Race Report: MXGP of Mexico

Race Report MXGP of Mexico

September 15, 2014 10:30am

You have to wonder if Jeffrey Herlings believed this might not be his weekend when his flight to Houston was re-directed to Austin, resulting in a significant delay and a late arrival to the Grand Prix of Leon. The Red Bull KTM rider’s presence at the seventeenth and final round of the FIM Motocross World Championship was remarkable in itself, as the MX2 title clash between the Dutchman and his teammate Jordi Tixier went down to the last round and ensured that their small paddock area would be permanently surrounded by fans, press, and pressure all weekend. 

The wisdom of Herlings’ attempt to race only eight weeks after a clean fracture of his left femur—and two of those weeks battling a stomach infection during which “84” admitted he struggled to eat and became almost skeletal—was contentious and deeply concerned KTM MX2 team manager Stefan Everts. Herlings’ resilience gained instant respect, especially when it was clear that he was enduring intense pain in the leg, and his minimal track time on Saturday to satisfy FIM officials was not part of a ploy to rattle Tixier. 

In the end, the bold effort did not work. Tixier was immense. From his pole position Saturday afternoon to his resolute victory in the first moto against Goias GP victor Romain Febvre on the works Wilvo Nestaan Husqvarna, and then a dramatic and unbelievable charge to third place in the second moto, the Frenchman deserved to be KTM’s fifth MX2 champion since 2008. He had bagged 167 points since Herlings’ last victory and appearance at round thirteen in Finland when there were only 200 to gain. Herlings was leading by 145 when he was injured, and it seemed an unlikely task for Tixier who was dropped by the Austrians for 2015 and also overlooked for the French Nations team later this month. 

Tixier (middle) won his first MX2 title on Sunday.
Tixier (middle) won his first MX2 title on Sunday. Photo: KTM

Inspired by his brother Leo’s serious back injury only a few days beforehand, there was a fire about Tixier, and he delivered at the absolutely crucial moment. There are several types of champions: the dominant, the consistent, the deserving. Tixier does not fit the description of the first two, but he stepped up to the breach when it mattered and earned the third label. The irony, of course, is that he performed under intense scrutiny, the very same factor for which he was criticized since the middle of last season and when Herlings started dropping away from Grands Prix due to injuries.

Leon provided a great story for the championship, but the second moto was pure racing and sporting drama. Tixier led on the first lap but missed a gear on the take-off to the tabletop opposite the pits and came up short. Husqvarna’s Alex Tonkov had already committed to clearing the jump and touched the back of the KTM man, ripping his shirt and somehow getting his arm swallowed in Tixier’s rear wheel through the resulting crash. “He was pinning the gas, and I was screaming because it was ripping my arm,” said Tonkov, who was treated for third degree burns. Tixier’s desperation was understandable and visible as he rode possessed to try and recover the nine positions he lost. Herlings was ahead of him, fighting his own demons. The champion admitted the sight of Tixier on the floor gave him “just a little bit of light,” and he held eighth place for much of the moto. Tixier, meanwhile, barrelled onward, regaining positions and points. He made mistakes, almost crashed, was wild off the pegs, and even slammed mid-air into the resurgent Julien Lieber. It was amazing that neither crashed. In fourth place Tixier was tied on points with Herlings and would have lost the championship by virtue of moto wins (Herlings had twenty-two with nine perfect Grands Prix in a row), but then Herlings started to drop back to tenth, and Tixier kept Lieber at bay in the closing minutes of the season. 

Four points at the checkered flag formed the basis of a career highlight for the Frenchman. Herlings was grimacing, gracious, and aware of the long odds before he even buckled his boots. After Tixier’s rather meek fourth position in Brazil the week before, he thought it was worth the risk. 

Only eight weeks removed from a broken femur, Jeffrey Herlings returned to try and capture his third MX2 title.
Only eight weeks removed from a broken femur, Jeffrey Herlings returned to try and capture his third MX2 title. Photo: KTM

The many Mexicans that filtered around cacti and filled grandstand seats were rewarded with a good show for their money. Other highlights from the MX2 class included another superb run to victory by HRC’s Tim Gajser in the second moto. The Slovenian was gone for the second week in succession as the theatrics unfolded behind him. What a prospect this 17-year-old is for 2015. In that same sprint, CLS Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Dylan Ferrandis was extremely lucky to escape with a painful left ankle and leg after a terrible crash. The Frenchman veered off-line on the Tonkov-Tixier jump and bailed mid-air to avoid landing on a marshal post. Standing Construct KTM’s Valentin Guillod was sound value for his second podium result of the season, and CLS’ Arnaud Tonus bade farewell to MX2 racing as well as Grand Prix with fifth overall. The Swiss will travel with girlfriend Marie to find a place to live in Southern California this week, ahead of his new work with Pro Circuit after the Motocross of Nations. 

