Hey guys, my name is Justin Freund. I’m a pro rider from Missouri, but I’m sitting out supercross this season because of an injury last summer that didn’t allow me to train for supercross. Without all that traveling, and some gloomy weather, I’ve had a little extra time on my hands, so I figured I could put together a weekly article with some more in-depth information than you normally get out of a podium speech or a watered down magazine interview. This will be topics an average fan won’t be overwhelmed reading, but also contains some in-depth information for a more die-hard fan. Bear with me; I know I get too excited about this, so I might end up rambling at times. Similar to my riding, this won’t be perfect, but I hope everyone can get something out of it.
At first, I am going to talk about the World Championship Series (usually referred to as the GPs) and the Supercross series. Just a warning, this first week will probably be a lot longer than future articles, in order for me to give you a little more background on some riders and some other aspects of the series.
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES – ROUND 1 QATAR
First, I’ll start with the GPs since the first round was this weekend in Qatar. Obviously, there was quite a bit of buzz about it considering Ryan Villopoto was trying his hand on the European circuit. I must say what a comeback for Max Nagl! After last season, he was let go from Factory Honda because he was “old and fragile.” At 27 years old, it would be easy to think that he has already peaked in his racing career since he didn’t get the results expected on what most consider the elite factory team. However, he came out and surprised everyone with a 1-1 performance, leading every lap of both motos. Two years ago at Qatar, he had a case of food poisoning that ruined his entire season. Since that happened, he now travels to every round with a suitcase full of his own food from home to avoid having the same problem again, another hidden challenge of the GP’s. Prior to this season, Nagl spent ten years on KTMs, before his brief period on Hondas, but he is now on the Ice One Husqvarna team (this weekend was the team’s first GP win ever).
Although KTM and Husky are not identical bikes, most riders say the feel between the bikes on the track is extremely similar. Maybe that comfort is what he had been lacking the last few years at HRC. Obviously all factory bikes are fast but the KTM/Husky motor is known for being very strong. After qualifying Saturday, Nagl talked about how he likes having that seemingly endless amount of power. I do not want to take anything away from Nagl, but just like Anaheim 1, you can't put too much emphasis on the results from the first round of the season. One of Carmichael’s favorite phrases is, “you can’t win the championship at the first round but you can sure lose it.” Typically, the guys that think they have a serious shot at the title don’t give it their all during the first round, because they’re trying to get a race under their belt. These riders are content with a top five, and hope to be moving on to the next week with a solid weekend behind them.
Besides the nerves and jitters, the Qatar track was a treacherous one. As a whole, the riders didn’t have many positive comments about it, and all seemed happy to just get through the day. It was very slick and choppy (I will get into that more in a minute), and I believe that is why we didn’t see a lot of back-and-forth action. The riders seemed very tentative and there were many close calls. There were a few riders (the worst being Van Horbeek in the second moto) that swapped so hard down the mechanics area straight-away that made me tense up every time I would watch it. After the first moto, Jeremy Van Horebeek, #89, openly said he was taking absolutely no risks this weekend, because the track can reach up and bite you on any little mistake. David Philippaerts #19 said, “The jumps were too long. From me I think we need a meeting every Friday among the riders and we need to check the track. I think two or three guys had big problems today and I saw many others taking kickers or landing short. The jumps are not nice when you have to go full gas just to get over them. My hope is that we can have meetings and look over the tracks.”
I think part of this comment is due to the fact he blew out two sets of wheels throughout the weekend from coming up short on the jumps. Promoters seem to think fast guys like the big jumps but when you’re battling back and forth you don’t want to be worrying about making a massive jump. One or two really big ones are fine in my opinion, like Red Bud, but the Qatar track was littered with some massive leaps. One rider that had a bad experience with one of these big jumps was Max Anstie. They haven’t released any details yet but he said his bike quit while going off one of those big jumps and it was an ugly crash. He now has to sit out at least the next round if not a few more to recover. There is a video of the crash floating around the internet, and it’s worth a watch.
On the Move - Clement Desalle
The most impressive rider to me was Clement Desalle, #25. In the first moto, he passed Cairoli, who has been his kryptonite the last few years. To see him do that at the first round was awesome and had to feel good for him. It would be like Dungey straight up catching and passing Villopoto; it has happened, but it’s very rare. Desalle complained of a boot problem, which he said kept him from making a pass for the lead. I’m not sure what kind of boot problem could affect your riding THAT much, but I went back and watched his boots the entire moto and never saw anything substantially wrong with either of them.
In the second moto he started third with Cairoli right on his back fender and managed to put some distance on him. Then he made a pass on Gautier Paulin, which was a great feat in my eyes, because Paulin is in the main group of guys that have the best shot at the title this year (Cairoli, Villopoto, Desalle and Paulin), all of which Desalle beat both motos.
