Tony Cairoli (Red Bull KTM) may have suffered his first moto defeat of the season but the super-experienced Sicilian still topped the 450 podium with a 1-2 card and in front of thousands of fans extended his series lead at the MXGP of Great Britain at Matterley Basin.
In MX2 it was Thomas Kjer Olsen (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna) who capitalised on defending champion Jorge Prado’s late withdrawal with a shoulder injury to run a career-best 1-1 and jump to the top of the championship standings.
With his team-mate and reigning champion Jeffrey Herlings sidelined through injury, even at 34 years old Cairoli is still the man to beat and he backed up his double win at the opening round in Argentina with a rock-solid performance as he took another step towards tying Stefan Everts’ record of 10 world titles.
Taking full advantage of a huge crash by Tim Gajser (Team HRC) to win the opening moto, he then shadowed the Slovenian second time out to open up an eight-point gap at the top of the MXGP class standings. Afterwards he revealed he was carrying an injury sustained in a practice crash.
“I was in Belgium training,” he said, “and I had a little crash and hurt my shoulder and my neck so I had to ride a smart (second])race because after three or four laps my right arm was sleeping so I couldn’t really push.
“The track is quite sketchy but once I got warmer I could build up a little bit of speed and then I could manage to win this GP. I hope this problem with my shoulder gets a little better for next weekend because in the sand it’s quite tough to ride.”
Olsen didn’t have an answer to Prado’s speed in Argentina but with the Spanish teenager sidelined he converted two great starts into a pair of commanding wins to go with his qualification victory to make it a perfect weekend for the Dane.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “That second moto was even better than the first one and I just felt so comfortable out there. It’s great to lead some laps, for sure. I’m super-happy for myself and for my whole family and team – they’ve been a huge part of this win and I can’t thank them enough. All winter I’ve just been feeling so comfortable. I just felt so good coming into this year and it is amazing to make it 1-1. I can’t believe it. I couldn’t be happier.”
Cairoli had dominated Saturday’s qualification race and was leading by five seconds until two last-lap crashes handed Gajser the win but second choice of gate was good enough for him to holeshot Sunday’s opening points-paying moto from Gajser, Jeremy Van Horebeek (Honda SR Motoblouz) and Gautier Paulin (Monster Energy Wilvo Yamaha).
Clement Desalle (Monster Energy Kawasaki) moved swiftly into fifth past Arnaud Tonus (Monster Energy Wilvo Yamaha) as Shaun Simpson (RFX KTM powered by PAR Homes) and Max Anstie (Standing Construct KTM) sat in ninth and 10th but Tommy Searle (BOS Kawasaki) – forced to start on the outside of the gate after a technical problem put him out of the qualification race – was run wide and off the track in the first turn.
Paulin went past Van Horebeek on the opening lap and Gajser went around the outside of Cairoli in a sweeping turn to take the lead. Any suspicions that the Italian might have let him through so he could check out his lines were quickly dispelled when the 2016 champ dropped his lap times and began to pull clear.
Gajser’s never been a rider afraid to hang it out and his full-bore style bit him just over 10 minutes into the moto when, while leading by six seconds, his back wheel kicked out as he approached the uphill wave section. It was a big, big crash but amazingly he sprang immediately to his feet and only lost places to Cairoli and Paulin.
The damage was done though and Cairoli could cruise to the win – his eventual advantage of just under two seconds over Paulin may not seem a lot but he backed it off on the final couple of laps. A battered Gajser – his bars twisted, his number plate flapping and rocking the classic Evel Knievel peakless look – was another two-and-a-half seconds adrift in third before a big gap back to Desalle and Van Horebeek.
Anstie ate roost for a full 10 minutes before finally getting past Jeremy Seewer (Monster Energy Yamaha) to finish seventh behind Tonus. Simpson was also looking good for a top-10 finish but after holding ninth for almost the full race a last-lap mistake dropped him to 16th, five places behind Searle. Jake Millward (Chambers Racing Husqvarna) finished out of the points but looked smooth and fast back in 26th.
Cairoli holeshot again in race two but this time Gajser hit the front inside a minute. Searle again found himself edged off the track in the first corner and Desalle crashed in turn three, collecting his team-mate Julian Lieber and Anstie on the way down.
Gajser began to ease clear and after five minutes was almost three seconds up on Cairoli as the chasing pack led by Paulin began to drop off the pace. However, Cairoli hadn’t given up and as his injured shoulder started to loosen up he put in a series of quick laps and began to reel in Gajser.
With two laps to go he had the Slovenian in his sights but he’d left his charge too late and Gajser took the win – his first moto victory since the final GP of 2017 – by a nail-biting 1.7 seconds with Paulin third a further 52 seconds behind.
Arminas Jasikonis (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna) was fourth ahead of Seewer and Van Horebeek with Simpson best of the Brits in ninth following a late pass on former MX2 world champ Pauls Jonass (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna). After his nightmare start, Anstie climbed from 26th on lap one up to 14th at the flag with his final position gained on the last lap at the expense of Searle. Millward was 31st.
After a strong showing from the British contingent last time out in Argentina, home hopes were high in MX2 and Ben Watson (Monster Energy Kemea Yamaha) was clearly in the groove with a strong third in qualification behind Olsen and Henry Jacobi (F&H Kawasaki).
GP newbie Tom Vialle (Red Bull KTM) holeshot the opening moto ahead of Dylan Walsh (REVO Husqvarna UK), another world championship rookie, with Olsen moving into third and then taking second from the Kiwi in a left-hander after an uphill jump. Watson sat in fifth after the opening lap with Adam Sterry (F&H Kawasaki) ninth and Conrad Mewse (Hitachi KTM fuelled by Milwaukee) 14th.
