There’s a new look to the ’03 world MX championship season – but who would bet against the old favourites?
THE 250cc MX GPs have proved a runaway for Mickael Pichon and Suzuki for the past two years but a new name – Motocross GP – and a new look have brought a new determination from the opposition to prevent MP’s hat-trick. The factories have had two years to prepare for the introduction of 450cc four-strokes to the now clearly ‘premier’ class. And although the smaller thumpers still looked well off the quarter-litre two-stroke pace at the end of 2002, the first outings this spring suggest that intensive winter development has brought them into the frame. Not only do Yamaha, KTM and Honda go into battle with significantly increased power from their 450s, they’ve also imported their best men to ride them. Stefan Everts has never looked so ready in the early season races since he was a kid, Joel Smets has lost none of his verve and outrageous pace as he approaches his 34th birthday and from the fall of the gate at Valence on February 16, Gordon Crockard showed that he is back slinging bombs after his nightmare ’02 campaign. Recent 500 GP toppers Marnicq Bervoets, Yves Demaria and Johnny Lindhe add a solid look to the four-stroke challenge along with the flamboyant Brian Jorgensen and Johnny Aubert. But none of them, with the possible exception of the enigmatic Demaria on occasions, would appear to be a potential champion. Pichon is clearly the main man defending two-stroke honour. His strengths are his complete professionalism with a perfect build-up of physical and mental perfection, combined with a development programme which has tailored his RM250 to his every need – even his KYB suspension is unique to him. But the Frenchman faces his most difficult campaign yet. In early February he was operated on to remove his appendix and the recovery time has taken a whole chunk out of his prep time. If he wins in Bellpuig the rest might just as well pack their bags – but at the moment it looks like he will be going there purely to survive. After a lone campaign in 2002, he gets double support this year from the returning Sven Breugelmans and teenage sensation Kevin Strijbos, who’s already impressed with a sixth in his 250 debut last August. The factories with four-strokes have not given up their two-stroke ambitions completely. Claudio Federici, finally cleared of doping charges, returns for Yamaha, Pit Beirer joins James Dobb on the factory KTM which still appears to lack the final ingredient at this level and Josh Coppins eventually decided to stay stroker as HGA promised CAS on-going development with the 250. Unfortunately, two broken ankles in America have wrecked his preparation. The dark horse is Kawasaki. The KX250 internals have been refined out of all recognition since last summer and Kenneth Gundersen was ripping at Valence. Lumberjack could well be the sensation of 2003. Britain also sends Carl Nunn and Marko Kovalainen into battle on Mike Church’s Kwackers, Paul Cooper campaigns a Honda for Trevor Avery and Steve Dixon has signed Mark Jones alongside Jason Higgs while Mark Eastwood will continue the fortnightly trek from Spain. The influx of stars to Motocross GP has denuded the 500 class (now called the 650s) but Smets and Demaria are pencilled in to double up for KTM and the Crock Star desperately wants to do the same for CAS. Any of them could become the first man ever to win two motocross GPs on the same day. The main opposition who will go into battle fresh (the 650s end the day at this year’s GPs and the sighting lap will follow immediately on from the MXGP podium) are Javier Garcia Vico for KTM and Jussi Vehvilainen for CAS, although likely lads James Noble and Roman Jelen will also want to have a word to say when it comes to sharing out the podiums. Britain also fields more good runners with Mark ‘Monster’ Hucklebridge on Tim Chambers’ KTM, Chris Burnham finally coming home to race Jim Redford’s Y-Bike Honda, Stu Flockhart getting another chance at RWJ and Glen Phillips hoping to convert home speed into GP pace on Embo’s Yam while Yoshitaka Atsuta has already settled into four-stroke mode. But the most thrilling action should come once again from the 125s, provided FIM race director Dave Nicoll can make sure the organisers don’t water the ***t out of the track as the