The premier MXGP class—with the first four riders already confirmed in the 2014 standings—was overshadowed. The second moto, however, with HRC’s Max Nagl, Monster Energy Kawasaki Racing Team’s Gautier Paulin, Red Bull KTM’s Tony Cairoli, and Rockstar Energy Suzuki’s Kevin Strijbos all disputing final podium positions, was entertaining fare. Paulin was perfect across the many jumps and hard-pack, and his triumph over Cairoli meant he tied on points and ultimately defeated Nagl who, like many riders (Searle, Anstie, Philippaerts, Goncalves, Potisek) was suffering with an upset stomach. The German had cleared-off with the first moto in a near-repeat of his Brazilian dominance the previous Sunday (only Strijbos came close) and almost fought back against Strijbos on the last lap of the second race but seemed content to be runner-up. Paulin ended the season like he had started: on top of the box with the factory KX 450F. His teammate Steven Frossard won the contest for fifth in the championship in spite of a sore left ankle after Hitachi Construction Machinery UK KTM’s Shaun Simpson’s crash in the second moto. The British Champion was despondent after Nagl’s performance pushed the privateer down another spot to seventh for 2014. 

Leon was certainly rough around the edges, but the organizers deserve full credit for preparing the site after several weeks of poor weather in the build-up. The track divided opinion and was a tough ask for the 250s. The altitude meant that many 250 GP bikes were struggling for air and thus power. The Grand Prix of Leon will be talked about for years to come for its significance in determining the standings, not due to poor conditions and controversy that plagued the first ever FIM round in Mexico in Guadalajara two years ago. The sport has to go back to 2008 for the last time an MX2 title was decided in the final laps of the season, and it was once again the Red Bull KTM team that cried and laughed that day at Faenza in Italy. Emotions were high again for the Austrians in Mexico, and the tension and excitement of an appropriate season-closer will not be easily forgotten.  

Paulin (middle) topped the podium at the final MXGP.
Paulin (middle) topped the podium at the final MXGP. Photo: KTM

MXGP Moto One

1. Maximilian Nagl (GER, Honda), 34:33.587;
2. Kevin Strijbos (BEL, Suzuki), +0:01.205;
3. Antonio Cairoli (ITA, KTM), +0:28.257;
4. Gautier Paulin (FRA, Kawasaki), +0:33.591;
5. Jeremy Van Horebeek (BEL, Yamaha), +0:42.340;
6. Shaun Simpson (GBR, KTM), +0:48.044;
7. Steven Frossard (FRA, Kawasaki), +0:56.187;
8. Davide Guarneri (ITA, TM), +1:05.625;
9. Tommy Searle (GBR, Kawasaki), +1:08.100;
10. Matiss Karro (LAT, KTM), +1:08.721;

MXGP Moto Two

1. Gautier Paulin (FRA, Kawasaki), 35:02.891;
2. Antonio Cairoli (ITA, KTM), +0:01.311;
3. Kevin Strijbos (BEL, Suzuki), +0:02.550;
4. Maximilian Nagl (GER, Honda), +0:03.762;
5. Jeremy Van Horebeek (BEL, Yamaha), +0:40.793;
6. Tommy Searle (GBR, Kawasaki), +0:43.944;
7. Davide Guarneri (ITA, TM), +0:45.281;
8. Steven Frossard (FRA, Kawasaki), +0:59.239;
9. Rui Goncalves (POR, Yamaha), +1:01.253;
10. Matiss Karro (LAT, KTM), +1:03.576; 

