The Grand Prix of France and Round 12 of 18 in the 2021 FIM Motocross World Championship saw Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Jeffrey Herlings and Tom Vialle own the MXGP and MX2 classes together for the fourth time this season.
Lacapelle Marival, scene of the popular and traditional pre-season international race, welcomed Grand Prix action for the first time this century. The MXGP and the MX2 classes had to acclimatize to a narrow, twist and bumpy hard-packed course that placed extra emphasis on race starts for podium contention. A vibrant atmosphere was created by a 25,000 crowd (weekend figure), most of whom could get near the action and the close trackside fences.
Jeffrey Herlings’ eighth Pole Position of the season was also his fourth in a row and after clocking the fastest time in Turkey, Sardinia and Germany previously. The Dutchman roared clear to lead seven laps of 19 in the first moto before Romain Febvre’s superior pace dropped him to 2nd. By the end of the race Herlings was on the charge again and reduced a seven second deficit to just seven-tenths of a second by the finish line. Tony Cairoli, amazingly competing at Lacapelle for the first time in his 18-year career, rode to 5th place ahead of Tim Gajser. Jorge Prado, racing one week after surgery to fix a cut on his upper arm, managed to collect 5 points for 16th.
Cairoli blazed to the holeshot in the second moto but the Sicilian is still struggling with his left rib injury and had no answer to the speed of Herlings, Febvre and Gajser. 4th by the flag meant 5th overall. Herlings led, diced with Febvre and then produced a tense but thrilling move with only minutes remaining to claim the win both on the track and with the overall points for the day. Prado was able to improve his pace to finish 12th for 14th in the final ranking.
The 2021 MXGP title dispute is still tremendously close. Herlings has the red plate for the second time but by only 6 points over Febvre, with Gajser 10 away in 3rd. Prado is 4th and 62 adrift while Cairoli is still in the game in 5th and 73 from the top.
Jeffrey Herlings: “A pretty good day. I already knew this morning that Romain would be good here and I had to step up my game. The set-up I had for the first moto was pretty hard and there were a lot of off-cambers I was struggling with some arm-pump. Romain made a pass and I had to let him go. At the end of the moto I tried to close him back but I was just a bit too late. He won fair and square.
“I had another good start in the second moto and tried to pull away but it was tough. I entered a turn too hard and just washed out a front wheel; luckily I didn’t lose too much time and again managed to close it back down to Romain. We had a bit of bar-banging with the pass but I knew on this track you had to make a statement. I won the moto and the overall and now I’m looking forward to next weekend.”
Tony Cairoli: “It seemed better today compared to last week in Germany but I’m still struggling a lot. It’s four weeks now since I’ve been able to ride during the week. I didn’t do much before Sardinia because I knew it would be a heavy GP but then I crashed and haven’t trained since. I cannot do much cardio either because the ribs hurt. It’s hard to keep my condition like it was before. Today I was 5th in the first moto and could push until the end but in the second I started to suffer. It was good to get the holeshot in the second and be 3rd. I was riding a bit conservative but Gajser was chasing me a lot and I started to get cramps in my side and back. It was hard to hang on anymore. It was a shame to be 4th because another few laps would have given me the podium. I have to accept that things are not easy for me at the moment in this condition and with the training. I can only hope that this week I can do a bit more than I could recently and regain some more speed with the bike.”
Jorge Prado: “Coming here this weekend I didn’t know if I could even ride the bike but I had the mentality to try. I’m in the fight for the championship and to get some points is something. After these two motos the cut looks okay and it’s not worse. It was a rough day because I didn’t feel there was much strength in the arm.
“I didn’t get a good lap in Timed Practice, so I didn’t get a good gate and then actually touched the gate for both starts with my front wheel! I did what I could, and I began to feel better in the second moto. We got some valuable points and now we’ll get ready for the home GP because I want to bounce back as soon as possible.”
Mattia Guadagnini sealed his first Pole Position of the season – and the first of his Grand Prix career – in a bright morning warm-up. The Italian had the first pick in the gate but had his teammates close with both Rene Hofer and Tom Vialle also in the top six.
In the first moto it was Vialle who seized the holeshot and rode clear in front of an appreciative home crowd to his eighth moto win of the year and sixth from the last nine. Guadagnini was able to finish 2nd after Jago Geerts’ crash and Hofer made his way to 7th in a competition with few position changes.
Vialle was the man to catch again in the second moto. His fantastic start again provided another big assist and he went on to record his third 1-1 of the year unchallenged. Guadagnini was 3rd for the sixth trophy of his rookie campaign as runner-up and Hofer captured 5th for 6th overall.
Vialle is still 4th in the world championship but now only 21 points behind Guadagnini in the battle for the top three. Hofer is 7th and 3 points from further promotion.
Tom Vialle: “A really nice day. It’s the first time I’ve won the French GP and it’s amazing to ride in front of the public. Last year we didn’t have many fans at the races, so this was very nice. I had a bit more pressure than a ‘normal’ GP today but I managed to do good. The starts were really important. The track was sketchy and I don’t think this was my best GP in terms of riding but I’m really happy to win both motos again.”
Mattia Guadagnini: “I’m happy to be back on the podium and to come back from a bad weekend in Germany both for the results and my riding. We did a great job today. Taking Pole Position was important for the start and I had a very decent gate pick. The track made passing difficult but I was pleased to go 2-3. I lost a bit of rhythm towards the end of the second moto but it’s positive to be back on the podium.”
Rene Hofer: “Coming here I thought it would be better for passing but it turned out to be pretty one-line. The starts were quite OK and I was happier with the second race because my pace was good and 5th place was quite solid. I made a few mistakes in the first race and that was the key moment because I couldn’t make the passes. We can definitely keep on progressing and we gained pretty good points for the championship. My confidence is up and I feel much better compared to the beginning of the season. I haven’t ridden the next track in Spain but I like the look of it. We’ll put in the hard work this week and will be ready to go again.”
MXGP moves rapidly to central Spain this week for the second Grand Prix at the Intu Xanadú Arroyomolinos circuit southeast of Madrid.