To reach the slightly archaic but typically Eastern-Bloc surrounds of Kegums, Latvia, scene of the tenth round of fifteen in the FIM World Championship, a expanse of water called the Ogre must be crossed. There was no monstrous surprise about Tony Cairoli’s latest victory as he floated and bobbed across some of the vicious bumps and ripples of the loose-terrain at this excellently organized and presented Grand Prix. The trip to Latvia was another small landmark for the 2009 series (after a maiden soiree in Turkey) and also presented another feather in the cap of Yamaha Red Bull De Carli rider Cairoli who claimed his second triumph in one week, the fourth from the ten so far and the fifth from eleven in his short career as 450 buccaneer.
Some 32,000 spectators, a great deal of which seemed to be from neighbouring Estonia, their distinctive flags and caps already a familiar sight at the Motocross of Nations for several years now, counted on some cloudy but stuffy and humid conditions as liquid tubes protruding from the helmets of the riders became even more common as any assist across the sand-like terrain, with its splendid rumble of low-slung leaps, big jumps, waves and rollers was valuable. The technical and physical demands pushed the riding corps to the max and exclamations of exertion were wholly common in the paddock afterwards.
Cairoli’s success was gained after a pair of unspectacular starts, overly steady opening laps and then a set of bristling carves past a handful of peers to the front of the pack. He was foiled in Moto 1 by just two tenths of a second in a repeat of the German chase last week, this time Max Nagl was replaced by Clement Desalle (the German Red Bull KTM rider stating that the power of his machine was too much of a handful on the surface). The Belgian LS Honda representative had Cairoli wary after needlessly trampling the Sicilian into the fence during the Saturday qualification heat and the Yamaha man commented on this post-race. The pair nevertheless dropped their lap-times by almost three seconds on that final frantic grandstanding circulation.
Twenty-year-old Desalle, had his first checkered flag (and incredibly that of Honda’s this season) but his card was marked. Cairoli sprung again in Moto2, overtaking Leok, Coppins, Philippaerts, Nagl and De Dycker in time on his route to the rear wheel of the red machine. In fairness to the escaping Desalle a clutch problem in the second half of the sprint forced a different and slower approach but perhaps this meant Cairoli had the lead with six laps to go from the twenty instead of one or two.
Yamaha Monster Energy MX Team’s Josh Coppins made a welcome return to the podium for the second time this season and after a lengthy period in which his normal physical prowess was somewhat blunted. His rally to second place in Moto 2 looked like the Kiwi of old and the standing equalled his highest in a race thus far. Fourth in the first outing assisted the overall points tally.
There may have been just 28 riders in the MX1 class and perhaps just 5 or 6 of those worthy of focus for podium honours (what a contrast to the open field envisaged at the season’s beginnings) but there was still drama aplenty. World champion David Philippaerts had been sick during the week and was drained by the second half of each race. The Italian was sixth overall. Just in front of him was Teka Suzuki WMX1’s Ken De Dycker who effortlessly took pole on Saturday but felt weak on race day and was punted into the sand by a collision with Desalle disputing the lead, early-doors in race one. Cairoli’s team-mate Tanel Leok enjoyed the din generated by the crowd but a silly crash followed by an age spent trying to get his machine restarted saw the Estonian down and out in Moto 1 and hopes of the podium expire as fast as the flame from his exhaust after the 50th kick.
A curious situation surrounded David Vuillemin who allegedly couldn’t get to grips with the track. He pulled out after just several laps of the first moto without explanation, did not start the second, and later rumours floated that he was retiring from the sport and not just the GP. He still has a chance of taking the French championship for his team next month and has already stated to the media that he will be heading back to the U.S. once his duties are finished on this side of the Atlantic.
MX2 was the domain of Red Bull KTM as Marvin Musquin and Rui Goncalves went 1-2 and 2-1 respectively and without threat. For Musquin of course this was substantially better than the 20th and 11th he scored as a scrawny teenager five years ago at Kegums for the 85cc World Championship. Both motos on that day (from a field that include no less than six other current GP riders) were owned by Zach Osborne. The Utag Yamaha.com pilot made another attempt to reignite his season at the weekend. The American was in better shape after his left scaphoid break at the Grand Prix of Portugal back in May but not strong enough for the levy of the Latvian lines. After pushing to the maximum for just 23rd position in the qualification heat he wisely decided to postpone GP activity again and will now abstain until round twelve on August 2, in Lommel, where he made his FIM debut twelve months ago.
A largely processional set of MX2 motos was enlivened again by the figure of Ken Roczen; seamlessly absorbing another hike in his apparently shallow learning curve. The German was robbed of a race-long second-place by Goncalves on the last lap of Moto1 but his aggressive and aesthetically captivating antics to arrive to that standing initially was, as ever, a treat. “I wasn’t tired or drained,” the 15 year commented on the days following the historic win at the German GP last week. “I enjoyed seeing the reaction on the internet and that made me happy. We didn’t have a party. ‘After’ a race fast turns into ‘before’ the next race, so I was already thinking about what I had to do to get ready for this GP.”