MXGP Overall Result 

1. Gautier Paulin (FRA, KAW), 43 points;
2. Maximilian Nagl (GER, HON), 43 p.;
3. Antonio Cairoli (ITA, KTM), 42 p.;
4. Kevin Strijbos (BEL, SUZ), 42 p.;
5. Jeremy Van Horebeek (BEL, YAM), 32 p.;
6. Tommy Searle (GBR, KAW), 27 p.;
7. Davide Guarneri (ITA, TM), 27 p.;
8. Steven Frossard (FRA, KAW), 27 p.;
9. Rui Goncalves (POR, YAM), 22 p.;
10. Matiss Karro (LAT, KTM), 22 p.; 

MXGP Final World Championship Standings

1. Antonio Cairoli (ITA, KTM), 747 points;
2. Jeremy Van Horebeek (BEL, YAM), 628 p.;
3. Kevin Strijbos (BEL, SUZ), 572 p.;
4. Clement Desalle (BEL, SUZ), 484 p.;
5. Steven Frossard (FRA, KAW), 419 p.;
6. Maximilian Nagl (GER, HON), 400 p.;
7. Shaun Simpson (GBR, KTM), 397 p.;
8. Gautier Paulin (FRA, KAW), 358 p.;
9. Davide Guarneri (ITA, TM), 297 p.;
10. David Philippaerts (ITA, YAM), 275 p.;

MX2 Moto One

1. Jordi Tixier (FRA, KTM), 34:58.342;
2. Romain Febvre (FRA, Husqvarna), +0:02.607;
3. Dylan Ferrandis (FRA, Kawasaki), +0:04.721;
4. Arnaud Tonus (SUI, Kawasaki), +0:14.118;
5. Tim Gajser (SLO, Honda), +0:14.653;
6. Valentin Guillod (SUI, KTM), +0:15.999;
7. Julien Lieber (BEL, KTM), +0:25.354;
8. Aleksandr Tonkov (RUS, Husqvarna), +0:40.218;
9. Jeremy Seewer (SUI, Rockstar Energy Suzuki Europe), +0:51.118;
10. Jose Butron (ESP, KTM), +0:57.231;
12. Glenn Coldenhoff (NED, Rockstar Energy Suzuki Europe), +1:21.962;

MX2 Moto Two 

1. Tim Gajser (SLO, Honda), 35:32.350;
2. Valentin Guillod (SUI, KTM), +0:06.292;
3. Jordi Tixier (FRA, KTM), +0:07.614;
4. Julien Lieber (BEL, KTM), +0:08.616;
5. Glenn Coldenhoff (NED, Rockstar Energy Suzuki Europe), +0:09.615;
6. Arnaud Tonus (SUI, Kawasaki), +0:10.445;
7. Romain Febvre (FRA, Husqvarna), +0:27.735;
8. Christophe Charlier (FRA, Yamaha), +0:29.789;
9. Jeremy Seewer (SUI, Rockstar Energy Suzuki Europe), +0:33.058;
10. Jeffrey Herlings (NED, KTM), +1:05.672; 

MX2 Overall Result

1. Jordi Tixier (FRA, KTM), 45 points;
2. Tim Gajser (SLO, HON), 41 p.;
3. Valentin Guillod (SUI, KTM), 37 p.;
4. Romain Febvre (FRA, HUS), 36 p.;
5. Arnaud Tonus (SUI, KAW), 33 p.;
6. Julien Lieber (BEL, KTM), 32 p.;
7. Glenn Coldenhoff (NED, Rockstar Energy Suzuki Europe), 25 p.;
8. Jeremy Seewer (SUI, Rockstar Energy Suzuki Europe), 24 p.;
9. Dylan Ferrandis (FRA, KAW), 22 p.;
10. Kei Yamamoto (JPN, HON), 20 p.;

MX2 Final World Championship Standings

1. Jordi Tixier (FRA, KTM), 616 points;
2. Jeffrey Herlings (NED, KTM), 612 p.;
3. Romain Febvre (FRA, HUS), 570 p.;
4. Dylan Ferrandis (FRA, KAW), 533 p.;
5. Tim Gajser (SLO, HON), 528 p.;
6. Arnaud Tonus (SUI, KAW), 455 p.;
7. Valentin Guillod (SUI, KTM), 449 p.;
8. Aleksandr Tonkov (RUS, HUS), 397 p.;
9. Jose Butron (ESP, KTM), 359 p.;
10. Jeremy Seewer (SUI, Rockstar Energy Suzuki Europe), 352 p.;
13. Glenn Coldenhoff (NED, Rockstar Energy Suzuki Europe), 248 p.;