Thus far Honda Gariboldi and official HRC rider Tim Gajser is proving to be a one-man entertainment show in the 2016 MXGP series. The 19-year-old Slovenian, a rookie in the premier class and reigning MX2 world champion, rode to his fourth victory from six rounds of the current campaign with two staggering performances across the bumps and holes of Kegums for the Grand Prix of Latvia.
Gajser went 1-4 on the day to narrowly edge Red Bull KTM’s Tony Cairoli to triumph once more. The manner of his second moto charge from outside the top twenty—leaving just one point between Gajser and Monster Energy Yamaha’s Romain Febvre (third on the day) in the MXGP championship standings—indicates that there is plenty of twists and turns left yet this term. Since the invention of the four-stroke formula in 2004 and the creation of MXGP (initially MX1) the points table has never been this tight at the top after six events and one third of the calendar in the books.
Setting off from another pole position and with the likes of Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Clement Desalle, Suzuki’s Ben Townley and Wilvo Virus Performance KTM’s Shaun Simpson hitting the gate in the first moto, Gajser dealt with Cairoli and a valiant effort by Rockstar Energy IceOne Husqvarna’s Max Nagl to win his sixth moto from the eleven run until that point. Nagl was close to deposing the youngster but Gajser’s smooth strength and potency with the CRF450RW (easily Honda’s best performing athlete outside the world of MotoGP) ensured more success. If truth were told the fast Kegums ripples were one stage upon which Gajser had previous form on the 450. It was here in 2014 that he first showed a glimpse of his bigger bike potential by running with the leaders at the MX of Nations (although he would finish the meeting in hospital with a broken vertebra).
Gajser’s love-hate with Latvia swung to extremes in the second moto. Cairoli had the drop and at the end of the waves on the second lap Gajser had the first of many “moments” through the thirty minute and two lap chase. He didn't hang onto this one though. Over the front of a heavy landing the Slovenian tumbled and was punted by the pursuing Nagl for good measure. Cairoli then had a five second gap over Febvre. The World Champion had crashed himself and was subdued in the first moto to fifth place after admitting that a tweak on his engine setting was a gamble that backfired. Reverting back the Frenchman was in much feistier form and set off after the KTM. Gajser picked up, stalled and then finally got going somewhere down in the twenties. Nagl arrived up to fifth but Tim’s trail all the way up to fourth—passing the German on the last circulation—was an immense comeback, riddled with risk, watching-through-fingers near-misses and bravery. Simpson, who like many struggled with set-up, was seventh in the same race and simply said: “Gajser came past me and he was truckin’ real nice, some good lines”.
At the front Cairoli’s designs on a first win in almost a year (both moto and grand prix) were snuffed by Gajser snatching fourth spot. Across the finish line the Honda man needed informing that his heroics were to be rewarded by the top step of the box (that he gingerly climbed, wincing somewhat) and Cairoli looked dejected. “We were close but we are still not where we want to be,” the Sicilian said. “I miss some fitness to be honest but I am working on it every week. The track was very technical and difficult and if you are not fit then it is hard to push on these types of tracks. Tim was very strong and deserved this victory. I’m starting to get good speed in training now. There is plenty of time to come up to the top step where we want to be.”
Febvre broke a sixteen race rostrum streak with an off day in Mexico two weeks previously but was back on the boil in Latvia and took confidence from his second race success.
Elsewhere Jeremy Van Horebeek was again solid and unlucky to miss out on his second podium walk of the year. Suzuki’s Kevin Strijbos had to retire from the second moto with a holed clutch, courtesy of a smack from teammate Ben Townley on the first lap. The Belgian was looking stronger than at any other GP this season, even though he came to Kegums with a painful lower back. Townley rued the gate nudge in the first moto and the love-tap with Strijbos that put him on the floor. The New Zealander thankfully showed no signs of the sapping virus that sidelined him for Argentina and Mexico. He was eighth and just behind a personal best so far for Rockstar Energy IceOne Husky’s Christophe Charlier.
Desalle could only manage a thirteenth and was hit by another rider in the second moto that caused a retirement but the Belgian thankfully reported no more broken bones after a medical check. Monster Energy DRT Kawasaki’s Tommy Searle was one of the fastest riders in the class through practice but was struck by Evgeny Bobryshev in the qualification heat and his gate pick of twenty-fourth meant hard work for Sunday. A mechanical DNF in the first moto was typical of the Brit’s luck so far.
Red Bull KTM’s Jeffrey Herlings is floating somewhere in a strange void between derision and utter admiration. The Dutchman remains unbeaten, now six Grands Prix in MX2 and twelve motos and lapped up to eighth place in the second sprint. The Kegums surface was just sandy enough in places for the former champion to whip out some of his matchless skill-set in the terrain and he won race two by over a minute. Herlings is so impervious in this class that any hesitation over a move to MXGP for 2017 will be met with disbelief and widespread disdain. Among the emotion and critique though it is hard not to be wholly impressed by the 21 year old’s tenacity, burgeoning confidence and the sheer relish in how he attacks motos. There might be little in the way of resistance or opposition but we all know half of the job is about resistance, focus and endurance and Herlings is racing against the dejected ghosts of 2014 and 2015.
“I want to work for perfection,” Herlings said. “I know how much I put in and what happened in the last two seasons when I was on top of the world for a couple of years and then had the worse luck that you can imagine with two very bad injuries. I feel that things are going my way again but it is like the weather; it can change in an instant or through day and night. I’m really pleased with this weekend and I’m not thinking about a perfect season because I know with one start crash things can change.”
In his absence last year at Kegums it was Max Anstie who ruled the roost and the Brit powered past Suzuki’s Jeremy Seewer (the Swiss taking his fifth podium in a row in Grand Prix to consolidate second in the championship and surely setting some sort of record for his country) to finish as runner-up overall and bag his first podium for the Rockstar Energy Husky crew in what is his last season in MX2. Seewer owned the last rostrum step in front of Monster Energy Kawasaki duo Petar Petrov (lacking starting prowess for an overdue trophy in 2016) and the returning Dylan Ferrandis. The Frenchman was cleared to race only on Monday after recovering from a shoulder injury. The Kawasaki stalwart last competed at Kegums in 2014 where he was part of the MX of Nations winning team for France and is now heavily linked with a ride in the U.S. for 2017.
Thomas Covington was on the sidelines due to a broken hand and lingering problems from his ankle injury prior to the Grand Prix of Europe and round three over Easter weekend. No indication of when the 20-year-old will be back on the works Husky but he posted a message on Instagram to the tune of “a few weeks.” American youngster Darian Sanayei grabbed third overall in the EMX250 European series (feeder channel to MX2).
Latvia was home to victories in EMX250 by Dane Thoma Kjer Olsen (first round winner Conrad Mewse inexplicably jumping into MX2) and EMX125 by Belgian Jago Geerts. Interestingly former double 125cc Supercross Champion and double 250cc World Champ Mickael Pichon’s son Zachary gained his first major podium finish with second place in the two-stroke class.
MXGP moves swiftly down to Germany and staple venue Teutschenthal this week for round seven. After heavy criticism over preparation of the hard-pack in 2015 it will be curious to see if the circuit and club have heeded Youthstream’s criticism and warning for the next edition of this popular event.
FIM World Motocross Championship
Round 6 - Kegums, Latvia
|4.||Jeremy Van Horebeek||18-20||Yam|
|9.||Brent Van doninck||14-10||Yam|
|MXGP Series Standings|
|5.||Jeremy Van Horebeek||200pts||Yam|
|MX2 Series Standings|
|11.||Brent Van doninck||102pts||Yam|