Yeah! Muddy Creek!!! I mean Mantova, Italy MXGP! That’s where I was this past weekend. No Muddy Creek for me; instead it was some time in Verona, Mantova and Venice with the wife. The wife was thrilled when I pitched the idea of a week in Italy and after mentioning Venice I sort of trailed off my voice when I said, “Oh yeah, we’ll got to a GP also…”
Hey, I love dirt bike racing and when you can tie in a trip to Italy with a race on a track that I’ve always wanted to go to, why not?
The GPs have changed quite a bit over the years and not always for the better. Of course I go to the Motocross des Nations every year but that’s not a true look at the series. That’s like going to the Super Bowl, feeling the excitement, seeing the set-up and deciding that NFL football is the most incredible thing ever. Then you go to a Jacksonville versus Cleveland game in December and are forced to rethink everything.
What Youthstream has done for the GPs is include a couple of minor leagues of motocross with every race as well as the Women’s class. Those minor leagues are the EMX classes, including 125 class for, duh, 125’s and then an EMX 250 class that’s supposed to act like a farm system for teams to get their next MX2 rider.
If you’re used to going to the Nationals the first thing going to a GP will do is tire you out. In America, the focus has been on having a one-day format; there are no excess classes anymore. Two quick practices, two four lap LCQ’s, four motos and we’re done by 5 p.m. Part of these changes were made for TV, but a lot of them were due to requests from teams who spend so much time and money that even one less day would help everyone’s bottom line, as well as their sanity. One less day of travel is huge for the riders and teams, and I like it, too.
A lot of the people arrive at the GPs on Friday, then they’re back at 7 a.m. on Saturday with everything wrapping up around 6:30 p.m. Race day is 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday and there’s five different classes that race. There just seems to be dirt bikes on the track at all times, there are bikes and teams everywhere and it’s a process. The big stars of the GPs hit the track three times on Saturday and three times on Sunday. I guess what I’m trying to say is going to a GP is a real commitment, bro.
One of the things all this riding does is make the track rough. There’s not enough time to really groom it. Mantova is a sandy track and way tighter than I imagined it to be with a cross section of jumps. It’s got a pretty compact footprint as well, as it’s right inside the town of Mantova, which is a pretty neat deal. Finish practice, go for some Spaghetti Bolognese ten minutes later!
I really think that having so many classes on the track isn’t ideal; with all the racing going on maybe to the casual fan the MXGP riders seem to be just another race? But then again, having all the managers there watching the 125 and 250EMX kids is a good thing for them if they’re looking for new talent. One thing for sure, there are so many bikes there that it’s a great revenue boost for the promoters.
Team USA has lost the last three MXDN’s and I think part of that reason is because the GP riders have more experience and time on less than ideal tracks. As I said, these things get way rough and they are basically untouched. In America the tracks are watered perfectly, they’re mixed in with sawdust or rice hulls and even the practice bike tracks during the week are maintained better than a GP track. I know from talking to people around Team USA many times over the last few years, bike set-up has been an issue. None of the top-level guys in USA just go riding at some beat up practice track down the road from the gravel pit. Nope. The tracks here get rough but they’re prepped well—watered, ripped up, etc. That creates different bumps compared to the Euro tracks, and as I said, I think that hurts Team USA when it comes to the MXDN.
The two-story mechanic pit lane thing the GPs have is pretty sweet (although this year I noticed the teams have sort of taken over the upstairs as well, which has never been the case before; it used to be reserved for VIPs). Last year the series added a whole new section for the VERY important VIP’s (very, very important, maybe it’s VVIP’s?) above the starting gate. NO ONE does VIP hospitality tents like the GPs. They love to have a lot of places that very few people can go. That and press conferences. The GPs love their press conferences to announces things that are, to be honest, not really that interesting to anyone except the people that are trying to profit from these announcements.
