Team France wins Motocross of Nations, Team GB takes top 10 finish

Team France delivered the ultimate prize in front of its home crowd in Ernee at the 2023 Motocross of Nations, while Team GB secured the top 10

Tom Vialle, 2023 Motocross of Nations. - Ray Archer/KTM

The 2023 Motocross of Nations will be remembered for many things, but chief among them was the domination of Team France.

It had been since the 2018 edition at Red Bud in the US that France had been without victory in the Motocross of Nations (MXoN). That victory five years ago brought to an end a domination of the event that had lasted since 2014, and the style of France’s victory on home soil last weekend threatens the beginning of a similar dominant period.

Kawasaki's Romain Febvre was perhaps the star attraction. The 2015 MXGP World Champion enjoyed his best World Championship season since that title-winning year in 2023, winning six Grands Prix and finishing second in the standings despite missing the MXGP of Spain due to a concussion picked up in that weekend’s qualifying race.

For those unfamiliar with the race’s format, the Motocross of Nations takes three riders from each nation, with each rider assigned to either the MXGP, MX2, or MX Open category. MXGP and MX Open riders race 450cc bikes (although, Belgium’s Liam Everts raced a KTM 350 SX-F in the Open class), and MX2 riders race 250cc bikes. There are three races: the first featuring the MXGP and MX2 riders; the second the MX2 and MX Open riders; and the third the MXGP and MX Open riders. Points are awarded in an ‘Olympic’ format (first place = one point, second place = two points, down to 40 points for 40th place), with the lowest score determining the winner. With two riders in three races, six results are scored per team, with the worst result dropped at the end of the day. 

Febvre opened the day in fine style for the French team, winning a classic duel in front of his 102,000-strong home crowd at Ernee with the aforementioned Prado in the opening MXGP-MX2 race. France’s MX2 rider, two-time MX2 World Champion Tom Vialle, took eighth in that opening race but was then able to follow Maxime Renaux home in a French 1-2 of the MX2-MX Open race. That left France way ahead of the competition heading into the third and final race, in which Renaux took a calm third place, and Febvre cruised to seventh. That meant Vialle’s eighth place from the first race was France’s dropped score, and they took an emphatic win with 14 points.

Tom Vialle, 2023 Motocross of Nations. Credit: Ray Archer/KTM

France’s margin of victory was a massive 20 points over Team Australia, even despite the Aussies’ undoubted star power in the form of Jett Lawrence, who famously went unbeaten in the AMA Pro Motocross 450MX championship this summer. Lawrence suffered with bad starts in both the MXGP qualifying race on Saturday and the opening MXGP-MX2 race on Sunday, when he crashed into the track-lining fence on the outside of the fourth turn after the start. From almost dead last, Lawrence hauled himself up to sixth place at the flag, passing five-time Motocross World Champion Tim Gajser in the final turn. In the closing MXGP-MX Open race, Lawrence finally made a strong start, and got his way to the front early on, going on to dominate the moto in a fashion that was all too familiar to those who had watched the aforementioned AMA series over the summer.

Australia’s second place was the team’s second podium in two years and the best result at the MXoN, as well as being the first podium for Dean Ferris on his sixth attempt at the race. Lawrence’s brother, Hunter, took 10-5 finishes as the team’s MX2 rider - this being his final race on a 250.

Team Italy were fancied by almost no one as a podium challenger in Ernee. The star quality of teams like Germany - with two-time AMA 450MX and 2011 MX2 World Champion Ken Roczen, and multiple-GP winner Simon Laengenfelder - and Spain - with 2023 MXGP World Champion Jorge Prado and GP winner Ruben Fernandez - pushing Italy down the on-paper rankings.

Andrea Adamo, 2023 Motocross of Nations. Credit: Ray Archer/KTM

Making things worse for Italy was the injury to Mattia Guadagnini - who was supposed to race the MXGP class - which ruled him out of the final MXGP of the season in Matterley Basin two weeks before the Nations. Guadagnini would have been the only remaining member of the 2021 Italian squad that won the Chamberlain Trophy on home soil in Mantova, but his injury meant that he had to be replaced by Andrea Bonacorsi.

Bonacorsi, though, turned out to be the star of the Italian show. Having ended the 2023 season as the EMX250 (European Championship) champion, 18-year-old Bonacorsi now had to make his MXoN debut and his 450 debut (riding for Yamaha, Bonacorsi did not have the luxury of a 350 as the aforementioned Everts) at the same time in the Open class. It was a successful debut in the end, as both his eighth in MX2-MX Open and his 11th in MXGP-MX Open were counted. Italy’s drop score actually came from the 2023 MX2 World Champion Andrea Adamo, who was 18th in the MXGP-MX2 race, but who also rebounded with a fourth in MX2-MX Open. The third member, Alberto Forato, took 12-8 scores to secure the bronze medal for Italy.

As for the aforementioned Germany and Spain, it was fourth and seventh, respectively, for them on the day. Germany’s MX Open rider, Tom Koch, was unable to crack the top 15 in either of his races, and Simon Laengenfelder could not finish inside the top 10, meaning that Ken Roczen’s individual overall triumph in the MXGP class was not enough to get Germany on the podium.

Jorge Prado, 2023 Motocross of Nations. - Juan Pablo Acevedo/GasGas

Team Spain, on the other hand, were let down by crashes for both Ruben Fernandez and Oriol Oliver, who was a late fill-in for the injured David Braceras in the MX2 class. With Oliver unable to crack the top 20, the pressure was all on Fernandez and Prado, but it was the former who faltered, crashing out of third place in the MX2-MX Open race to end up seventh, and then again in the MXGP-MX Open race in which he was classified 28th.

Belgium and Switzerland were fifth and sixth, respectively, while Team USA had a solid enough day considering the many limitations placed on its team selection but was only good enough for eighth in the end (Christian Craig’s lack of race sharpness having not raced since May likely proving the difference between a top 10 and a potential podium for the US); while Slovenia and Team GB completed the top 10. 

Credit: Beta

GB faced an uphill battle from the beginning, having drawn the 36th gate pick for the qualifying heats on Saturday. They made it through to the main finals with little issue, but Team Canada showed just how tough it can be coming from such a low-gate position. Canada had the 37th pick and, although they were fancied for a decent showing in the main races, they ended up getting knocked out of the B-Final on Sunday morning.

Team GB, on the other hand, were able to take 10th place overall, with Ben Watson’s 13th place in the MXGP-MX Open race proving the best race finish for a British rider on the day.

It was also confirmed at the weekend that next year’s Motocross of Nations will take place at Matterley Basin in Winchester for the first time since 2017 when Britain’s Max Anstie starred with 1-1 finishes to help Team GB to a podium finish.

Lead image credit: Ray Archer/KTM.