The 2021 FIM Motocross World Championship fires into life this weekend so let’s take a brief look at who the favoured stars are in our MXGP and MX2 class shakedowns…
After a delayed start of 10 weeks, the MXGP championship we’ve all been waiting for explodes into action this weekend at the high-speed hardpack circuit of Orlyonok in Russia.
Think of Russia and you probably get pictures of miserable faces, huge forests, cold weather, half-melted nuclear plants and dancing bears riding tricycles while wearing furry hats in your mind (just me?). But Orlyonok breaks all those stereotypes as the Children’s Centre where the circuit has been constructed is nestled in greenery to the east of the Black Sea in the very south of the country – it’s closer to Iran than Moscow – and is stunningly beautiful kinda like those misleading pictures you see in Mail Order Bride catalogues. Am I right? Ah, just me again…
Perhaps the best part about round one being over there is that when the circus comes over here to Matterley Basin for round two, it’ll be the first time that the majority of the series supporters get to see all the magical MXGP newness for the very first time. And those of us that live on this island won’t even have to endure an overpriced nasal probing to enjoy it. Now, that’s an exciting prospect!
The rest of the calendar is equally as enticing (nasal probes aside) with trips to classics like Maggiora, Loket, Lommel, Agueda, Teustchenthal and Arco di Trento mixed in with old-school venue Oss and some potential new classics too. Of course, as Europe and the wider world emerges from lockdown at varying speeds there is still the potential that things may yet change before the championship wraps up in Bali on the first weekend of December.
The championship will run a one-day format in 2021 much like it did post-Covid in 2020. That means limited track time and timed qualifying before the points-payers blast off the line. The riders actually seem to prefer that format though rather than the drawn out two-day format of old. EMX competition will take place on Saturdays with MXGP/MX2 racing focused on the Sunday.
The MXGP class is stacked this year with no fewer than seven world champions in the lineup who between them have an incredible 22 world titles. Throw in those with near misses and the guys with the potential to be a world champion and even breaking into the top 15 will be quite the achievement. The depth of talent is higher than ever and choosing a winner from this lot is next to impossible.
If there were a #1 plate it’d be stuck on the HRC Honda of Tim Gajser. The 24-year-old Slovenian is a four-time world champion with half of those victories coming in the last two seasons. You could say that he’s on a roll but you could also say that those last two wins have come because of injuries to others. Maybe they are but maybes don’t win world championships – points do and Gajser is adept at collecting more than anyone else.
It’s crazy to think that the guy who finished second both those years has twice as many MXGP silver medals as he does GP wins. Monster Energy Yamaha’s Jeremy Seewer is the model of consistency but unless he starts winning more – nope, once isn’t enough – then you have to feel that he’s not a true contender for the title. Jeremy fell 202 points short in 2019 and 102 short in 2020 so although he was best of the rest didn’t have Tim sweating the result.
So let’s get back to the contenders and the first port of call has to be Red Bull KTM. There are two Red Bull KTM teams with Jeffrey Herlings in one and Tony Cairoli and Jorge Prado in the other. That’s three great champions with a massive 15 titles (plus a heap of near misses) between them with the potential for winning more still huge.
Okay, age seems to be catching up with Cairoli – he’s now 35 years old and incredibly won his first title 16 years ago in 2005 – but he’s still capable of winning and did so several times in 2020! He has to know that time is running out if he’s to equal – or even beat – Stefan Everts’ incredible record of 10 world championship victories but he doesn’t seem to be too fazed and there is no sign of desperation.
On the other side of the coin, you’ve got Jeffrey Herlings who is always hungry to win although that seems to be his undoing at times. That said, the 2020 version of Jeffrey seemed smarter and after six rounds had eked out an incredible championship lead of 60 points without doing anything risky. The crash which wrote off his season happened on the first lap of practice while Jeffrey was easing himself into it.
It’s said a painful old injury was to blame for Herlings’ undoing and so rather than return too soon, Jeffrey went under the knife to get that injury fixed meaning he could come into 2021 fully healthy as he tries to hunt down his fifth world title. His British Championship round wildcard win at Lyng wasn’t as dominant as we’d have expected but that was his first race in eight months.
MXGP rookie Jorge Prado surprised many in his maiden term on the 450 as not only did he get to grips with the bigger bike but he won on it too – convincingly. The Spaniard’s season was cut short by a positive Covid-19 test at Lommel that came right after he won the second of three GPs there – he did look a little peaky on the podium.
At that point in the season, he had his sights set on snatching series second from Seewer but it just wasn’t to be. The 20-year-old two-time MX2 champ will be out to make amends in 2021 and you’d be foolish to think that he couldn’t lift the winner’s trophy at the end of it all.
