By Stephen St. Pierre
After spending the first part of the year globetrotting, the FIM Motocross World Championship returns to Europe this weekend for Round 6, the MXGP of Latvia at the Moto Center Zelta Zirgs. The fast and fluffy caramel sand track in Kegums has hosted the GPs every year since 2009 and in 2014 played host to the Monster Energy FIM Motocross of Nations. Although it has been two weeks since the last GP in Mexico, there has been a lot of action off the track.
The biggest news came this week when Chad Reed, one of the best and most successful riders in the world, said that he will be racing two MXGP events in June. Reed’s contract with Yamaha in the United States does not include the outdoor nationals so he will be lining up in Great Britain on June 18th and the following weekend in Italy on the 25th. Reed, now 34-years-old, competed for a single year in Grand Prix at the start of the century for the team that is now Monster Energy Kawasaki. Then 19-year-old Chad shocked the establishment by finishing second in the world, won a (250cc) Grand Prix and then moved to America to seek fame and fortune on stadium tracks and through Pro National MX.
“I have always valued my one and only year in Europe and I`m so excited to come back after all these years,” he said. “I briefly mentioned it on social media and many UK and European fans have shown lots of enthusiasm, so that in return makes it a ton of fun for me.”
This weekend, the MXGP class will see the return of Team Suzuki’s Ben Townley who has been sidelined with a virus since Round 3 in the Netherlands. The 31-year-old Townley had impressed at Round 2 in Thailand earning the pole position and second place in the second moto; still the team’s best finish so far this season. Townley has been riding and honing the works RMZ450 in the past two weeks and had a positive showing at the MX Masters in Germany last Sunday. On the same weekend, his teammate, Kevin Strijbos, who has been struggling this season, owned both motos for a perfect score in the first event of the Dutch national series in Holland.
In the MX2 class, Team Yamaha’s Aleksandr Tonkov will sit out this weekend after injuring his back in a practice crash. Tonkov currently sits in fourth position in the world championship MX2 standings and has scored two podiums so far this season. This weekend will see the return of Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Dylan Ferrandis, who has now recovered from a shoulder injury he sustained during Round 2 in Thailand. After finishing runner-up in the opening round of the series in Qatar, the French rider missed the following GPs after his injury during the qualifying race. Dylan underwent surgery immediately on his return to France and after seven weeks of rehab has been given the green light from his doctor to start riding his KX250F-SR Kawasaki. Dylan will be back racing this weekend at Kegums, a track which brings back great memories as he was a key member of the French team that won the Motocross of Nations there in 2014.
The young guns in the MXGP class, who are separated by only three points atop the championship, will again fight for the red plate this weekend in Latvia. Team Honda’s Tim Gajser is riding with an extreme level of confidence at the moment. What the nineteen-year-old Slovenian has already achieved this year in his rookie season in MXGP is very impressive as he tops the statistic charts in all categories except one. He has the most qualifying race wins, 2, he has led the most laps, a whopping 93 to Febvre’s 32, he has won the most races, 5, and in turn has won the most grand prix overalls. The only thing the he doesn’t have is the MXGP red plate, which belongs to Romain Febvre.
Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing’s Romain Febvre has shown a lot of character and a heart since his debut in the premier class last year. Last year in Latvia was one of those standout moments when he went down in the first turn and struggled to get his bike started. More than half a lap down, the flying Frenchman didn’t stress, he just did what he does best and twisted that throttle. He managed to get back to eighth in the first moto, which was remarkable, and in the process, amid all the traffic, set the fastest lap of the race by more than 1 second. He won the second race and still managed to finish on the podium in third.
Both Febvre and Gajser are riding with a ridiculous amount of confidence; neither of the two is racing for anything less than a win, which is making for some exciting action on the track. And judging by what we have seen so far this season, we are likely to see these two running up front again this weekend.
MXGP Championship Top Ten: 1. Romain Febvre (FRA, YAM), 219 points; 2. Tim Gajser (SLO, HON), 216 p.; 3. Antonio Cairoli (ITA, KTM), 171 p.; 4. Evgeny Bobryshev (RUS, HON), 170 p.; 5. Maximilian Nagl (GER, HUS), 165 p.; 6. Jeremy Van Horebeek (BEL, YAM), 162 p.; 7. Kevin Strijbos (BEL, SUZ), 127 p.; 8. Shaun Simpson (GBR, KTM), 122 p.; 9. Glenn Coldenhoff (NED, KTM), 104 p.; 10. Tommy Searle (GBR, KAW), 98 p.
The competitors in the MX2 class have to figure out a way to stop Red Bull KTM’s Jeffrey Herlings who is well on his way to his third MX2 World Championship. Herlings has been perfect so far this season winning every race he has entered, and that streak continued last weekend while during a week off he elected to race the Dutch Masters and again swept both motos. To top it off, the sandy conditions this weekend in Latvia are very much to the liking of the Red Bull KTM pilot who has been called the best sand rider on the planet.
Leading the pack of racers that follows Herlings around the racetrack each weekend is Team Suzuki’s Jeremy Seewer. The Swiss star has a lot of great people around him who know how to win races. So far he is soaking in their advice like a sponge and it is paying off as he sits second in the championship, 58 down on Herlings but 26 up on Pauls Jonass in third.
Speaking of Red Bull KTM’s Pauls Jonass, he’ll be the star this weekend as the hometown hero. Jonass loves the track at Kegums and should be on the box this weekend. What we’ve come to learn from the Latvian is that he either gets a good result or he crashes spectacularly. With that said, if he can stay out of trouble, he should be on the podium for the thousands of fans that will come out to support him like he was last year when he finished second.
MX2 Championship Top Ten: 1. Jeffrey Herlings (NED, KTM), 250 points; 2. Jeremy Seewer (SUI, SUZ), 192 p.; 3. Pauls Jonass (LAT, KTM), 166 p.; 4. Aleksandr Tonkov (RUS, YAM), 163 p.; 5. Petar Petrov (BUL, KAW), 132 p.; 6. Benoit Paturel (FRA, YAM), 126 p.; 7. Vsevolod Brylyakov (RUS, KAW), 121 p.; 8. Samuele Bernardini (ITA, TM), 117 p.; 9. Alvin Östlund (SWE, YAM), 89 p.; 10. Max Anstie (GBR, HUS), 82 p.
Qualifying races will be held on Saturday the 30th with the GP following on Sunday May 1st. All races can been seen live on MXGP-TV.com