When we think of Switzerland, most of us probably think of snow-capped mountains and cows grazing in lush meadows. That may be true of parts of the country but that’s not the setting for this week’s MXGP stop.
The Frauenfeld track is completely man-man, built in a flat field with the paddock set up around the huge sugar processing plant next door. Whilst that may not sound too special, it does offer the necessary facilities to cater for all the race trucks and with a big embankment around the track, it offers good viewing for the spectators. It’s a very similar layout to last year, which produced some great racing. Heavy rain in the week means the soft track will get very rutted, especially with 3 EMX championship classes racing this weekend. Most of the British riders say it will suit them, being similar to home soil, but I think the 125’s will have their work cut out when they hit the track at 7 o’clock on Saturday morning.
The first championship of the MXGP tour will be decided this weekend as Britain’s Brad Anderson hopes to tie up the EMX300 title. The fifth and final round sees Ando start with a twenty-one-point lead over last year’s champ, Mike Kras. Ando has dominated the championship, with 3 overall victories, winning 5 motos and finishing second in the other 3, but anything can happen in motocross. Although all eyes will be on Ando, James Dunn is the only man to win a race besides Ando and Kras and he should go well on the grassy, soft dirt. With Ando eyeing the championship it could be a good opportunity for Dunn to grab another race win.
Max Anstie will be full of confidence after matching his season best finish with third place in the second moto at Lommel last week, and Tommy Searle finally makes his 2017 debut, fit after a pre-season knee injury then a broken hand that has kept him out until now. With the GB MXoN team still to be decided and his contract up this year, Tommy has a lot resting on the next few races. Shaun Simpson is still on the injured list after breaking his arm in Italy 7 weeks ago.
In MX2, Ben Watson and Conrad Mewse are both being linked to new teams as the ‘silly season’ is in full swing. Both riders have shown great speed but have tended to lose positions in the last few laps, so could do with some better finishes in the last few GPs. They will be joined in MX2 this week by honorary Brit Josiah Natzke. The New Zealander who rides for Hitachi KTM team will step up from EMX250 in preparation for a move up to MX2 next year.
Replacing Natzke as the Hitachi KTM EMX250 rider, Todd Kellett makes his EMX debut for the team, after a mid-season change that saw the young Somerset ace win the Maxxis British Championship at Blaxall on his maiden ride for the team. He’ll be hoping for similar results here I’m sure.
There is also another round of the EMX125 championship this weekend, with Chris Mills being to sole British rider. The tall youngster is battling every week on a Yamaha against the more powerful KTMs and Huskies before he moves up to a 250 next year.
Out at midday for free practice, the track was quite rutted but drying nicely. The big Monster Energy double and an up-hill double were still causing a few sketchy moments. Anstie fourth quickest and Seale seventeenth.
Anstie bettered that in the qualifying race, grabbing the hole-shot but getting passed by Cairoli on the first lap, he stayed on Cairoli’s tail and finished just 2 seconds behind the Italian. Searle started in eighth place and after being passed by Strijbos and Lupino he settled down for a safe tenth place.
Race 1 started with the weight of Swiss expectation firmly on Arnaud Tonus’ shoulders. Seewer had just won the first MX2 race and Tonus didn’t disappoint, grabbing the hole-shot and leading throughout. Anstie was second and chased Tonus around the track relentlessly, never more than a couple of second back, he tried to pass a few times but Tonus was able to hold him off. Cairoli closed up on the last lap and the 3 crossed the line wheel to wheel for Tonus’ first race win on a 450 and Anstie’s best race finish so far. Tommy Searle started in eighth and faded back to sixteenth, looking a little ring rusty after the long lay-off. It’s hard to come back in round fifteen and just be straight on the pace.
Race 2 and a disastrous first lap for Anstie outside the points. He would battle through to twelfth but any hope of a podium was gone. Searle was again inside the top ten but faded back to fifteenth. After the race we spoke to Tommy Searle to get his thoughts on the weekend. “I’ve only been back on the bike for 2 weeks and not even good weeks. Last week I struggled to use the clutch so today was good. I had no pain and its good confidence going forward. My speed was good but my bike fitness isn’t where it needs to be, I just need to race”. Hopefully with some bike time between now and September he’ll be fit for the MXoN if he’s selected.