I’m going to go on about the wash bays again, so if you’re a loyal reader you may want to just skip this part. At the USA nationals there is no designated wash area so teams just wash bikes by their truck. This inevitably leads to a swampy mess that leaks onto the areas the spectators walk on. Some truck drivers don’t want the area around their truck to get all muddy so they dig trenches in the ground to divert the water to, you guessed it, where the fans walk. Imagine bringing your wife or a sponsor and their footwear are just destroyed at the end of the day. Or they get sprayed by an errant wand (I’ve done this on purpose when I was a mechanic when people were getting to nosy) or they step in the wrong spot and just get a booter (Canadian word for shoe full of water).
At the GPs they have an area (most of the times concrete with drainage) where the teams have to go to wash their bikes, riders wash their boots and it’s all contained in one area. It makes for a much better experience and they’re way sweet. You all know this is a topic I’m very passionate about.
I spoke with current MX2 World Champion, and soon to be MXGP champion, Tim Gajser on Saturday for an upcoming Racer X Illustrated feature and it’s clear that Gajser’s got an eye on coming to the USA sooner rather than later. Of course he’s not going to tell this chubby USA Racer X guy that he just met his master plans but from what my sources tell me he’ll be here full-time in 2018. Tim’s a pretty cool guy and he lit up when talking about watching supercross as a kid and wanting to be there. He said that watching Carmichael, Stewart and Reed was awesome, which made me feel real old (not as old as Chad Reed, who was actually there in the pit across from him. I told him that #243 guy says he watched him when he was a kid). Don’t worry, I made sure some Tim Ferry stories were added into Gajser’s memory banks.
I spoke with some big important people at Honda and they asked me to tell them what he said in regards to coming to the USA! Isn’t that strange? We know he’s doing the Monster Cup and I guess we’ll see from there but I’d bet on him staying GPs one more year.
Oh yeah, the actual race! Well, Gajser won with a perfect 1-1 day but not without a fight from hometown hero Antonio Cairoli in the second moto. Gajser looks great this year. We thought that last year Romain Febvre took his game to another level in his first year in the 450 class but Gajser was beating him pretty regularly until Febvre went out with an injury and now Tim’s got a 400 point lead or something like that.
I didn’t mention how hot it was but it was bad…like Florida in August bad. Or maybe Muddy Creek bad? The European teams and riders didn’t know what to do; this wasn’t anywhere near what they are used to outside of Thailand at Round 2. But Gajser showed what kind of shape he was in with his rides. His teammate Evgeny Bobrhyshev melted from the heat as did a few other guys. Gajser loves the outside lines, loves keeping his momentum up and can scrub with the best of them. He’ll fit in well over here but be warned industry…his dad is either the next Tony Alessi or he’s “great for Tim” as others have deluded themselves into thinking. I didn’t meet the dude, so I can’t say for sure, but I heard it from so many people when talking about him that I’d say there’s a good chance he’s like 80 percent of the other nut-job dads we have over here.
As I said, Cairoli, the eight-time World Champion, gave the Italian fans something to really get excited for (although Gajser being from Slovenia, which is not far from Mantova, had a huge cheering section also) when he led most of the second moto with Gajser all over him. It’s weird to think about Cairoli as an underdog but that’s what he is now as Febvre last year and both Febvre and Gajser this year have been better most weekends. Tony’s got a broken bone in his hand from the last GP so he’s not able to practice and he was in some pain. He just rode okay in the first moto but the second moto he grabbed the holeshot and I guess he figured that he’d step it up and see what the kid’s got. Well, the kid got by but not without a huge fight and some great racing. It was an awesome battle for 25 minutes.
Cairoli switched to a 450 last season and I heard from a few different people over there that I trust that, Antonio, and even Ryan Dungey, aren’t stoked about the performance of the new KTM 450SX-F when it comes to outdoors. The shock/rear end seems to be the issue and whether it’s AC, Dungey or really any elite KTM guy, they’re having an issue being completely happy with the rear.
It’d be awesome to see Cairoli get another title for the mantle but if he doesn’t that’s okay too. He’s an all-timer on and off the track and he’s certainly thrilled me many times. He’s one of the very best riders to ever, yes, I said ever, buckle up his Sidi's.
