be honest I thought I had it in me; I have been riding well at both GPs, in the practices and the races,” said the experienced Kiwi. “I am a bit relieved, I guess, because there hasn’t been a whole lot of talk about me coming into this season and I believed in myself and I always like to prove people wrong! I broke away at the start of the second race but I could not maintain it, but this track tends to see people hitting different speeds. I am happy for myself, the team and the people that believed in me. The Yamaha was great today and I know we have more to come from it with some upgrades soon; the team have worked hard to give me what I asked for over the winter and it shows.”

Gautier Paulin maintains his slightly unexpected position as MX2 world championship leader after his second podium result with the runner-up step at Sevlievo. The teenager was part of a dominant French quartet that simply had too much craft, pace and guile for their rivals on the hard-pack. Euro champion from 2007 Paulin guided his Kawasaki to two second positions. He finished behind polesitter Marvin Musquin in moto one and Kawasaki’s Steven Frossard in moto two.

  • Jonathan Barragan
  • Antonio Cairoli
  • Marvin Musquin
Musquin survived rear-brake fade in the second outing to claim his and his NGS team’s first-ever Grand Prix win. It was also a landmark for Honda and their maiden victory in the category for the CRF250R after five years of waiting. The last Honda success in the class (125s) was way back in the last century, exactly ten years ago, thanks to Mike Brown.

In truth, Frossard should have been the rider toasting a first set of spoils but a busted gearbox while a clear second in moto one forced a retirement. The stocky Frenchman was in a class of his own in the second race, however. Pre-season championship favorite Shaun Simpson struggled to find a rhythm that permitted him to rise to the status as one of the leaders and was a good 1.5 seconds off the pace all weekend. The Scot led the opening exchanges of moto two but could only take sixth by the end of play.

Utag Yamaha.com’s Zach Osborne made a poor job of his starts but his aesthetically pleasing and aggressive style brought him through the pack for sixth and thirteenth positions and 10th overall. The YZ250F runner claimed he was happy with the performance of the bike. “The result wasn’t that great and doesn’t look so good on paper but for the team and I it was a move in the right direction,” he ensured. “I liked the track and the facility and look forward to coming back.”

American presence on the world championship stage swelled as the first round of the FIM Women’s series saw AMA champ Ashley Fiolek and Tarah Geiger take their first Grand Prix laps. Fiolek emerged as the more successful with third position overall while Geiger counted the cost of an early-race crash in moto one on Saturday due to a dipping afternoon sun to collect sixth spot on her Grand Prix debut. World Champion Livia Lancelot successfully banked some credit for a title defense and finished ahead of KTM’s Steffie Laier. “I hope to do three maybe four GPs, some of the dates clash and I have testing to do in the US to be ready for Glen Helen,” recounted Fiolek. “This is the place to be to race with the best women in the world and I learn a lot and can bring it back to the WMA. Things have changed a lot for me with factory Honda backing and for women generally with their racing in the States, but the challenge to do better is always there.”

The paddock felt a lot more positive after this GP and the memories of the slosh at Faenza was all but removed.  Those not fond of Sevlievo however had better learn to get used to it as Youthstream and some representatives from the Bulgarian government announced a new five-year deal to bring the world championship to the venue until 2014.

The third Grand Prix in three weeks will take place next weekend with the first ever visit to Turkey and Istanbul hosting round three on the ’09 schedule.

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