On his favourite type of going it was hard to look past Honda Gariboldi’s Tim Gajser for what would be his fifth win of the 2016 MXGP series. The 19-year-old Slovenian is rapidly losing his novelty factor in the premier class of the FIM Motocross World Championship and he convincingly controlled this ninth round of eighteen on the slate around the eternally undulating hard-pack of Cerro Negro in Talavera de la Reina (southwest of Madrid) for the Grand Prix of Spain. Gajser has rarely looked more comfortable and assertive and this Pole/1-1 was on the same level as his shock MXGP debut win in Qatar; a success that a great many considered as something of an anomaly. Hardly any MXGP followers and perhaps a good deal of the riders themselves would have imagined that the rookie leading the standings by 24 points by the halfway point has been an ever-present podium force.
The HRC rider has been a consistency good starter and around the narrow curves of Talavera this was an indispensable ingredient for spoils. Gajser did not claim a holeshot though. That distinction fell twice to Rockstar Energy IceOne Husqvarna’s Max Nagl who could do little about his new rival and was resoundingly beaten to a 2-2 scorecard, admitting after the race that he has to raise his game further to counter the threat that Gajser is currently bringing to the table.
Wilvo Virus Performance KTM’s Shaun Simpson (10th overall after a snapped chain in Saturday’s qualification heat banished him to the penultimate slot in the gate; he rode well to reach an 11-10) described the Spanish hard-pack as being “on point.” The motor club Talavera had prepared the ground well and were aided by heavy thunderstorm showers on Saturday that softened the terrain, raised the grip, dropped the speed and deepened the ruts. In a way Talavera was a little more forgiving compared to previous editions and some more riding options opened up on one of the tightest tracks for passing on the calendar.
The nature of Cerro Negro and the speed of the pace meant that the MXGP motos had little in the way of gripping action. The first eight positions barely changed during the first moto; Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Clement Desalle making a satisfying return to the top three with third and is still in the comeback phases from injury. HRC’s Gautier Paulin is treading a similar path and beat Red Bull KTM’s Tony Cairoli, his Honda teammate Evgeny Bobryshev and impressive Swiss (best scrubs of the weekend) Valentino Guillod. Behind Monster Energy Yamaha’s Jeremy Van Horebeek (riding with a hairline fracture in his left hand) was the world champion, Romain Febvre.
On Saturday a slightly controversial incident occurred when Febvre could not avoid Simpson, in fourth place, on the uphill double (the Scot’s chain having departed) and crashed. He was hit by Gautier Paulin and then put his left arm out to recover the Yamaha as Cairoli came up the inside line. The KTM rider could not avoid an impact and Febvre was diagnosed with a painful minor dislocation without any breakages. The Frenchman underwent physio for long stretches of the afternoon and evening with the aim of attempting the motos on Sunday and he soldiered through arm-pump and the pain barrier in the first race but was more like his usual attacking self in the second moto as he ran to fourth.
Febvre’s malaise had repercussions to the tune of 20 points for the championship chase at the midway stage and only days before he was due to star at St Jean D’Angely and his home Grand Prix. It was in France last year (Villars sous Ecot) that 461 shone to bag his very first MXGP triumph and it was the confidence-boosting springboard for what would eventually be world championship and Motocross of Nations glory. France is bound to be a different experience now for the 24-year-old who is expected to renew his Yamaha contract in the coming days and will have to do his best to keep close to Gajser until the two-weekend break at the beginning of July and a decent path of time to heal.
Cairoli attracted a degree of criticism on social media channels for the move and Febvre also was unimpressed, but the GoPro footage showed the Sicilian could not have seen the full melee on the ground and could have done little to avoid the sprawling limbs of the world champion. Cairoli was slightly off in Spain thanks to his starts and a second moto crash put him down to ninth. The Italian did not fare as badly as Kevin Strijbos who suffered falls in every outing on his Suzuki and when he was landed upon by Monster Energy DRT Kawasaki’s Tommy Searle on the first lap of the second moto the Belgian (and the Brit) retired with a knock to the head and a sour taste of the Spanish mud.
Gautier Paulin made a welcome return to the box for the first time since the Grand Prix of Belgium last summer. He joked that he felt 80 years old after the press conference in which he admitted he was happy to be back in the winner’s circle and it had be a long trip to recover from the fractured rib and vertebra that cast his second (and most likely last) season with HRC to the reeds.
Local favourite (at least until teenager Jorge Prado matures to swell the crowds even further in a country where motorcycle racing champions almost seem to grow on trees; Prado took his second podium finish in the EMX250 series in what is his first year on a 250) Jose Butron was eleventh overall and provided glimpses of how the passionate Spanish would easily get behind a rider who was pushing for the pinnacle of a Grand Prix class.
MX2 ruffled the pages of the script but didn't change the order. Red Bull KTM’s Jeffrey Herlings might have lost the perfect season in terms of motos (almost impossible anyway with MXGP planting 17-18 round schedules for the last four years) but his Grand Prix record is still intact and he’ll be looking to better his haul of 15 of 17 from 2013 (he missed two due to injury). Pole Position in Spain went to Monster Energy’s Dylan Ferrandis with Herlings a quiet fourth on Saturday and admittedly through some of the wettest and slipperiest conditions of the weekend. Ferrandis set the pace in the first moto before Herlings built his speed, took the lead and went on to forge another twenty-second margin of victory. In the second moto he briefly had to deal with another impressive Frenchman, Kemea Yamaha’s Benoit Paturel, who finished second overall for his second career podium result, while other Red Bull KTM rider, Pauls Jonass, got the better of Jeremy Seewer for third and the last step on the MX2 box.
Herlings is now the authority in the competition to the tune of 122 points and almost five GP motos. In Spain a number of names popped up nearer the front of the field and hinted at some of the future of the division: Samuele Bernardini, Adam Sterry, Michele Cervellin and Brian Bogers.
A relatively short haul for MXGP now happens this week with St Jean D’Angley prepped for its first Grand Prix since 2014 and the circuit near the west coast of France will provide another hard and hilly test for the world championship select.
FIM World Motocross Championship
Round 9 - Talavera De La Reina - Spain
|8.||Jeremy Van Horebeek||13-14||Yam|
|15.||Iker Larranaga Olano||4-7||KTM|
|20.||Freek van der Vlist||3-0||Yam|
|MXGP Series Standings|
|6.||Jeremy Van Horebeek||274pts||Yam|
|MX2 Series Standings|
|11.||Brent Van doninck||142pts||Yam|