Pre-race nerves at Sevlievo, scene of the Grand Prix of Bulgaria, first of fifteen races in the FIM World Championship were dissipated slightly on the eve of the meeting by the chatter surrounding the addition of the US round on the calendar. The announcement during the middle of the week seemed to receive the general thumbs-up from the majority of the paddock and was a hefty topic of conversation on Friday. Youthstream had advised teams that there was no obligation to bust budgets to make a second non-European event (round thirteen goes to Brazil) but the prospect of an American audience was a pleasant news-break, especially among the riders.
On the track, Bulgaria was the domain for a German triumvirate as Red Bull KTM’s Max Nagl ran away with the qualification heat for MX1 pole position and Teka Suzuki Europe World MX2’s Ken Roczen aced the MX2 category. Steffi Laier claimed victory in Moto1 of the Women’s World Championship on her Red Bull KTM. A rainy morning made the wide track even softer and more rutted as a consequence, and while some puzzled over suspension to cope with the mix of deep and absorbing ruts and hard, slick areas others grasped the challenge.
Of the riders on new machinery some made an impression, others barely registered. Most notable was defending world champion Tony Cairoli who showed no signs of disadvantage on the new 350SX-F to take third position behind Nagl and then Sebastien Pourcel (Kawasaki Racing Team) while overtaking fresh Rockstar Teka Suzuki recruit Clement Desalle. The pair had no repeat of the Cairoli-Desalle spat that fractured their already fragile relationship at Mantova in February as Cairoli made a clean move with a smoother line and better drive up one of the steep, long uphill drags. While Pourcel found his feet after a year of injury woe, team-mate Jonathan Barragan – one lap away from winning with KTM here in 2009 – was a lackluster figure on his way to 15th. 2008 champion David Philippaerts was ahead of latest brand-mate Ken De Dycker and was reasonably happy with his efforts on the 2010 YZ450F. Josh Coppins made the top ten on his Aprilia bow while Gareth Swanepoel was the top Honda.
Roczen completed more than half the distance behind the Red Bull KTMs of fellow 15 year old, and debutant, Jeffrey Herlings (the talented Dutch teenager even drawing extra media attention from his home country to the depths of Bulgaria) and reigning number one Marvin Musquin, who showed no complaints from a tweaked knee. Herlings was impressive in his fearless attack of the track but the physically larger and barely-more experienced Roczen clicked into another gear. CLS Kawasaki’s Steven Frossard was fast but fluffed his start while the third member of the KTM crew, Shaun Simpson, had a fall and was deep in the pack to finish 18th. A performance worthy of note was the 7th place obtained by European Champion, 18 year old Frenchman Christophe Charlier in his first qualification outing.
“They put a lot of sand down and you and really feel it. There is a lot of grip,” said the irrepressible Roczen. “It is getting pretty rough and the guys who can go fast are making the pace. I had fun out there and the Suzuki is working so well. If I don’t win soon then it won’t be because of the bike!”
Jimmy Albertson’s MX1 Grand Prix qualification baptism was pretty downbeat. The 21 year old could only set the 21st fastest time on his factory Martin Honda but was clearly feeling the effects of a big step into a new series and new rivals. The Californian was ‘gutted’ with a ride in the Heat that put him 17th by the flag but, after a period of reflection, had the wisdom to remove some of the self-imposed pressure that was acting as a shackle. “Man, what a terrible day,” he said. “I think if you took all the riders away and I rode by myself then it would have been totally different. I just let the competition get to me and I feel disappointed for me and also the team. Still, we have tomorrow and I will put this behind me. I want to do better and I rode nowhere near my potential today. The track here is great; I just need to put it together.”
In MX2 Zach Osborne was reveling in the rough dirt and set the second fastest lap-time in practice. The Bike it Cosworth Yamaha rider was 11th in the Heat due to rear brake failure from the first lap. “I feel pretty good,” he remarked. “It was a shame about the brake; all I could really do was just ride around. We had a little battle there but it was a nothing-race. The track is great and we’re hopeful for tomorrow.”
AMA Women’s Champion Ashley Fiolek was beaten into fourth place by Germany’s Larissa Papenmeier in the first moto of the first Grand Prix of seven in the female competition. Steffi Laier made light work of her first race win.
MX1 Qualification Heat result
1. Maximilian Nagl (GER, KTM), 24:39.429;
2. Sebastien Pourcel (FRA, Kawasaki), +0:10.192;
3. Antonio Cairoli (ITA, KTM), +0:12.632;
4. Clement Desalle (BEL, Suzuki), +0:19.476;
5. David Philippaerts (ITA, Yamaha), +0:21.257;
6. Ken de Dycker (BEL, Yamaha), +0:22.921;
7. Steve Ramon (BEL, Suzuki), +0:26.198;
8. Gareth Swanepoel (RSA, Honda), +0:48.364;
9. Joshua Coppins (NZL, Aprilia), +0:48.518;
10. Davide Guarneri (ITA, Honda), +0:49.416;
11. Anthony Boissiere (FRA, TM), +0:53.019;
12. Xavier Boog (FRA, Kawasaki), +0:53.584;
13. Manuel Monni (ITA, Yamaha), +0:55.995;
14. Tanel Leok (EST, Honda), +0:58.290;
15. Jonathan Barragan (ESP, Kawasaki), +0:58.849;
16. Marc de Reuver (NED, Suzuki), +1:01.002;
17. Jimmy Albertson (USA, Honda), +1:05.232;
18. Evgeny Bobryshev (RUS, Honda), +1:07.254;
19. Tom Church (GBR, CCM), +1:10.876;
20. Gregory Aranda (FRA, Kawasaki), +1:18.769;