As MXGP returns to Italy, can Tim Gajser return to the top step?

This weekend the MXGP World Championship heads to Trentino, and the Pietramurata circuit, for round five of the 2022 season. 

Tim Gajser, 2022 MXGP of Portugal. - Honda Racing Corporation.

Last weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix was an important one in both MX2 and MXGP. 

Firstly, MXGP finally saw a new winner after Tim Gajser dominated the opening three GPs. A crash for the Slovenian in the qualifying race with fellow Honda rider Ruben Fernandez compromised the #243’s gate pick, which in turn compromised his start in the first moto. 

Gajser was able to come through to third place, but started his charge too late to overcome the duo in front: race winner Jorge Prado, and second-placed Brian Bogers. 

Gajser’s second moto had a better start, and he was quite quickly able to pass Prado on lap seven, and his winning margin was five seconds at the finish. 

Prado’s 1-2 beat Gajser’s 3-1, of course, meaning the Spaniard left Portugal as the winner. This was an important moment for the World Championship, especially with Trentino coming up this weekend. Gajser has been so strong in Pietramurata in the past, so breaking his momentum was crucial last weekend in Agueda for Prado. 

Prado will be hoping to keep that momentum going in his favour this weekend in Trentino, but Gajser won there twice in 2020, as well as in 2019, when he came out on top of a great battle with Tony Cairoli. But this weekend is a different Trentino than in the past, but we will get to that later. 

The MX2 title battle also enjoyed one of its most important Grands Prix of the season in Agueda last week. Tom Vialle won - his second GP win in succession - but Jago Geerts showed his potential in the second race. 

Geerts had crashed in the first moto early on, but was able to come back to ninth place, while Vialle was clear out front. 

The second moto was perhaps more representative of the situation of the championship, though, with Geerts able to click an extra gear when he ran out of tear-offs early on. It was an impressive display from Geerts, who quickly realised his situation and, simultaneously, realised that he would either have to get to the front to avoid the roost of Vialle, or drop back and concede even more points. Geerts chose the first option, dropped into some extra speed seemingly without too much added risk, and then kept that speed for the two or three laps after he passed Vialle. 

Undoubtedly, the victory for Vialle was a positive, but like Gajser in MXGP, Geerts was able to reaffirm his position as the rider to beat in the MX2 class with his race two performance. 

For Geerts, this early part of the season is important, because Vialle and KTM will surely only get stronger as the season goes on, as the new SX-F 250 gets more dialled in by Vialle and the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team, and Vialle himself continues to shake off the ‘rust’ of a winter compromised through injury.

It will be interesting to see how that dynamic between the two continues to develop as the season goes on, starting with this weekend in Trentino, which was the scene of Vialle’s 2020 MX2 title win.

As mentioned previously, though, Trentino will be different this weekend to how we have seen it in the past. The track will run in reverse compared to the conventional direction we have become accustomed to. Accordingly, the jumps have been altered, and overall it should make for a refreshing change to the venue which has had seven Grands Prix contested on its dirt since 2019. 

In that time, it has seen a number of different winners in both classes. Antonio Cairoli won the first of the 2020 races in Trentino, and that weekend was also when Clement Desalle took what turned out to be his final MXGP race victory. Tim Gajser won the second and third 2020 Grands Prix in Trentino, as well as the 2019 GP; while Jeremy Seewer, the aforementioned Cairoli, and Jeffrey Herlings won last year. Of course, neither Herlings nor Cairoli are present this year, and - at least in Agueda, Seewer did not seem to be fully recovered from his bell-ringing crash in the second Argentinian moto.

In MX2, the track has been favourable - and unfavourable, to be fair - to Vialle historically. He won his title there in 2020 in the first moto of the second GP. But, he also got taken out of the second race that day, did not score, and finished eighth overall. That year, the track also proved to be a good one for Yamaha in the 250 division, with Ben Watson winning the final Grand Prix of the season in 2020, ahead of Vialle, with Maxime Renaux also finishing on the podium that day. Additionally, in the 2020 Grand Prix of Pietramurata, Yamaha had four riders - Geerts, Watson, Benistant and Renaux - in the top five of the Grand Prix overall, with only Jed Beaton - then riding for Husqvarna - interrupting their domination that day. 

