Uddevalla in central Sweden hosted round 16 of the MXGP last weekend. The championship is in the home stretch and although Antonio Cairoli brought a 97-point lead into the weekend, his teammate Jeffrey Herlings is on a roll and anything could still happen.
The Brits are back, Shaun Simpson returning after injuring his arm just eight weeks ago in Ottobiano, and Tommy Searle looking to improve on last week’s scores in Switzerland. Max Anstie had a season best second place in race 1 last week and was full of confidence for Sweden.
Two big talking points this week have been the number of top riders without a contract for next year and the Team GB MXoN selection, with Searle being chosen to race a 250 ahead of MX2 regulars Ben Watson and Conrad Mewse.
The internet has been in a frenzy this week with opinion divided about Searle’s inclusion. Perhaps the snub will fire up Watson and Mewse to prove the selectors wrong.
The EMX125 championship was concluded this week, with Chris Mills the sole Brit competing, and the Honda 150 championship also held a round with Charlie McCarthy and Toby Sammut from Britain.
The Uddevalla track is hard packed and stony, but with heavy rain in the week and rain forecast for the weekend it had the potential to be a difficult race weekend. How did the boys get on?
The hard-packed dirt and lack of many support classes meant the track didn’t get as rough as usual, and the rain showers throughout Saturday meant it was slippery and heavy going off line.
In the qualifying race, the conditions caught a few riders off guard, Jeremy van Horbeek fell exiting the pit straight and was nailed by Glenn Coldenhoff. Max Anstie hit the two fallen bikes and somehow snapped his chain.
Simpson chased Searle around, the duo in ninth and tenth with almost identical lap times until Simmo pounced on the last lap, passing Searle.
The pair were happy afterwards, both proving they had good speed and fitness after injury lay-offs.
Race one, and Simpson picked an inside gate. Despite getting pinched in he held a tight line around turn one to come out seventh and looked like he’d never been away.
As the race wore on he was passed by Febvre, Cairoli and Jasikonis to finish 11th. Searle gated 14th, gained a spot and lost two but looked comfortable, although he slipped off on the last lap and as he crossed the line looking at his bike the front forks had lost their air, partially collapsing which explained his fall.
Anstie had a terrible start as a result of the last gate pick because he never finished the qualy race, and could only work up to 13th as everyone was running a similar pace on the drier line.
Race two was packed with enough drama, action and key moments for a whole story.
After finishing race one in second place Herlings was on for the overall and taking some big points from Cairoli. He passed Gajser for second place but as he accelerated his bike stopped. The chain had snapped, ending his race, and most likely any chance at the championship. A visibly angry Herlings kicked the ground and stormed back to the pits, ignoring journalists and fans alike.
Cairoli was given a massive ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card when Herlings stopped. A terrible weekend by Cairoli’s standards, he finished 9-7 but still managed to extend his lead by two points
Febvre took the hole-shot, race win and second overall, his first race win and podium of the season.
Not forgetting this is the Brit report, Max Anstie got a better start and chased Cairoli for the whole race, matching him but not able to challenge. As he crossed the line in eighth his bike was on fire, literally! He stopped by the pit box and his mechanic quickly removed the seat and doused the flames.
Simpson and Searle were again locked in battle until Simpson bent his gear lever and packed the tip with mud so it couldn’t come back out. A rear brake problem compounded his problem but he kept going for the distance, saying after he wanted to pull in and get the bike fixed but thought it was better to get a full race on the bike.
Searle looked good for half the race before his lack of bike fitness saw him lose places to Bobryshev and Leok. A 12th-place finish was his best so far and he was happy with the progress being made.
After walking the track and seeing how stoney it was I asked Nathan Watson if he did anything different for the conditions such as hand guards or bigger body armour. “No, just man up” he said smiling but going on to tell me about his cut lip at the track a couple of years previous.
Slippery conditions in qualifying saw Prado throw away a big lead with a mistake while Mewse looked at home in third. He was eventually passed by Seewer and Paturel to finish a lonely fifth. Watson was 13th, enough for a reasonable gate pick in the races.
A great jump off the gate for both Brits saw Mewse in fourth and Watson sixth until a huge moment over the Tag Heuer table top when Watson slid on take-off, cross jumped and went off the track, nearly hitting a marshal.
The mistake cost Watson a couple of places but could have been much worse. Mewse lost a place to Jonass but gained a place when Leiber crashed. Watson also benefitted from the Leiber crash but lost out to Paturel who was the only one making really progress from a poor start.
Race two served up some drama when Covington charged from fourth and passed Seewer on the line to win by five hundredths of a second. Seewer thought he had it in the bag and slowed too much on the final lap as Covington put in his fastest lap; he was devastated when he realised he had lost a sure win although he still had the overall.
Mewse had a reasonable start but was passed by the hard-charging Paturel, and finished eighth which was enough to give him fourth overall and his best result of the year. Afterwards he was pleased but disappointed in equal measure, happy with fourth but annoyed at being so close to a podium.
Watson had a terrible start, a bad gate launch and was bunched in around turn one for 28th place.
Fast Frenchman Brian Moreau only needed the first race to clinch the title on his Bud racing Kawasaki/KTM. The only Brit to complete the series was Chris Mills, the tall youngster usually out gunned on his YZ125.
I asked his dad, Chris senior, if he thought it had been a good series, “Definitely” was his immediate response. “You can’t prepare for racing at a top level doing 15-minute races in Britain. Here you get to ride the same tracks as the GP riders, the competition is tougher, more track time and longer races”.
A first turn crash in race 1 saw young Mills on the floor and just about last but he battled though for 20th and a single point. Trying a new plan for race two, they fitted a new, clean tire in the start box after the siting lap. The plan obviously worked as Mills motored to a great start and a seventh place finish, his best of the season.
He moves up to EMX250 for next year, a year earlier than necessary but because of his size I think he will be better suited to the extra power. Expect good things from Mills in the next couple of years.
Just two Brits made it to this race, Tobias Sammut and 12-year-old Charlie McCarthy. They all ride identical Honda 150’s and get provided with gear, fuel and spares along with their entry.
I asked Charlie if it had helped him with his racing at home and he said “oh yeah, especially with corner speed. I used to struggle with ruts too”. He said Sweden was his favourite GP track so far, and dad Conor said he had also learned a lot about setting a bike up for different conditions.
In the races Tobias went 14 -12 and Charlie went 22-20.
With the MXGP tour visiting America in two weeks’ time the EMX riders get a break until Assen when the Honda 150’s return along with the WMX and Veterans one off race.