smaller bikes go out first. As in Motocross GP, rule changes make this class a battle of the strokes with 250cc thumpers homologated for the first time at GP level. KTM are still working on the bike for Erik Eggens and Honda have decided not to play yet but Yamaha have brought experienced Chicco Chiodi and Andrea Bartolini back to the class to lead their effort alongside youngsters Josef Dobes and Rui Goncalves. The 125 strokers still have to be beaten however and neither defending champion Mickael Maschio – backed up this year on Kwacker by South Africans Wyatt Avis and Jarret De Jager as well as protege Antoine Meo – nor the KTM hordes are ready to surrender their patch. In theory, Steve Ramon is the Austrian’s top man after two successive silver medals – but a lack of gutsy commitment puts a question mark against his ability to grab the #1 plate. Ben Townley was seen as the heir apparent but injury makes the Kiwi possibly even doubtful for the Spanish opener – but Champ forces are still not exhausted. Marc De Reuver has already finished second to Smets in Qatar on a 250 and at Valence he passed Maschio in all three motos. The boy is more than just a sand expert! The list of KTM hopefuls continues with the Albion trio of Stephen Sword (who’s surely due a few podiums), Tom Church and Matt Winstanley, Y-Bike’s Wayne Smith plus the official KTM junior trio of Tyla Rattray, Tanel Leok and Jonathan Barragan as well as old-stager Chad Parker and Philippe Dupasquier on that strange – but successful – Swiss hybrid. Yamaha go with Luigi Seguy and Antoine Letellier but Billy Whizz could well end up as their best stroker pilot, unless the Scot decides to join Jeff Dement and Antti Kallonen on little thumpers. It will be action all the way from the end of March until mid-September. With the British Grand Prix at Rushmoor Arena in August cancelled, get yourselves across the Channel for some quality GP action. But, even if you don’t, dbr will keep you updated on the happenings on the world stage every month. Stay tuned… By Alex Hodgkinson
250cc two-stroke Geboers Suzuki – 1 Mickael Pichon (F), 43 Kevin Strijbos (B), Sven Breugelmans (B) Red Bull KTM – 7 Pit Beirer (D), 9 James Dobb (GB) Bruforce KTM – 10 Patrick Caps (B) CAS Honda – 5 Josh Coppins (NZ) Multitek Honda – 28 Paul Cooper (GB) Wiseco Honda – 55 Mark Eastwood (GB) De Carli Yamaha – 111 Claudio Federici (I) Dixon Yamaha – 58 Mark Jones (GB), 82 Jason Higgs (GB) De Groot Kawasaki – 12 Kenneth Gundersen (N), 20 Andrew McFarlane (Aus) MJ Church Kawasaki – 35 Marko Kovalainen (SF), 38 Carl Nunn (GB)
450cc four-stroke Red Bull KTM – 3 Joel Smets (B), 21 Yves Demaria (F) CAS Honda -19 Gordon Crockard (GB) Martin Honda – 30 Brian Jorgensen (DK) Rinaldi Yamaha – 6 Marnicq Bervoets (B), 72 Stefan Everts (B) Kurz-Casola Yamaha – 25 Johnny Aubert (F) Husqvarna Corse – 69 Johnny Lindhe (S)
125cc two-stroke De Groot Kawasaki – 1 Mickael Maschio (F) Satellite Kawasaki – 76 Wyatt Avis (SA), 81 Jarret De Jager (SA) Floride Kawasaki – Antoine Meo (F) Champ KTM – 8 Steve Ramon (B), 18 Ben Townley (NZ), 26 Marc De Reuver (NL) Bruforce KTM – 22 Tyla Rattray (SA), 54 Tanel Leok (EW), Jonathan Barragan (E) Albion KTM – 29 Stephen Sword (GB), 87 Tom Church (GB), Matt Winstanley (GB) Pubbly KTM – 36 Trampas Parker (USA) Y-Bike KTM – Wayne Smith (GB) Swiss Racing KTM – 11 Philippe Dupasquier (CH) JK Yamaha – 40 Luigi Seguy (F) RZ Yamaha – 50 Antoine Letellier (F) Dixon Yamaha – 56 Billy MacKenzie (GB) Delta Husqvarna – 32 Cristian Stevanini (I) Maddii Honda – 124 Manuel Monni (I)
250cc four-stroke Champ KTM – 39 Erik Eggens (NL) RZ Yamaha – 16 Andrea Bartolini (I) De Carli Yamaha – 23 Chicco Chiodi (I) Kurz-Casola Yamaha – 48 Josef Dobes (CZ), 70 Rui Goncalves (P) London Diamond Drilling Yamaha – 27 Jeff Dement (USA), 91 Antti Kallonen (SF)
650cc GP (all four-strokes) Red Bull KTM – 3 Joel Smets (B), 4 Javier Garcia Vico (E), 21 Yves Demaria (F) Chambers KTM – 109 Mark Hucklebridge (GB) CAS Honda – 14 Jussi Vehvilainen (SF), 78 Yoshitaka Atsuta (J) Martin Honda – 24 Roman Jelen (Slo) Sarholz Honda – 31 Avo Leok (EW) RWJ Honda – 33 James Noble (GB), 63 Stuart Flockhart (GB) Mega Honda – 37 Cedric Melotte (B) Y-Bike Honda – 41 Chris Burnham (GB) Martens Husaberg – 34 Danny Theybers (B), 51 Jocke Karlsson (S) London Diamond Drilling Yamaha – Glen Phillips (GB)