After a weekend off, the FIM Motocross World Championship returned to the gates for round 15 (of 18) at Imola in Bologna, Italy, where we saw one title clinched, Glenn Coldenhoff returning to his 2018 the Monster Energy FIM Motocross of Nations form, and more. Here are seven takeaways from round 15 (of 18) in MXGP.
1. Gajser earns the ultimate reward
It felt like the majority of the crowd sheltering from the harsh Italian sunshine were wearing the unmistakable yellow and red of Tim Gajser’s Slovenian army of supporters. The bulk of the public huddled en masse in a florescent, flare-waving throng as the HRC man ‘struggled’ through a first moto (and posted a 5-2 scorecard—his second worst of the season—for third overall and his fourteenth podium finish from fifteen) but confirmed his third FIM World Championship since 2015 and the second in the premier class since acing his debut term in ’16.
“Definitely one of the best seasons I have had so far in GPs,” said the 22-year-old. “I made quite a lot of changes in the winter for preparation, both on the bike and personally. I felt really comfortable. It seemed like it paid off and I made the right decisions.”
Some of those changes involved a tighter collaboration with the Honda crew he has been a part of since 2015 and a working separation from his father/trainer/mentor Bogo to stretch his legs a bit more independently. The effect has been tremendous but there was a moment of alarm for Honda at Imola as Gajser crashed out of the tussle for second place through the shallow waves section. Fortunately, he picked up and soon moved back into the top five as his closest championship threat, Monster Energy Yamaha’s Jeremy Seewer, motored to the runner-up slot behind Standing Construct KTM’s Glenn Coldenhoff.
Gajser_2019_Round_15_MXGP_of_Italy_5 Photo Courtesy of Honda Pro Racing Gajser_2019_Round_15_MXGP_of_Italy_4 Photo Courtesy of Honda Pro Racing Gajser_2019_Round_15_MXGP_of_Italy_3 Photo Courtesy of Honda Pro Racing Gajser_2019_Round_15_MXGP_of_Italy_c Photo Courtesy of Honda Pro Racing Gajser_2019_Round_15_MXGP_of_Italy Photo Courtesy of Honda Pro Racing
“I didn't come here with much pressure,” said Gajser, perched largely on the fluffy cushion of more than 180 points, “but I couldn't really sleep on Saturday night. After the first moto I felt a bit ‘done’—I was too aggressive and crashed, breaking my rhythm and was fighting the bike—but could still put together a solid second moto. Glenn was really fast on that track. To win in front of so many Slovenian fans was something special and I am very thankful to all those that came and to the team for the amazing job. Everyone is playing their role and we deserve it.”
Gajser can now ease off, having equalled Stefan Everts’ record of tying up proceedings three Grands Prix before the end of play in the premier class.
Gajser thanking his trusty, CRF450R steed following the first moto.
2. Coldenhoff harnesses 2018 RedBud self
The Dutchman summoned the bubbling confidence gained from his first podium finish of 2019 at Lommel two weeks previously to dominate Imola in an eerily familiar way to his ‘shock’ performance at RedBud MX in the 2018 Motocross of Nations. The 28-year-old was an undisputed winner for the first time in MXGP since 2015 for what was only the third success of his career.
“Today was my day I think,” he grinned. “I felt good and was pushing hard. Tim was riding for his world title and I knew he would not be 100 percent. I had a feeling I could win on Saturday but to actually make it happen is something else and I’m really happy with this one.”
“I think it was a similar performance,” he mused, harking back to Michigan at the end of last summer and long before he’d seriously wrecked his preparation for 2019 with a winter training crash that left him with a fractured back. “At RedBud I could make good starts and quick passes at the beginning of the motos. It was the last time I went 1-1 and now I did it again. I made the difference in the first laps. Physically I’m in a good place at the moment…I guess it was a perfect day.”
Standing Construct KTM Team Owner Tim Mathys described Coldenhoff as a “demanding” rider in terms of what he feels and wants from the satellite KTM machine and the team had tested heavily in recent weeks to improve the #259 technical package.
“We made some really good changes and the team has been working really hard for me,” Coldenhoff conceded. “It seems in the sand it was working but now also on the hard-pack.”
Mathys was overjoyed with the team’s first major silverware since 2016 but there were bittersweet emotions as Ivo Monticelli crashed at the start of the first moto and highlighted the principal peril of a temporary build over road racing asphalt as the Italian tumbled into the tarmac and was knocked out. Monticelli was taken to the local hospital for what Mathys described as ‘severe concussion,’ and would have been able to visit teammate Max Anstie who unsuspectingly aggravated a torn lung in the qualification heat on Saturday; a consequence of his crash at the Grand Prix of Belgium and after the Brit had won the second moto at Lommel! Anstie had trained without problem before Imola but the hidden injury worsened in Italy and he was kept under observation with the possibility of surgery still looming.
