The gloves came off last time out in Great Britain but will the hostilities between Red Bull KTM team-mates Jeffrey Herlings and Tony Cairoli carry on into the MXGP of France at St Jean d’Angely this weekend?
Herlings came away from the UK with another one-one scorecard – his third double in a row making it an incredible 11 wins from 12 races – to extend his MXGP championship lead to 54 points as we head into the halfway point of the championship.
It was the manner in which he achieved it that provoked controversy – contact in race one with the defending champion left Cairoli on the ground. The Italian isn’t afraid of a bit of bump and grind so will payback be on the cards this weekend?
For a lover of hard-pack, Cairoli hasn’t had the best results around the steep hills and plunging descents of St Jean d’Angely in recent years. By contrast, Herlings – who’s been brought up in sand – has taken double wins here in MX2 the last two times the world championship has paid a visit.
The last two MXGP winners at St Jean d’Angely have been home hero Romain Febvre (Monster Energy Yamaha) in 2016 and Belgium’s Clement Desalle (Monster Energy Kawasaki) in 2014. Realistically, they’re the main candidates for third place on the podium this weekend along with Tim Gajser (Team HRC) and Gautier Paulin (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna) but Herlings starts favourite and his team-mate isn’t far behind.
As far as British hopes go in the premier MXGP class, Tommy Searle (Bike It DRT Kawasaki) holds the bragging rights after Matterley Basin but without home support a top-10 finish will be a windfall for him. Max Anstie (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna) will also be looking for a good result alongside Shaun Simpson (Wilvo Yamaha) and Graeme Irwin (Hitachi ASA KTM UK).
MX2 will be disputed between Red Bull KTM team-mates Pauls Jonass and Jordi Prado. Between them they have won eight out of nine overalls with defending champion Jonass holding a 28-point lead over the teenaged Spaniard.
Starts will be crucial and Britain’s Ben Watson (Kemea Yamaha), after struggling out of the gate at Matterley, will need to be super-sharp in France if he’s going to reel in third-placed Thomas Kjer Olsen (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna).
Watson will also have to look behind him to Calvin Vlaanderen (Team HRC) who is 45 points in arrears but coming off the back of two podium finishes.
After a lot of early promise, other British hopes in MX2 have stalled with Adam Sterry (F&H Kawasaki) – who was battling an ankle injury – not coming out for race two at Matterley following a solid race-one 12th and Conrad Mewse (Hitachi ASA KTM UK) slipping to 13th in the championship with a disappointing 19th overall at his home GP.
If you want to look for British podium prospects then EMX250 is the class for you where Martin Barr (REVO Husqvarna UK) leads his team-mate Mel Pocock by three points in the standings. Chuck in Steven Clarke (Carglass Honda) – who took the overall at Matterley Basin – and there’s every chance that our national anthem will be playing in France this weekend.