Answering the burning questions ahead of Qatar's opening round.
With the 2016 MXGP series kicking off this weekend on 27 February in Qatar, MotoOnline.com.au answers a selection of pre-season questions regarding the top riders in the field.
Where will Ben Townley fit in as a fulltime MXGP rider in 2016?
I would expect a calculated start from Suzuki World MXGP’s Ben Townley, who’s had a career riddled with injuries and unfortunate situations. The Kiwi rider is older and wiser at this point in his career upon return to racing, but he’s also super fast as we saw with his 2015 Motocross of Nations performance. He knows he has the speed, so it will be about him getting comfortable and slowly pushing the pace. Once settled, don’t be surprised if Townley finds himself on the podium quite quickly.
Was Romain Febvre’s title-winning rookie season a one-off?
Febvre is the real deal, you can’t deny that he’s one impressive human being on a motorcycle. Yes, his 2015 MXGP world title did come as a surprise to many being his rookie season and he really hadn’t set the world on fire in MX2 before that. But he will return with the Monster Energy Yamaha Factory MXGP team, so the equipment will be familiar, as will his surroundings with the team and personnel. That combined with the amount of confidence he will enter the year with, you’d be crazy to count him out as a possible two-time title winner. It’s important to note that Febvre did suffer a pre-season injury just a few weeks ago, but it shouldn’t be something that will hinder his performance come round one.
Will Antonio Cairoli regain his premier class crown?
Cairoli isn’t an eight-time world champion for no reason – he’s super fast, very experienced and very smart out on the racetrack. But the issue I see for Cairoli is that his competitors have been picking up their game big time in previous years, the playing field is being leveled out slowly. He has dealt with injuries in recent times, so that has to be taken into account, but overall it just seems that his fellow racers are making headway compared to in years past. If the Red Bull KTM rider is at 100 percent health, he’s dangerous, can he win the 2016 championship? Sure, but it won’t be made easy for him at all.
How will 2015 MX2 world champion Tim Gajser fare in the premier class?
At just 19 years of age, Gajser clinched his first MX2 championship and immediately made the decision to dive into the MXGP category for 2016 – no title defence, just right on to the next goal. The Slovenian rider will receive HRC backing for 2016, whilst still pitting under the Gariboldi Honda team truck. So we know his equipment will be of the highest level, his team will be familiar, the rider is the same. Is it a recipe for success? We’ll have to wait and see. The move to the 450 can at times be a struggle for certain riders, but we saw Febvre win in his rookie season, so why can’t Gajser do the same?
Can Jeffrey Herlings regain his MX2 class number one plate?
Herlings has not been able to catch a break lately and the amount of injuries he sustained in the past two seasons has been incredible. But he’s injury-free now and we all know that means he’s riding fast, aggressive and full of confidence. The Red Bull KTM rider is super talented, the way he attacks the track is something special, you definitely can’t count this guy out. If he remains healthy, he’s a hot favourite for the MX2 title, no doubt about it. The question is, can he remain healthy? It’s something that he hasn’t been able to do for some time, so that will be the deciding factor in 2016.
Who else should we watch for in the MXGP class when the gates drop in Qatar?
Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Max Nagl was leading the 2015 MXGP championship chase until disaster struck at the German round, forcing him out of the championship chase. The Team HRC duo of Gautier Paulin and Evgeny Bobryshev will be capable of moto wins, as will Townley’s Suzuki Wolrd MXGP teammate Kevin Strijbos. Febvre’s teammate Jeremy Van Horebeek will be strong at times, as will Red Bull KTM’s new recruit and previous race winner Glenn Coldenhoff. Wilvo/Virus/KTM’s Shaun Simpson is dangerous, he’s shown he has the speed to mix it up with the world’s best on any given day. Rookie Valentin Guillod, an MX2 title threat in 2015, will also join the MXGP class in 2016 with the Kemea Yamaha Yamalube team. You also can’t count out Monster Energy Kawasaki Racing Team riders Clement Desalle and Jordi Tixier, both riders are out with injuries currently, but you can guarantee they’ll be fast on return (Desalle might be in for round one).