It’s been two weeks since the muddy mess that unfolded at the MXGP of Russia, the controversial midpoint of the season.
Why controversial? Due to the political tension between Moscow and the West, it was difficult for some riders to get the necessary visas – the Russians won’t grant a Sports Visa to British riders due to a tit-for-tat row over anti-doping.
With many people agreeing that Russia isn’t part of Europe it seemed curious to include European championship races at an event that is so difficult and expensive for riders to get to.
Consequently, there were no Brits in the EMX250 class but the championship leader in the EMX300 class – that’s Brad Anderson – did manage to make the long trip worthwhile, winning the overall with 1-2 race finishes. It took some organising but Ando describes the trip in an exclusive interview with DBR.
Max Anstie was also smiling in Russia, recording his best result on a 450 so far, fourth and fifth netting fourth overall. Hitachi KTM rider Ben Watson was set for his best race result too before dropping his bike in the final laps.
So with that recap, it’s onward to Ottobiano in Northern Italy. Maggoria was originally holding this race but due to some local planning issues, the event was moved here.
The Ottobiano sports facility has a permanent tarmac go-kart track with a large grandstand, shops and restaurant plus three MX tracks. Unlike typical old school Italian tracks that were hard packed and blue groove, this place is sandy with a firm base that makes it more like a Dutch track. With temperatures in the mid-30s (mid-90s Fahrenheit) and a sandy track that’s bound to get rough with five classes racing, it’s going to be a real test of fitness.
Two things to keep in mind for all the races – firstly, the start is about one hundred meters into a left hairpin first corner so an inside gate pick will be vital for a good start and to avoid the inevitable crashes. Secondly, the heat.
Riders in every class were struggling and Youthstream had a man on a hose pipe wetting them down as they exited the track. Most had kids paddling pools set up by their trucks as plunge pools but even so a few ended up in the medical centre with heat stress.
Max Anstie is now the leading Brit in MXGP in 12th place, but with momentum building the 450 rookie is looking like a top 10 guy as the season progresses. Fifth in timed practice with his only fast lap, Max’s confidence is increasing by the week. Starting sixth in the qualifying race he moved up to third passing Tonus, Gajser and Nagl. Third fastest in Sunday morning warm-up confirmed Max’s speed.
Shaun Simpson returned after missing three rounds with a broken hand sustained in Latvia. He gave DBR an exclusive interview before the event and was very upbeat about his return. He set 11th fastest time on Saturday morning but his weekend and possibly his season ended in a first turn pile-up in the qualifying race – a broken left arm the unfortunate outcome of the crash. Shaun left the track immediately, heading back to Belgium where his surgeon was standing by to operate again.
Ryan Houghton also returned to MXGP after breaking ribs in Germany. He raced an Italian championship race here earlier in the season and likes the track, but this is very much a learning year in MXGP for Ryan – 13th in qualifying was on par with previous GPs. Finishing 26th and 24th in the races may not sound like much on paper but Ryan is looking and feeling more at home with each race and today’s results are an improvement.
Speaking after he said it was so hard with the heat but also how rough the track got made it difficult to find a rhythm. Points aren’t far away for the young Brit.
In Race 1 all Max’s hard work in qualifying was wasted as he hit the start gate and was dead last around the first bend. With Cairoli and Herlings pulling away at the front Max was up to 14th which was the back of the factory riders. In an unbelievable display of fitness and determination, he worked his way up to fifth, passing Nagl, Gajser, Desalle and Coldenhoff in the last couple of laps and registering his fastest lap on the last lap, truly impressive especially given the heat.
Race 2 saw Jasikonis lead with Cairoli, Herlings and Anstie behind. All eyes were on the Cairoli/Herlings battle. They may be team-mates but there’s no love lost between them in the battle of the old bull and the young bull.
While that was going on Anstie passed Jasikonis and motored away from Desalle, Nagl and Coldenhoff, and it was only the intensity of the battle up front that stopped him catching Herlings. In that battle Cairoli prevailed, Herlings collapsed after crossing the finish line and missed the podium ceremony as he was treated by a paramedic.
