Ah, the Lommel sand, the great leveller. The fourteenth round of eighteen in the FIM Motocross World Championship was slightly odd. The weather veered between hot sunshine, bouts of strong breeze and even a torrential downpour in the midst of the first MX2 moto; the track’s bumps were sharp and unsettling compared to the long, lolloping holes traditionally found at the popular Belgian training and testing facility and the results were even a turn-up for the books.
When Team Suzuki general manager Stefan Everts described Kevin Strijbos’ surprise overall victory with a 3-3 scorecard as being a weight off his rider's shoulders then the former prolific Belgian race winner could not have imagined how heavy a nine year gap between spoils can actually feel. Strijbos last crested the peak of a podium in Holland in 2007 and wouldn’t have been many people’s tip for glory at Lommel. It was only the 30-year-old’s second Grand Prix since coming back from a fractured capsule in his left wrist and Strijbos voiced the usual adjectives connected with Lommel—tough, hard, hell—with extra conviction prior to the meeting.
At least he and the other Suzuki boys had some new clothes with special 1992 livery and a pleasant buzz around the set-up covering MX2 and EMX250 (a second place and a win taken in those categories as well) with a compound gathering in the paddock that was busy with fans and well-wishers all weekend.
The truth is that Kevin was one of the few consistent riders out there. Crashes cast adrift better results for Max Nagl (1-7; runner-up overall on the Rockstar Husqvarna and winner of the first moto but a fall dumped him to seventh in the second and ruined his chance at a second triumph in week), Roman Febvre (5-DNF; three crashes on Saturday and another three in the second moto meant the hardest weekend yet for the Frenchman perhaps in the last two years of Grand Prix), Jeremy Van Horebeek (7-4; a clip from Tim Gajser out of the gate in the first moto for the other Monster Energy Yamaha rider left the Belgian last and even though he rode well with some fresh factory engine mods he was “spent” in the second chase), Red Bull KTM’s Tony Cairoli whose lacklustre first moto sixth place meant he was just three points away from Strijbos’ bottle of champagne, Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Clement Desalle (4-10; another second moto faller and a sticking front brake didn't help) and Wilvo Virus Performance KTM’s Shaun Simpson (2-12). Like Strijbos the Scot was only in his second outing since coming back from a broken right hand and his second place in the first moto showed signs of the rider that owned this Grand Prix in 2015. Simpson couldn't create the same flow in the second moto and two mistakes coupled with a crash when Febvre leapt into the side of the 450SX-F meant a dream podium in a turbulent 2016 was off the cards. We also have to add world championship leader Tim Gajser to this list.
The Honda Gariboldi rider, who took advantage of Monster Energy sponsorship in the run-up to Lommel, looked ragged—like a great deal of the MXGP pack—on Saturday and that slight edginess for what was his first deep-sand test on the 450 bit back in the first moto. An unusually iffy start meant he had to barrel back through the top ten, towing Febvre all the way but then went down on the entry to turn two and lost a wealth of time restarting. While fifteenth place marked a low point of the season for the Honda star, he killed the second moto from the first lap. It was his fourteenth chequered flag of the season but sadly ended his 100 percent podium record in his rookie term. His points lead stands at 103 over Cairoli with 200 left to win.
So Strijbos prevailed, and the emotion of almost a decade of tribulation with numerous confidence hits, injury, privateer rides and near-misses meant an intense post-race period for him in front of many home fans and followers. He was spotted in the paddock still wearing his garish yellow and pink sand-drenched riding gear almost two hours after the chequered flag had fallen, trophy in hand and surrounded by many people. Strijbos turns 31 next month and is due to become the fifth father in the MXGP pack in November. He’s always relied on confidence and belief and the Lommel achievement could be a small milestone for his lengthy career and for the rest of the 2016 season. “My last win was in 2007 and I think some of the young guys here [in MXGP] were not even in Grand Prix at that time,” he joked.
