The 2020 FIM Motocross World Championship kicks off this weekend at the MXGP of Great Britain at Matterley Basin. For this week's 3 on 3, we asked our MXGP correspondent Adam Wheeler and MXVice.com’s Lewis Phillips for the latest info prior to the first gate drop. These are two of the leading journalists in the GP paddock. We also asked some questions to our Racer X online content editor Kellen Brauer, a certified MXGP super fan!
1. What does the sale/purchase of the GPs from Youthstream to Infront Moto Racing really mean?
Adam Wheeler: In the short-term absolutely nothing. The newly established ‘Infront Moto Racing’ company is the finalization of the acquisition deal that began over a year ago and is essentially a re-naming of the same Youthstream group and the same staff roster. In the long-term, perhaps MXGP can be spread to new territories or they can broaden the sponsorship portfolio, but the direction of the sport and the ethos of Grand Prix continues on the same lines.
Lewis Phillips: I think this has all been blown out of proportion somewhat. There was a recent press release that confirmed that Youthstream will now be known as Infront Moto Racing. That is a big change, sure, but the sale was actually completed and announced prior to the opening round last year. I thought this would change the aesthetics of the championship completely but then nothing seemed too different in that respect. The uninformed would not have noticed a difference at all. Giuseppe Luongo is still overseeing the whole thing and his son, David, is running the show, so nothing will change from the outside looking in.
The biggest thing is that Youthstream now has the Infront infrastructure to fall back on, which will help them push forward on a commercial front and improve fan offerings. Infront has ties to the Olympics, so the connections that they have to television networks and mainstream media could be beneficial. The FIM Motocross World Championship is a big entity now as well, so it is a great thing for Infront to have on their portfolio. It is a two-way street.
Kellen Brauer: It means nothing for the final product that we’ll see. Giuseppe Luongo is still the President and his son David is still the CEO, just as it has been. Like Adam and Lewis mentioned, Infront purchased Youthstream in 2019 and this is essentially a rebranding to include their name as part of it. Luongo has already done this type of thing with Dorna, but he still had the final ruling on everything at the end of the day. I like this change for the simple fact that the name Infront sounds much more associated to racing than Youthstream ever did.
2. What to watch for in MXGP?
Wheeler: Jorge Prado is the most exciting addition since Jeffrey Herlings stepped into the class in 2017. The Spaniard will be in the gate this weekend less than three months after breaking his left femur and with only two weeks on the Red Bull KTM 450 SX-F. Many are hoping Herlings (25) and Tim Gajser (23) stay healthy enough to provide a spectacle that hasn’t really materialized. Herlings was hurt in the first phases of 2017 and Gasjer wrote-off most of 2018 after his pre-season smash at Mantova in Italy. Herlings was then KO-ed in 2019 for what he has described as “the worst year of my career.” Questions remain over the form and confidence of Tony Cairoli who has kept under the radar in the winter. The nine-time world champion and oldest rider in the division has not raced a GP since last June and re-starts his career after the most serious injury in more than 15 seasons at the top. Other things to watch? Will Motocross of Nations star of ’18 and ’19 Glenn Coldenhoff carry his vibrant tail-end competitiveness of last season into this new one? How quick will Romain Febvre be on the Monster Energy Kawasaki? Can Clement Desalle thrive with a very competitive teammate? Jeremy Seewer, who finished second in points in 2019, is impatient for his first 450 win on the factory Yamaha and—aside from Prado—watch out for the rookies: Adam Sterry, Mitch Evans on the HRC CRF 450R, Calvin Vlaanderen, Henry Jacobi, and the USA’s Thomas Covington (slowly coming back to race fitness) among them.
Phillips: This is hard. It would be easier to list the things not to watch for! Jeffrey Herlings and Tim Gajser have never actually battled for a premier-class championship before, because of injuries, so this will be a first and very interesting to follow. There is data that suggests Herlings has the upper hand though, which should not be too much of a shock. Herlings and Gajser have raced together in 78 premier class motos and the former came out on top in 61 of those. It is bizarre to sit here and say that Gajser is the one with the point to prove, seeing as he is the defending champ, but that is the vibe in the Grand Prix paddock.
Antonio Cairoli is the forgotten man in all of this, but that should not be the case at all. Come on! After all, he won the first three rounds last year. Herlings was not there, sure, but Gajser was close to his best (if not right there) and Cairoli had an early edge. Cairoli needs to lean on his consistency more than ever this term, one could argue, as he may not have the raw speed to fight with his younger rivals on some weekends. If he can find a way to stand up on the box every single weekend, which is what he did in a lot of his title-winning seasons, then he may be able to get a tenth title. The issue is that all of the title threats have consistency issues.
It sounds ludicrous to say, but one of those most interesting things to watch for this year will be who is left out in the cold. The class is so stacked and therefore there will be some ridiculously good guys who do not score points on occasion. Where does Calvin Vlaanderen fit into the current landscape? How about Thomas Covington? It is crazy to think about. What about former MX2 race winners like Jose Butron? It is likely that he is not even going to score points. That is where we are at.
