We don’t need a calendar to tell us that there’s something special happening this weekend — DBR’s inbox is overflowing with press releases from various MX GP teams, Sutty has a smile on his face for the first time in months and The Bear has come out of hibernation and is eating anything edible in the office fridge.
So the long winter wait is over, which means it’s time to talk about what’s what and who’s who for the 2013 World Motocross Championship.
We’ve got to start with the King of World MX, the six-times World Champion Antonio Cairoli. Who will again spearhead the hunt for KTM’s next MX1 world title. His pre-season preparation has shown that he is already in winning form coming off a victory in the three-round Italian international Championship. Cairoli will again be on the light and agile KTM 350 SX-F, the bike on which he has sealed the last two MX1 World Championship titles and his performance on the three different surfaces of the Italian races indicate that he will be a force on all terrains.
Staying with KTM – Dutch teenager Jeffrey Herlings, the current MX2 World Champion will again lead the MX2 charge in 2013 for Red Bull KTM Factory Racing. Herlings, spotted as a future star by Stefan Everts at an early age, got his first factory ride at the close of the 2009 season when he slipped under the MX2 age limit.
His first full season, 2010, saw him injured in the second half and in 2011 he duked it out with eventual MX2 World Champion for KTM, Ken Roczen, who then went to race for KTM in the USA. Herlings took the title in 2012 and his then main challenger, Tommy Searle moves up to MX1 (more about Tommy in a moment).
After some memorable performances in 2012, Herlings is widely recognized as the finest rider on sand but is increasingly impressive on other surfaces. He has already won 16 GPs and if he is able to retain his title in 2013 he will be the first Dutchman to win two World Championships in a row in the same class.
There could be a dent in Herlings start to the season as he posted on Twitter that he crashed during training. Herlings continued to post about his injury including a picture of him cooling his leg with soda cans! Is Herlings sand-bagging or has his season got off to a difficult start? We’re itching to find out.
Honda World Motocross riders Evgeny Bobryshev and Max Nagl are looking to kick off their 2013 season at the inaugural MX1 World Championship night race with a firm start to their championship campaigns.
For Evgeny Bobryshev the off-season has been good, with an intense physical training schedule, followed by testing in Japan and races at the Italian Championship, in which he finished in third place. The Russian racer is certainly feeling physically strong with the winter training programme from Padova University, and the Honda pilot is at ease with the 2013 CRF450R, which he hopes to bring back to the forefront of the championship following last season.
Max Nagl will make his Grand Prix Honda debut this weekend, and despite a pre-season marred with injury, which saw him sit off the bike for a large proportion of the training period, the 25-year-old German is aiming for consistency this weekend. Nagl will be looking to get back up-to speed in terms of refining set-up, despite only riding for the first time last week since breaking his left hand, although he is feeling relatively comfortable on the bike with the injury.
Rockstar Energy Suzuki Europe team riders, Clement Desalle and Kevin Strijbos will guide their factory RM-Z450 machines around the new rocky layout for part one of two overseas events that initiate the 18-round MX1 series.
The works Suzuki crew will again rely on the talents of two Belgian riders, Desalle and Strijbos -both former championship runner-ups – as the lights are turned on for MX Grand Prix racing’s first ever night meeting at the renowned and spectacular MotoGP venue.
It will be the fourth term in ‘yellow’ for 23 year old Desalle and also the fourth where ’25’ is expected to be a contender for the MX1 crown after claiming victory for the third year in a row at the Valence International recently. “We made a few changes to the routine with some cardio stuff but we are at a level now where we know our bodies and the job we need to do,” said Desalle “We go to Qatar for the first Grand Prix and for sure it will be different but it will be important not to put too much pressure on ourselves this weekend. This is the longest championship for many years and there is a lot of racing ahead.
“We’ve been working on the bike and the 2013 chassis has brought a bit more stability in the turns,” he added. “There have little changes to the new race bike but that’s how you improve an already good motorcycle, making small progressions here and there. The biggest difference has been with the air suspension. It is a bit difficult to explain how the unit behaves but basically it is a different feeling and it has taken some getting used to as well as some tests, but we have been working hard and we’re good to go.”
It could be said that Strijbos is a Suzuki man at heart. The veteran grew up with the team through MXGP and the initial years of MX1 at the beginning of the last decade; even marking the RM-Z450’s first ever GP win in 2005. He twice grabbed the ‘number two plate’ to Stefan Everts. Strijbos returned to the crew for several appearances as a substitute rider in 2011 and after a decent 2012 campaign where he gained three podiums (his first silverware since 2006) as a privateer, has been welcomed back into the factory fold. “Yes, this is like part three for me!” he said. “I’ve said many times before that this is a team and a way to work that I feel very comfortable with and I feel really good going into the season. It is interesting for me to work with Joel Smets, now that he is an integral member of the team, and having a five times world champion with all his experience is something very positive to have in your corner.”
