Team Suzuki World MXGP threw the covers off a special 1992 retro design for their home Grand Prix at Lommel in Belgium and Kevin Strijbos took the lively-livered RM-Z450 to a first overall victory of the season today for what was the 14th appointment of 18 on the 2016 calendar.
Strijbos emotionally grasped his first win since 2007 with a 3-3 scorecard and also the maiden success for Stefan Everts’ crew since the change of management late last year. The deep, devouring and rough sand was surrounded by 25,000 fans and covered by cloudy skies but warm temperatures.
Suzuki also toasted a memorable weekend with Jeremy Seewer finishing second in MX2 and Bas Vaessen winning both motos and the ninth round of the EMX250 Championship.
Strijbos made a good show on Saturday by finding an effective rhythm that drew him past a number of GP peers and up to third position in the Qualification Heat. It was the second top-three qualifying classification for the Belgian in a week and in his second outing since recovering from an injured left wrist.
The 30-year-old was comfortable and content on the Factory RM-Z450 through some of the roughest and hardest (technical and physical) terrain on the schedule so far. The ‘#22’ was also aware that the conditions would push the limits of his race preparation and stamina, an area which he was still trying to boost in the wake of the injury.
In the first dash, Strijbos gated brightly and was close to the top five. While Max Nagl and Shaun Simpson broke free, Strijbos took part in an entertaining tussle with Romain Febvre, Clement Desalle and Tony Cairoli. Series leader Tim Gajser was also part of the pack until crashing down to 15th. Strijbos had a strong pace in the closing laps and timed his push well to grab third and consolidate the position until the chequered flag for his first top-three result of the season.
The second race again saw Strijbos proactive: The former world championship runner-up made another beneficial start and he lapped comfortably behind Tony Cairoli and ahead of Jeremy Van Horebeek to manage another third place and earn the top-step of the final podium by just one point. It was his first triumph since 2007, at Lierop in the Netherlands. Strijbos now holds 10th in the championship standings.
Arminas Jasikonis was contesting just his second Grand Prix in Suzuki colours and on terrain where he felt more accustomed compared to the slippery hard-pack of Loket in the Czech Republic last week. The tall 18-year-old already recorded a decent eighth place in Saturday’s qualification heat and then went on to take 11th overall today. In the first moto, the Lithuanian was unlucky to crash on the first lap and was a considerable distance at the back of the pack. His effort from 34th to 16th was entirely commendable and ensured yet more points. In the second moto, the youngster classified eighth for his first MXGP top-10 and after a strong and resilient performance.
“To be honest we did not expect this and Kevin was coming back from injury,” said General Manager Stefan Everts. “I joked to someone in the team this morning that today would give us two wins and a podium; and it did! Maybe not in the order I was imagining as I hoped Jeremy could win his first GP but in the end it was Kevin and Jeremy was second; either way was great! So this was a little surprise but Kevin showed good fighting spirit – which I like – and in the second moto when Max crashed I thought ‘now we can get the victory’. The last nine minutes were very ‘stressy’ and I almost didn’t want to hope too much. Kevin was really emotional when he came in and saw the team and I think a weight fell from his shoulders. Hopefully this can give him some extra confidence for the last GPs of the year.”
MXGP now moves south and east to Switzerland for only the second time this century and the brand new circuit of Frauenfeld-Gachnang for round 15 and the third event in three weeks for the series.
“This is good, so nice. I really don’t have the words for my feelings at the moment. In the first moto I ran with Max but then had to drop my speed a bit, which I wasn’t happy with, but found a rhythm again by the end. In the second moto I had to catch-up but I had some good lines and when I got to third I thought about the podium…and then tried not to think about it! All the crew were out of the pitbox on the last lap [saying] that I had won the GP. This is a special moment and it has been a long time since I was last on top; nine years and many of the young guys here were not even in GPs then! I’m so stoked for the team because we have worked so hard and not had any results until now; it was tough for them too.”
“A really, really good day for me. The first moto was not great but the second race was a big surprise and I have never ridden so well in my life. I’m still a rookie but this is just the beginning and I’m going to work really hard to reach my goals. I didn’t ride here last year but the bumps were really small – like whoops! – and it was really tough and took a lot of energy…I could still find a good rhythm though.”