Calvin Vlaanderen becomes third 2022 winner with first MXGP triumph in Sardegna

Round eight of the 2022 MXGP World Championship threw up unexpected winners, and contrast between the two Grand Prix classes. 

Calvin Vlaanderen celebrates maiden MXGP victory at 2022 MXGP of Sardegna. - Yamaha Racing.

RIOLA Sardo hosted the MXGP of Sardegna for the second year in succession over the weekend, and while the MX2 class saw two epic battles between title rivals, the premier class was dominated by an unlikely winner. 

Jorge Prado entered the MXGP of Sardegna on the back foot. He missed the last Grand Prix in Maggiora on the weekend previous to Sardegna due to a dislocated shoulder. Even for Riola, Prado’s participation was only confirmed on the Thursday before the race by the factory GasGas team. But, nonetheless, Prado assumed his usual spot at the end of the weekend, as he stood on the podium for the sixth time in the first eight races of 2022. 

But, the riders alongside Prado on the rostrum at the end of Sunday’s racing were entirely unexpected. 

Calvin Vlaanderen had never finished on the podium in the MXGP class before the MXGP of Sardegna. His last GP victory was in Indonesia 2018 when he rode for Honda in MX2. But, he dominated the first moto with a display of superior sand riding and fitness. 

Vlaanderen took advantage of a fitness-compromised Prado late-on in race one, and did not stop there. Tim Gajser had led the first race quite comfortably until the last four laps. Despite pressure from Prado early on, he withstood it, and seemed to have the win in hand before Vlaanderen’s late charge began. When he arrived on Gajser’s rear wheel, the Slovenian offered no resistance to Vlaanderen, who went through and took a relatively straightforward first MXGP moto win in the end, lapping seconds faster than the rest of the field in the closing stages. 

After winning the first race, the overall win was on for Vlaanderen in race two, and starting fourth meant he had the potential to get to the front. And so he did, passing Ruben Fernnadez, Glenn Coldenhoff and finally Jorge Prado before setting off to an advantage of around 10 seconds before taking the second race win, and the overall with it. A perfect 1-1, taken on merit, while riding a step above the rest of the gate; not a bad way to take a maiden premier class Grand Prix win. 

As well as Vlaanderen's first ever MXGP-class win, it was the first for Yamaha in the premier class in 2022. The closest any of their factory riders had come this year was when Maxime Renaux tied Tim Gajser in Argentina, but lost out as Gajser won the second moto. Additionally, Vlaanderen's win made him only the third rider to win in 2022, after the aforementioned Gajser, and Jorge Prado; and he has become the only rider other than Gajser to score 50 points in a top class Grand Prix in 2022, after Gajser went 1-1 at the last three GPs before Riola.

After a disappointing first moto that began with a crash in the second turn, Glenn Coldenhoff’s third place on the podium was also a surprise. The Dutchman is obviously confident in the sand, but nonetheless after a difficult Maggiora and complicated first moto, seeing Coldenhoff on the box was somewhat unexpected. 

It was certainly a surprise to see Tim Gajser off the podium. The Slovenian looked at his usual dominant best until the clock hit zero in race one. Then, Vlaanderen passed him, and the second moto did not go to plan at all for Gajser, who lacked speed and then crashed. MX Vice tweeted mid-race that Gajser had been sick in the week before the Grand Prix of Sardegna, and that would go some way to explaining his relatively poor performance - especially at what might be the toughest race on the calendar, with deep sand combining with intense heat for a physical test that rivals even Lommel. 

It was not a disaster, championship-wise, though, for Gajser, who missed the podium for the first time this season in Sardegna, which was also the first GP where he had failed to score a race win. In the championship points, Gajser dropped only two points to Maxime Renaux, who was his closest challenger coming into Riola Sardo. That means Gajser goes to the MXGP of Spain in Arroyomolinos in two weeks’ time with a 79-point lead in the title race over the Frenchman.

While MXGP was dominated by one rider, MX2 was dominated by two. And, similarly, while MXGP’s domination came from a somewhat unexpected source, those who dominated the MX2 class in Sardegna were entirely predictable. 

Back in 2020, Jago Geerts and Tom Vialle were the class of the field. They produced a fantastic championship battle, which in the end went the way of the Frenchman, Vialle, who took his first title thanks to a combination of his speed and his consistency, the latter of which Geerts was unable to match. 

Geerts has definitely improved since 2020, and that is why the title race is as close as it is. Six points separated Geerts and Vialle coming into Sardegna in the favour of the Belgian, Geerts, and it is the same gap in the same direction leaving the Italian island after a win and a second place apiece for the two title combatants in Riola. 

The first race went the way of Geerts after a difficult start for Vialle. The Frenchman on his KTM showed great intensity in the early stages of that first race to come through to second place and close down Geerts. The two pulled away from the rest of the field to the tune of 40 seconds by the end of the race, with Vialle never getting close enough to mount a serious challenge to his Yamaha-mounted rival. 

In race two, the situation was the same, but with the direction reversed. Vialle made a good start, while Geerts had work to do. It was Thibault Benistant - race one’s ‘best of the rest’ - who made the holeshot, but Vialle was past his compatriot relatively quickly. 

Geerts new that he could not afford to waste too much time behind his factory Yamaha teammate, and indeed lost very little behind Benistant. What happened over the next 25 minutes or so was pure majesty from the title rivals. By the end of race two, they had 38 seconds in hand on Benistant (whose 3-3 was enough for third overall), and were almost never separated by more than 1.5 seconds. 

Only mistakes allowed one or the other to make any serious advantage, which can often be down to a one-line or simple track design. But, in this case, it was down to the level to which Geerts and Vialle were pushing each other to. It was reminiscent of Jonathan Rea and Toprak Razgatlioglu in 2021’s WorldSBK season; their rivalry pushed them (relatively speaking) far above everyone else, and the same is the case this year between Geerts and Vialle, with moto two in Sardegna being the prime example of that. 

They often traded fastest laps, and Geerts - who was behind in the second moto - was all over the track in so many corners trying to find a more efficient line than Vialle. But, ultimately, Vialle was effective at collecting up his mistakes and driving out of them with good momentum. And, when traffic came into play at the end, it was Vialle who was more efficient getting through them. Geerts could not get close enough, and the race two win gave Vialle the overall, too, as he tied with Geerts on 47 points in Sardegna. We are lucky they are racing at the same time - if it was just one without the other, Gajser’s MXGP domination would be being repeated in MX2 at the moment.