BTOSports.com Observations: GP of USA

BTOSports.com Observations GP of USA

September 23, 2015 12:00pm

Yeah, we’re back! It’s the MXGP of USA at Glen Helen, bro! It was an interesting day out at the Helen with a few surprises, but for the most part played out like we thought it would. As Dennis Green would say, Glen Helen is who we thought it was. Let’s get right into it.

In looking back at this latest incarnation of the USGP, we have to go back to 2010 and 2011, which were the last times we had a GP on U.S. soil, and those were also at the Helen. And really, there’s no other phrase to use when talking about those races outside of “total Titanic-ish disaster” in every which way. 

There were hardly any American riders there and no real superstars at all. And there were even fewer fans there. It was a ghost town, really. No one really seemed to care. Sure there was some good racing back then (Mike Alessi/Antonio Cairoli/Ben Townley battles come to mind), but off the track, wow, was it rough.

So it’s with those lowered expectations that I went back for this year’s USGP. The slogan on the race poster should have been “2015 USGP at Glen Helen: Hey, it can’t be any worse than before!” One thing for sure is the depth of U.S.-based riders was wayyyyy better, and for this, the folks at Youthstream should thank Roger DeCoster. "The Man" pledged support for the teams he oversees, so Dean Wilson, Marvin Musquin, Jason Anderson, Jessy Nelson, Shane McElrath, and Davi Millsaps were all there flying the orange (or white for Husqvarna) flag. Bravo, Roger. Thanks for making those guys race!

So there was the group of riders who were forced to race by Roger, and then there was another group of guys who were forced to race by their title sponsor—guys like Josh Grant and Chris Alldredge. And then there was Cooper Webb. Webb, a chip off the Damon Bradshaw block, lined up because he’s racing the 450 this weekend at the Motocross of Nations and wanted to get some real-time testing under his belt. And he’s Cooper Webb, dammit.

In short, this was already a way better USGP than before simply because the field of top American racers was deeper. But would the fans show? 

Anderson was one of the man top Americans to race at the USGP.
Anderson was one of the man top Americans to race at the USGP. photo: Garth Milan

They did! Well, it wasn’t American national packed with fans by any means, but it was a whole lot better than the previous USGPs. Then again, an extended Ford passenger van load would have been almost more fans than we had before. The time of the year (end of September as opposed to early May), the length of time since we saw some American races, and the deeper field helped Glen Helen attract fans. It was also way hot both days, so if you’re reading this and were there, golf claps to you. 

I’ve written so many things about the GPs and the infrastructure over the years that I feel like I’m just repeating myself, but here I go again. Brace for this in next week’s MXoN OBS column, but the two-tiered mechanic area/VIP viewing area is pretty sweet. It’s at all the GPs, and it allows an elevated place to go watch the race. It’s got TVs for watching the race as well as the lap times. Overall it’s a nice touch.

In America, if you’re a media guy who doesn’t shoot photos, there are plenty of places that you can’t go to watch the race. I’m lucky because I can climb up into the announcers’ tower at some races, but there are a few where I’m out of luck, and if you’re not someone like me, you’re fighting the fans for a spot to watch.

Also, I love how the GPs have a separate wash bay area for the teams. This keeps all the water and mud in one spot and away from the pits. There’s nothing worse in the USA pits than walking around the team trucks and just stepping in this massive muddy puddle that soaks your socks. And sometimes, even if you’re not jumping around trucks, you’re stepping in muddy puddles in the spectator pit lanes. We really need to get these wash bays over here ASAP.

Of course, many of you are just nodding your head wishing I would stop ranting and raving about these things for the 874th time. 

Well, the fans who wanted to see an American show those "commies" (legendary announcer Larry Maiers would just call every European that back in the 1980s) who was the best didn’t quite get what they wanted. The new MXGP champion Romain Febvre went 1-2 for the overall win (correctly predicted by JT HERE, by the way) and, in my opinion, was a small tip-over from sweeping both motos. This guy, on a track he’s never been on, was a beast. In great shape, he worked to the front in both motos. Late in the first moto, he passed Cooper Webb for the win. And in the second moto, he worked his way up from over six seconds down to less than a second behind eventual-winner Josh Grant before tipping over. 

