Rockstar Energy Suzuki World MXGP’s Clement Desalle and Kevin Strijbos tentatively launched their seasons on the factory RM-Z450s with seventh and eighth positions in the opening rounds of the FIM MXGP Championship under the floodlights of Losail in Qatar on Saturday evening.
Rutty and bumpy in places and with plenty of air-time for the bikes, Losail was formed from an inconsistent desert terrain in terms of traction and grip and demanding bumps. It meant the riders had to stay sharp and focussed through the two 30 minute and two-lap motos; the shorter race time for 2014 placing extra emphasis on the starts and the opening laps.
Desalle, who conquered the inaugural edition of the Qatari event exactly 12 months previously, came to the Grand Prix with minimal riding time in the winter due to recovery from a shoulder operation.
The Belgian struggled with his starts and was particularly frustrated after the first moto as several early mistakes, including one slip-off the Suzuki, meant he could rise no higher than ninth. He wasn’t able to getaway with the leaders at the drop of the second moto but pushed through several positions to reach the chequered flag in sixth.
“Not such a nice GP; very difficult,” says Clement Desalle. “Yesterday wasn’t so bad in the timed practice but I had a bad start and then again in the first moto. It was not easy to pass and the track was different compared to last year.
“It was not nice. The hard-pack was getting loose in some places, so I was not feeling confident or comfortable. I did what I could do. I’m disappointed with my mistakes in the first laps. I lost too many positions. Second moto I just tried to finish and sixth was it. I am coming back from a big injury and we all say I am ready but maybe I need a bit more time. I’m working on this.”
Strijbos celebrated a firm and indisputable run to the first pole position of the season on Friday and looked as though he might repeat the performance in the opening sprint.
The Belgian took the holeshot and led the field for the first two of 18 laps. Unfortunately he suffered some arm-pump and did not have the strength to push and #22 dropped back to seventh. In Moto Two he could not replicate his sizzling getaway from the gate but motored through the distance to capture eighth spot; two places behind his team-mate.
“When I said I had the best bike ever for this season I really meant it; the power is so strong,” said Kevin Strijbos. “It helped at the start of that first moto but when I made a few mistakes and got tight I could not really do much any more. “I was just hanging on.
“In the second moto I did not get the start I wanted or needed. We’ll work some more and hope for better in Thailand because there are some good signs that we can take from Friday.”
The Belgian crew only had a brief time to take stock as the bikes, spares and equipment were quickly crated and sealed for transport to Thailand. The squad will make their way from western Asia and across to the capital of Bangkok, then down to the nearby city of Pattaya where the Si Racha circuit will host the second Thai Grand Prix this coming weekend.