To prepare for this season, Desalle spent two months in California this winter so he could train, because as you can imagine, there isn’t much riding going on in Germany during the winter months. People that talked to him at Anaheim were convinced that he looked to be in much more in shape than ever before, and he was coming into the season with no nagging injuries; hopefully he can stay that way.
The Freshman - Ryan Villopoto
What seemed like a disastrous 9-8 day for Ryan Villopoto really wasn’t that bad. Everyone needs a little of Aaron Rodgers R-E-L-A-X speech. Remember when the New England Patriots got beat by the Miami Dolphins and everyone said Tom Brady needs to retire, then he went on to win the Superbowl. It’s a very long season and RV will rebound. Yes, his moto scores hurt to look at, but after seeing what he went through to get to that point leaves plenty of hope for the rest of the season. I am a firm believer that this series is the toughest it has been in many years, but if I had to pick one guy as the favorite it would have to be Cairoli (he also had a less than stellar weekend). As I mentioned before, you haven’t seen the best of these guys yet. Since Cairoli had 3-4 moto finishes, that only puts RV 13 points behind him, clearly helpful to RV at this point. Also, there has been quite a bit of speculation on how RV would do in the series. So, for him to start the season only 13 points behind someone, who in my opinion, will be his toughest competition, speaks volumes of what he is capable of. All of these guys can, and will, win races this year, but the #222 KTM of Cairoli is so consistent week in and week out, year after year.
Now, let me explain why RV’s unflattering results were better than they appear. In the first moto, his bike died on the start as he was coming across the gate. Rumor has it that it was an electrical issue related to their start device (similar to what comes stock on a KX 450) the team has been dealing with this off-season, but according to the engine builder at KRT (Kawasaki Racing Team) this is just a rumor. I have a hard time believing one of the best racers in the world just kills it on the start, but that could just be me. Also, it took him quite a few kicks to get the bike to start, even for the second moto, so I think someone is trying to cover up for something else. If that wasn’t bad enough, he wasn’t even able to finish the first lap without losing the front end and going down.
Once he got going, he managed to work up to 13th behind Jose Butron when the Spaniard gave him a “welcome to the GPs” love tap. Nothing dirty, from what I heard RV could have let off and avoided it, but Jose put a little extra effort in the bump anyway. Getting up from that, he was back in 19th. From there it seemed like he was really putting good laps together and picking guys off efficiently, working up to 9th.
In the second moto, he had about a tenth place start, not a great jump, and got pinched off pretty early down the start straight. He worked his way up to 7th and then he collected a rock in his brake pedal (judging by lap times, right around the halfway mark) and he slipped back to 8th.
RV’s Bike Set Up
I think one of his biggest issues right now is his bike setup. I’m not suspension technician, and I’ll be the first to admit that. In my own racing career, I’m just now learning how to really set up my bike and make race day changes, let alone watch someone else’s bike and point out flaws. However, there are a few obvious things you can see about Villopoto’s bike setup that is very different from the others. David Vuillemin has been very vocal about this topic, and has been preaching the same basic idea, like a few other racers who have also raced both the American series and the GP series. DV and others believe that you cannot take an American set up and race the GP series with it and expect it to work well. The main reason is that the track develops very differently. The weekend format is the main cause of this, because over here we do all of our racing on Saturday. Each rider gets two practices in the morning, and then the two motos in the afternoon. In the GPs, each rider gets two practices on Saturday and a qualifying race for gate pick. Then on Sunday, they get a “warm up” session in the morning, followed by their two motos for each class. They also run a women’s class at certain rounds, which adds another set of motos and three practice sessions. All of this is done with little to no track prep after the first practice session starts Saturday morning. If any section gets too dangerous, they will smooth something out but that is rare, however water is applied as needed throughout the weekend.
A lot of people think a rough track is the same as any other rough track, but that is not true by any means. The GP tracks generally end up getting hard-packed with very choppy, square-edged bumps in the ruts, and all the way down the straight-aways, the bike is never settled, and that is where bike setup is crucial. These GP guys have ridden this same style of track for years and have a set up dialed in; they run a more balanced and all around softer set up. DV actually had a conversation with RV at Anaheim 1, and told him that his setup (which is front end very high and the rear squatted so he can steer with the throttle) wouldn’t work over there and RV’s dad told him “that’s what we do, we pivot the bike with the throttle and we won a lot of championships like that. We will be just fine.”
It should be very interesting to see what changes he does make throughout the season, if he conforms to a more balanced set up or if they continue to try and make the rear steering work.