Of the other former world champions – Pauls Jonass, Jordi Tixier and Romain Febvre – you’d have to pick the Kawasaki-riding Frenchman as the one most likely to challenge for another FIM gold medal but as fast as he is, he never seems far from an injury and his last three attempts have all been thwarted by broken bones of some sort or another.
Pauls Jonass had a really good run as an MXGP-rookie in 2019 and finished second in several motos albeit on a Rockstar Energy Husqvarna. Letting you into a little secret now but the Factory GasGas isn’t all that different from the Factory Husqvarna and an injury-free Latvian could well challenge for race wins in 2021.
On the subject of the Kimi Raikkonen-owned team, they will be hoping for great things from class debutante Thomas Kjer Olsen and Arminas Jasikonis who’s back once again for another shot at MXGP glory. I say that like he’s an old-timer but he’s still only 23 – Olsen is four months older! Both are proven winners with AJ winning an MXGP moto in 2020 when everyone was still fully fit.
As well as Seewer and Ben Watson who we will come to in a bit, Monster Energy Yamaha have someone who can go from being the fastest rider on the planet to the invisible man in the blink of an eye and back again just as fast. Glenn Coldenhoff is certainly a conundrum that’s yet to be solved – can Monster Yamaha guide him to greatness? Time will tell…
British interest in the premier class sits with the Hoff’s teammate Ben Watson, his brother Nathan (Honda SR Motoblouz), class rookie Josh Gilbert (PAR Homes/Stebbings Husqvarna) and KTM riders Shaun Simpson (SS24 KTM) and Adam Sterry (Hitachi KTM Fuelled by Milwaukee).
Ben Watson had already been named by Tony Cairoli as one to watch in 2021 before he went out and beat Jeffrey Herlings at the second round of the Revo British Championship where they both wildcarded. Ben found amazing speed at the tail end of 2020 and was the fastest guy in MX2 on many an occasion, bagging GP wins on the wildly different surfaces of Lommel and Trentino. If he can carry that form – and level of confidence over – he’ll do better than fine.
Simpson, who missed the majority of 2020 with injuries, seems to be struggling to find a set-up that he’s happy with at the moment – although he made huge improvements at the recent MX Nationals round – and Sterry seems steady away from what we’ve seen of him in the British championship so far. Adam was knocking on the door of the top-10 at the season-enders in Trentino so there’s hope for a decent points haul from him in 2021.
Nathan Watson meanwhile is settling back into race mode after concentrating on dodging trees and winning beach races for the last few years. He’s one hell of a talent and has a good work ethic too so we should expect to see him scoring points regularly.
Josh Gilbert hasn’t been seen yet in 2021 after undergoing knee surgery in the off-season and he tells us he’s on track for a return soon (see the MXGP of Russia pre-race injury report for more). His team-mate Evgeny Bobryshev has been taken off the entry list after hurting his shoulder just before Lyng. Hmmm. Josh had a strong run in MX2 in 2020 and spent the tail end of the year battling it out for a top-20 ranking which he missed by a whisker. As an MXGP-class rookie with little bike time, Josh is likely to struggle a little early on but should score points when he hits his stride.
If Ben Watson is our great hope in MXGP, all the attention is on Conrad Mewse (Hitachi KTM Fuelled by Milwaukee) in MX2. The 21-year-old has been a bit of an enigma through his career so far and physically has the tools to get the job done but how bad does he want it? For almost a year Conrad has been working with four-time British Champion and former GP winner Stephen Sword and it seems to be paying off as the ’21 version of Conrad is faster, sharper and seems to be smiling more.
Mewse climbed to eighth in the 2020 world rankings and was regularly in the top six. We can assume the goal is to run top-five with anything above that considered a bonus – a win at Matterley would be lovely too and something he’s managed before in the EMX125 ranks only to have it ripped away from him for jumping on waved yellows. Ouch!
To top the podium, Conrad will have to defeat fleets of full-factory bikes including those of Red Bull KTM. The Austrian powerhouse is the master of MX2 not only with its unequalled machinery but also the strategy the team management employs. It has failed them before but just once…
Anyway, much like in MXGP, the might of the Austrian empire is split into two – a northern branch and the club-med division. The 2021 line-up of the northern team is the same as it was 12 months ago only now Tom Vialle is a world champion who will hope to be supported by Rene Hofer.
The final member of the crew is Italy’s Mattia Guadagnini, the former EMX125 champion who spectacularly crashed out of the 2020 EMX250 finale in his final ride for the Maddii Husqvarna team. Before that Mattia did try his hand in MX2 and had the best moto result of a sixth in race one at Faenza.
