What went down with the Red Bull KTM squad and their pilots at Glen Helen? We look at the US GP from the perspective of KTM Racing…
With this finish, Jonass far exceeded his top five goal for the season in his rookie year with the factory team.
But while the main focus was on the title fight, MX2 glory at the Glen Helen Raceway went to two American KTM riders Jessy Nelson and Shane McElrath – Troy Lee Designs Lucas Oil Red Bull KTM team-mates. Very familiar with the circuit and accustomed to the extreme Californian heat, they both delivered two impressive motos. Nelson finished 1-1 to secure the overall while McElrath clocked a 3-2 for overall second.
The MXGP victory stayed in European hands with new champion Romain Febvre of France securing a 2-1 for overall. But the big bike class also saw a welcome return to the track of KTM’s own multi World Champion and factory rider Tony Cairoli, who made a cautious return after a long injury break.
Cairoli finished fifth in the first race and made an impressive start to the second, securing the holeshot and leading for the opening laps. He then finished his second moto prematurely, deciding to return to the pits and not take any unnecessary risks.
“The weekend went very well, apart from my condition,” Tony Cairoli said. “We knew before coming here that I am not very fit overall, but we had a lot of things to test for next year. There’s no better test than racing, and I felt good in the beginning for 15 minutes in both races, so we are happy with the changes we made. The speed was there, so we only miss the fitness; there are a lot of good things to take from the weekend.
“I have no pain anymore in my arm, but I do need to continue the rehabilitation to be able to bend and stretch it completely, so I will continue the physio. I’m happy and I can start to ride at the end of October to prepare for next season.”
It was British rider Dean Wilson, from the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s US lineup who was the fastest KTM MXGP rider on Sunday. Wilson finished just short of the podium in fourth place with a 7-4 moto – an impressive result considering the starts weren’t what Wilson would have liked.
“For my weekend I had a little bit higher goals than what I achieved today, as I wanted to be on the podium,” said Dean Wilson. “I’ve been working really hard and I was feeling good in practice, but my starts weren’t too great and hindered my performance.
“Things went okay in the second moto and I made a good push where I was riding well, but it was a shame I couldn’t make it happen the way I wanted it to be. It wasn’t a bad weekend, but it wasn’t a great weekend either. I am safe, I’m healthy and I feel awesome, so we’ll move onto to the [Motocross of] Nations, and I feel like I’m building a good base for myself ready for Supercross.”
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s other British rider Tommy Searle, who has also had his share of injuries this season, finished in ninth overall. Given his tough season and lack of race practice he said it was positive to have finished both races: “To finish both races in not amazing positions, but in one piece is a positive. The heat was unbelievable and it really hit me in the second race with four laps to go. I knew I wasn’t the fittest but I drank a lot of water to try to stay hydrated.”
Searle added: “My goal was to be in the top 10, which is what I’ve got. The track was really good, maybe the best we’ve seen all year, and I’m happy with everything. I ended the season with two half decent results.”
While not really happy with his race results on Sunday in the US, KTM-supported rider Shaun Simpson still managed to finish fourth overall for the season and has continued to be impressive in the closing rounds – adjusting well to the KTM 450 SX-F Factory bike.
“Overall it’s been a fantastic year; my goal was top five so a fourth has exceeded that expectation,” said Shaun Simpson. “In the second part of the season I really felt like I was one of the main guys and it was nice to be up front getting podiums. I also felt I was coming to the races to win, not just get top fives.”
An en masse crash at the start of his second race saw Simpson exposed on the deck with 25 other competitors boring down on him. He was lucky to get away with nasty bruises to his hip. “It could have been a lot worse,” he commented after the race. “I’m taking the positives away and hope to heal up well ready for the ‘Nations’ next weekend to do the best job I can for team GB.”
Marvin Musquin made his debut ride on the KTM 450 SX-F Factory machine for the US Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team but admitted he had only had a few hours on the bigger bike to prepare for the event. The former double MX2 World Champion and 2014 US Supercross 250-class East Coast winner must now compete in the bigger category by virtue of his age. Musquin finished in 16th overall but will certainly be more competitive in the 2016 season. As a popular former member of the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing lineup, it was also a chance for old friends to get together in the paddock.