Aside from a tip-over, Febvre got the overall pretty easily.
Aside from a tip-over, Febvre got the overall pretty easily. photo: Garth Milan

Obviously, winning the world title indicates the Frenchman is fast, but he didn’t have high motivation to win this weekend. The title was his, it was the last race, the MXoN is in his home country next weekend, and it was a track he’d never been on. And, oh, yeah, it was hot as balls. But Febvre was having none of that and went for it anyway. He was great, very impressive. 

I know these last three MXoN defeats should already have you knowing this, but the European racers are equal to American racers in motocross. How they do just depends on where you are that day. Anything can happen. Now supercross—that’s another story. But I wish American fans would stop discounting many of these racers from Europe. Times have changed since the mid-1980s. 

Josh Grant and Glen Helen go together like peas and carrots. He loves the place, and has put in many great results there. And you knew that he’d be good again this weekend. 

Grant was leading the first moto when he injured his foot and eventually finished third. In the second moto, he grabbed the lead from Antonio Cairoli and rode well. Yes, Febvre was reeling him in late, but he was still fast. Second overall on the day for JG and a nice send-off for him on the Monster Energy Kawasaki team. I’m not sure what Josh is doing next year, but this was a nice way to end the year with your hometown fans cheering you on. 

So there were some questions about Cooper Webb getting picked for the MXoN on the 450, right? Did he answer them with his USGP ride? Well, I think so. He finished third overall, but he was so close to winning the first moto, and outside of a couple of very poor opening laps of the second moto, he was fine. Febvre, Grant, and Webb were clearly in their own class this past weekend. Webb looked to get a bit tired out there, but it was seriously hot and this was his first 450 race like this. 

I picked Webb as a possible winner of this race, so I knew he would be fine, but if you were there and on the fence about this kid getting picked to jump on to the 450 for arguably the biggest race of the year, don’t sweat it, bro. He’s got this. 

I have no doubt that Febvre and Webb will once again be acquainted this weekend in France, as they’re both in the same class. It should be exciting to watch for sure. 

In speaking to Antonio Cairoli before the race, he knew he wasn’t ready to be the “old” Antonio Cairoli. This was his first race since hurting his arm at the beginning of the year, and it was still sore. If you ask me, he just really wanted to come to Southern California to hang out with his girlfriend Jill, and he figured he would throw a race in there as a way to get the trip paid for. But AC222 showed that all the time off didn’t hurt his speed, as he ran up front in both motos, led laps, and other than the DNF in the second moto from landing and blowing his bad arm off the bar, he was fine. I can’t wait for 2016 when a healthy Antonio Cairoli gets pissed off and wants the title back that he’s owned for so many years. It should be some great racing. By the way, he’s in Vegas this week hanging out. Welcome back to America, Tony! 

Jessy Nelson owned the MX2 class, taking both motos with ease.
Jessy Nelson owned the MX2 class, taking both motos with ease. photo: Spencer Owens

It was a good day for the Lucas Oil/Troy Lee Designs KTM team of Jessy Nelson and Shane McElrath in the MX2 class. McElrath blitzed to a qualifier win on Saturday, with Nelson coming from the back to a sixth. On Sunday, the day that really counted, Nelson went untouched in both motos for a 1-1, while McElrath went 3-2 for second overall. In fact, Nelson led every lap of both motos with nice 7–8-second leads to take the win. Great job by him, and McElrath was the only rider (outside of Chris Alldredge in moto one, who earned second place) to even keep Nelson in sight. Those three were gone in the first moto, and in the second moto, the top two guys checked out on everyone. They were great.

As we know, the FIM World Motocross Championship doesn’t pay any purse money, and there wasn’t anything in most of the riders’ contracts for bonuses for this race, so I was thinking that these guys were out there working hard for no pay at all. But then I heard that there was some sort of bonus for the TLD guys, so that’s a nice deal. 

I knew it had been a long time since Honda won a world title, but I didn’t know it had been fifteen freaking years! Yes, Fred Bolley in 2000 winning the 250 championship was the last time Honda won a title. Wow. And it had been even longer since Honda won the MX2 (125) World Championship. For that you would have to go back to Alex Puzar in 1995. I had forgotten Puzar even rode a Honda. Wow! 