On the podium, Anstie was grinning from ear to ear. His first in the 450 class and best performance of the season in the hottest race – I think Max has arrived.
Conrad Mewse and Ben Watson were both around mid-teens in free- and timed practice until Watson grabbed 10th near the end of the session. He translated that into a fourth-place start in the qualifying race, passed Prado then lost a place to Olsen but was on the leader’s pace and held off a charge from Paturel. Mewse finished in an uneventful 10th place.
Lining up for Race 1 and Watson took up six positions from the left. As the riders launched the inner six seemed to jostle each other and the unlucky Watson endoed halfway down the start straight. He remounted and proceeded to charge back up to 18th before another crash with Freek van der Vlist saw him pull out. The two crashes gave him a headache and he felt tired but would be okay for Race 2.
Mewse’s race went the other way, starting in fifth and looking comfortable with the pace until half distance when the heat started to take effect and he faded back to 14th.
A better start for both in Race 2 – Watson seventh and Mewse eighth. They traded places, lost a few positions but as the clock ticked down Watson was still charging. With about four laps left he ‘hit the wall’ as the heat and his headache started to take its toll, but he pressed on and spotted Leiber in front and was able to get a second wind – passing him on the last lap for eighth place. Mewse was again affected by the heat and faded to 20th. He was just happy to get out in one piece.
There were 87 entries in this class but only two Brits – Jack Bintcliffe and Chris Mills.
Practice starts early for these boys, on track at 7 o’clock but it was smooth and relatively cool at only about 25 degrees (77 Fahrenheit).
Bintcliffe qualified easily in ninth but Mills had to go via the LCQ, finishing third, the deep harrowed sand sapping the power of the YZ.
With their first race starting at 3:25 pm and both lads on the outside of the gate it was going to be hard, but both came around inside the top 20. The field strung out quite quickly as Haarup pulled away at the front, within three laps he was about 200 meters in front of Mills who was up to 11th. Mills gained one more spot to finish 10th as Bintcliffe wilted in the heat, fading back to 30th at the flag.
Interestingly, Italian rider Alessandro Facco was disqualified for having a spare bike in the pit lane. Apparently, you can bring a spare bike to the start area but once the sighting lap starts the spare bike has to go outside.
Race 2 on Sunday saw both lads finish outside the points and just not able to make headway. With everyone riding their bikes flat out a top 10 start is vital and with both Brits outside the top 30 on Lap 1, it just wasn’t going to happen – harsh but true.
Todd Kellet is the lone British pilot in EMX250 for the Ottobiano weekend. He didn’t make the trip to Russia so that’s cost him a few positions in the championship but his speed and hard charges through the field have got a few team managers interested in the quiet west countryman. Fifth fastest in qualifying, Kellett looked comfortable; however, the 250s first race was at 17:55 pm when the temperature was at its highest.
Kellett started and finished 10th, losing four places and gaining four places but you could see he wasn’t his usual attacking self. As he came off the track he nearly collapsed, the heat had taken every drop of energy. He said it was the hardest race of his life, now that’s something when you consider he won the Weston Beach Race last year, but after being hosed down and cooled down, a dejected Kellett returned to his camper, avoiding a visit to the medical centre which could have ruled him out of Sunday’s race.
Still feeling the after effects on Sunday morning Todd said he had never understood riders complaining about the heat before but that Saturday’s race was a new experience for him.
All was forgotten in Race 2 when he pulled a clear holeshot from the middle of the gate! A bad line choice into the second corner cost him a couple of places but he was comfortable in third for about 15 minutes until a crash in the deep sand at the back of the track knocked the wind out of him. He had been passed for third and while attempting to retake the position managed to take both riders down. He continued for two more laps, albeit a lap down before pulling out. Not the result he wanted but his speed and determination continue to impress.
