This is it! The FIM Motocross World Championship is well into the final run now, following the completion of the Grand Prix of Switzerland. The sixteenth round of twenty did not stray too much from what has now become normality, as Jeffrey Herlings and Jorge Prado reigned supreme. The picture is certainly becoming a lot clearer with each moto that passes.
It is surprising that Jeffrey Herlings can still impress pundits, even after taking victories in twenty-five of the thirty motos that he has contested this season. The way that he charged from dead last to sixth in the qualifying heat was just incredible. Frauenfeld-Gachnang is typically a track that causes the racing to tighten up a tad and there were indeed smaller gaps in the practice sessions, as well as in that race on Saturday. Herlings was the one rider who could still go considerably faster than the competition, even though the track was not quite as rough or technical on day one, though. Fourteen seconds separated him from the eventual winner at the chequered flag.
This then prompted various discussions about what would have happened had it been a full-length moto, which were presented to the man himself in an exclusive MX Vice interview. Jeffrey Herlings gracefully said that winning would have been a long shot in that scenario, although second would have been a possibility, but the numbers make it seem as though he could have made it happen. Herlings was around three seconds quicker than anyone else on the final lap of qualification, so just imagine if there was another ten minutes left and he sustained that pace? It would have been very exciting. The real motos on Sunday were not quite as enthralling, as he kept things well under control and increased his advantage to fifty-eight points.
The collarbone injury that Jeffrey Herlings sustained in June may end up being a blessing, funnily enough, as he is more than likely going to take the crown at his home Grand Prix at Assen in a little more than three weeks. Had he not got injured in what was a freak deal, it is most likely that he would have a lead of more than a hundred points and would then be in line to celebrate in Turkey next week. The atmosphere would obviously not be quite as electric there. It would still be better to get it done as early as possible though, he would claim, seeing as a lot could happen in the two weeks between rounds eighteen and nineteen.
It is actually important that no one rules out the possibility of Herlings taking the title in Turkey, even with everything that has happened to him this season, as all he needs is a gap of one hundred points at the end of the second moto at that event. Now that it is unknown whether Antonio Cairoli will be able to push for a position on the podium in the coming weeks, it may not be out of the question. If Herlings sweeps the next four motos and Cairoli garners twenty-eight points at each round, just like he did in Switzerland, then that would be enough for this thing to end two rounds early. KTM will certainly take banners and t-shirts to Eastern Europe so that they are prepared.
There was actually another guy who did not have a problem making progress at Frauenfeld-Gachnang. Max Anstie was lucky to not crash off the start of the first moto but was way down the order anyway, so had a ton of work to do, and worked his way up to the top five with relative ease. The head injury that effectively wrecked the start of his season is in the rear-view mirror, which is hardly breaking news, and he has become a firm fixture in the top five once again. It is a shame when thinking about what could have been, because had he not crashed at RedSand then he would be tangled in the battle for a top-five spot in the points. It is actually likely that he would be ahead of his Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing teammate.
Speaking of Gautier Paulin, things are not exactly getting better. It is shocking how far he has fallen from a top-five ranking in the points and he could even end up losing sixth to Glenn Coldenhoff. Considering that there have been no big crashes or niggling injuries to speak of, the fact that he has not finished inside of the top five in a moto since that trip to Indonesia is just puzzling. Paulin will be on the move next season in a switch that will surprise some fans, but there are much crazier things going on in the paddock. Silly season is certainly living up to its name this time around. A majority of spots are filled and, unfortunately, there are a gaggle of riders who are still trying to put something together.
Is Gautier Paulin going to land on the podium at all through the last four rounds? It honestly seems unlikely, although doing so would silence some doubters. Contract discussions, plus all of the Motocross of Nations chatter, must have taken their toll on him mentally in recent weeks. The former seems to be in the rear-view mirror now, but questions will continue to be asked about whether or not he deserves to lead Team France into battle. It is not like those fans will change their minds if he takes third overall in Bulgaria, but at least he will have some success to point to. The last podium finish that he had, which was at the Grand Prix of Lombardia, is a distant memory.
It is possible to turn things around quite quickly, just look at how Pauls Jonass did at the Grand Prix of Switzerland. The weekend was not perfect for Jonass, which was what he needed, but it was a huge step in the right direction and helped him stop the bleeding a little bit. A mistake in the second moto was what most chose to focus on though, as it took him a little while to find his rhythm again. This has been a common theme and something that some believe has led to his downfall. I gingerly asked him that question in the MX Vice podcast on Sunday evening and in a shocking turn of events he actually recognised it as an issue! Who saw that coming?
"Yeah, maybe yes," Pauls Jonass told MX Vice exclusively. "Like today I had the mistake. I tried one straight to breathe to get back in the rhythm and then attack again. It did not work this time. Maybe for me it is something to work on, after the mistakes that I can be back in the rhythm earlier and faster. I need to keep working. I am not worried. I just want to do my best for the rest of the season. Still eight motos, which is a lot. Everything can happen. I can lose many points. Jorge can also lose some points. That is motocross. That is racing. I will do my best to win this title, to close the gap."
Even typing this now, it is incredible that a guy was actually happy to admit a fault like that. It is so rare! It is not like he would still have the series lead, if he was quicker to get moving again, but he may have gained a few more points along the way and face less of a deficit. There are four rounds to go and he is clearly not worried, but this thing is out of his hands now. If he wins the last eight motos then that will not be enough to get the championship, as it will depend on what Jorge Prado does. Calvin Vlaanderen, Thomas Kjer Olsen, Ben Watson and Thomas Covington have proven that they can get between the pair though.
Hunter Lawrence is actually another guy who could split the Red Bull KTM riders. Now that it is finally clear what the deal is with his 114 Motorsports Honda, which is not on the same level as the factory bikes in the class, it is easier sympathise with him and understand why the results that he has had in recent weeks have been a little wayward. The honest answers that Lawrence gave in the MX Vice podcast also shed some light on why Bas Vaessen has not quite hit the heights that some expect. Vaessen showed flashes of potential with Suzuki World MX2 last year and most were excited to see if Livia Lancelot could harness that.
It has been a turbulent campaign and one that has not exactly been noteworthy for either guy. If Lawrence is struggling with his CRF250R then one would presume that Vaessen is in the same position, if not facing more problems. Not everyone is on factory machinery though, so perhaps no exceptions should be made? Lawrence put his 114 Motorsports steed up on the podium, after all, so there are many ways to assess the situation. It is so clear why Lawrence is so motivated to race the Motocross of Nations now though, because he will want to prove what he can do with a capable machine between his legs. Imagine if he goes out there and handles Jorge Prado with relative ease? It would open up a can of worms.
It is actually crazy just how much Motocross of Nations talk is going on at the moment. It seems that is where are at now though, as the FIM Motocross World Championship is drawing to a close quite quickly. The Grand Prix in Bulgaria and Turkey will go by in the blink of an eye and then a champion will be crowned within a matter of days. Enjoy the action whilst you can.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: Monster Energy Media/Ray Archer