Things seem bright for the Dutch and Team Holland. Jeffrey Herlings has already started to ride his Red Bull KTM, Coldenhoff is firing, and HRC’s Calvin Vlaanderen was one of four riders going for the MX2 podium in Italy. Assen is already looking appetising for the home nation.
“All the pressure is on us but if we ride like we know we can then we have a good shot at the win,” Coldenhoff said.
3. Prado nears history
Sitting 130 points ahead and with just 150 points left to win means Jorge Prado is nearing closure of the staid contest for MX2 honors, even if the chase for the final two steps of the podium at every GP continues to wind and weave. Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Thomas Kjer Olsen (second in the standings) posted his best double moto score since round eight at the Grand Prix of Russia with his 2-2. The Dane’s resurgence after a shocking crash at Lommel ruled out the chance of any title celebrations for Prado at the site where he confirmed his crown in 2018.
Names like Mathys Boisrame, Jago Geerts, Calvin Vlaanderen, and Maxime Renaux jostled for third place overall with the impressive Renaux becoming the 11th different ‘podiumee’ in MX2 this year and the fourth rider to walk the rostrum for the first time.
Back to Prado and (potentially) Red Bull KTM’s third back-to-back MX2 Championship winner this decade only has to wait a week before he can tie-off his dominance in Sweden. When asked to explain how he has made the difference in 2019 Prado said “my starts help a lot and I’m quite good on the first laps when the track is wet. In training, on our private track, we prepare for that. I trained really well for this season. I improved a lot in 2018 and got a good basis. A bit more experience helped and I just put everything together to feel really good in pretty much every different type of dirt. I hope we can keep going like this for the future.”
Although it’s tempting to back-off and play safe in Uddevalla (KTM will have indelible memories of Jeffrey Herlings’ massive championship leads in 2014 and 2015 thrown away due to injury) Prado could be motivated by the chance to equal his Dutch teammate’s record by chasing a 14th win in a row.
4. Duncan finally on the verge
For the first time since 2004, New Zealand is on the verge of celebrating FIM World Championship success thanks to Bike it Kawasaki Dixon Racing Team’s Courtney Duncan. The WMX series leader ran to her third 1-1 from the four rounds held so far and boasts a 23-point lead for the Grand Prix of Turkey in September with just two motos and 50 points left to play for.
Fellow Kiwi Katherine Prumm owned the first two editions of the series in 2006 and 2007 when WMX still had ‘World Cup’ status rather being an FIM Motocross World Championship. Ben Townley momentously opened KTM’s superior MX2 trail of titles 15 years ago. So New Zealand has been waiting for some time (Josh Coppins’ near-miss in MXGP—formerly MX1—in 2007 still feels cruel) but so has Duncan.
For the last three years she should have tasted glory on the Yamaha. In 2016, she clipped a photographer while leading the championship at the German GP and was injured in the subsequent crash. She missed out by two points in 2017 and was injured in non-championship meeting in 2018. Now using the 2020 KX250 Duncan is finally poised to make all those hours in transcontinental trips seem worthwhile.
5. Imola still divides opinion
On paper, a grand prix at Imola should work. The ‘Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari’ is located in the confines of a park in the centre of a town a short distance east of Bologna and has MotoGP, WorldSBK, and F1 fame and notoriety. It has formed part of Italy’s cast-iron motorsport fabric since the early 1950s. Imola also has a motocross past, so a second transfer of MXGP into the facility surrounded by houses and other residence was not so far-fetched.
The advantages are clear: a renowned and compact setting to draw a crowd or curious motorsport fan, and an established permanent infrastructure for teams, media, and organisation. There is some argument as to whether Imola succeeds. The scheduling on a long holiday weekend and in the depths of August when much of Italy seems to close down pushed against attendance (the absence of Tony Cairoli due to a season-ending shoulder injury also a factor) and the tight, narrow and unattractive track will enamour few to the physical ‘ballet’ that motocross can be…even if it did produce pockets of close and entertaining racing on Sunday.
At a time when the average speed and potency of the 450s is under scrutiny then the amount of obstacles and winding nature of is perhaps a glimpse of how new-builds could appear in the future.
Among the riders, opinions were split. Imola can be classified as an ‘experiment’ (by no means a new one) of transplanting MXGP into a different environment. The same people that find the concept and end result abhorrent could also cry about the unsuitability of an old motocross staples like Teutschenthal in Germany or Uddevalla in Sweden—tracks that have also come under criticism for the layout and amount of surface preparation.
