Similar to last week’s track in Germany, Ernee in France is a hard-pack track laid out across the side of a valley with the spectators on the opposite bank.
The addition of bark chips around parts of the track should allow it to hold moisture better – if you found some bike settings that you were happy with in Germany they will probably be pretty good for Ernee.
The last time we were here was 2015 for the Motocross of Nations when France dominated on home soil to win with Romain Febvre, Gautier Paulin and Marvin Musquin putting on a magnificent display in front of 50,000 fans.
EMX125, EMX250 and WMX also feature this weekend in a packed schedule with the first EMX125 group on track at 7 o’clock on Saturday morning!
The weekend produced a mixed bag of results for the British contingent – let’s take a look and see how they got on with our Brit Report.
With memories of the ’15 MXoN, French riders Paulin and Febvre were looking to put on a good show at their home GP.
Paulin sat third, just a point behind Gasjer and Febvre needed to kick start his season although he carried an injury picked up in Germany when he twisted his ankle.
Britain’s Max Anstie has less fond memories of this place, having been landed on during practice at the des Nations, sustaining a concussion and broken shoulder. He is, however, the lone Brit in MXGP this week.
Ryan Houghton picked up a cracked rib and damaged elbow in Germany. Despite toughing it out in Teutschenthal he’s been forced to withdraw from this race.
Tommy Searle is now back on a bike again but the team have decided to ease him back in gently, his GP return is expected to be at Ottobiano in a month’s time along with Shaun Simpson.
Jake Nichols will likely remain out for the rest of the season.
Anstie had a steady Saturday in new white gear trimmed with red, blue and yellow.
Showing no sign of nerves from his 2015 crash he started and finished 11th in qualifying, losing a place to Tonus but inheriting a place when Gasjer retired, the Slovenian having another bad day.
Sunday started with a dramatic announcement from HRC, Tim Gasjer had withdrawn, the shoulder muscle too damaged to hold on.
Already fifty points behind Cairoli it was futile to carry on and risk yet another crash.
Race 1, and Max Nagl took the holeshot, was passed briefly by Cairoli but led by the end on the lap and rode to an easy win.
Anstie gated mid-pack and was passed by Febvre (as he fought through from a first lap crash), in turn, passed Coldenhoff and finished ninth with a few seconds gap in front and behind.
The second race was much the same, stuck between Butron and Guillod with a few seconds gap, Max finished 11th. Desalle won the race and took the overall, his first on a Kawasaki.
Ben Watson’s German GP ended prematurely with an engine failure on his Hitachi KTM. The team have identified the component and are confident it was a fluke.
Ben will be looking to take the early race aggression he had last week and apply it in France.
Conrad Mewse missed Germany due to a broken ankle sustained while practising but was passed fit to race this weekend.
The quiet Somerset lad is looking for some strong results after a roller coaster first half of the season.
Adam Sterry has had surgery for his damaged ACL but will be out for the rest of the season.
Mewse looked fast from the start of free practice, comfortable on the variable conditions and ruts but by timed practice conditions were drier and he managed 23rd, with Watson looking more comfortable by now in 12th.
The qualifying race saw Mewse start 13th and work his way to 10th passing Watson on Lap 4 as Watson made a mistake that cost him three spots before losing a couple more at the end, finishing 14th.
Race 1 saw Pauls Jonass ride away, while all French eyes were on Paturel as he moved from sixth to third.
Mewse, eleventh on Lap 1 moved forward two and back one, passing Herbreteau and van Donnick but losing out to Jacobi but was happy with his riding.
Watson gated well but lost about 10 places on the first few laps.
Covington passed him on Lap 6 and it seemed to wake him up as he followed Covington through to a 12th place finish.
The team were pleased but frustrated that it seems to take Ben half the race to get going – it’s something they’re working on.
In Race 2, Watson faded back out of the points and just couldn’t find his rhythm. Frustrated and annoyed, Ben left before we could speak to him.
Mewse was running a strong fourth for half the race but faded as his ankle injury started to affect him. A small crash near the end cost him a few more places but he was pleased with his riding in hot, difficult conditions.
French favourite Benoit Paturel won the moto and after taking the win he popped a one-handed wheelie down the start straight – a nice salute to the fans.
Three British women join the battle for world championship glory this weekend. A 25-year-old financial advisor from Essex, Amie Goodlad has raced WMX before, her best result being a 14th last year. She rides a JK/Geartech Yamaha.
Kathryn Booth, 16 years old just three weeks ago is competing for the first time in WMX on a Phoenix Tools Honda, while Scotland’s Elaine MacEachern riding a KTM scored points at the first round in Indonesia but missed Round 2 in Italy through injury. The 19-year-old accountant was looking forward to the hard-pack conditions.
The women were also out early, but the track was now developing a drying line which made their session a bit processional as moving off-line usually meant a trip through a deep mud and lost time.
All three Brits made it through as there was no qualifying. Booth was apprehensive before the session but said afterwards that it was pretty much as she expected but the track was more difficult than she thought it would be.
Livia Lancelot gave the partisan crowd their first victory as she passed Nancy van der Ven on the last lap in the opening moto.
The race spread out the women as only the front few were clearing the bigger jumps.
MacEachern and Booth were in their own battle for much of the race until two crashes by MacEachern and a late push by Booth separated them, with Booth finishing 21st, happy with her fitness as she was able to push at the end, and MacEachern 27th disappointed in herself and looking for better results.