Red Bull KTM’s Jeffrey Herlings’ collarbone is requiring more time than originally thought to heal sufficiently and with the factory team mindful of the lessons learned in 2015 when the Dutchman returned to the track two weeks after initially fracturing the joint (and crashed again, ripping open his little finger) the no. 84 250SX-F was left dormant for a meeting that Herlings could probably have won with one hand on the bars. The twelve MX2 Grand Prix wins in a row and twenty-three moto victories from twenty-four were useful in terms of the points accumulation. Suzuki’s Jeremy Seewer was 127 behind the 21-one year old before Lommel and after taking second position the Swiss narrowed the gap to 80 with Herlings also a major doubt for the Swiss GP next week.
Seewer has been sandwiched between the KTMs for most of the season; Herlings ahead and Pauls Jonass behind, but his view was orange-free in Belgium with the Latvian also absent due to a concussion suffered the previous week in the Czech Republic. MX2 without a factory orange bike (the Austrians ruled the class from 2008 to 2014) was another abnormal sight (debutant Jorge Prado eventually withdrew on Sunday due to an injured shoulder) and only Davy Pootjes wore the colours to fifteenth overall.
Rockstar Husqvarna’s Max Anstie ran free at Lommel in 2014 and 2015 with Herlings injured on both occasions and the Brit was again the dominant force on what was his hat-trick with three different motorcycles in Belgium. Anstie has been frustratingly irregular in his last MX2 season meaning that he lies further down the standings in sixth. His wonderful technique in the sand came to the fore—even with a dodgy start in the second moto—on this occasion though and the Brit described the 2016 win as the hardest of the three at Lommel. As part of Jacky Martens team (“our workshop is on the other side of that turn over there…” said Anstie) Anstie has more than enough laps accumulated at the venue but even the former Kawasaki, Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki rider admitted that the sand shifted differently for the Grand Prix and perhaps the presence of four support classes played a part.
Anstie certainly had to work in the second moto to catch Seewer. The Swiss had a late race attack strategy ruined in the first sprint by the dense rain shower that caused the track to suddenly see more pairs of goggles littering the ruts. He was fourth, and then led from the outset in the second moto until Anstie relegated him to second with four laps to go. Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Dylan Ferrandis was third in that same outing but a crash and DNF in the first pushed the Frenchman away from the podium. It was his teammate Petar Petrov—another young veteran of the Lommel waves—who grasped his first silverware of the year largely thanks to a strong second position in the opening moto.
The ninth round of ten in the EMX250 European Championship—theoretically the last step for riders before jumping into MX2—was finally won by long-time leader Thomas Kjer Olsen even if Suzuki’s Bas Vaessen streaked away for his first career moto double. Mike Kras was champion in the 300cc two-stroke category (that was apparently confirmed to be run again next year after meetings in Lommel) and Fin Emil Weckman was the victor once more in the Honda 150 series.
MXGP ploughs on to a third Grand Prix in three weeks. For the first time since the picturesque setting of Roggenburg welcomed the paddock in 2001 (Dobb, Federici and Bervoets running out as 125, 250 and 500cc winners respectively that day) the FIM competition returns to the country after a swell of interest built up around the efforts of riders like Arnaud Tonus, Valentin Guillod and Seewer. A new circuit near Frauenfeld promises an unseen test for all.
FIM World Motocross Championship
Round 14 - MXGP of Belgium - Lommel
|4.||Jeremy Van Horebeek||14-18||Yam|
|8.||Lars van Berkel||8-13||Hus|
|13.||Iker Larranaga Olano||5-10||KTM|
|19.||Freek van der Vlist||0-6||Kaw|
|MXGP Series Standings|
|6.||Jeremy Van Horebeek||417pts||Yam|
|MX2 Series Standings|
|14.||Brent Van doninck||145pts||Yam|
|20.||Ivano Larranaga Olano||95pts||KTM|