MXGP returned to Europe this week after the long haul trip to Indonesia, the hard-packed Loket track in the Czech Republic playing host to round 14.
TV doesn’t do justice to just how big the hills are here, the start straight is cut into a plateau but most of the track is either going up or down hill. EMX300s provided the adult support with the EMX 85 and 65 racing to become European champion after qualifying to race in what is the final for their championship.
There’s a lot of pit chatter about silly season and potential moves but still more questions than answers at this stage.
We do know the Max Anstie is leaving Husqvarna and both Tommy Searle and Shaun Simpson’s contracts are finished at the end of the season. Searle has said on more than one occasion that he is very keen to stay on the green machine.
Graeme Irwin has another year at Hitachi/ASA KTM so at least one Brit knows where he will be next year.
Shaun Simpson was in a pragmatic mood before practice, having missed the last round in Asia with a severe infection. “I’m here and as healthy as I can be but I’m not in good shape,” was his honest assessment.
On track Searle had a flier, third in free practice as he seems to be riding back into good form. In the qualifying race it was Anstie that took the holeshot and led for half the race until Cairoli nipped past. He would lose two more places to finish fourth, “I just got a bit of arm pump,” he told me later.
Searle was just behind in seventh, a fairly uneventful race, with Simpson in 13th after gaining and losing a couple of places but happy to be back racing. Irwin made a good start in ninth and was battling with Bobryshev for much of the race while keeping Paulin at bay until he lost the front end and a handful of time, dropping back to 16th. I asked about his battles with Bobryshev. “The Russian roadblock,” Irwin exclaimed. “We hit a few times but I couldn’t make it stick. I tried everything to get by and went wide but lost the front end. That was from 15th and I’ll be 16th tomorrow so a good start is still possible.”
Sunday warm-up put Searle in fifth, Anstie eighth, Simpson 13th and Irwin 16th as the track started to dry a little often heavy rain.
None of the Brits managed a good start in race one, Searle was 13th and best placed. Irwin got squeezed as they went into the first turn and was back among the wildcards. On the third lap he launched over the triple to get free and started to move forward. Simpson moved up to Searle’s back wheel and as the went uphill to the pit lane Searle clashed with Bobryshev sending the Russian to the ground. Simpson managed to miss the fallen Bobryshev but a mistake a few turns later cost him two places. With three laps left Anstie caught and passed Simpson and then Searle, Simpson also passing Searle who had slowed visibly, perhaps as a result of his earlier clash with Bobryshev and also passed by Leok on the final lap, Anstie 12th, Simpson 13th and Searle 15th. Irwin narrowly missed points in 21st.
Race two was better for the Brits out of the gate, Simpson in sixth and Searle in 10th. As Simpson lost a few places, Searle started probing as he caught Simpson on lap six. But Searle had Bobryshev on his wheel, perhaps with revenge in mind? Before Bobryshev could answer both Simpson and Searle disappeared, dropping back to 14th and 24th respectively. They had crashed independently of each other on the same lap. Simpson would continue and finished 14th, while Searle retired.
Simpson said after: “I bumped into Tommy’s back wheel in the first race and fell off and people assumed we crashed together in the second race but I crashed on my own and Tommy spun out a couple of turns after.
“Max got me at the end so I was second best Brit today. I’m only about 60-70 per cent fit but I’m healthy and my ribs didn’t hurt today.”
I couldn’t speak to Searle before he left the track but his team told me he had been struggling with a cold all weekend, the crash in race two taking the wind out of him but nothing serious.
Anstie had moved up from a bad start in 17th to 14th with his late move on Simpson but it wasn’t the weekend he wanted while Irwin told me he had struggled to find his rhythm in the first race but did snag the final point with 20th in race two.
Hitachi/ASA KTM rider Conrad Mewse crashed into a fallen rider when he was practising, taking a handlebar into his thigh. Despite trying to ride his leg was getting more painful before an x-ray revealed a bruised femur, the team resting him from this round on medical advice.
Adam Sterry looked relaxed, sitting outside his camper with team trainer Marc DeReuver. Fully recovered from the heat stroke he suffered at Matterley but still carrying a sore ankle I asked how the move to Holland was working out. “It’s been good. I miss having my friends nearby but it’s the right move.”