Watson and Mewse seem quite evenly matched at the moment, just 3 tenths of a second between them but 4 places, Mewse in fourteenth spot, Watson eighteenth and Natzke in twenty-fourth in free practice.
In the qualifying race, Natzke retired early when a rock hit him in the face, broken goggles and a swollen lip but nothing life threatening. Mewse lost a place to Paturel and finished seventh with Watson finished twelfth.
Race 1 saw Watson get a flying start, second behind Prado, with Mewse in sixteenth and Natzke nineteenth. Seewer and Paturel were soon past Watson and as all eyes were on Seewer, the patriotic crowd cheering him around the track, Watson faded back to eventually finish in eleventh. Mewse was a further 3 places back in fourteenth with Natzke twenty third.
Race 2, and another flying start for Watson, who seemed a lot more aggressive this time, fighting off Vlaanderen and Sanayei to finish eighth, good enough for seventh overall. His Hitachi teammate Natzke had a less fruitful weekend, retiring from the race with undisclosed bike issues. Nursing a heavily swollen lip afterwards he said the weekend hadn’t gone how he wanted. “A rock in the face, I was just struggling in the first race and then bike trouble in the second so I never got to show what I can do.” Asked about the difference in pace between EMX and MX2 he said, “the pace in EMX is fast and MX2 is definitely faster but I felt OK with it, my weekend just didn’t work out”.
Mewse fared little better, eighteenth in the race and notable to make any progress forward.
With only a week between Lommel and Switzerland it made no sense to go home, so the British contingent stayed in Europe. Ando, Rob Holyoake, John Robson and Aaron Pipon went practicing in France, lucky to find a hard-pack track and a dry day, Will Worden visited the Porsche museum in Germany and Factory Phil Mercer took the family to Euro Park, a huge theme park in Germany.
As a rider, you can train in the gym, practice during the week and get plenty of rest, but there are some things you just can’t plan for. Crossing the border into Switzerland, Aaron Pipon and his mechanic Dec were pulled over by customs officers who obviously thought the bearded duo looked shady. After emptying the camper of its contents, the pair were then strip searched before being allowed to carry on with their journey after an hour and a half.
The lads didn’t seem too upset by the experience, Aaron said “I’ve never had a man looking up my bottom before. I’m glad I had a shower this morning.”
Qualifying went OK for all the Brits as they all went through without any drama, the track drying out a lot better than expected after the heavy rain on Friday.
Ando only did 4 laps then parked his bike, happy to be second quickest and save the bike and himself. In a weird piece of scheduling the 300’s would race last thing on Saturday then first thing on Sunday morning.
Race 1 saw Ando get his worst start of the year then get held up by fallers in turn 2, he was back in twenty fourth with championship rival Kras leading. James Dunn was second with all the other brits in front of Ando. On lap 4 Dunn passed his teammate and took off, while Ando was up to sixth place but still twenty-three seconds behind Kras. In a nail biting charge, Ando worked his way up, taking third place with 2 turns to go and limiting Kras’s advantage to just 2 points. After the race Ando confirmed “I couldn’t do any more. It was really dodgey in places, I had a few moments and I wasn’t even doing the big double, there was no point. I just wanted to make sure I finished”.
Holyoake and Worden had their own race-long battle and finished fifteenth and sixteenth with Phil Mercer in twenty second. Pipon DNF’d with a no back brake and Robson retired with stomach pains.