Gautier Paulin ended up second overall with a couple of nice rides and he actually caught and passed Cairoli on the last lap of the second moto. Paulin’s two-year deal with Honda was much hyped about but hasn’t produced the number of wins either side wanted. Rumors have him going to the ICE Husky team next year. I think no matter what, he won’t be back at Honda next year. Three podiums out of the last four motos will certainly help the bottom line for Paulin.
We always seem to forget about Clement DeSalle because of so many injuries, but he was at Mantova on his Kawasaki (still weird to see that after so many years on Suzuki) and his 2-4 scores were good enough to get on the podium.
Chad Reed was there! Yeah, that’s right, the #22 (now running the #22g, which is hilarious that even though there’s a #22 given out to the now-injured Kevin Strijbos the promoters just allowed Chad to add a “g” to his usual number. I don’t know if this is funny or sad for the series to be honest) showed up last week and this week to race some GPs (a series he did in 2001), have some fun and cash ‘dem Monster checks. Reed’s hand was sore from last week (he hurt it on the same giant quad jump that AC222 did) and he wasn’t even sure he was going to race. His practice times weren’t good and he pulled out of the qualifier on Saturday, which also wasn’t good. He had some bike issues in moto one and pulled it in right when he got into the top twenty and we watched the second motos together from the pit lane structure. And on that note there are a whole lot of Euros out there that will have photos of Chad with me in it from now until they die.
That brings me to my next point about the 22g (is “g” for gangsta?). The fans seemed to love having him there. People were constantly by his truck, he signed everything, took selfies with probably everyone there and although he didn’t do so much on the track (he did throw some sweet nac-nac’s) his presence was a welcome one for the fans.
In the MX2 class it was KTM’s Jeffrey Herlings with two easy wins. He’s won every moto but one (the coming-to-America Dylan Ferrandis won the other) and he’s in a class by himself in MX2. Coming off two consecutive injury-filled years, maybe it’s okay for Herlings to be in the class for what seems like his 13th year, but it looks like a rule change has been made to force him out after winning this year.
Herlings seems obsessed with stats and records and doesn’t fail to bring it up when talking about his chase of the all-time GP win record. I’d like to remind him that I’ve seen Mr. 72 SX wins himself, Jeremy McGrath, walk around the pits with no one caring all that much. Sure Jeffrey, you’ll have the stats, but the respect? Not so much.
I don’t get it: the age rules are ridiculous in the MX2 class. Make it wide open or make it so that someone like Herlings, who is CLEARLY in the wrong class, can’t race it. Allowing Herlings in the class year after year seems to be nothing but pandering to KTM and Herlings himself.
Max Anstie is the Martin Davalos of Europe. Somehow he’s still in the MX2 class, he’s got good skills, he’s got a good bike but yet he can’t ever get it done outside of an occasional win here or there. Like Davalos, it might be time for Max to move on up and try his luck in 450’s. The kids coming in are too fast and unlike a veteran racer, don’t think about the consequences all that much.
American Thomas Covington has had a tough year in MX2 but no doubt spurred on by my presence there, he had his best GP of the year and just missed the podium. He got passed by Ferrandis on the last lap of the first moto to just lose third and in the second moto he had to fight through a gate flinch (the gate seemed to hang up all weekend and was really bad in the second MX2 moto, but nothing was done about it) and worked his way up to fifth.
Covington’s dad is a real high up at Monster Energy, so Thomas doesn’t need to ride for a Rockstar Husky team in Europe. Even if he couldn’t find a ride here, he could put together his own program in America, ride around, finish whatever and wear his flat bill all the way to the bank. But he’s chosen to take the route more difficult and deserves respect for that. Living in Europe ain’t easy (although a ton easier than when I tried it in the winter of 1998 and split after two months) but Covington is chasing the dream. And in Mantova, he just about got on the box.
Ok, thanks for reading. That’s all I got from the Mantova MXGP. I had a blast. Thanks to the Martin Honda guys for all the hospitality. Lunch was delicious! Email me at email@example.com if you want to chat about this or anything else.