A short downpour just before the start of the qualifying race made for a slippery first few laps the caught out a number of riders. Sterry started in sixth with Ben Watson back in 14th but rapidly moved up to 10th by lap two.
Almost inevitably Watson found himself in a battle with his championship nemesis Olsen, passing him but losing the place.
Sterry moved up to fourth before losing a spot to the charging Olsen, before the freight train of Olsen, Sterry and Watson passed Rubini in two straights. Watson them slipped past Sterry, the pair finishing fourth and fifth. Sterry later posted: “Enjoy racing at this place! P5 for tomorrow looking forward to it.” He backed that up with third fastest time in Sunday warm-up. Watson didn’t try to put in a fast time. Speaking to him before the session he said he had spun on the metal grid in the qualifying race but was happy with his riding. Does he like the hard-packed track? “It’s okay but it wouldn’t be on my favourite list.”
Lining up for the first race Sterry picked a middle position. It didn’t pay off as he was mid-pack on lap one before moving up to 12th. Watson’s start wasn’t much better in about 10th place but he was able to make a couple of quick passes before the leaders got away and moved up to sixth.
In race two Watson had a better start, inside the top 10 but disaster struck a few laps in as he lost the bike approaching the finish line jump and crashed hard. Lucky to escape uninsured he couldn’t get to the stricken Yamaha before Dixon Kawasaki’s Brazilian fill-in rider landed on it, destroying the bike in the process.
“If I could’ve carried on I would have but the bars were bent and the throttle ripped off, as well as the subframe and radiator,” Watson told me. “I’m happy with my riding and it’s just one of those things that can happen.”
It allowed Olsen to gain 17 championship points but Watson remains fourth.
Sterry had another mid-pack start and would crash trying to make up ground. “I went for a pass on Geerts and hit a braking bump that threw me off,” Sterry explained later. “Saturday and warm up went well but today I messed up both starts. I’ll go for it again in Lommel.”
A 15th place at the flag didn’t represent how well Sterry was riding, but without a good start, it’s a battle for anyone.
Brad Anderson arrived with the red plate but also carrying a knee injury that he sustained at Matterley. In the first race he gated around fifth but lost three places to finish eighth. Ando’s Facebook page was unusually quiet, perhaps a sign of his frustration.
Ashley Greedy pulled out after the first lap, while iFly/JK Yamaha’s new signing Jayden Murphy finished in 30th place in his first EMX race. The 16-year-old from Wales has only just moved into the adult ranks, and I asked him why he had jumped into the 300 class rather than EMX125. “I missed the 125s and went straight onto a 250f, but I had a two-stroke for the winter and went okay on it so we did some wildcards and thought I’d try this and do the whole series next year.”
Sunday morning presented a different track after heavy rain overnight left lots of standing water. First out, the 300 riders had heavy going especially off line making a good start essential. Ando was riding more like we expect, putting in his fastest lap at the end to claim second place after throwing his goggles away. Greedy had a better day to finish in 16th with Murphy consistent in 28th.
Ando’s assessment of the weekend: “Just dreadful”. Like most people, I assumed his race one eighth was because of his knee but he explained: “We made some suspension changes (stiffer forks) and it didn’t work. I went back to the old settings today and felt like my old self. Yesterday I was missing braking points and it was hard to hang on with arm pump. I was angry with myself about yesterday and needed to redeem myself.”
Ando ended fourth overall as his championship rival Mike Kras moved back into second place, 27 points behind with two rounds remaining.
EMX85 and 65
Sadly there was only one British entry in either class, Shaun Mahoney in the 65 class – 23rd in timed practice, 27th in race one and 21st in race two when the track was wet, heavy and technical made the weekend “exciting” for the 11-year-old lad from Merthyr Tydfil. “I haven’t ridden the best,” he told me as we waited before race two but his dad (also called Shaun) said it had been a great experience and a learning curve as all the boys are so fast. Father and son are planning on doing the whole series next year with some better winter preparations.
The next MXGP is in two weeks at the famous Lommel track in Belgium. The deep sand can swallow bikes whole while the huge bumps can break spirits as well as bones. See you there as both championships are heating up.