Walsh briefly lost third to Jacobi but aggressively regained it and Watson went from fourth to ninth when he lost his front wheel attempting to pass the German. On the second full lap Olsen hit the front and with a clear track ahead the tall Dane looked in total control as he began to check out, quickly opening up a lead of almost three seconds over Vialle who was pushed back to third by Jacobi just before half-distance.
Jacobi then set off after Olsen. Posting consistently faster lap times, he chipped away at the leader’s 2.2 second advantage and was within striking distance on the final lap before a mistake forced him to settle for second.
Mewse had fought his way through from outside the top 10 to a great fourth place and was starting to threaten Vialle in third when an apparent mechanical issue on the last lap forced him to slow and he dropped back to sixth as Watson snatched fourth from Michele Cervellin (Yamaha SM Action) with a classic inside/outside move through two turns.
Walsh soaked up race-long pressure to finish in 10th, one place ahead of Sterry. Mewse’s team-mate Bas Vaessen was 13th and Walsh’s team-mate Alvin Ostlund was 15th.
Vialle claimed his second holeshot – and his third from four GP motos – in race two with Walsh again in tow. Olsen made a quick move on Walsh who responded by passing him straight back before the Dane was finally able to make a pass stick as Jacobi sat in fourth.
Calvin Vlaanderen (Team HRC), who’d ended the opening race in eighth after crashing while running fifth, was able to pass Jacobi in the left-hand turn before the uphill triple when the German hit neutral and with five minutes gone managed to make a move on Walsh as well.
On the second full lap Olsen took the lead from Vialle and then cruised clear to win by almost 10 seconds from Vlaanderen who had to wait until the closing stages before he could take second place. With two laps to go Jacobi also passed Vialle for third and a career-best second overall but the French teenager, in just his second GP, had done enough to end the day on the podium.
Watson made race-long progress up the leaderboard and at the flag was fifth, three seconds behind Vialle. With two laps to go Walsh was still holding eighth but lost places to Mitch Evans (Honda 114 Motorsports) – who’d suffered a technical problem in race one – and Cervellin with Vaessen 12th and Ostlund 14th.
After his bike cut out on the gate – forcing him to bump-start it – Sterry fought his way through from 30th on the opening lap to 15th and Mewse went out in the closing stages while running 15th.
Following his opening race DNF, Darian Sanayei (Bike It DRT Kawasaki) picked up a couple of points in 19th.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man – cometh the Ando!
Despite still struggling with his breathing thanks to a crooked nose following his horrific crash at last month’s Hawkstone International, Brad Anderson (Verde Substance KTM) set himself up for a hat-trick of Euro two-stroke titles with a dominant 1-1 performance at Matterley Basin.
The change in rules restricting the stroker class to 250s has made no difference to Ando – he won last year’s EMX300 title on a 250 anyway – and the 37-year-old came out swinging, although he had to pick himself off the ground in Saturday’s opening moto after a collision with Brad Todd (Gabriel Yamaha) to overhaul early leader Mike Kras (Ecomaxx KTM).
“For the first race I was fired up, got a bit excited and hit Brad and we both went down,” he said. “I got back up in I think about ninth and knew I couldn’t let Mike Kras get too far ahead so I got my head down and found some nice lines. I was riding well and caught Mike up and gave him a little nudge, he brake-checked me and I went around him which I don’t think he was expecting.
“Once I got past I just got my head down and gapped him a little bit. I got the win and I was pumped with that. The fans really got behind me which gave me an extra boost. I was excited when I came over that line to win the first race of the year.”
With the track heavily ripped and watered for Sunday’s action, conditions were super-tough for the second EMX 2t moto. Kras exited the race early when his bike went bang – shades of Matterley last year when he suffered two technical DNFs – and after overhauling early leader Todd, Ando cleared off to win by 13 seconds.
“Sunday was a totally different day. The track was wet because they’d soaked it and deep because they’d rotovated it but I got a good start and sat behind Brad Todd but once I’d got past him I was able to keep a sensible gap. I got a little bit of arm-pump so I tensed up but to come away with two wins at my home GP is great – exciting times!
“We have made some changes and it feels as though Steve Clitheroe has got my bike working even better this year because last year I was struggling to get out the gate.”
British riders were well represented in the class and special mentions go to Todd Kellett (St Blazey Yamaha) who went 4-6 and only lost out on third on a tie-break, Ben Putnam (Yamaha) whose 11-5 scores were good enough for sixth, Matt Burrows (Husqvarna) who was ninth with a 13-8 card and Todd who was third in race two.
Gilbert grabs eighth
With the new age cap on the EMX250 class slashing the British presence, Josh Gilbert (Buildbase Honda) was best of the home-grown heroes in eighth overall thanks to a 9-10 card. Gilbert’s finish would have been much higher but for first-lap crashes in both races – the first coming when he left his braking too late and the second when he hit a hole which threw him into the face of a tabletop.
“I’ve got mixed emotions really,” said Josh, who’s contesting the full series. “I made it hard work for myself by going down on the first lap of both races. In the first race I came from 17th to ninth and in the second I came from 32nd to 10th – a couple of little errors cost me. My speed and fitness are there – I set my fastest lap on the last lap of the first moto and I think I put in my best time in race two on the second-to-last lap. I just need to put the first few laps together.”
The overall went to Italy’s Alberto Forato (Husqvarna) who won both motos with Stephen Rubini (Honda) from France taking second ahead of Dutchman Roan Van De Moosdijk.