Observations: Teutschenthal Grand Prix

June 24, 2009 3:52pm | by:
Hopefully you’ve been reading the blogs this week on Racer X and realize that I went to Europe for a little working vacation. (If you haven't, check out the related links below.) When I was making the plans to go over, the fact that it was a weekend-off in the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship in America, and with their being a Grand Prix at the legendary Teutschenthal track in Germany, the plan was set. There would be no way that I couldn’t visit the GP and report on it in. I was excited to say the least.

{LINKS}The never-ending debate on the message boards and around toolboxes everywhere is all about who produces the better riders and what riders would do what if they raced where. I like to think I have a unique perspective on it because my country, Canada, isn’t very competitive on the world’s stage and thus I am not blinded by patriotism. This was reinforced to me when Canada almost didn’t make the “A” finals at last year’s MXDN. Here’s the thing people: When you order a Big Mac anywhere in Europe, it tastes a little different from one you ordered in Akron, Ohio. It’s similar, the names the same but it’s slightly off from what you’re used to.

The same thing applies to motocross. It’s called motocross, the guys are racing around a dirt track with jumps and ruts, but it’s slightly off from what you know as motocross in America. You really can’t compare the two because they are different. Track prep (and tracks), bikes, cultures, ideas—you name it and its slightly different. The Euros would struggle over here (and I mean Euros, not Aussies or South Africans) to ride at the same level and most of our riders would struggle over there to do the same. Can we end the talk? No? I figured. ) Okay, feel free to debate endlessly on the bottom of this page then.

  • See that black box on the back fender of the Teka Suzuki? That's a GPS/data aquisition box that the teams can use to give them some valuable info. They race with them but I can't figure out how they get the data info because the bike didn't have sensors all over it like I'm used to seeing. Not sure how GPS would come in handy, maybe if they lose a rider in the weeds?
The track has been hosting GPs since the 1960s (and maybe even before) and is a long-standing stop on the GP tour. It’s also the site of the 2013 MXDN. In the past it was explained to me that it was very fast and even Christophe Pourcel told me at Mt. Morris that it was fast. But I didn’t see a fast track in 2009; it had a few spots but for the most part was technical and off-cambered with a little sand thrown in some spots. I liked it and it looked like a fun track to ride, even for a local-level dude. It was hard to pass on, however, and I attribute that to being such an old track as I’m sure when Dave Bickers and Roger DeCoster were battling it out in the ’60s on CZs and Rickmans or whatever, it was plenty wide enough. Hard to race on the same old tracks with the new bikes, methinks (remember how tough Unadilla used to be?).

Two of the biggest laughs I got from the riders all weekend were when I asked Josh Coppins and David Vuillemin if they were going to groom and water the track after Saturday’s qualifying sessions. I was the funniest man alive to them at that point… It seems that track prep consists of a few sprinklings here and there but the mud and ruts in the bottom of the valleys and the dry slippery spots at the top goes along with the jacked-up ruts leading every which way. There is no track prep and again, I’m not judging as everyone has to ride the same track but let me tell you American riders reading this, you’re very blessed with the disking and the watering and everything that goes into a national track.

  • This is what the Martin Honda team had in the hospitality area. A real live smoothie machine and I'm going to ask Mike Fisher this weekend if he can supply me one of these heavenly machines or I might just follow the GP's next year.
I suppose you would just call it “real” motocross and that’s how they did it back in the day but I can remember when I was at Yamaha, the guys refused to ride a Glen Helen track that wasn’t prepped and it was paradise compared to the second motos at Teutschenthal! We didn’t ride that day but I now wish I had a teleportation device to show everyone what they race on over there. Having said that, I still think the track was cool and nice to watch.

I do think that the bumps get bigger in America from the maintenance that goes into it. The dirt is chewed up and watered heavily, which makes for great traction and great Renthal ads. It’s also primo for braking bumps, deep ruts and massive ruts. In Europe it’s left alone and is, like, medium rough and has lines that are jacked up all day.
The GPs are also ran a bit different than in America, as the teams pay Youthstream to race the series and they are contracted to ride all of them through the promoter. I’m just not sure if this is the right answer as you limit the riders that you can get racing the GPs because they have to get on a team to race them. There would be no Ricky Dietrich story over here because he couldn’t have ever signed up! I always enjoy watching the guys in the USA scrap it out in qualifying to make the forty-man gate and then seeing if the fast locals (although that doesn’t happen much anymore in America) can hang with the national guys. You don’t get that in Europe and a premier class gate of 32 riders (and only 23 finishing the second moto) isn’t good, in my opinion.

