It is funny in a way, as the previous round of the FIM Motocross World Championship feels like it was run quite a while ago. Perhaps the two weekends off are the reason for that? Anyway, just in case there are some fans that have forgotten, there are extremely exciting stories to follow in both classes. It is certainly a good time to pay close attention to the MXGP campaign.
Jeffrey Herlings is obviously the heavy favourite to win again this weekend, based on the data that has been collected thus far. The surface may not necessarily play to his strengths, as it will be hard-baked and slick, but then it will not be too dissimilar to what the riders experienced at the Grand Prix of Trentino and everyone remembers how the premier division played out there. It is difficult to identify a single weakness that Jeffrey Herlings has, especially now that his starts are dialled in. Why would one not pick him as the favourite to win in Russia?
The advantage that Jeffrey Herlings is sat on in the standings could grow to more than twenty-five points by Wednesday, which would be a boost. Having a gap that is more than a single moto would alleviate some of the pressure and be quite the statement. Antonio Cairoli would have to panic slightly more than he has been when that happens, right? The pair were tied following the Grand Prix of La Comunitat Valenciana, after all, and that was only two rounds ago. Things have changed drastically in the last month. The fourth place that Cairoli had in Italy is part of the reason for that – it sticks out like a sore thumb on his scorecard!
It is unlikely that anyone will stop those two from ending in first and second over the next two days, simply because no one has managed it so far. Clement Desalle is the next in line though, as he has proven to be the best of the rest thus far. Desalle won the Russian fixture last year and should fare well on the slick surface, which will be completely different to what they raced on twelve months ago, so is a safe bet to take third overall. Strong cases could be made for Romain Febvre, Gautier Paulin and Tim Gajser though. The former appears to be particularly fired up entering the event.
One point that will be intriguing to follow in the premier division is that Max Anstie, of the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing squad, will return to racing. Anstie started riding last Saturday and has piloted his FC 450 a couple of times since, so will not be at his best and start working into this thing. It will be most interesting to track his progress in the coming weeks though, as one would presume that he will eventually join the aforementioned group. The times and results that he logged prior to his injury certainly support that sentiment. Heck, the riding was actually better than the numbers may indicate.
It almost feels like everyone has found their place in the premier division, as the results are fairly similar every single week, but the MX2 class is the complete opposite. It was not too long ago that all bench-racing discussions revolved around Pauls Jonass potentially going undefeated, but now Jorge Prado has all of the momentum and a shot at claiming the red plate. Things can change so quickly in the FIM Motocross World Championship, hence why it is important to keep up with everything that goes on daily.
The small break should have helped Jonass hit the reset button. It can be easy for things like that to snowball out of control when a rider is working through a rigorous travel schedule, so breaks are welcomed. The Grand Prix of Russia could actually be a huge turning point in the MX2 class, looking at the series as a whole, as the door is open for one of the Red Bull KTM riders to take control. Jorge Prado is arguably the favourite, based on what transpired in Italy and Portugal, but Jonass could halt his charge and reassert his dominance. It is certainly an intriguing dynamic and one that should continue to provide entertainment across the next four months.
Behind those two heavyweights, a lot of eyes are going to be on Ben Watson. Watson has stolen headlines with his raw bursts of speed and is extremely close to a podium finish. Could it happen alongside the Black Sea? There is no reason to question whether he is capable now, as he has proven that he can contend on all surfaces. Vsevolod Brylyakov, his teammate, will also have his sights set on a podium finish though, seeing as he has inched closer to the top three at the last couple of rounds. The amount of support that he will receive will surpass anything that has been witnessed in the FIM Motocross World Championship thus far.
A final note to consider is that Thomas Covington will be on track, so it will be intriguing to see just how close to one hundred percent he is. Covington confirmed exclusively to MX Vice that he rode twice this week and did not have too many issues, which was almost unexpected, so it seems that he will be able to garner some solid points on Russian soil. It is great to have some positive news on the injury front for once and, hey, Pietramurata was a good one for him. Orlyonok is not too far from that, as mentioned previously.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: KTM Images/Ray Archer