The sense of excitement that the Grand Prix of Czech Republic produced for the fourteenth round of seventeen in the FIM Motocross World Championship was unexpected. The slippery hard-pack of Loket tends to forge lap-times within tenths of a second and has created processional affairs over the years thanks to the narrow and winding nature of the layout. It is a unique place; personal favourites to some like Jeremy Van Horebeek and a drudge for the likes of world champion Red Bull KTM’s Tony Cairoli.
A decent crowd found space on the hills and, in truth, were treated. The highlights were a frantic four-rider scrap for third position in the second MX2 moto that had everything aside from a punch-up, and was determinedly won by former European Champion Valentin Guillod. The headline maker was in MXGP, though, where Yamaha Factory Racing’s Jeremy Van Horebeek graduated from podium regular to bona fide winner by doing what hardly any rider has done since the turn of the decade: pressuring Cairoli into a mistake and mugging the Sicilian in the closing stages of a race for victory.
Van Horebeek’s second moto-long shadowing of the champion had promise. Cairoli was hardly enjoying himself, and the Belgian wasn't being dropped. It was hard to tell if Van Horebeek had enough extra pace to not only pull up to the rear wheel of the KTM, but actually overtake ‘222.’ It turned out that he saved his attack until the last moments.
“I tried to put the pressure on Tony to see if he would make a little mistake, and that's what he did,” Van Horebeek recounted. “He slid a bit with the front wheel into a corner and took the second rut when the first one was really clean. I passed and really went for it but there was still one-and-a-half laps to go. I just closed my eyes and did what I had to do. I wasn’t thinking about style anymore or smooth riding. I just went for it.”
It was a milestone for the deserving JVH. A twelfth podium of fourteen, a first victory in MXGP in his second season, the second triumph of his GP career, the first for Yamaha since the end of 2013, and for the Rinaldi factory crew since the summer of 2011. Van Horebeek is only the fifth rider to defeat Cairoli in the last three seasons.
“It is difficult to explain how this feels. I think this is one of my best days ever. It is a special one, but it won’t be my last one,” he said. “Once I started to get on the podium every weekend, I knew I had to work harder and also get the rest I needed. I did a great job and I feel really fit. The bike has also felt better and better because this is my first year with the team and every GP you learn about it [the bike]. I think the combination of my development and with that of the Yamaha made this result.”
Cairoli had no answer to the blue bike and was pressured by Rockstar Suzuki’s Kevin Strijbos on the last lap. The Belgian watched Van Horebeek across a gap that fluctuated from two to four seconds, and could see a first GP triumph since 2007 literally within his grasp. Strijbos had walked the first moto and needed to take second place from either of his rivals for a third career success at Loket. Some mistakes and cramps kept the 28-year-old in third and as runner-up, but his part in the three-way chase meant that the MXGP podium order was undecided and gripping viewing right up to the last corner.
“There were two places were I was struggling and could not find good lines,” Cairoli explained. “I think this is also the worst track for the 350. I had to rev the bike a lot and couldn’t find a good balance between the power and my corner speed. It was a struggle. I was looking forward to getting this GP out of the way. It is one of those ones where you look at the calendar at the start of the year and see ‘Loket … still there!’ It is not my favorite!”
Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Gautier Paulin and Rockstar Suzuki’s Clement Desalle returned to bolster the MXGP ranks, but the latest injury victim was DP19 Yamaha’s David Philippaerts, who apparently broke his lower left tibia in a warm-up crash on Sunday morning. While Paulin showed signs of not having raced for two months (arm-pump, hitting the gate in the second moto), his recovery from the faux pas at the start of the second race was something special. Coming from last to sixth only just trumps Shaun Simpson’s excellent speed in the first moto, when the Scot returned from the outer regions of the top twenty to reach fifth by the checkered flag. Simpson’s dependability, consistency, and tendency to surprise in 2014 is at a career-high, and the current British Championship leader is the first name on GBR’s Nations team sheet. His Hitachi Construction Machinery UK team should re-sign the articulate 26-year-old swiftly, or a factory squad should consider an investment in a rider that has regularly been in the gate every week since 2009 and is a flight risk in the sand. This weekend Lommel could be interesting in Simpson’s impressive siege on what is essentially privateer machinery against the factory hoards. He is sixth in the world championship standings.