A good example is the Hungarian Warrior, Kornel Nemeth, who raced the GPs last year and even scored a few top tens. He wasn’t able to get on a team that can meet the 10,000 Euro (about $13,000 USD compared to about $2,400 to enter the AMA Nationals for the season) and so Kornel is forced to ride the German National series. He’s a perfectly capable world championship rider and raced this weekend (because his German team got an exemption for its home country) but is now shut out. Also, when the GP teams need replacement riders for injuries to keep sponsors happy, they can’t dip into the national series because, like Nemeth, those guys all have contracts that won’t let them make the jump up. So you get teams reaching to try and make sponsors happy, like calling the retired Mickael Pichon up and asking him to come out and race.

There is plenty of grumbling in the pits about what Youthstream is doing no doubt about it and the fact that the F1 teams are trying to leave and start their own series was brought up more than a few times. On my personal experience, I was treated very nicely and given credentials that I didn’t ask for and the access was great. I was able to go anywhere and watch from wherever I wanted—just like in U.S. Motocross. Better over here are the signal areas: I love the pit boxes with the times and a live TV feed as well. You can really learn a lot from watching the actual race, looking at times, watching the teams, and then watching TV of the race all at the same time. I also think the wash bays are a great idea as the spectators are oftentimes walking around in mud and water at the American nationals from the teams washing their bikes.

The coolness factor of the bikes is also very high but I suppose I’m jaded on the American stuff as I’ve worked with it and been around it so much. Still, there are some trick things one can do that are against the rules in the USA. Also, there must be a discount carbon-fiber store somewhere in Europe because even the smaller teams had this expensive material covering everything. The teams also have a sweet pit set-up with nice mats and then plastic flooring laid down on top of that. Aluminum structures with air hoses and lights abound inside and the Teka Suzuki, Martin Honda teams do hospitality like no other.

And I know this because Wobbles (the old Smith goggle guy and mechanic over here) took me around and introduced me to the teams and the food and drink. Thanks Wobbles!

I’m 1200 words in and haven’t talked about the race yet, I just wanted to give you guys some ideas on what it’s like over there but now, onto (mostly) the racing. It vas wunderbar to be a German on this day as KTM’s Max Nagl went 1-3 for second in the MX1 class and 15-year-old Ken “Bed” Roczen won the MX2 class with a 2-2. The black, yellow and red flags were flying high and the good schnitzels were going to be brought out later that night because Germany hasn’t had a top rider since Pit Beier in the late-nineties and before that, I can’t even think of one (Rolf Something?). They look to have a bright future in the coming years with those two.

Nagl weighs about 100 pounds and seems to pull every holeshot. He checks out and rides pretty smooth but seems to get a bit tired. He lost the race to Antonio “Triple Deuces” Cairoli because Cairoli would not quit in the first MX1 moto and just kept laying the laps down and eating up the seconds that Max had. The first moto pushed him pretty hard I think, as he barely held off the 222 of Cairoli, then the second time out he couldn’t do anything to stay with Antonio and as a matter of fact, got passed by Ken De Giraffe… Er, I mean Ken de Dycker late in the moto. Still a great ride and he won both motos at the GP before this one, so Max is obviously coming on strong.

I wondered if a little bit of his performance was home-track related but people I spoke to say he lives in Belgium and never rides at Teutschenthal. That settles that! Great ride by Nagl and it made me get goose bumps watching the fans cheering him on wherever he was on the track. They loved it!

  • Marvin
By any measure, Marvin “The Martian” Musquin should’ve won the race with a 1-1. He recently got picked up by Factory KTM from a private Honda team and has wasted no time in adapting to the orange machine. He’s the series point leader in MX2 and had swept the last four motos. He was out front in the first moto and seemed to have his fifth moto in a row in hand when he high-sided and went down. He was a little dingy and dropped back a bit before coming through in the second moto for the win. His misfortune allowed another Frenchman, Steven Frossard, to win the first moto over young Roczen.

There’s still a little pesky matter of Musquin still being under contract to ride for the Honda team and, in my usual manner, I did some snooping around on this. Someone told me he just had a contract for gear and such with the Honda team so technically, he was able to break those and go. Another person told me that Youthstream has a policy on teams poaching other riders and that everyone has to agree on the rider leaving and the due diligence was not followed through in this case. So off to court we go! No matter what the outcome, Musquin is a very fast rider and has a bright future.

Maybe in America? Here’s the thing that I got in speaking to people over there: everybody that’s young and has potential wants to go to America and race. Seriously. It was always “He’s going next year” (Musquin) or “A team in America wants him” (Gauthier Paulin) or “He is going to race this year in America” (Clement DeSalle) or “You will see him in America soon, he is too good for here” (Roczen). No matter what it was, I was amazed by this talk from journalists, team members and riders. You can knock me or whatever, but it’s a fact. My travelling buddy, Alan Brown was getting the same talk whoever he spoke to also.