If you like the sound of two-strokes, the smell of two-strokes, British riders or all of the above, then this is becoming the best race of the weekend. With Brad Anderson leading the championship, James Dunn, Rob Holyoake, Aaron Pipon, Will Worden and Factory Phil Mercer plus British team GL12 supporting Mike Kras and Dunn, there’s a lot to cheer for.
Ando was the only Brit to go to Russia for the second round and came to Italy with an eight-point advantage over Kras. You can read Ando’s exclusive interview about the extraordinary Russian adventure here. All the Brits qualified and Factory Phil was predicting a points scoring ride after missing out in Germany.
Race 1 was off to a flyer with Kras, Dunn and Ando in the top five, Holyoake 10th, Pipon 17th and Mercer 22nd after getting held up in a second turn crash, with Worden 24th.
Ando looked quicker at the far side of the track and by lap five he was in the lead with Kras second. Dunn was on a mission and blazed past his team-mate Kras and set after Ando, passing him a couple of laps later and taking his first victory.
GL12 team owner Bob Buchanan was proud and emotional at Dunn’s first win after some difficult years, James was more matter-of-fact after the race saying it felt quite easy but that the heat affected him once he stopped. Ando was happy to take second place, saying he would have had to have pushed if Kras was in front but that the heat was horrible, while Kras finished in an untroubled third. “I hope they don’t grade it before our race tomorrow, it suits me being rough,” said Ando.
Rob Holyoake had a good start but lost a few places getting held up in the second corner crash but looked smooth and finished a very creditable ninth while Factory Phil battled his way into the points as he had predicted, coming 19th. He said the track was hard underneath and choppy, feeling like Valkenswaard rather than deep sand. Delighted to be scoring points and beating riders half his age, he was bemoaning the lack of beer at the event to celebrate what “feels like a victory”. Fortunately, he ‘found’ some to go with the BBQ.
First out on Sunday morning, a heavy shower at 6 am had left some standing water and soft areas around the track, but it was a bit cooler and Ando got his wish as only the jump faces had been smoothed for safety.
Race 2 saw Ando in fifth, Holyoake sixth, Kras ninth, Pipon 10th, Mercer 11th and Dunn last after getting held up into Turn 1 by a stalled rider.
On Lap 3 Kras was onto Ando and tried a lunge down the inside. The resulting ‘whisky throttle’ moment saw him hit Ando then wheelie off the track, dropping back to 14th and leaving him stuck in second gear.
Holyoake clashed with another rider on the next lap which put him back to 16th but got him angry – he would charge back up to 11th but was still unhappy about the crash an hour after the race.
Meanwhile, Ando and Dunn were both on a charge. Ando said after that he wanted to settle in as the track was so wet on the sighting lap but once things settled down he could get his head down.
Although not as hot as Saturday he said he was still not fully recovered from the heat, not that it showed as he passed Greg Smets near the end and took a comfortable victory. But in a comedy moment, he was passing a lapped rider as they crossed the finish line so missed the chequered flag and charged around at race pace for an extra lap.
Dunn put in his fastest Sector 1 time on the last lap and finished third, and second overall. Podium pie tasted good, and with Mike Kras third overall GL12 owner Bob Buchanan had plenty to be happy about.
Factory Phil scored more points, finishing 18th and joking afterwards that that was good enough to keep racing for at least another two years.
Aaron Pipon also scored points in 15th after failing to score in the first race as he and Will Worden had both succumbed to the heat.
If there was a ‘man-of-the-match’ award it’s hard not to give it to James Dunn for his first race win, or Ando for winning again and extending his championship lead but I think it goes to Max Anstie, based on the calibre of riders he simply raced away from today.
Which of the Brits would you give the ‘best rider’ award to at Ottobiano? Are you loving the Brit Report? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter.
Next up the MXGP circus travels to Portugal, with EMX125, EMX150 and EMX250 races. See how the Brits do in the Brit Report from Agueda.
Fino alla prossima volta.