Instead of just flying to the next round straight from Qatar like most riders do, he and a few of his team members flew back to Belgium to do some suspension testing. There is a good chance he will get some things dialed in a little better but this also has a drawback. One of the hardest parts of the GP series is the insane amount of flying they have to do and he just added almost an entire day in an airport and on a plane. I feel like that says a lot about how off he felt his setting was, this also shows you how determined he is to get it fixed quick!
Emotional Win for Jeffrey Herlings
In the MX2 class, it was an emotional win for Jeffrey Herlings. He had only been on the bike for two and a half weeks leading up to the race and claimed his fitness was only at 60%. He didn’t have the insane speed that he had before he broke his leg last year but it wasn’t as far off as you would think. I think the tightness of the finishes were due to the competition getting better, not that Herlings was off his usual pace. His biggest competitor last year, Arnaud Tonus, is now racing the Monster Energy AMA Supercross series in America. However, taking the spot of Tonus is the Frenchman, Dylan Ferrandis. Ferrandis is one of the few European riders who is making a strong push to come to the United States to race the Supercross series (he even flew here in October to race the Monster Cup, and did surprisingly well). A world title would surely give him the power to make that happen. Last year Ferrandis beat Herlings at round one in Qatar and I thought we might have had a repeat on our hands when he caught and passed him, leading seven laps. However, Herlings managed to get him back with a few laps to go.
Keep Your Eye On Pauls Jonass
One guy to keep an eye on is Pauls Jonass. He is a young kid coming up under the KTM wing that has raised some of the youngest, fastest riders in the world the last few years. KTM is confident he will be the next big thing for the MX2 class after Herlings moves out. He only managed a 9-4 in Qatar, because of a few mistakes, but his speed was there.
Belgians Have Speed
Julien Lieber was the real stand out rider to me with 3-2 finishes. I’ll be honest I don’t remember hearing about him last year at all, so the Belgians speed really caught me off guard. His fastest lap time in the second moto was only 0.2 seconds slower than Herlings fastest time, and was only 3 seconds behind him at the end of the moto. Not many riders can say they have ever finished that close behind Herlings.
NEXT WEEK – Nakhonchaisri Circuit, Thailand
I’ve seen some pictures of the Nakhonchaisri Circuit (track) in Thailand for round 2 this coming weekend, and it looks really neat. It is built on a small road race circuit, and the track itself should be very interesting. It is hard to tell what the dirt looks like underneath, but they hauled in enough sand to make a 6-8 inch layer on top around the entire track. If the original dirt underneath is decent, this should turn it into a more American style track (good news for Villopoto fans). If it is hard and slick underneath with that layer of sand on top it will be similar to a Millville or Glen Helen. Although it seemed relatively flat, and if it is loamy underneath, it will probably shape up more like Red Bud. The weather in Thailand is known for being very hot and humid which is exactly what RV has trained in at his Florida house the last few years. Either way a new track is always exciting.
MONSTER ENERGY AMA SUPERCROSS – ATLANTA 2
This second week in Atlanta seemed somewhat strange. The track was tricky, because it went from very tacky and chewed out in practice to more of a hard, slick surface for the night show. That’s a tough transition to make on a track where timing is so critical. The track as whole was deceiving in my opinion. Just looking at an overview of it, there was only one whoop section and only two short rhythm lanes, one of which only had five jumps so it was looking like it was going to be an easy track.
The top guys make any track look easy, but once I saw guys on it that I know are good riders, but not quite factory level, it made me realize how tough the track actually was. All the little things that normally aren’t super tough caused a lot of mistakes. The whoops ended up being monsters that took down many guys in practice, including Mitchell Oldenburg who took a vicious tumble resulting in a concussion (no word on if he will be cleared to race this weekend at Daytona or not). The two sand sections were just tough enough to really throw off your flow and rhythm. Spectators sometimes look as a sand section and think it’s the easiest spot on the track. They might even think it’s a great place to catch your breathe if you’re racing, but that usually isn’t the case in SX. Your bike is set up for tight turns instead of stability, and unless you live in Florida, you probably don’t ride in any sand from the beginning of your supercross training until you switch to outdoor stuff after Vegas. The track just didn’t seem like it had any flow and all of the obstacles seemed to be just a little different than normal. I’m not saying this is a bad thing at all, but you could tell it was throwing the riders off just a little.
250SX East – Two Man Race
In the Lites Class, it’s looking like we have two riders that are separating themselves from the rest of the field. Jeremy Martin and Marvin Musquin have taken all three wins so far this season; they were all pretty convincing wins also (I’ll talk about them more next week as I feel these two will really give us something to talk about next week at Daytona). Justin Bogle is just off their pace, but this last weekend his fastest lap time in the main was only about a tenth of a second off the fastest time of the main. I think he will be able to get a win before this thing is over; he is right there in points standings, sitting only 10 back from Musquin, the leader.
