MXGP reaches a crucial stage this weekend as the world series hits Hampshire for the 11th round of the 18 GP series.
With the summer break looming, anybody who isn’t in contention for the points lead can ditch their title ambitions for another year.
Defending champion Romain Febvre, rookie sensation Tim Gajser and old champion Tony Cairoli are the three big guns in MXGP, while Jeffrey Herlings has been feeling the pressure in recent weeks in MX2 as the howling pack start to give him a race.
Add in home favourites Shaun Simpson, Tommy Searle and Max Anstie with genuine hopes of a podium, top 10 a distinct possibility for both Jake Nicholls and Adam Sterry and the platform is there for a fantastic weekend for all in the glorious rolling Downs countryside.
Britain doesn’t pose a threat in EMX250 or the 125s but savour the chance to check out the future world stars, and the screaming 300s will have the horns blasting as Brad Anderson, Lewis Gregory and Matt Moffat challenge for victory.
Here’s the lowdown on 16 names to watch in each GP class this weekend.
#8 Ben Townley (New Zealand – Suzuki World) Age 31, 1 world title, 13 GP wins
The 2004 MX2 world champ, back in the GPs after a stunning show at the Nations, has failed to make the top six in Europe following an energy-sapping virus infection, his best result to date a second in Thailand on a track he criticised as not worthy of a GP.
#12 Max Nagl (Germany – IceOne Husqvarna) Age 28, 1 x world no. 2, 8 GP wins
The holeshot king, who led the world before breaking an ankle last summer, has not been quite as consistent out of the gate earlier this year but has now started putting two motos together as he tries to close down the points leaders.
#21 Gautier Paulin (France – HRC Honda) Age 26, 2015 world no. 2, 11 GP wins
Last year’s world runner-up broke a collarbone before Easter and, having missed five GPs, can now only chase GP victories this summer. He made the podium second race back in Spain.
#22 Kevin Strijbos (Belgium – Suzuki World) Age 30, 2 x world no. 2, 5 GP wins
You can spot the Belgian’s “old school” riding style from a distance as the young guns invade the class. He made a very moderate start to the series, but scored a moto podium in Italy last month to herald hopes of better fortunes.
#24 Shaun Simpson (Scotland – Wilvo Virus KTM) Age28, 3 GP wins
The Scot struggled this past weekend at Desertmartin with injury but has regularly delighted the British fans running up front at Matterley.
#25 Clement Desalle (Belgium – KRT Kawasaki) Age 27, 3 x world no. 2, 19 GP wins
The MX Panda’s switch to green as he sought to finally exchange silver for gold went off-course before the start of the series and he raced the opening GPs with a fractured arm plated together. He has had more time off after suffering a shoulder injury in Latvia but should be back to podium pace at Matterley.
#45 Jake Nicholls (England – Hitachi Revo Husqvarna) Age 26
After sitting out the overseas GPs it took Jake a couple of rounds to settle back into GP speed but he has been pushing top 10 in recent weeks and rides Matterley well, having won a moto there in his final MX2 season.
#89 Jeremy Van Horebeek (Belgium – Rinaldi Yamaha) Age 26, 2014 world no. 2, 2 GP wins
After second in the world in 2014 the Jerre was plunged into crisis last year when rookie team-mate Febvre grabbed the glory. Sheer effort has hauled him back into the front row, but he is missing that vital 10th of a second to the champion as team internal tension grows.
#92 Valentin Guillod (Switzerland – Kemea Yamaha) Age 23, 1 GP win
The Swiss ace beat Herlings straight up at Matterley last year in his final MX2 campaign, but has had a sombre start to his MXGP career as mentor Yves Demaria keeps his boy’s feet on the ground… and his body in one piece. The approach is showing fruit as Valentin took a fifth in Germany last month.
#100 Tommy Searle (England – DRT Kawasaki) Age 26, 2 x world no. 2, 14 GP wins
Tommy Gun should have worked off birthday cake by the GP weekend in Hampshire. The last Brit to win a GP on home turf in 2012, Tommy has been top three most weeks in training, but he has been carrying a knee injury since April and needs to sort his start.
#222 Tony Cairoli (Italy – De Carli KTM) Age 30, 8 world titles, 76 GP wins
The eight times champion is no longer the fastest rider in MXGP, but he is the cleverest. Biting the bullet as pain still shoots through the arm he broke last year, TC#222 is wiping out any handicap through mind games… and Mattighofen engineers have been burning the midnight oil to give him a holeshot bike. Don’t write him off!
#243 Tim Gajser (Slovenia – Gariboldi Honda) Age 19, 1 world title, 10 GP wins
The Slovenian teenager has been the sensation of 2016. “Gifted” the MX2 title last year by injuries to faster rivals, he has grown in stature on the CRF450 with outstanding speed and commitment on all surfaces with a smoothness which almost defies belief. Tim has good and bad memories of Matterley – he clinched the 125 Euro title there in 2012, his 250 bounced over the fence a year later, and last year he had to sit out the GP after suffering concussion in warm-up.
#259 Glenn Coldenhoff (Netherlands – De Carli KTM) Age 25, 2 GP wins
Number two in the De Carli awning is a thankless task and a massive get-off in Thailand has left the ‘Hoff way off his 2015 form when he took victory in Latvia. That was his second career GP win, having also won MX2 at Matterley on 2013.
#461 Romain Febvre (France – Rinaldi Yamaha) Age 24, 2015 world champion, 11 GP wins
The defending champion looked strong and confident through the early rounds as he built up a solid points lead, but has felt the pressure as his rivals turn the screw – he still has tremendous speed as he optimises the Yamaha power plus, but has become as erratic as he was during his MX2 days and is carrying injury since Spain.