To draw a line under the subject, the race was another of the diverse circuit challenges that MXGP riders have to face. The fact that the meeting followed the deep sand of Lommel further emphasises the point. Creditable questions remain over safety, however.
“My teammate crashed on the asphalt and was knocked out for two minutes,” said Coldenhoff. “When I walked the track on Friday there were many corners where I thought ‘here you don't need to crash because it will be a big one.’ If we come back here then I would say ‘make it safer’ or put something on the sides. Crashing on asphalt is tough and I know from my own experience at Assen.”
“It’s so slow,” commented Seewer. “It’s nicely technical and stuff but the heat was tricky on this type of track because you stop nearly ten times a lap and you ‘start from zero’ [in] all those tight corners. The heat was almost tougher than Indonesia here because of the track layout with all the concrete around that brings it up. It’s the same for us all but not one of my favorites.”
The only notable uphill section of Imola was the hardest test for the inaugural FIM E-Xbike World Cup on Saturday evening. The 25 minute and one lap race equated to eight laps for eventual winner of the EXBGP class (assistance can exceed 25 km/h but not 45 km/h) Anze Svetek, whose Qulbix bicycle had a clear power advantage over the rest of the competition that included WorldSBK racer Marco Melandri and former MXGP rider Davide Guarneri. Once over the jarring sight of watching bicycles circulate the track and complete sub-four-minute lap-times it was quite easy to appreciate the discipline, and recognise it was a completely different sport in a motocross setting. Perhaps a shorter lap would promote closer racing and the technical rules would need tweaking to make the competition fall more on the electric or pedal power side.
6. New era for Yamaha as Rinaldi closes the race truck doors
Michele Rinaldi’s factory Yamaha team have weaved some special stories in 30 years of existence and have assisted two famous American names to FIM World Championship success in their tenure—Donny Schmit and Bob Moore. The 60-year-old Italian was part of a presentation by Yamaha Motor Europe on Friday at Imola that will see Louis Vosters’ Wilvo team and Hans Corvers’ Kemea set-up assume the roles of Monster Energy Yamaha factory squads for the brand in MXGP and MX2, respectively. Rinaldi will convert his decorated operation into a YZ450FM and YZ250FM race bike supply platform for both.
It was the end of a potent Grand Prix story, and produced the kind of success for Italy’s first world champion that saw his name established alongside the likes of Roger De Coster and Sylvain Geboers as pioneers of the modern wave of motocross. Rinaldi helped steer the title campaigns of Stefan Everts (six in a row) but had already taken an overseer role by the time the Belgian really hit his stride in the middle of the last decade. By placing his riders at the epicentre of development and the racing focus Rinaldi hit the mark more often than not. The effect was golden for athletes like Coppins, David Philippaerts, Jeremy Van Horebeek, and Romain Febvre who all either won, came second or so-nearly triumphed in their first season with the team. Rinaldi kept almost the same staff roster for virtually two decades and their last significant work came in 2019 in his collaboration with Seewer (another new arrival) and the Swiss’ superb second position in the MXGP standings.
7. Briefly waving the flag
How quickly good sensations can evaporate. The British team for the 2019 Motocross of Nations was made public at Imola and the selection of Shaun Simpson, Max Anstie, and Ben Watson represented one of the best sand-riding trios on the entry list.
Within 48 hours, Anstie was in a hospital bed, Watson was having his left wrist wrapped after a Sunday morning warm-up crash led to a broken radius and Simpson was dejected after a rock smashed his goggles in the first moto causing a vision problem and he crashed out of a solid top-ten result in the second race while unsighted by the low sun over a jump take-off.
The recent progress of Adam Sterry in MX2 could mean a solid replacement—even though the F&H Kawasaki rider crashed in both races at Imola—and Kawasaki Racing Team’s Tommy Searle (far from peak racing form in his return from a hand and rib problem) finally showed a hint of what he can do with a motorcycle capable of a start with an 8-7. All might not be lost.
Elsewhere and the French continue to farm promising talent although Red Bull KTM’s Tom Vialle uncharacteristically spiralled out of both motos, and there was relief for America’s Darian Sanayei. The Bike It Kawasaki DRT rider ran at the front of the MX2 moto in the opening laps until a loose rear wheel bearing forced him to slow and eventually retire and he was eighth in the second race. Annoyingly, Sanayei is only just bringing his fitness up to a level to be able to compete (and it finally training) after the debilitating effects of the Epstein-Barr Virus has largely consigned his last MX2 term to the trash. Darian admitted he still does not know whether his future likes in the USA or a debut term in MXGP. More could be known by the time of the Grand Prix of Sweden at Uddevalla next week.