The dynamic between the three should be quite interesting as I feel that Guadagnini will feel ready to take the battle to Vialle and no doubt he’ll have the blessing of his team manager Claudio De Carli. It’s sure to be an interesting season…
Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing will run Jed Beaton and young Dutchman Kay de Wolf – the kid many feel is the next Jeffrey Herlings. De Wolf ranked fourth in the 2020 EMX250 series, losing out on third as he missed the races at the final round after crashing in Time Practice. While he came close several times, Kay never managed to win an EMX250 moto, or sneak an overall, which would have been nice to help set him up in the MX2 class.
Aussie Jed Beaton did win a moto in 2020 but failed to take a GP victory, cruelly falling a point short on two occasions. But that can only help motivate him to greater things and hopefully, it does sooner rather than later as he celebrated his 23rd birthday two weeks ago and will age out of MX2 at the end of the year. Has he got what it takes to become Australia’s first motocross world champion?
Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing field three riders who are very capable of challenging for the title in 2021 – 2020 silver medallist Jago Geerts, third-placed Maxime Renaux and runaway EMX250 champ Thibault Benistant. Wow. That’s quite a line-up.
All three have proven podium pace in the MX2 series and full-timers Geerts and Renaux both won motos in 2020 – in the Belgian’s case as many as world champion Tom Vialle (14). If Yamaha can’t win the MX2 world title in 2021 then it’s possibly never gonna happen – not in the fossil-fuel-burning years of MX2 anyway…
DIGA Procross GASGAS Factory Racing who have got Swede Isak Gifting and German wunderkind Simon Langenfelder fighting out of the red corner. Gifting was the replacement rider who just kept on giving in 2020 and scored GASGAS’ greatest results in the MX2 class to eventually rank 12th in the championship after missing the first eight rounds while he contested the EMX250 series on a KTM.
Langenfelder had been showing great promise in his rookie MX2 season until a torn knee ligament put him on the sidelines. Don’t be too surprised to see either of the Diga Procross team members on the MX2 podium in 2021.
Bike It MTX Kawasaki – that’s Steve Dixon’s squad – will be running former Australian champ Wilson Todd and British up n’ comer Taylor Hammal who’s a real product of the tier system.
Taylor first dipped his toe in the water at EMX85 level and has kept on keeping on ever since and his name has been a familiar sight on results sheets amongst current stars like Jorge Prado, Jago Geerts, Roan van de Moosdijk, Mikkel Haarup and even current MX2 world champ Tom Vialle who he soundly beat in the 2014 EMX85 championship. Even though he’s currently second in the British Championship, Taylor is still building as a rider and Steve Dixon’s team is the right place for him to take the next steps towards brilliance.
Wilson failed to show what he’s capable of in 2020 as he started on the backfoot, got injured, Covid happened and then he came back for a couple of the Trentino rounds. Interestingly enough, he started the year at Matterley with a DNF-13 scorecard and signed off at Trentino with the same result. Don’t be fooled though, he’s capable of oh-so-much more.
Wilson straight up beat Conrad Mewse in a moto at the British Championship season opener and then had forearm surgery that will reduce arm pump. He’s capable of running top five already but what will a better version of him be capable of?
The F&H Racing Team are running four riders in 2021 although perennially injured Dutchman Davy Pootjes will officially be classed as riding for the F&H Racing Shop. The main team consists of the ridiculously rapid trio – Mikkel Haarup, Mathys Boisrame and Roan van de Moosdijk who frequently all threw down hot laps in Time Practice.
That speed didn’t always translate too well into results and ultimately Van de Moosdijk was the team’s best with a series ranking of seventh which included a moto win at Lommel. Boisrame and Haarup had their seasons cut short through injury but not before they’d visited the podium. So in all fairness, these four are very capable of being front runners in 2021 especially since they are all so experienced at such a tender age.
Spaniard Ruben Fernandez and Welsh MX2 rookie Joel Rizzi will be representing the Honda 114 Motorsports squad. Fernandez showed good pace all year in 2020 on a variety of surfaces but suffered some catastrophic DNFs as the Yamaha just couldn’t seem to stand up to the Spaniard’s hard riding. With a good bike underneath him, Ruben could make a huge step forward in 2021 and be the next Spanish big thing in the 250 class – he’s certainly a big thing!
The move to MX2 is a big one for Rizzi who’s shown a huge amount of potential from a young age. The young Welshman struggled to a certain degree in last year’s EMX250 series and suffered from fatigue which caused him to withdraw from the latter part of the season. An incredible talent, Rizzi looks right at home on the Honda so let’s see how he goes…