So it’s with this in mind that Tim Gajser of Slovenia, on his Gariboldi Honda, came into Glen Helen with an 18-point lead on KTM’s Pauls Jonass. A Honda guy told me before the race that these two will find each other at some point because they are really close in speed. And you know what? He was right. Gajser was ahead of Jonass in the first moto only to get passed by the KTM rider, but late in the moto Jonass faded to the back, possibly due to the heat. In the second moto, he was right on Gajser, but couldn’t make the pass before going backward again. 

Look, 18 points was going to be hard to make up, but Jonass couldn’t beat Gajser straight up when he had it right in front of him, so that’s a wrap, Tim Gajser from Slovenia on a Honda is your world champion. That seems strange even typing it, but congrats to him and his team.

Apparently Gajser’s dream is to race in America, and Honda has him under contract for the next four years, so he’ll be here at some point to give it a try (I imagine with the GEICO guys). This kid is legit. Last year on a 450 at the MXoN, he was fast until he crashed. 

The new MX2 champion is a 19-year-old Slovenian.
The new MX2 champion is a 19-year-old Slovenian. photo: Spencer Owens

You’ve heard the venting about the wash bays, right? Allow me one more…. It’s obvious that the age rule in the MX2 class has got to go. Anytime someone gets good, they have to get out of the class. It’s an artificial inflator for the MXGP class, which is the class Youthstream wants to promote. But some riders are better on small bikes. Some riders aren’t ready to jump up to the big-bike class (ironically the multi-time MX2 World Champion Jeffrey Herlings is beyond ready to jump up to MXGP but seems to want to keep beating up on the kids in the class), but they’re forced out. Gajser, Jonass, etc. are great riders, and no offense to Nelson, McElrath, or Alldredge, but they didn’t win a national this year and only collected seven moto podiums between them, and they were clearly better than the GP riders. Nelson beat third-place Valentin Guillod by over thirty seconds! Yes, it was Glen Helen, but the dominance that our guys had over everyone else in the MX2 class was shocking to me. Look how much closer it was in the MXGP class, for example.

A few years ago, Max Anstie was struggling to get into the top five, yet he had an outside chance at the title this year! That’s going to happen as a natural order of things when you keep moving your best riders out of the class because they’re too old. You’re hurting the careers of riders who are forced out and can’t get a ride. Yes, Romain Febvre worked out fantastic, but what about a Steven Frossard, Alessandro Lupino, or even Dean Ferris? All emerging and fast MX2 riders that weren’t hella-fast right away as 15 year olds, but then started to figure it out before they got kicked out of the class. Watching Herlings, when healthy, win by a minute is what YS had in mind when they created this rule? Hogwash I say—change it back! 

For the first time since 1989, Davi Millsaps raced an outdoor motocross race! Well, I’m kidding—it was actually Lake Elsinore 2012—but the #18 (#118 this time) was out there under the sun racing. It was weird. And not because he was actually #118 for the GP. Davi is on the BTOSports.com KTM team for 2016, and again, per DeCoster, he was basically made to race when he wasn’t clearly ready. But he treated it like a test session and did okay. He was eleventh in the first moto for a long time before fading late in the race. In the second moto, he basically let everyone go off the start and just rode at a pace he knew he could hold, and what do you know—he was picking dudes off late in the race and finished tenth. I think if I had been asked to bet on his results coming into the race, knowing he wasn’t 100 percent or anywhere near it, and knowing he hadn’t raced a motocross race for so long, I would’ve said 12-DNF, so the tenth was solid.

Dean Wilson finished fourth overall and really got garbage starts all day long. He was good, and I was impressed that his fastest lap of the second moto came in his last lap when he was trying to chase down Webb for third. It was a good showing for Dean, whom I had heard was back in with Aldon Baker for the second time, but now he’s somehow out and going to be training with Tyla Rattray (who retired after the second moto) next year. Even though Dean abandoned Canada years ago, I like him and just hope he can stay healthy. 

Thanks for reading. By the time you hear me complaining about the wash bays again, I’ll be in the air on the way to Paris for the Motocross of Nations. Email me at matthes@racerxonline.com if you want to chat.