#777 Evgeny Bobryshev (Russia – HRC Honda) Age 28, 2015 world no. 3, 1 GP win
“Bobby” has been a popular figure in the UK since his CAS days and the Russian has finally rediscovered the knack of staying on two wheels again for the first time during his HRC career. Consistent results have put him close enough to have a say in the title race if he can find the missing half a second.
#911 Jordi Tixier (France – KRT Kawasaki) Age 23, 1 world title, 2 GP wins
The 2014 MX2 champion had to delay his entry to MXGP when he needed a further operation on the wrist he broke in Mantova last August after French surgeons didn’t get the job done the first time around. His conscious decision not to rush his comeback was justified as he only just missed the top 10 on his return last month.
#4 Dylan Ferrandis (France – KRT Kawasaki) Age 22, 1 Nations title, 1 GP win
The flamboyant Frenchman has proven time and again that he is not intimidated by Herlings and ended the Dutch victory roll with a bar-bashing moto win in Italy last month. Wants to win more before he heads for the States next year with Star Yamaha.
#6 Benoit Paturel (France – Kemea Yamaha) Age 21
One of Yamaha’s lower leaderboard pack, whose consistency has taken to him to 4th in the world rankings. Twice top 10 at Matterley last year, the sweeping Hampshire grassland suits and should bring out of the best in him again.
#18 Vsevolod Brylyakov (Russia – DRT Kawasaki) Age 21
Steve Dixon’s latest “find” already has a podium to his name in Mexico, but has been crashing too much since then. If the Russian keeps his cool the Cosworth power could see him pushing for another trophy in the team’s home GP.
#41 Pauls Jonass (Latvia – KTM Factory) Age 19, 2 junior world titles, 2015 world no. 2
The KTM number two has joined Herlings on the podium at half the GPs so far this year as he shapes up to take over as MX2 team leader in 2017. Crashes have already cost him several scores this year – though he does bounce well!
#59 Aleksandr Tonkov (Russia – Standing Construct Yamaha) Age 22
The Russian has already had a couple of podiums this year, but his chances of adding to that depend to a great extent on the start, and his gating has not been so consistent this year. Sasha is not afraid to bang bars if the situation demands.
#64 Thomas Covington (USA – JM Nestaan Husqvarna) Age 20, 1 GP win
The American’s best results in two and a half years on the GP scene have all come in overseas rounds but he twice raced into the top 10 at Matterley last year and should be back to speed after injuries have interrupted the first half of the campaign.
#84 Jeffrey Herlings (Netherlands – KTM Factory) Age 21, 2 world titles, 56 GP wins
The Dutch youngster has dominated MX2 GP racing for the past four and a half years, though injury has seen him throw away two world titles. He appeared calmer under the guidance of Joel Smets this year, but got a trifle “excited” again under pressure in recent rounds.
#91 Jeremy Seewer (Switzerland – Suzuki World) Age 21
The sturdy Swiss workaholic has upped his pace while maintaining his consistency this year and is full value for his world number two ranking. He countered Herlings’ every move for 30 minutes recently in Germany. And listen as he races past… a gear higher than anyone else.
#99 Max Anstie (England – JM Nestaan Husqvarna) Age 23, 2015 world no. 3, 4 GP wins
Britain’s MX2 hero raised the roof at Matterley last year as he led the first moto for 30 minutes, and he dominated the second half of the season. Has taken time to settle this year after an horrendous Nations crash and switch of marque, but is now the fastest chaser.
#152 Petar Petrov (Bulgaria – KRT Kawasaki) Age 21
The Bulgarian is now a top six regular on the factory Kawasaki. Watch for him making moves during the second half of the race as he powers through from a mid-pack start; 86kg of muscle is unfortunately not suited to rapid gating.
#164 Dakota Alix (USA – ifly JK Yamaha) Age 21
The 21 year old ex-amateur star from Vermont stepped into the Anglo-Italian team at Talavera last month; he comes with good credentials, having qualified for many East Coast Mains, his best result an 8th at East Rutherford.
#172 Brett Van Doninck (Belgium – Kemea Yamaha) Age 20
The future hope of Vlaanderen only moved into GP racing to cover for injuries mid-season last year, but immediately made an impact, but his aggressive riding style also backfires occasionally and he missed the Latin American tour through injury.
#200 James Dunn (England – Hitachi Revo Husqvarna) Age 21
His initial GP career ended by long-term injuries James got the call up from the Euro250 last month when Ben Watson got hurt, and he has immediately slotted into points-scoring mood. Will be itching to race after missing the Desertmartin round of the British championship after banging his head at Hawkstone.
#321 Samuele Bernardini (Italy – TM Factory) Age 21, 1 Euro title
The Italian, Euro 300 champion in 2014, is an express starter on the ferocious new TM and can run with the best of them for a couple of laps. Off-track excursions have prevented him from scoring better than a fifth placed finish to date.
#426 Conrad Mewse (England – JM Nestaan Husqvarna) Age 17, 1 junior world title
The Shepton Mallet youngster suffered a confidence-draining couple of 125 seasons after dominating the 85s, but he soared back to prominence at the Euro 250 opener over Easter with a stunning double win. Promoted to the GP ranks, Conrad still has to find his feet, but his best 125 performance last year came at Matterley.
#811 Adam Sterry (England – Wilvo Virus KTM) Age 19
Having learnt to ride up front in the Euros last year Adam’s first full GP campaign was delayed by a wrist injury sustained in practice at the Qatar opener. Back in action since the German GP last month he has run top six early in most motos and should be back to the fitness level necessary to maintain that pace to the finish for his home GP. Smoked the competition with two moto wins at the Desertmartin round of the British championship last weekend.