Also, Yamaha is the most recent MX2 World Championship winner in Trentino, as Maxime Renaux won the MXGP of Garda last year en route to the title. However, KTM did win twice in Trentino last season, once with Tom Vialle (with Geerts in second place), and once with the late Rene Hofer. 

Overall, it should be a fascinating Grand Prix this weekend, also because of the stories outside of the championship fight. In MXGP, Glenn Coldenhoff sought more flex in Agueda, and he won the MXGP qualifying race on Saturday, before almost finishing on the podium on Sunday. It will be interesting to see if he continues to be strong on the harder dirt of Trentino. 

Coldenhoff’s teammate, Maxime Renaux, proved that he is still a rookie in Agueda. Previously, he had only raced in Portugal once, and his relative lack of experience on the 450 as well meant the Portuguese GP was one to forget for the reigning MX2 World Champion. He will be looking to bounce back this weekend.

Additionally, Coldenhoff’s missed podium was to the benefit of Brian Bogers, who took his first premier class Grand Prix podium on his Standing Construct Husqvarna. Overall, Bogers’ start to the season has been strong, so look for him to continue that good form this weekend. 

Bogers’ teammate, Pauls Jonass, has also looked strong since his return to racing. He was good in Argentina, and unfortunate to miss the podium, but that perhaps led to an apparent underperformance in Agueda - a victim of his own success. The reality is that Jonass’ physical condition is still prohibiting the amount he can ride between races, and an unfortunately-timed illness only exaggerated that before Portugal. With only a week between Agueda and Trentino, that situation has probably not changed much.

In MX2, Mikkel Haarup will be looking for his third straight podium this weekend after a very strong start to life at DRT Kawasaki for the young Dane. With the impression Kevin Horgmo has made since moving to F&H Kawasaki for 2022, the situation with Haarup and DRT; and Horgmo and F&H can be compared, perhaps, to that between factory Kawasaki and Jason Anderson; and Star Racing Yamaha and Eli Tomac in AMA. 

In the latter case, Tomac left Kawasaki to go to Yamaha because he was unhappy at Kawasaki and the restrictions he felt were put on him with regards to what parts and setups he could try to improve his feeling, and since making the move he has been riding at least as well as he ever has in his career. On the other side, Jason Anderson left Rockstar Husqvarna at the end of 2021 where he had become unhappy, and filled the spot at the Kawasaki team where Tomac was unhappy in 2021. Since making the move, Anderson has been riding at least as well as he ever has.

Between Horgmo and Haarup, the case is slightly complicated by Horgmo’s return to EMX250, and Haarup’s injury struggles. But, Haarup was not getting on well in the F&H team in general - or at least that is how it seemed when Marc de Reuver was interviewed by Lewis Phillips over the off-season - and since moving to DRT, the Dane has scored two podiums and seems rejuvenated. On the other side, Horgmo struggled with his previous team in MX2 and never really contested for the top positions. He then moved back down to EMX250 for 2021, did well, and since returning to MX2 has been a top five rider for most of the season- with the exceptions of Matterley, and the second moto in Argentina.

Both cases, it seems, highlight the importance of the chemistry between team and rider in motocross. It also highlights how impressive the success of Red Bull KTM in MX2 has been. Since Antonio Cairoli won his second MX2 title with Yamaha in 2007, KTM have won every MX2 title with the exception of 2015 (Honda with Tim Gajser) and 2021 (Yamaha with Renaux). It is obvious to say that going to KTM equals winning a world title, but it is also possible to say that each one of the champions KTM has won with in MX2 has had to be able to work with the team, and vice versa. If the team was difficult to work with, or if it were bad at picking riders which it felt could work within its system, it would not have found the success it has.