The halfway point of the season saw the Hitachi ASA KTM UK Team head to south western France to put on a show in front of packed stands for the technical track’s comeback on the world stage. The team’s MX2 rider, Conrad Mewse, thrived when confronted with the challenge and proved to be right back on track after a tricky few weekends, while Graeme Irwin fought hard to the finish in each MXGP moto to only just miss out on points in a difficult afternoon in the premier class.
The lone French round is known to pose quite a challenge through its technical hard pack scattered with stones but by the time Sunday arrived, overnight rain threw a spanner in the works to make conditions even rougher.
Despite the tough conditions, Mewse was truly back at the sharp end with fifth in the qualifying session and then fighting hard to recover after a poor start in the first moto. The number 426 was down in 16th place at the start but he swiftly started making up places – up to 12th by lap two and fending off a sizeable group. Breaking into the top ten posed more of a challenge as a significant gap appeared at the front but the halfway point of the race saw Mewse snatch the final top ten position. Once there, he stretched a safe gap to his pursuers and started closing in fast on the duo battling for eighth. Aided by a late tumble for Henry Jacobi and a strategic last lap move on Michele Cervellin, Mewse brought his KTM 250 SX-F home in seventh position.
Some of the mud cleared by the time race two got underway but after a good launch out the gate, the first lap chaos dropped Mewse back towards the end of the top twenty. Soon enough he found himself fighting championship leader Pauls Jonass, who had an early tumble from the lead. Mewse tried to keep on the Latvian’s tail as he was making his way back through the field and by lap nine he was knocking on the doors of the top ten. The British rider was on fire for the final half of the race and made light work of a five-second gap to Simone Furlotti and Stephen Rubini to find himself once again chasing Michele Cervellin for eighth position. This time Mewse finished ninth, with only three tenths of a second separating the two rivals at the finish line.
Poleman Thomas Covington continued a strong display in France with a win in the first moto but Jorge Prado fought back to dominate race two and take his fourth grand prix victory of the season, shrinking the championship gap to teammate Pauls Jonass to only 16 points. Mewse stays 13th in the world title chase after finishing eighth overall in France.
Graeme Irwin continued his comeback with a hard fought moto in St Jean d’Angély. The number 55 rider had qualified 20th and held station at the start of race one, not getting much of a chance to improve as he had plenty of challengers attempting to demote him straight away. A large part of the first moto was spent in close company of Jose Butron and Tanel Leok before Irwin had to give up the chase and settle for 23rd position.
The second moto saw a drier surface but the different conditions were not of much more help to the number 55, with a difficult start forcing him to stage a comeback from 28th position. Within six laps that turned into 24th and with a doable gap to the rider ahead but a significant 13 seconds to find to get any closer to the top 20. A steady ride saw him and his KTM 450 SX-F get within a second of Klemen Gercar before inheriting 23rd place from the Slovenian then finally helping himself to 21st as more rivals started struggling in the final few minutes.
Red Bull KTM’s Jeffrey Herlings reasserted his dominance this season to steal a double victory and take his lead in the championship to 62 points.
The Hitachi ASA KTM UK returns to action next weekend (June 17) for Round 11 of the world championship in the picturesque setting of Lombardia, Italy.
Photos by RAY ARCHER