In MX2, Max Anstie and Julien Lieber – armed with their factory-backed RM-Z250s, will venture into the sand hoping to start their racing campaign shining under the famous lights.
The short pre-season spell has seen the German crew working in some diverse locations with Anstie using five rounds of the AMA Supercross 250 West Coast Supercross series to acquaint himself with the new works motorcycle and also get dialled-in for the Grand Prix year. Back in Europe, Lieber has been also busy with test responsibilities and even attempted a chilly Le Touquet beach race in early February.
Anstie is a new recruit for the squad but has already shown his mettle at MX2 level with two podiums in the past two seasons with different motorcycles. Lieber stepped in as a replacement for the last four rounds of the 2012 competition and the small Belgian’s speed and hard work on the RM-Z250 was impressive enough to win a contract for a full crack at the 2013 schedule.
Said Anstie: “I think being in Qatar for the first GP is going to be awesome: I have already done five races at night this year! I have had the best preparation for this season and I can honestly say the team and I have done absolutely everything we can to go and perform to our best.
“I am feeling great on the Suzuki and have had more bike time than any of my European competitors,” he added. “I cannot thank the team enough for what we have already done together and what we have achieved. It will be a good year, and we will be strong together. Let’s go racing.”
Said Lieber: “I’m really happy to be part of this team and to have a bike like the RM-Z250, it seems like we have a lot of possibilities and potential and I cannot wait to start the season for real.”
Over at the Monster Energy Yamaha team they’re buzzing about the possibilities of Steven Frossard. The Frenchman, who was runner-up as a rookie on the YZ450FM in 2011, recently took the number two plate in the Elite Italian Championship and is eager to get back to the front of Grands Prix. “I’m happy with those Italian races,” he said. “They were not perfect but they served a purpose because I got faster and more confident each time. I’ve been riding for three months now and I have to be pleased with how I feel and the level of my preparation for Qatar.”
“The first Grands Prix will be different, for sure, and it feels strange to be starting the championship so early but I think all of us are excited to race again,” he added. “I began with a podium in Holland last year and to get in the top three again in Qatar would be a great way to start. I think our potential in Losail will depend on the track we find and what kind of feeling I can get going. If we come away from Qatar with a top five finish and some good riding then this will be a solid way to open the season.”
Frossard had spent over a month in Italy working closely with the Parma-based factory team and new MX1-GP rookie team-mate Joel Roelants not only to get himself in competitive shape but also chisel the YZ450FM. “We’ve been doing some testing in Italy as well as the races and the team have focused on the character and performance of the engine for this year. There was already a lot of power but we have worked on taking the best of it for the starts, and then also creating an engine that makes the whole riding process easier. It is a long championship with a lot of motos so the idea was to make the bike just a little bit kinder for racing right to the edge.”
Roelants gained valuable mileage in Italy and now stands on the threshold of a memorable season in his career; the first in MX1 and the first as a team works rider. “Obviously I’m excited but I’m keeping realistic about these first races,” he said. “I’ve only been riding for a month and a half and we had an intense period of six weeks racing and testing in Italy. I was getting up to speed and it was heavy-going but now I’m back home and focusing on what I need to do for Qatar and Thailand. Together with Michele [Rinaldi, Yamaha Rinaldi Research and Develop and Team Principal] we made a plan not to go too crazy at these opening GPs outside of Europe and get some solid results.”
Last, but not least is British rider Tommy Searle (CLS Kawasaki Monster Energy). He’s had a quiet off season with no racing. Most of his training and preparation time has been spent in the USA with occasional trips back to the UK, including a signing session at the recent Arenacross in Birmingham.
It’s a huge new challenge for Tommy – after last year battling hard with Herlings in the MX2 class he steps up to what could be considered an even bigger fight as he takes on legend Antonio Cairoli in the MX1 class.
We caught up with Tommy for the April issue of DBR…
DBR: Okay Tommy, 2013 – what do you honestly think? Especially as with the cancellation of the Hawkstone Park International you won’t have seen or ridden against any of your new rivals until Qatar…
TS: “I honestly think that I will be right there and I do not have any doubt in my head about that. I feel like I am a good enough rider – certainly as good as anyone in that class so there is no reason why I won’t be right there.”
You can read the rest of our in-depth interview with Tommy when the new issue of DBR hits the streets on Friday next week, March 8.
This coming Saturday the 2013 FIM Motocross World Championship will burst into life under the lights of Losail and the desert night sky as the very first Grand Prix of Qatar will launch the eighteen round campaign. It will be a novel and unique way to start the racing season and we can’t wait.