Sunday morning and race 2 lined up at 8:45, Ando’s advantage now nineteen points. At the end of lap 1 it was Kras leading with Dunn in fifth and Ando sixth. With the track graded in places but still very rutted in the corners the first few riders spread out and by lap 3 Kras had a twelve second lead over Ando back in fifth, Pipon and Holyoake were having a private battle for twelfth with Robson in seventeenth and Mercer just outside the points. Everything changed on lap 6 as Kras KTM stopped. The tall Dutchman stood in disbelief before pushing his bike off the track. Dunn made a move into the lead and Ando soon followed him into second. The championship was now in the bag but you wouldn’t expect Ando to settle for second place and with a lap to go he railed an outside berm and passed Dunn for the lead. Dunn pushed him to the line, and with 1-2 moto scores took his first overall win. Ando fist pumped the air, a race win and now European 300 Motocross Champion 2017.
I congratulated Dunn after and asked about passing his teammate in race 1. “No-one said anything before the race, and Bob (team owner) has always said fastest man wins. I’m out to win the race every time. Mike wasn’t happy after but it wouldn’t have made any difference anyway” I asked if he had changed anything in the week because he was well off the pace at Lommel last weekend. “I didn’t feel great last week. I couldn’t get a good feeling with the forks but we changed them in the week and I’m back to business as usual”.
As for the rest of the Brits; Rob Holyoake took a face full of roost that broke his goggle lens, then high sided on the downhill double jump and retired. Aaron Pipon had a strong race and finished eleventh. John Robson was nineteenth after he recovered from the stomach pains, throwing up on Saturday evening and not eating anything, and factory Phil Mercer took the final point in twentieth. Will Worden crashed on the first lap.
Todd Kellett returns to the EMX250 this week. Being pitted out of the Hitachi KTM awning for the first time at a European round should make life easier. You may remember he had a big first turn crash at Preston Dock a couple of weeks ago. When he presented his helmet for Technical Control it was rejected, a couple of deep gauges in the back from the Preston crash meant it was deemed unsafe. A bit inconvenient but good to know that the F.I.M. scrutineers really take rider safety seriously.
The track started forming a dry line and despite Kellett trying a few different lines in qualifying he was unable to find an advantage, finally getting twelfth place.
Eighteen-year-old Ashton Dickinson from Leeds has made the journey to try his first EMX250 race in preparation for a run at the series next year. He has spent 3 years racing in America but returned to England when his visa expired. Twenty second in timed practice meant it was LCQ time where a fifth-place finish meant he was through to the main races.
Race 1 got underway at 17:55. The riders get a siting lap but all though who had qualified directly from their groups hadn’t even tried the two big jumps as they were too muddy and slippery to attempt in the morning. Kellett got a decent start but was squeezed out and ended lap 1 in fourteenth. In typical Kellett style he battled away, passing five riders for ninth at the flag. He said after “The track had changed so much since earlier. Once I got the jumps done I could push on, they’re both full gas so I needed a couple of laps to get them worked out”.
Dickinson gated twenty first and only lost 2 places for a very creditable first effort.
Race 2 on Sunday saw the EMX riders dealing with a slippery track for a few laps as it had been watered before their race. Kellett got a decent start and moved up to eighth place, Dickinson started around mid-pack, finishing twentieth to earn a championship point in his first try.
After the race Kellett said “I worked hard in the first few laps to get into eighth but then there was a gap and I lost the tow; it was like practicing on your own”. Ninth overall with 9-8 race finishes, this was the first time he’s achieved 2 top ten finishes. “I’m happy with that. I scored more points when I had a fourth but trying to be consistent is important”
Dickinson was also up-beat, if a little shell-shocked. “It’s so intense! The Maxxix feels like a club race compared to this, it’s really hard. I never gave these boys enough credit before but I know where I need to be. I need to get a lot fitter. I don’t normally get tired but it’s just so intense from the start until the flag”
You have to feel some sympathy for the young 125 pilots. First out at 7 o’clock, the track was still quite muddy from all the rain. Mills had a plan, to do 3 laps then wait for timed qualifying to start. The plan worked as he went back out with a clean bike and put in a great lap for sixth fastest time.
First race, and with the track much drier than at 7 am, Mills finished eleventh.
“He had a couple of sketchy moments but that was the best he could do” said his dad after.
Race 2 was on a much drier track, sixteenth was the result for Mills.
Next weekend the MXGP tour visits Sweden for the sixteenth round. Find out how all the Brits got on in next