So much hype about the first round of the MXGP World Motocross Championship. So much attention on two riders, Ryan Villopoto and Antonio Cairoli. Yet there was Max Nagl on the new Husqvarna, blasting under the radar to take an accomplished double on the tough Qatar dirt.
The German moved from Honda to the factory Husqvarna team over the winter and though quick, was perhaps considered a contender and a possible winner, certainly not a dominant double winner. Even he can’t have thought he would lead every lap of both events and take a superb first win of the season.
He was shadowed by Belgian Clement Desalle on the Rockstar Suzuki in Race 1 after the perennial runner up in the series managed to nip past Cairoli’s Red Bull KTM after a few laps. Desalle pushed hard and closed the gap to Nagl. The German made one or two mistakes on the treacherously bumpy and difficult track, but the Suzuki man just did not have enough left to take the win.
For the second race Nagl took the holeshot by a distance yet again, certainly the Red Bull Husqvarna seems to gate as well as any bike out there. Max developed a small gap over Gautier Paulin on the HRC Honda with Desalle and Cairoli in close attendance. They might have been close but there was simply no stopping Nagl, who rode away again to take a dream result. Desalle took advantage of a small mistake by Paulin to take a good second, a great start to the year for the ever consistent Suzuki star.
The two race format means the riders can sometimes finish on equal scores as Paulin and Cairoli did, with the Honda riding Frenchman awarded the final podium slot after Desalle as a result of his better finish in the final race.
What of the two most talked guys before the race? Well Villopoto stalled his Monster Kawasaki at the start, but rode well to get through the field for a ninth place race one finish. In the second race he at least got away well but made little improvement on that good start and was mired down in 8th place at the end admitting he was unhappy with the results but promising things can only get better!
As for Cairoli, a dominant qualifying race win looked to set him up well, but he was caught and passed by Desalle in race 1 for third and a finished a battling 4th in the second. This is the style of a consistent champion though, he will be concerned about the dominace of Nagl here, but long term you still have to bet on Antonio.
MX2, the 250 class was all about Jeffrey Herlings, the Dutchman having suffered injuries last year won both race for Red Bull KTM and was visibly teary as a result after battling through so much adversity in recent months.
The first race was not all plain sailing though for Herlings, caught and passed by Kawasaki riding Frenchman Dylan Ferrandis, Herlings had to dig deep to find the extra pace to win. He managed it superbly and took the win from Ferrandis, and sensation of the race Julien Lieber on a Yamaha, who like his counterparts in the USA 250 class was having a great ride on the blue bike.
The track was as big a rider here as anyone though, tough, rutted and bumpy. It claimed many victims in both races. Notably reigning champion Jordi Tixier, on his first ride for Monster Kawasaki fell victim, as did Ferrandis and also Briton Max Anstie, all falling from good positions on the man-made hard pack Qatar dirt.
Up front though Herlings stroked it home, as he has done so many times in the past, the double world champion surely a good bet for the title again this year. Plaudits to Lieber though, in a race where lots of people fell, the Belgian brought it home second. One to watch here methinks.