So, Paulin is back in the game, but Desalle soon checked out. The Belgian led the opening three laps of the first moto, but faded back to seventh place in what was his return race after a scary first corner pile-up in Sweden three weeks ago. In the wake of a meeting with the Rockstar Suzuki team during the break at Loket, Desalle elected to pull the plug on the remaining seven motos of the season after he revealed his Italian Grand Prix crash had actually delivered a fractured left scaphoid, an injury he was not sure about until after his win at the German round the following week, increasingly made obvious by the persistent pain in his wrist that limited any mid-week riding.
Several championship celebrations have been witnessed on the Loket hard-pack in recent years. One of those was Jeffrey Herlings’ second MX2 title last summer, and KTM was preparing for a third at the same venue until fate intervened. The Dutchman is now anxiously counting the days until he can ride again and potentially contest the Mexican Grand Prix in the second week of September to bag points and a third crown on the bounce after surgery on his left femur. There was still a champagne toast in the Czech Republic, as Kiara Fontanesi made sure of a third Women’s World Championship with a 1-3.
MX2 was open house. Herlings’ teammate Jordi Tixier had the looming prospect of the spotlight and pressure that he failed to cope with in 2013 when Herlings was absent for two rounds. He insisted the extra year of age and experience had helped him cope with the expectation, and it seemed that way in the first moto as he comfortably kept Wilvo Nestaan’s Romain Febvre at arm’s length for a maiden checkered flag. The Frenchman (one of several snubbed for the Nations team) was too hesitant in the second affair and became embroiled in the spat with Silver Action’s Jose Butron, Standing Construct’s Guillod, and Febvre. The warring (Butron in particular failing to clear his reputation for some haphazard moves) was great to watch and meant the overall classification bounced between riders depending on the positioning. At one stage Febvre had broken clear, and it was he who seemed set for Herlings’ top step of the box. Then a mistake and crash by the former Supermoto racer was costly, and not only did he let the win slide through his hands like the FC350 to the ground but—as on more than one occasion this season—he missed out on the podium altogether.
With Tixier managing to get the job done, the rest of the MX2 podium was filled with unfamiliar faces. 2013 European Champion Guillod finally made it into the top three after registering no less than four fourth-place finishes this year. It was the first time in the Swiss’s career. In third overall was the second moto runaway winner in the form of the surprising Christophe Charlier. The Corsican has been playing catch-up through injuries all campaign, but a long-awaited good start yielded a training moto of pace at the front, and he crossed the line at the head of the pack for the first time in a year.
Gariboldi Honda’s Tim Gajser has been Herlings’ wingman in recent events, but the 17-year-old Slovenian had a tough second moto in particular after a stone smashed his left kneecap. CLS Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Dylan Ferrandis was arguably the fastest MX2 rider at Loket. The Frenchman was second to Charlier in the second moto, but his tangle at the start of the first not only pushed him to the rear of the field, but also eventually required a visit to the pit lane for a new silencer. Ferrandis was tenth overall after that result-wrecker in the opening race, and has to still enjoy some luck and two prosperous motos in this second half of the season.
The last European stop on the 2014 calendar takes place this weekend. Grand Prix motocross has not been back to Lommel in Belgium since 2011, and the 2012 Nations was the last time the sand was churned by some of the world’s best. There is more possibility for surprise, especially in MX2, where Herlings will have to watch somebody else enjoy the terrain.