Jimmy Decotis had a great night, after running up front most of the main he started slipping back a bit, but on the last lap he made an extremely gutsy pass on a very tired Arnaud Tonus. Before the rhythm lane, where guys were going triple double, he ran it in on Tonus and couldn’t make it stick. Arnaud was able to triple, double, but Jimmy didn’t have the drive to make the tough triple. Instead, he went double then tripled into the inside on very tight turn, a line that hadn’t been done successfully all night and was VERY risky. After the race Decotis said he was really tired, but he knew Tonus was even more tired (Tonus actually went and got an IV for fluids after the race, he ended up having extremely low blood sugar, Hopefully we will hear more about this as they find out more). A fifth was so much better than a sixth to him so, Decotis was willing to risk it that late in the race on just one more spot.
When asked about his lackluster results the first two rounds, Decotis said that he did all the right things this off-season. He worked his butt off during the off-season, so his expectations were much higher than they had been which created too much pressure for him. I’ve been around Jimmy a bit and he’s a super nice guy, and you can tell he loves what he’s doing. It’s no secret that he had a bad reputation in the pits for not training hard enough and partying a little. He has really turned it around the last two years, and I think now that the pressure is off it will really start to show for him. For a little guy, he is really good in the whoops and he is always one of the first guys to jump a gnarly rhythm, I look for his results to be right on the bubble of the top five the rest of the season.
450SX – The Other Race Class
The 450 class was another strange and interesting race, but a little boring at the same time. Chad Reed got off to a good start (on my favorite retro style bikes of the weekend), and I really thought the style of the track was going to help him get another win. Not that he needed help, but he hasn’t always been the fastest this season, with how technical the track was and how it was tough to pass on he would have be able to stay out front without being the fastest guy on the track. Halfway through the first lap, Chad made a mistake in a turn, that gave Weston Peick the drive to get next to him, and REALLY scrub the triple hard to get by Chad. When Chad lost his balance in a rut and went down on lap two, it gave Weston some breathing room allowing him to ride his own race and not tighten up so he could hold onto the lead for a few more laps.
Riding with a torn MCL is impressive, let alone leading your first laps ever in your career. When JGR signed Peick in the off-season, Jeremy Albrecht was very open that it was something Yamaha wanted more than JGR. JGR were happy having Justin Barcia, and didn’t really care who else they had. We are halfway through the season, and I feel that they have gotten better results, and more exposure from Weston but on about a fifth of the salary.
The best battle all night was between the two Honda stablemates: Trey Canard and Eli Tomac. I wish Fox Sports would have shown more of that battle because they fought each other throughout the entire main, two of the most aggressive and intense guys on the track ending with Tomac getting past Trey in the final few laps when Trey went off the track off camera.
Roczen’s ankle and foot injury has totally derailed his championship chances in my opinion; it would take some very bizarre circumstances for him to be able to pull this off at this point. Dungey is so far ahead of him in the points, and if something happened to Ryan, Trey would be next in line to take the points lead (sitting 13 points ahead of Ken right now). They are now saying there is ligament damage, which is much worse than a break. The best way to heal it would be to immobilize the joint during the week, and just show up to race on the weekend but that is tough decision to make in the middle of the series. To not be able to practice at all, while everyone else is constantly improving their bike set up and keeping their fitness top notch throughout the week, would be tough to recover from. There are some very tough decisions to be made from that camp in the near future.
Next Week – Daytona SX
Daytona could end up being a big factor in the title chase. As of now, it’s looking like it’s going to be a mudder, that means absolutely anything can happen. Mr. consistent, Dungey, could suck some water in his motor and DNF. Then Canard would be right on him in the points again. I’ve ridden Daytona when it was a flooded swamp in 2012, and it was an absolute mess. The track builders generally dig down into the ground in some sections and all those low spots will hold water all day and all night long. I’ve seen a few pictures of the track being built earlier this week, and I’m not sure if they were planning on rain, but it seems like they haven’t dug down on any sections yet, so maybe everything will be above ground and not hold any water, if they do get the rain they have been calling for
I think Jeremy Martin and Marvin Musquin will be on another level than the rest of the field on the gnarly sandy track, and I personally feel Martin will edge out Marvin. The 450 class could show us some new guys in the top five, especially if Roczen is as sore as he seemed last week and staying off the bike during the week, he might struggle on a tougher track. Someone like Blake Baggett could work his way up a little farther for being more of an outdoor guy and the same for Tomac.
I look forward to this race all year, I hope it lives up to the hype, talk to you guys next week!