Ken Roczen is quite a story. He was fourteen years old and not allowed to race the GPs, so he missed the first four GPs while he waited for his birthday. As soon as he turned 15, he joined the powerful Teka Suzuki team and has been tearing it up. His 2-2 score was legit and he seemed to ride very much in control. He was leading the second moto for a long time and got a bit tired (probably because he was leading his hometown GP and thinking about all the chicks he was going to be able to pull afterwards). Despite missing four GPs, he is already in eighth in the points!

  • Cairoli is the man right now in the MX1 class and even he admits that he is surprised at how well he's doing. His riding style is very compact and not a lot of wasted energy.
Antonio “Noodles” Cairoli is the man right now in the MX1 class, as he’s surprised the pit pundits and himself with his fourth GP win and to me, he looks like he’s calmed down on the 450. Again, I have limited experience in watching him but he was wide open at Budds Creek and in the videos I have seen that made me think that maybe his style wouldn’t carry over well to the 450. Or at least it would take him a bit to find his way but obviously not. His fitness seemed better than almost anyone else’s and he just clicks off the laps at a fast pace. He’s got a nice riding style and the championship is his to lose right now.

In the first moto I was standing with Racer X’s GP correspondent, Adam Wheeler, and when Antonio was a ways back, Adam told me that the 222 was going to put on a charge and beat Nagl. I didn’t think it was possible as it was late in the moto and Nagl seemed to have it in hand but Wheeler was right. Cairoli started pushing and although Wheeler was wrong about the win, AC was a half a second off from first. That’s another thing about the Euro riders: they pace themselves for the race where at home you just go balls-out for as long as you can and then hang on and hope no one cleans you out.

Josh “Robo” Coppins is one of the good guys in the sport. As a matter of fact, I might put him right in my super-seven of good guys/good riders that I cheer for no matter what (membership can be taken away at anytime and given to someone else that returns calls and texts). It’s a select company and you can probably guess who the chairman is of the group. After that it would be JT$, NYK, DV12, Bryner, Shorty and maybe, just maybe, Coppins. He’s always been a guy that has struck me as a fan of the sport, a rider that doesn’t just look for what’s good for him and screw everyone else and a real great guy. After Saturday I caught up with him in the Martin Honda hospitality (that’s another good thing about the GPs, the riders and teams just walk around to other teams and shoot the breeze, as they don’t lock themselves in their motorhomes) and we just hung out for a few hours, I was catching up with the GP and BT101 news (because BT is now mad at me for making fun of him and won’t call me or text me back) as well as his thoughts on the sport. He was asking me about the USA scene, and we traded gossip and rumors back and forth. This paragraph was really useless except for me to point out that The Lizard is a great guy….

He was one of about four or five guys that can win this title going into the season but is now a ways back in the points. This weekend he jetted out in the first moto and was second for a long time before eventually losing a spot to AC222. He finished third in the moto and it was a strong showing. Second time out he didn’t get a great start and was moving forward from sixth when he must’ve tipped over somewhere. He then had to battle the same guys and eventually got past Clemet DeSalle on the last lap but not before Desalle banzied the last turn and came within .012 of getting by Josh. From my angle, it looked like he got Josh but the transponders said otherwise. Coppins 3-6 day leaves him in fourth in the World Championships and he needs to get going if he’s to get that long deserved title.

  • Lookee here! Remember this guy? I forgot to bring him over some Kit-Kats
Remember David Vuillemin? The French guy, came to America, and beat MC and RC a few times in their primes? Won a bunch of supercrosses and nationals before hopping back over to France and race the GP’s for the last years of his career? Well, I certainly do and to be honest, I thought ol’DV12 would do a little better this year then he has, but he’s hanging in there and is the same old guy. Which is funny, opinionated and still has his signature riding style. He’s on a BUD Kawasaki team and is currently tenth in the standings. His first moto was pretty good and he hit a down rider in the second go around to eventually finish 8-14 on the day. I enjoyed my catching up with David and as I said, he’s in my super-seven. As far as next year, he wouldn’t say what he was going to do but if I had to guess (and again, only a guess as he didn’t say anything) I bet you seem him back in America next year managing or coaching someone.

Mickael Pichon was on the last of his three-race deal to help out Martin Honda and before this race had been quite competitive after being out of the GP scene for a few years. This weekend he didn’t impress me too much until you remembered that he was racing enduros and things like that only a few weeks ago! There was one point in the first moto when he and DV were battling it out and it struck me that if you were to tell them at some supercross in 1998 that they would be battling it out for eighth at the German GP eleven years later, they would have thrown croissants at you. Funny how everything works out huh?