Goodlad never found her rhythm and was frustrated in 31st place. She cased a double jump in practice that sent her over the bars and left her with a sore hand. “I just couldn’t hold on,” she explained while icing her hand, hoping to be okay for Sunday.
Race 2 saw MacEachern third into the first bend but lose a few places on the first lap. A mid-race crash cost her more spots but 18th place and three points meant she was happy with the weekend.
New girl Booth was also pleased with her first GP, she made a few mistakes towards the end so slowed her pace a little to ensure a finish in 24th. Amie Goodlad wasn’t so fortunate as a rock smashed her goggles and sent her home with a bloody mouth, while Livia Lancelot finished second to win her home GP.
The next WMX round is in Loket in the Czech Republic in July.
Todd Kellett is top Brit, sitting in 13th place. Todd has scored in five of six races so far and won the LCQ in Valkenswaard.
His starts have been the main problem, or more specifically first turn incidents.
If he can get away near the front he has the speed to stay there.
Micky Eccles will be looking to add to his fourth place in Race 2 at Valkenswaard and Mel Pocock, who missed the Latvia round due to prioritising the MX Nationals in Britain, is hoping for two solid results.
Gloucestershire man Rob Holyoake is the sole two-stroke mounted rider, using the race as extra practice for the EMX300.
With 60 riders entered, two groups of 30 with the top 15 qualifying saw Kellett sixth, Eccles 11th and Pocock 12th in Group 1 with no drama for any of them.
Group 2 saw Holyoake struggle as the track was now starting to get hard and slippery in places. “It’s hard getting drive. The four-strokes turn earlier and it means I’m losing momentum, then spinning up,” Holyoake said afterwards. He made amends in the LCQ, finishing eighth, so all the Brits were qualified.
Last race of the day, the track now very hard in places saw the Brits off to a flyer.
Pocock was strong in fourth, Kellett was third into the first turn but got pushed wide ending Lap 1 in eighth and Eccles 10th. On Lap 4, Pocock pulled into pit lane with a mechanical issue and retired.
Kellett is a real battler and started picking off riders despite eating plenty of roost, a career best fourth was his reward. “It was quite easy after I got past Bengtson,” he said after the race.
Eccles lost a few spots to finish 14th and lone two-stroke rider Holyoake had a terrible time, the hard-packed dirt just not giving any grip out of the bends.
Race 2 on Sunday morning left the gate with rain falling, making the hard soil deceptively slippery in places. Kellett slid off going into turn one and was dead last, but managed to pass more riders in the race than anyone over the weekend, up to 14th by half distance but stuck behind his nemesis Bengtson again.
Lesardio moved past and despite trying everything to get past, Kellett finished a very creditable 13th behind Bengtson for seventh overall and 10th in the championship. His Dad was smiling like a Cheshire cat.
Pocock rode a lonely eighth for most of the race, inheriting a spot when Goupillon crashed so seventh at the end.
A frustrated Micky Eccles struggled in the tricky conditions and lost ground, ending in 21st as Rob Holyoake started well in mid-pack but his Husqvarna swapped through the top whoop section sending him to the ground. He remounted but fell again two corners later and called it a day.
In two weeks the EMX boys have a long trek to Russia for their next round. With the costs involved and the difficulty getting a sports visa for Russia, it’s a concern how many Brits will be able to make the trip.
Chris Mills is the only Brit to score points so far in EMX125, currently in 21st place. Also entered this weekend, Husqvarna mounted Rossi Beard, and KTM mounted Jack Bintcliffe.
Bintcliffe was unlucky in Valkenswaard, missing qualifying by three-hundredths of a second. Now living in Holland and being coached by former GP legend Josh Coppins, this is something of a rebuilding year after he broke his leg in September 2016 then broke his elbow two days after returning to riding.
With their alarm clocks set for early, the 125s were on track at 7 o’clock.
A heavy shower during the night meant the track was soft in places and soon developed into rutty, technical going.
Bintcliffe succumbed to the pressure he puts on himself and narrowly missed qualifying when arm pump kicked in.
The early start wasn’t good for Rossi Beard either who never managed a clear lap.
The 125 LCQ was at the more civilised time of 10:55 am and with Beard now fully awake he was able to qualify easily with fifth place (top 10 qualify), unfortunately for Bintcliffe two crashes and bent bars meant he was out. Hopefully, Josh Coppins will be able to help him overcome his qualifying nerves.
Race 1 was at 3:25 pm. With the temperature now at 25 degrees the track was completely different to the soft conditions they faced at 7 o’clock.
A poor first 10 meters left Mills pinched off in the first corner and despite working his way forward the good work was undone when he dropped it by the pit lane.
Beard also gated badly as his holeshot device released as he crossed the gate – the difference between the UK and European races quickly becoming apparent to the teenager as he was unable to make progress. No points for either young lad.
Before Race 2, Mills mechanic made a number of changes to the jetting and suspension but it was a similar story as both Brits gated around 20th but couldn’t move forward, Mills’ efforts compounded when he crashed trying to avoid his fallen team-mate.
With lots of very fast French and Italian kids in this class, it’s very competitive, again no points for the Brits.
The 125s next outing is at the end of June in Ottobiano, Italy.