MXGP reached a new milestone last week with the release of the 2017 calendar and a twenty fixture agenda that easily positions the series as the longest in the FIM cannon. Twenty Grands Prix is allegedly the maximum that promoters Youthstream can organise in their contract with the FIM and there was reportedly some dismay among manufacturers that an agreed total of eighteen rounds had been overlooked. Apparently reservation of the dates is a key factor of the calendar publication and there could be one or maybe two appointments that won’t come to pass but with the day and month already slated then Youthstream have a gap and room to move if last minute contingencies dictate.

On one hand I was impressed that MXGP can now reach the scope of twenty races and obviously has enough promoters/circuit/clubs/federations and local governments keen to stage Grand Prix and source the funding from either promotional swag allocated for a territory or region’s tourism affairs, a prominent sponsor(s) or the increasingly diminishing prospect of a bumper crowd packing the fences. Another small positive is the expansion of possibilities for the support European series and that hopefully each Grand Prix will not feel like such busy, over-crowded and rushed affairs that they have become in the past two-three seasons.

As a part of the travelling circus I could only imagine the reaction of team personnel to the two extra meetings and the prospect of another nerve-shredding run to Russia (Jeffrey Herlings still bears the facial scars from his car accident in 2012…even if Semigorje witnessed an astonishing capacity crowd and proved that there is a potentially huge untapped market for the sport further east). Throw in January tests and pre-season Internationals as part of the set-up programme, national championship commitments for some squads that rely on the essential support from domestic companies and sponsors, a chance appearance at the Nations and maybe another SMX plus perhaps some winter supercross for some riders and suddenly AMA competitors don’t receive quite as much sympathy for their Supercross-Motocross toil. A packed run-down from the end of February to tail of September leaves little room for competitions like the eight round British Championship (burgeoning Grand Prix was one reason for the Italian series to switch to a hurried three-four date scale prior to the start of the FIM term five years ago).

Assuming that young talent on a motocross bike will emerge from national junior and youth series’ and make the leap into European Championships and then hanker for a shot at Grand Prix is one school of thought or career ladder but to reduce the status and possibilities for national contests to carry significance and appeal is a risk with the grass roots future of the sport. Like the possibility of Supercross also growing and flexing elbows to affect the American motocross landscape, Grand Prix could also be forcing further shifts on this continent and for powers and participants in German, Holland, France, Spain and the UK to name a few.

MXGP is ripening, and sponsors both inside the industry and external (Italian car giants Fiat a noticeable inclusion in 2016) continue to be attracted by the mix of exhilaration, diversity (sand? hard-pack? mudder? ruts? jumps?) accessibility and relatively low costs compared to other international motorcycle racing series. For several years the premier class has narrowed to the domain of the factories and as long as the big six are swept along by the promise of new markets (Indonesia and Russia, back again) and exposure then budgets will be scraped to rack-up the kilometres.

Stretching the sport involves a quantity of risk. Can France cope with two MXGPs? One in the north at Ernee and the southeast at Villars means a suitable distance between both. Can Italy really host three? With Arco, Maggiora and San Marino all situated along the northern stretch of the country. Indonesia is the wild card and while there is undoubtedly an audience in that region of Asia waiting for Grand Prix to visit will the new build at Pangkal Pinang draw the same kind of derision that seemed to greet the new build of Suphan Buri last incarnation of the Thai Grand Prix in March?

It is a risk of quality versus quantity and this is transition MXGP is currently wading through as it seizes the shooting buds of speculation from backers and possible growth around it. Whether Grand Prix stretches to 19 or 20 slots there will eventually be a moment for evaluation and whether the constitution of the sport can match the ambition for it. The very essence of motocross also starts to morph: can a rider really attack, take risks and push limits when the roll of dates and races means injury prevention would be a wiser tactic? The styles of Romain Febvre and Tim Gajser in the 17 and 18 round championships in the last two years indicates that this would not be the case but the elongation of the schedule means that very narrow balancing act between fire and fitness shrinks even more for the main players.

Photo by Ray Archer

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