Billy “Braveheart” MacKenzie is struggling with a thumb injury and has to get shot up before each moto just to ride. The team and Billy finally pulled the plug on the season this weekend as he just couldn’t hang on and it was dangerous. I found all this out from Wobbles when I asked, “How come Billy Mac sucks?” So that will be it for a little while for the CAS Honda rider.

The MX2 class is just full of fast Frenchmen that all ride like Americans. They are scrubbing and attacking the track and is definitely different from the MX1 dudes. Like I said, even Cairoli seems to have adapted a more traditional style. The MX2 kids are a different story; they look like supercross riders and I’m sure we’ll be seeing some of these guys soon as everybody in America sees Pourcel and looks for the next gem out of the Land of LeBig. The thing is that USA teams can get these guys for probably a fraction of the cost of a top American amateur kid and they don’t have the shoe and sunglass deal and haven’t had smoke blown up their ass for the last ten years about how good they are. Pay them low, give them some incentives and watch out. Frossard, Musquin, Roczen and Gauthier all look to have futures in America to me.

One thing that is noticeable in Europe is the lowered sound decibel limit. It’s 94db’s over there and you can tell a difference when watching or standing by the side of the track. You can hold a conversation and even though the American series is only 2 db more, it’s a real 94 over there and there is no room for margin.

The downside to the limit is at the upper RPMs: the bikes sound like someone is strangling a turkey. Just a flat, warbling sound indicating to me that the bike is not making any more power. It doesn’t sound anything like the American bikes to tell the truth.

I ate and drank good this weekend courtesy of Martin Honda and Teka Suzuki. Martin Honda had a bitchin’ Italian spread which I partook in on Saturday night. Good noodles, great meats and some kind of skinny steak topped off with a strawberry smoothie. Yes, they had a smoothie machine folks! Time to step it up Fisher…

I had coffee had CAS Honda, water and Red Bull at Teka Suzuki, and it was thanks to Wobbles, who is the Smith goggle guy in Europe but seems to be in the same mode as me in the states. Just searching for somebody and somewhere to hang out and eat.

  • They have this right behind the gate for the riders. Pretty nice and handy. They also had the full porta-potties if you had to go number 2.
Two riders that I haven’t seen much of and were impressed by was last year’s MX1 Champion, David “Terrance and” Philippaerts, and “My Darling” Clement Desalle. Phillippaerts seemed like a machine: he was just the same speed all race and although he doesn’t look particularly great on a bike, he gets the job done. Desalle has the most American style in the MX1 class. He’s scrubbing hard and really working the bike around the track. He’s on a small Honda team and is doing better than what anyone expected this season. He is going to race Washougal this year, just doing it out of his van and will do well I think. He is from Belgium and should be on the MXDN team this year.
Also, the rumor is that next year’s KTM GP bikes will have a linkage and it will be production in 2011. Oh and the 2010 Yamaha 450 is going to be something else next year—it’s going to blow your wig back.

The Hungarian Warrior, Kornel Nemeth, first caught my eye in Canada two weeks ago at the first Canadian national. I saw him this weekend and we spoke a few times, he’s a good dude that can really ride a bike for a long time. He’s in shape and too bad he can’t do all the GPs. He’s coming to Canada for three more rounds, although when I asked him again, he still doesn’t know what tracks he’s going to besides Gopher Dunes. In the first moto he had to stop for goggles but pulled in behind the leaders and set the third fastest lap of the race. Second time out, he was twelfth.

I didn’t really have an opinion one way or another before but now I think that maybe America should relax the production rule a bit and allow the teams to really get crazy. The whole idea was that it would bring the cost of racing down and I really don’t think, if you asked Honda, they would say the cost of racing has gone down at all. We might also see the weirdo bikes over here like TM, CCM and Aprilia because, let’s face it, if these manufactures came over here, we’d have more jobs for riders and team personal. There’s nothing like the USA SX/MX scene to be a proving ground for a production bike. I like the different bikes and riders they have over there, yes they have about as much chance of winning as I do teaching yoga but it does add a bit of flavor to the series.

Thanks for reading, I appreciate it and I hope you enjoyed the blogs all week and this column. I really enjoyed going over there and seeing how “the other guys” do it. There’s some good, some bad, and some really scary coffee but in the end, it’s motocross and as a fan of motocross, it was pretty damn cool watching it. I’m also a lucky guy to have been able to go to a Canadian National, an AMA National and now a GP in the last three weeks. Email me at matthes@racerxonline.com and I look forward to the “But we’re better!” emails from both sides of the Atlantic.