Brauer: There are two main questions you have to ask about the big class every year: When does the attrition start? And how many people go out? The MX2 class often seems to avoid having major players missing huge chunks of the season with injury (except when Herlings was there). The last few years have seen Herlings, Cairoli, Gajser, Febvre, Desalle, and many more all missing large quantities of MXGP class racing due to injuries. If he makes it the whole season healthy, it’s really hard to bet against Herlings. But that’s a huge if.
I prefer to look at the storylines that could change the landscape of the series for years to come. With this influx of rookies (there are seven former factory MX2 riders making their MXGP debut this weekend), we’re sure to see some surprises and some flops. If you look at someone like Mitch Evans, he’s in a really good spot with a really good team. But that could equate to more pressure whereas someone like Henry Jacobi can build on a very strong last year in MX2, go into a less intense situation, and produce. We saw last year that right when Pauls Jonass had things really rolling and the possibilities of podiums became more frequent, things came a bit unglued. I think this rookie class produces a much deeper dynamic than just “here comes Jorge Prado.” The eyes will be on the Spaniard but watch these mid-field battles and I think you’ll see some big-name factory guys getting beat.
3. What to watch for in MX2?
Wheeler: Just two riders in the entire class boast Grand Prix winning experience and one of those is 18-year-old Red Bull KTM rider Tom Vialle, who starts just his second GP term. The other is Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Thomas Kjer Olsen; the undoubted favorite for the crown after successive years of top-three championship finishes. With the departure of Prado, MX2 is undoubtedly an open contest, perhaps the most unpredictable since 2017. Watch for the latest wave of French talent in the forms of Maxime Renaux and Mathys Boisrame, perhaps “the next Herlings” with EMX250 Champion Roan Van De Moosdijk joining the category, Australians like Wilson Todd and Jed Beaton and the first Austrian factory KTM rider since 2000 in the form of Rene Hofer.
Phillips: The MX2 class is going to be brilliant. Thomas Kjer Olsen has won three Grands Prix in his career and that makes him the winningest guy in the division. Tom Vialle has one Grand Prix victory and, well, that is about it. Ben Watson, Jago Geerts, Jed Beaton, and Roan Van De Moosdijk are sure bets to take maiden wins. Could one of those guys clinch their first world title as well? The common consensus is that it is difficult for a rider to take their first win and the title in the same year. Jeffrey Herlings, Ken Roczen, and Jorge Prado did not do that. Pauls Jonass managed it in 2017 though, so it is possible.
Olsen will be tough to beat, simply because he is so consistent. That has always been a strength of his, and it is something that no other MX2 rider has mastered at this point. All of the aforementioned guys will have him covered in the speed department at certain rounds, but that is not going to be enough to win the title. It is worth noting that Olsen did suffer a hand injury in January and only got back on the bike yesterday, so he may have a bit of a slow start. Could that let a guy like Vialle or Geerts get on a roll in March? There are a lot of unanswered questions!
Brauer: Chaos! The 23-year-old age limit kind of worked wonders this year, and I know people will hate that comment, but it did. On paper, MX2 should be Thomas Kjer Olsen and Tom Vialle leading the power rankings. However, this class has so many unknowns that could shake things up. I want to start off by mentioning Rene Hofer, who just replaced the outgoing Jorge Prado at Red Bull KTM 250 squad. Hofer just turned 18 in January and has already produced, with some strong showings at preseason races like Lacapelle Marival. Last year, Vialle replaced outgoing Pauls Jonass on the team and was a legitimate head scratcher for some. Now, he’s likely a favorite for the title just one year on. Why can’t Hofer do the same? The team he’s on just dominated the 2010’s and he’s primed to make huge leaps this year.
I think the title in this class comes from Vialle, Olsen, Jago Geerts, or Ben Watson. But I’m only saying that from what we’ve seen in prior years. Jed Beaton could catch fire and it wouldn’t surprise me or anyone. Roan Van De Moosdijk could come into this year blazing off his EMX250 crown and it wouldn’t shock me to see him winning. Then you have Mitchell Harrison, Wilson Todd, Mathys Boisrame, Maxime Renaux, and Mikkel Harrup who have had success in a variety of series and the potential to be right in the mix as well. Seriously, any one of these guys I mentioned could win this weekend and it would just be a “that makes sense” moment. And in all likelihood, someone I haven’t mentioned will be the real story of MX2 this weekend.
Bonus! Where can we get more coverage of the GPs?
Phillips: It is going to be a good season and not as predictable as the previous term, which is great. I will be watching all of the action unfold from pit lane each week and doing the normal coverage on MX Vice. This is my sixth year of covering the full series, so I now have a great relationship with all of the guys and that makes for a lot of entertaining post-race podcasts. There is also The MX Vice Show on Wednesday nights, where we do some bench racing about the series and rumblings from the pits. Oh, we also have that fantasy game called MX Manager. One of the prizes is a trip to meet James Stewart at his compound. It is mad just typing that! Busy times indeed!
For more from Europe, make sure to visit ontrackoffroad.com, where Wheeler runs features, interviews, blogs, photographs, and more on a monthly basis. On ontrackoffroad.com you can read the February 2020 On Track Off Road issue, for the latest on MXGP and WorldSBK.