The word ‘drained’ appeared again in his vocabulary after Moto 2 where he was fifth (for fourth overall) but in a different and understandable context; this had been his first ‘sandy’ GP after all.
Bud Racing’s Gautier Paulin claimed his fifth podium of the campaign with third place, the pillar of his classification being a lonely run to 3rd in Moto2.
German GP podiumee Steven Frossard was on-line for another possible top three after Moto1 but planted his head in the sand after high-speed dismount in Moto2 and entered the pits. Yamaha Monster Energy Ricci MX’s Nico Aubin was also another casualty of a second race fall and DNF in what is becoming a torrid campaign for the Frenchman; many people’s early tip for a title hit in ’09. Xaxier Boog was among the quick riders in practice but left the circuit hurriedly on Sunday amid fears of damage to his appendix.
So with two-thirds of the world championship consigned to the statistics pages the current tables of numbers naturally reflect a tightening of the title options for both classes. There is now a maximum of 250 points left for ownership. Cairoli enjoyed an extension of 16 points to his lead in Latvia, presently a hefty 57 (more than a GP) over Max Nagl with Philippaerts one more behind in third. Coppins is fourth and 71 adrift with still a mathematical chance, and if anyone knows the fruitlessness of a large point window then it is the sturdy 32-year-old after his head-shakingly depressing experience in 2007.
Musquin has his Honda/KTM tally (the legal outcome of contract dispute was delayed last week and is expected to be resolved in the next fortnight) of 49 over Paulin and has looked virtually unbeatable since lightening his red shade to orange. Goncalves and Davide Guarneri keep a realistic distance.
Round eleven for a paddock who currently ticking off the borders on their maps will involve a ferry trip to Gothenburg and a short drive to Uddevalla for the customary early July fixture that is the Grand Prix of Sweden; a place where the silly season, so far stunted and muted by the hesitation of manufacturers trying to do their sums, is expected to deliver its first serious implications for the future vision of the paddock.
MX1 Race 1 top ten: 1. Clement Desalle (BEL, Honda), 40:05.568; ; 2. Antonio Cairoli (ITA, Yamaha), +0:00.258; 3. Maximilian Nagl (GER, KTM), +0:23.770; 4. Joshua Coppins (NZL, Yamaha), +0:44.151; 5. David Philippaerts (ITA, Yamaha), +1:17.536; 6. Aigar Leok (EST, TM), +1:27.503; 7. Ken de Dycker (BEL, Suzuki), +1:38.978; 8. Gregory Aranda (FRA, Kawasaki), +1:41.537; 9. Gareth Swanepoel (RSA, Kawasaki), +1:46.161; 10. Carlos Campano (ESP, Yamaha), +1:49.773;
MX1 Race 2 top ten: 1. Antonio Cairoli (ITA, Yamaha), 39:10.586; ; 2. Joshua Coppins (NZL, Yamaha), +0:05.777; 3. Ken de Dycker (BEL, Suzuki), +0:14.985; 4. Tanel Leok (EST, Yamaha), +0:17.525; 5. Clement Desalle (BEL, Honda), +0:32.897; 6. Maximilian Nagl (GER, KTM), +0:51.444; 7. David Philippaerts (ITA, Yamaha), +1:00.833; 8. Aigar Leok (EST, TM), +1:05.582; 9. Manuel Priem (BEL, Aprilia), +1:15.691; 10. Carlos Campano (ESP, Yamaha), +1:29.377;
MX1 Overall top ten: 1. Antonio Cairoli (ITA, Yamaha), 47 points; 2. Clement Desalle (BEL, Honda), 41 p.; 3. Joshua Coppins (NZL, Yamaha), 40 p.; 4. Maximilian Nagl (GER, KTM), 35 p.; 5. Ken de Dycker (BEL, Suzuki), 34 p.; 6. David Philippaerts (ITA, Yamaha), 30 p.; 7. Aigar Leok (EST, TM), 28 p.; 8. Manuel Priem (BEL, Aprilia), 22 p.; 9. Carlos Campano (ESP, Yamaha), 22 p.; 10. Gareth Swanepoel (RSA, Kawasaki), 21 p.;
MX1 Championship top ten: 1. Antonio Cairoli (ITA, Yamaha), 385 points; 2. Maximilian Nagl (GER, KTM), 328 p.; 3. David Philippaerts (ITA, Yamaha), 327 p.; 4. Joshua Coppins (NZL, Yamaha), 314 p.; 5. Clement Desalle (BEL, Honda), 309 p.; 6. Ken de Dycker (BEL, Suzuki), 298 p.; 7. Tanel Leok (EST, Yamaha), 270 p.; 8. Jonathan Barragan (ESP, KTM), 215 p.; 9. Aigar Leok (EST, TM), 167 p.; 10. Gareth Swanepoel (RSA, Kawasaki), 151 p.;