1. Kevin Strijbos (BEL, Suzuki), 33:50.286;
2. Jeremy Van Horebeek (BEL, Yamaha), +0:09.231;
3. Antonio Cairoli (ITA, KTM), +0:16.050;
4. Maximilian Nagl (GER, Honda), +0:23.810;
5. Shaun Simpson (GBR, KTM), +0:27.157;
6. Gautier Paulin (FRA, Kawasaki), +0:27.751;
7. Clement Desalle (BEL, Suzuki), +0:33.766;
8. Milko Potisek (FRA, Yamaha), +0:34.639;
9. Dean Ferris (AUS, Husqvarna), +0:37.721;
10. Tanel Leok (EST, TM), +0:39.701;
1. Jeremy Van Horebeek (BEL, Yamaha), 35:16.829;
2. Antonio Cairoli (ITA, KTM), +0:01.531;
3. Kevin Strijbos (BEL, Suzuki), +0:01.840;
4. Dennis Ullrich (GER, KTM), +0:46.421;
5. Steven Frossard (FRA, Kawasaki), +0:58.054;
6. Gautier Paulin (FRA, Kawasaki), +1:06.979;
7. Davide Guarneri (ITA, TM), +1:11.092;
8. Shaun Simpson (GBR, KTM), +1:12.509;
9. Tommy Searle (GBR, Kawasaki), +1:13.837;
10. Matiss Karro (LAT, KTM), +1:17.578;
MXGP Overall result
1. Jeremy Van Horebeek (BEL, YAM), 47 points;
2. Kevin Strijbos (BEL, SUZ), 45 p.;
3. Antonio Cairoli (ITA, KTM), 42 p.;
4. Gautier Paulin (FRA, KAW), 30 p.;
5. Shaun Simpson (GBR, KTM), 29 p.;
6. Steven Frossard (FRA, KAW), 26 p.;
7. Dennis Ullrich (GER, KTM), 23 p.;
8. Maximilian Nagl (GER, HON), 22 p.;
9. Tanel Leok (EST, TM), 21 p.;
10. Matiss Karro (LAT, KTM), 20 p.;
MXGP World Championship standings after 14 of 17 rounds
1. Antonio Cairoli (ITA, KTM), 619 points;
2. Jeremy Van Horebeek (BEL, YAM), 562 p.;
3. Clement Desalle (BEL, SUZ), 484 p.;
4. Kevin Strijbos (BEL, SUZ), 469 p.;
5. Steven Frossard (FRA, KAW), 333 p.;
6. Shaun Simpson (GBR, KTM), 325 p.;
7. Maximilian Nagl (GER, HON), 291 p.;
8. Gautier Paulin (FRA, KAW), 235 p.;
9. David Philippaerts (ITA, YAM), 234 p.;
10. Davide Guarneri (ITA, TM), 232 p.;
1. Jordi Tixier (FRA, KTM), 33:47.424;
2. Romain Febvre (FRA, Husqvarna), +0:08.612;
3. Valentin Guillod (SUI, KTM), +0:10.278;
4. Tim Gajser (SLO, Honda), +0:11.309;
5. Jose Butron (ESP, KTM), +0:17.799;
6. Jeremy Seewer (SUI, Suzuki), +0:19.199;
7. Christophe Charlier (FRA, Yamaha), +0:20.819;
8. Aleksandr Tonkov (RUS, Husqvarna), +0:31.801;
9. Julien Lieber (BEL, Suzuki), +0:44.708;
10. Pauls Jonass (LAT, KTM), +0:47.282;
1. Christophe Charlier (FRA, Yamaha), 34:06.646;
2. Dylan Ferrandis (FRA, Kawasaki), +0:07.592;
3. Valentin Guillod (SUI, KTM), +0:11.540;
4. Jordi Tixier (FRA, KTM), +0:12.187;
5. Jose Butron (ESP, KTM), +0:13.544;
6. Romain Febvre (FRA, Husqvarna), +0:22.485;
7. Aleksandr Tonkov (RUS, Husqvarna), +0:23.517;
8. Max Anstie (GBR, Yamaha), +0:25.208;
9. Tim Gajser (SLO, Honda), +0:27.164;
10. Julien Lieber (BEL, Suzuki), +0:30.741;
MX2 Overall result
1. Jordi Tixier (FRA, KTM), 43 points;
2. Valentin Guillod (SUI, KTM), 40 p.;
3. Christophe Charlier (FRA, YAM), 39 p.;
4. Romain Febvre (FRA, HUS), 37 p.;
5. Jose Butron (ESP, KTM), 32 p.;
6. Tim Gajser (SLO, HON), 30 p.;
7. Aleksandr Tonkov (RUS, HUS), 27 p.;
8. Jeremy Seewer (SUI, SUZ), 25 p.;
9. Julien Lieber (BEL, SUZ), 23 p.;
10. Dylan Ferrandis (FRA, KAW), 22 p.;
MX2 World Championship standings after 14 of 17 rounds
1. Jeffrey Herlings (NED, KTM), 594 points;
2. Jordi Tixier (FRA, KTM), 492 p.;
3. Romain Febvre (FRA, HUS), 453 p.;
4. Dylan Ferrandis (FRA, KAW), 425 p.;
5. Tim Gajser (SLO, HON), 420 p.;
6. Arnaud Tonus (SUI, KAW), 389 p.;
7. Valentin Guillod (SUI, KTM), 354 p.;
8. Aleksandr Tonkov (RUS, HUS), 335 p.;
9. Jose Butron (ESP, KTM), 321 p.;
10. Jeremy Seewer (SUI, SUZ), 282 p.;