Jonass fought hard in the opening moto and made a good comeback from his 10th place start. He closed the gap on fourth-placed Gajser at about the half way mark and even managed to make a pass. But Gajser quickly retaliated and regained the fourth position behind the three lead US riders.
Unused to the hot and dry conditions, and with the temperature registered at more than 39 degrees Celsius (102.2 Fahrenheit), European riders, including Jonass, began to feel the pace. He slipped back through the field to finally cross the line in 10th place. Meanwhile Gajser also lost two places but finished fourth to go into the second moto with a 22-point lead in the title fight.
Jonass went on to finish sixth in the second MX2 moto to be ninth in the final round. He wrapped up his first season as a full factory rider with 564 points, 25 short of the new champion Gajser.
Speaking after the final round, Pauls Jonass said: “The season was really great. I didn’t ever expect to be second in the championship, and at the start of the year I would never have even thought it in my best dreams. I just wanted to be consistent and to be battling for top five by the end of the year. Instead I ended up battling for the championship at the final round. I know Tim was strong and fast, and last weekend I had a big crash, which destroyed everything. Still, it was a good championship and I am really happy with my second place.”
Jonass also said later that the races on Sunday had been tough. “In the first race I got dizzy after 10 minutes and I just couldn’t ride my own race – I was not riding my best this weekend, maybe because of the crash last week. It wasn’t the best result or what I was hoping for, but in the end I took second in the championship, I will put the hard work in during the winter after the Nations, which I’m looking forward to, and come out stronger next year.” He also paid tribute to his Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team, to Pit Beirer, KTM Motorsport Director, his team manager Dirk Gruebel, his mechanics, family and others close to him, who had supported and believed in him throughout the season.
While Americans Nelson and McElrath have the opportunity to ride at this circuit often, their 1-2 overall result on the KTM 250 SX-F bike wrapped up the season on a high note for the Austrian brand.
“It was cool to get a win, and good for the team, plus it’s something for the resume,” said Jessy Nelson. “It’s a cool event, I like the way it was run; everything was organised, and it was awesome. It’s a lot more riding than we usually have, so conserving energy was important. I have got to give it to the team Troy Lee Designs Lucas Oil Red Bull KTM and all of our sponsors. I’m sure it would be different at European tracks. Racing there is definitely what I would want to do before I hang up my boots.”
“We have a solid team this year and we’re ready for 2016,” commented Shane McElrath. “It was cool to come here and race against the European riders. I learned a lot, and it was good to check out how it works. We ride Glen Helen a lot, but the track was quite different, the bumps were different and it got more beat up than usual, but it was probably the best I’ve ever seen it.”
KTM Motorsport Director, Pit Beirer said rider injuries had made it a difficult season for the World Championship team: “After winning MX2 titles for seven years, and MXGP for five years, things have changed and we’re in a different situation due to injuries.
“We had a difficult year losing one rider after another, and of course when we see them crash and get hurt we also feel a lot of pain. I told the team after Jeffrey [Herlings] had his last strike in Loket that yes, we should feel sad for the riders, but not for the results of the season. It went so well for the last years, which was maybe not normal, but I always knew this would not be a one-way road and it will change at some point.
“I have to congratulate Honda for taking the MX2 title and Yamaha for taking the MXGP title, as Tim and Romain did a great job. Losing to great riders is nothing bad in racing, and it keeps us focused to come back strong next season.”
Beirer said despite all the negatives this season there were very promising signs: “Our young guy Pauls Jonass, who was never even brought in to fight for top three in the championship had the red plate in his hands.
“He took the title fight to the last race, which was a lot more than we expected. Pauls was so far down in the list last year, and we aimed for top eight in the season, with maybe some top fives and if it went well, a podium, but he turned it into a championship challenge. Tim [Gajser] had to make a strong race even in the final round to take the title, and we have to thank Pauls for all the nice moments he gave us this year. He made a big step in 2015, and if he can make another little one for next year then he will have a very bright future. Slowly our other riders are coming back strong and we should be in a good position for next season.”