Sitting in the paddock on Friday afternoon with rain lashing the awnings it looked like we could be in for a mudder at round 16 of the FIM Motocross World Championship for the 2018 MXGP of Switzerland at Frauenfeld.
The man-made dirt track has the feel of a big school-boy track to me which might suit some of the Brits who grew up riding on similar tracks.
EMX125 and EMX250 classes provided the support races but British entries were a bit thin as injuries and clashes with domestic events reduced the numbers.
The track took the rain remarkable well, unsurprisingly a bit wet for the first groups on Saturday morning but in prime condition as the MX2 and MXGP riders went out. A big crowd witnessed some great racing and a Brit on the podium – read how all the Brits faired below.
Tommy Searle had just had a good week, the fastest man at the Hawkstone round of the British championship had been testing the new 2019 KX450 and said it was a big improvement. Graeme Irwin had tweaked his back at Hawkstone but after some intensive physio was feeling better, while Shaun Simpson had been on the podium in the Belgium Masters during the week. Max Anstie is always up-beat but told me on Friday that he still hadn’t got another ride sorted for next year despite all the rumours.
The track was in prime condition for the free practice but a lot of deep ruts had already formed by the earlier groups. Irwin said: “It’s very technical and difficult to learn. I’m trying to remember the track and the ruts.”
Anstie, Searle and Simpson have been close at recent MXGPs in timed practice and this week was no different – just half a second between Anstie in ninth and Searle in 14th with Simpson filling the sandwich in 12th.
The quali race was advantage Anstie as he passed Cairoli at the start, finishing fourth after gaining and losing a couple of places. Searle was solid in 10th, only losing one place to Herlings as he charged through after a first turn fall while Simpson lost a few spots and Irwin gained four places, including a pass inside of factory HRC Honda rider Todd Waters that Herlings would be proud of, stood on the pegs around the inside rut – lovely to watch. Simmo and Irwin would finish together in 18th and 19th.
Fireworks at the start of race one as Anstie clattered the Monster signs edging the start straight, coming around in 19th. Irwin’s race ended on the first lap, a rock punching a whole in his top lip that required a trip to hospital.
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Simpson was looking racy in 12th but lost the front end going for a pass, the crash costing him a couple of places but he managed to regroup and got past Searle and Bobryshev towards the end for ninth. Anstie was charging, catching his teammate at half distance, the duelling Huskies soon caught Cairoli and went on by, Anstie passing Paulin too – hats off the Anstie, its not everyone that can ride away from Cairoli, sixth at the flag.
Race two was more of the same. Searle had struggled in race one, losing five places, and did much the same in race two, going from what looked like a comfortable eighth to 19th. I couldn’t find him after to ask if there was a problem. Irwin didn’t start for obvious reasons and posted on social media later showing his new ‘trout pout’.
Simpson again looked strong in eighth but would lose a couple of places on lap 14 to finish ninth. Anstie was the man again, passing Cairoli for a second time and riding away to fifth place and fifth overall. After he told me: “I thought I was gonna crash in the first race, [Clement] Desalle moved over on Jeffrey [Herlings] and he squeezed me, luckily I just rode over the barriers. Race two was a better first lap, but I used a lot of energy so when I passed Cairoli I pulled a gap and stayed there. I don’t know if there was something wrong with him but I’ll take it.”
Injuries meant that Conrad Mewse (broken finger at Hawkstone) and Adam Sterry (ankle while practicing in the week) were missing, leaving Ben Watson as lone Brit.
Ben Watson was debuting the all-new 2019 Yamaha along with his Kemea teammates, telling me “the engine is better and the overall bike improved, I love it. We still have some work to do with suspension testing but it’s really good.”
Watson backed up his statement with sixth fastest in timed practice and sixth in the quali race, moving up from eighth on the first lap. The team were making changes all day as they learn the new bike as Watson confirmed on Saturday evening.
Tenth on the first lap of race one, he made a couple of passes and inherited a place when Vlaanderen retired, he moved up to sixth in an uneventful race.
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Race two looked better, second on the first lap. Jonass would not be denied and moved past Watson at the end of the lap and a mistake on lap three cost him two more places, back to fifth. TKO was closing and inevitably overtook on lap 11, it looked like another sixth place was in the bag. Covington had other ideas and demoted Watson to seventh on lap 15, but guess what? Watson got sixth overall so maybe six really was his number this weekend.
Seven Brits made the trip to Switzerland. The track was improving throughout each session with some drier lines but also some very deep ruts. In group one, Martin Barr was sixth, Josh Spinks eighth and Steven Clarke 12th.
