Round six of the 2016 FIM MXGP Motocross World Championship takes place around the wide and fast soil of Kegums this weekend for the Grand Prix of Latvia; and will be the first of three consecutive races with events in Germany and Italy to follow.
Team Suzuki World MXGP and MX2 will near full-strength with Ben Townley re-joining Kevin Strijbos back in the MXGP fold after missing recent trips to Argentina and Mexico and Jeremy Seewer hunting more podium glory in the MX2 category.
For Townley, Kegums – the 2014 Motocross of Nations site – will be an important meeting to get back into the pace and rhythm of Grand Prix after a virus sidelined him in the wake of round three at Valkenswaard in the Netherlands over Easter weekend. The 31 year old had impressed at round two in Thailand with Pole Position and second place in the second moto; still the team’s best classification so far this season.
Says Townley: “It has been a turbulent month and it feels like a lot of little things have happened to stop us making forward steps and showing potential, but since I came back and started to feel better, then we’ve done some good work.
“There is still no set explanation for what it was,” he continues. “It came from the Flu after Thailand, but just left me wanting to sleep all day with no energy whatsoever. I saw a cardiologist, specialists, sought herbal solutions – everything – but it just needed a passage of time to clear. It is frustrating.”
Townley has been riding and honing the works RM-Z450 in the past two weeks and had a positive showing at the ADAC MX Masters opening fixture at Drehna in Germany last Sunday. On the same weekend, Strijbos owned both motos for a perfect score in the first event of the Dutch national series at Mill in Holland. Overall there are positive signs ahead of Kegums, and after the team has been able to sculpt the current race machines further in terms of set-up.
“The team has drawn a line in the sand when it came to our technical direction,” says Townley. “I hadn’t really been able to test to my full capacity before, but lately we found some good solutions. It has all been about feeling comfortable on the bike because that is the main ‘fix’ to be able to go fast. As most people know, I haven’t been riding that much over the last couple of years and it has taken me this period to gel with the bike and work-out the best way forward. I felt I was missing drive over some obstacles and also in slightly softer ground. We worked on that and looked at the shock and I’m very happy with where we are.”
While Jeremy Seewer flies the flag high in MX2 – with four podium finishes from the five rounds to-date – and remains the only rider in the exhaust fumes of runaway leader Jeffrey Herlings, Townley has had to admit that his aspirations on MXGP title-success in 2016 have now been damaged by his forced absence. “It’s out of the window now and my perspective on this season has changed. My only goal at the moment is to get through the next Grand Prix and see how I feel over Saturday and Sunday and then go from there.”
Strijbos is currently seventh in the MXGP points table and is eying progress up the leaderboard and into the top five. The Belgian has decent memories of Kegums, having scored a second place at the track last year (the 2015 edition saw Suzuki’s sole triumph of the campaign with former rider Glenn Coldenhoff walking the top of the podium). He also won a moto at the 2014 Motocross of Nations. “It was a decent day at Mill and came about because we’d done a bit of work with the engine and I was feeling good on the bike; it is coming at a good time because I like Kegums,” the 30 year old says. “Some nice races in the past and I hear the weather forecast is not so positive and that’s great for me! Kegums is even better in the wet.”
A staple venue on the MXGP calendar, the Kegums layout boasts some big jumps, a tricky waves section and a curious, loose soil that is almost sandy in texture but can also rough-up into hard ruts, low berms and rippling bumps. Traction and dealing with a slippery surface underneath the softer stuff are usually the main issues surrounding a visit to the circuit around 60km outside of the capital city of Riga.
“It’s my first visit and I’m looking forward to trying something new. It looks soft and wide and a bit of a challenge,” voiced ‘newcomer’ Townley.
Seewer has been joined in recent weeks by team-mate Brian Hsu. The youngster is back on the RM-Z250 and is lapping and training in his recovery from a badly broken left wrist, sustained last November. The former World and European Champion is still dealing with some discomfort and lack of flexibility in the joint and the team is carefully measuring his progress with a view to a racing return once he feels fast and fit enough.
Seewer currently has no such issues: The Swiss has started 2016 with a rapid rate of achievement and Kegums will see #‘91’ attempting to fill his cupboard with a fifth set of silverware on the bounce.
As Strijbos intimated, the weather prediction for the Kegums area is not entirely pleasant with an outlook of cloudy conditions, showers and temperatures in the mid ‘teens for the weekend.
MXGP World Championship Standings (after 5 of 18 rounds): 1. Romain Febvre (FRA, YAM), 219 points; 2. Tim Gajser (SLO, HON), 216 p.; 3. Antonio Cairoli (ITA, KTM), 171 p.; 4. Evgeny Bobryshev (RUS, HON), 170 p.; 5. Maximilian Nagl (GER, HUS), 165 p.; 6. Jeremy Van Horebeek (BEL, YAM), 162 p.; 7. Kevin Strijbos (BEL, Suzuki World MXGP), 127 p.; 8. Shaun Simpson (GBR, KTM), 122 p.; 9. Glenn Coldenhoff (NED, KTM), 104 p.; 10. Tommy Searle (GBR, KAW), 98 p.; 11. Valentin Guillod (SUI, YAM), 97 p.; 12. Clement Desalle (BEL, KAW), 79 p.; 13. Christophe Charlier (FRA, HUS), 72 p.; 14. Jose Butron (ESP, KTM), 61 p.; 15. Milko Potisek (FRA, YAM), 59 p.; 16. Ben Townley (NZL, Suzuki World MXGP), 49 p.
MX2 World Championship Standings (after 5 of 18 rounds): 1. Jeffrey Herlings (NED, KTM), 250 points; 2. Jeremy Seewer (SUI, Suzuki World MX2), 192 p.; 3. Pauls Jonass (LAT, KTM), 166 p.; 4. Aleksandr Tonkov (RUS, YAM), 163 p.; 5. Petar Petrov (BUL, KAW), 132 p.; 6. Benoit Paturel (FRA, YAM), 126 p.; 7. Vsevolod Brylyakov (RUS, KAW), 121 p.; 8. Samuele Bernardini (ITA, TM), 117 p.; 9. Alvin Östlund (SWE, YAM), 89 p.; 10. Max Anstie (GBR, HUS), 82 p.