MXGP Blog: Happy Days…? Goodbye 2016, bring on the new…

MXGP – like any sport – enjoys a bit of hype. Each season could be the ‘best’ or the ‘most competitive or open’ and for those writing about the sport (which sadly feels less and less from the circuits every year) we are often armed with some stats or information to loosely back up the estimation. Quite rightly the Cairoli-Villopoto duel – the two biggest names in global motocross at that time – had the 2015 pre-season talk revolving around words like ‘classic’ and ‘defining’. It was a 23 year old French rookie, that fell foul of the MX2 age limit by all of twenty-four hours that emerged from the depths of the radar and sideswiped everybody. Tim Gajser replicated the feat this year – even more emphatically – and deservedly headed our ‘Top 5’ listing in this very issue (although a summation article like that can never really do justice to the efforts and performances that a range of top flite athletes unveil across eighteen Grands Prix and thirty-six motos).

Is MXGP more open than ever? Can a greater number of riders vie for the championship? On paper is certainly looks that way: eighteen factory or semi-works racers, seventeen of which have Grand Prix winning experience representing six brands in total with official race teams. In the last two years there have been seven different victors of MXGP rounds, in 2014 there were six, 2013 just four. In 2016 nine different nationalities tasted MXGP podium champagne.

The FIM Motocross World Championship has an awkward way of working with a vast calendar, immense geographical spread but a largely Eurocentric base, and the eventual rider and team that emerges triumphant usually has to bank on a large slice of fortune as well as a remarkable physiology (one of the drawbacks of thirty-eight motos being the higher level of attrition due to the demands and Russian roulette nature of so many starts and potentially hazardous race situations).

Perhaps ‘success’ can also be about the memories that the sport and its participants leave the fans and observers. There were some tremendous pockets of action and drama throughout the relentless 2016 schedule. If I cast my thoughts back across the season then several scenes quickly come to mind…even after sixteen years without missing a Grand Prix (being absent from the round in Thailand last March was slightly disorientating but at least afforded an evaluation of how MXGP comes across with its live television coverage and the renovation of which I’ve covered a couple of times in Blogs this summer).

There was an aura of magnificence around Tim Gajser and Jeffrey Herlings and the match-up between these former MX2 rivals must be one of the big selling points for MXGP in 2017. As I wrote previously Herlings’ dash against Cooper Webb and Austin Forkner at the Monster Energy Grand Prix of Americas within the Charlotte Dirt Track was as inspiring as it was impressive. Watch here. Romain Febvre’s duel with Gajser at the Grand Prix of France that saw motos shared and the dispute went down to the final laps ramped up the tension between the champion and champion-elect and meant that the qualification crash by the former two weeks later at the British Grand Prix was one of the most deflating moments of 2016. Gajser’s achievement of winning on his debut appearance in the MXGP class through the Qatar night sky was another standout but lasted only six months before Eli Tomac’s supremacy blasted the record book entry to the margins.

2016 did also feel drawn-out, and there was a palm-thumping sense of frustration that Clement Desalle broke his arm two weeks before Qatar, that Gautier Paulin continued to be throttled in the harmful sense by his set-up at HRC, that Max Nagl could not be more consistent, that Tony Cairoli would feel moved to describe the term as his ‘worst’ in recent memory despite ending the campaign as runner-up. Gajser could have won MXGP with two rounds to go. Febvre did it at the penultimate fixture of 2015. The numbers always hint at an embarrassment of riches but – and maybe fantastically – sport is not always mathematical. A new season will come around and the standings will reset and the playing field and form table will level. Ready for some more?

Photo by Ray Archer