Spinks said: “It’s a hard track to just go fast on straight away, the ruts are really deep and its still quite heavy. It’s good to qualify but I’m not happy with my riding, I felt nervous and was making silly mistakes.”
In group two Mel Pocock matched his teammate, qualifying sixth. Jamie Carpenter was on the cusp of qualifying but as other riders managed a quicker lap he was unable to improve and faded down the time sheet. Carpenter and James Dunn would join Chris Mills from the first group in the LCQ. A strong ride from Carpenter saw him qualify comfortably while Dunn was never on the pace, saying afterwards that he “just wasn’t feeling it”, much to the frustration of GL12 owner Bob Buchannan, and Mills did not start.
Race one went off at 18:40 with track conditions vastly different to qualifying, making the sighting lap vital. The action was intense, the first nine on the same straight all race with positions changing every lap. Pocock had the best start but lost places after two separate mistakes, eventually coming home ninth. Barr started ninth but capitalised on other mistakes and looked to have seventh in the bag but lost a place to Clarke on the last lap.
Clarke had moved steadily forward and did well to bridge the gap to the leading groups so seventh was a great result. Spinks had a terrible start and took eight laps to get into the points, moving up to 17th at the flag and looking like he had given everything he had as he road back to the paddock. Carpenter was outside the points but stayed on the same lap as the leaders, a creditable ride in only his first race.
Race two on Sunday looked like typical British motocross; mud, ruts and more mud. And the Brits loved it, four in the top eight.
Clarke went wide on the start, looked like he lost the front wheel but held it to come out sixth. By the end of lap three he was third, then into second for a lonely and untroubled race. Spinks also got a great start and by mid-race had moved up to third, although Clarke had a comfortable gap in front.
Pocock took a while to settle, dropping back to 10th before finding his pace and charging forward to sixth with Barr moving up steadily from mid-pack to finish eighth. Carpenter struggled after a bad start and couldn’t find the pace he needed, telling me later that he was “happy to qualify for the first time, its another step forward. The track was difficult, more technical than I’m used to but I’ll have to get used to it.”
On the podium Clarke took a well deserved second place, while Pocock and Barr held on to second and third in the championship. With two rounds left the championship is still open, Pocock 18 points adrift. Pocock said: “I didn’t really struggle this weekend but the results say I did. The track was so different each day; today I made some bad line choices at the beginning then moved over to faster lines later, I should know better.”
Clarke was happy: “A bad start yesterday, and the track was a bit of a motorway. Today I nearly lost it at the start but was about 10th, that made all the difference. When I got into second I pushed for a couple of laps but realised I wasn’t gonna catch Boisrame so I thought about the points and took second. I’m only 20 points behind Barr in third, that’s the target.”
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Just two British lads here, birthday boy Eddie Wade who turned 15 on Friday and Adam Collings. First out on a wet track for qualifying, Wade got his fastest lap on lap seven in the first group but was annoyed afterwards because he was baulked on his fastest lap which would’ve been a lot better than his eventual 11th.
Adam Collings put in a blinder at the end of group two, qualifying fourth. He said later “the track was amazing, wet but good ruts. I found my rhythm, nailed the double and big step-down and knew it was a good lap.”
There was frustration for both boys in race one. Wade had a good start but was pushed wide into the first turn while Collings made passes around the inside. The big table top hadn’t been doable in qualifying and Wade was reluctant to hit it first lap, costing him a few places. The pair were 12th and 13th at the end of the lap, the back of a fast freight train.
On lap two, Collings dived into a deep rut and snapped his gear lever – stuck in second he was forced to retire telling me later: “I thought it was just packed with mud when I went to change gear but I looked down and it was missing. It was impossible to keep going on this track in second gear.”
The downside of racing this class is that they’re always first on track, and after plenty of overnight watering designed to get the track perfect for the main MXGP races, the 125 lads faced a muddy race. It turned into a case of whoever made the least mistakes and unfortunately Wade and Collings were making mistakes after both started around 12th.
Collings told me: “There were no definitive ruts in places, my helmet was covered in mud which was pushing it down and I crashed three times. I felt good at the end.”
P22 for Collings while Wade did manage to get back up to 19th after dropping out of the points after an early crash. Not the weekend the birthday boy hoped for but from Switzerland he’s off to Australia for the Junior world championships; Good Luck Eddie.
Next week the MXGP tour visits Bulgaria with the EMX250 and EMX300s for company. Until then its goodbye from Switzerland.