For only the second time, the Grand Prix of Qatar will open the 2014 FIM Motocross World Championship this weekend and the MXGP and MX2 factions of Rockstar Energy Suzuki will begin their trek through an 18-round campaign over six months and via 16 different countries.
The international circuit of Losail will throw an increased lighting field over the Grand Prix motocross track located adjacent to the renowned asphalt, where the rough desert soil will host the fastest factory racers the series has to offer for the Saturday evening event. Qatar is the first of two back-to-back meetings with Thailand following hard upon and then a trip to Brazil also programmed for the month of March and until the championship nestles into a European-based schedule.
Rockstar Energy Suzuki World MXGP – retitled from ‘MX1’ in recognition of the new rebranding of the premier class – will charge into the 18 Grand Prix and 36 moto (now at a shorter 30 minute and 2 laps duration compared to the 35 minutes of 2013) season with Belgian aces Clement Desalle and Kevin Strijbos again armed with the factory RM-Z450s. Desalle has not dropped out of the top three at the highest level since his entry to the blue ribbon category in 2009 and has been in ‘yellow’ since 2010, making the imminent season-launch his fifth with the potent RM-Z450. Now just 24 Desalle has added a Motocross of Nations victory to his impressive CV of racing achievements and although that race in Germany last year was his last up until an impressive overall triumph in the LaCapelle Marival International last weekend, the Belgian has been training diligently to recover from the broken shoulder that inhibited his winter.
Desalle won the 2013 Qatari Grand Prix when the fixture was run with the now defunct Superfinal concept that combined the two classes for a single second moto. MXGP and MX2 will now have their normal double race format.
Strijbos was also on the sidelines at the start of 2014. The former sub-world champion needed to recover from a cracked pelvis after a training accident but the 28 year old made swift progress to also be able to compete in France last weekend and heads to Qatar fit but still requiring some more time to rid his body of the injury-aftermath and discomfort.
Over in MX2 and Rockstar Energy Suzuki Europe are again bolstered with the factory representation of the RM-Z250 and have capable Dutchman Glenn Coldenhoff leading the line-up with young Belgian Julien Lieber (19 years old) back for a second season and fit after knee surgery and recovery from an injured wrist. Making a trio in the class is Swiss star and 2013 European Championship race winner Jeremy Seewer (also 19). Slight reorganisation of the squad means even closer links to the MXGP operation and therefore more benefit in terms of resources and development. With Coldenhoff – one of just three Grand Prix winners in MX2 in 2013 – they have a fast and fit 23 year old ready to make the next step in his promising career and offer a consistent threat for top-three positions in the championship standings.
As in MotoGP, Losail is a novel way to drop the gate on the FIM Motocross World Championship and the 2014 edition of the Grand Prix will also see the FIM Women’s series get underway as part of the support card. What the meeting lacks in vibrant atmosphere – compared to some of the passionate and traditional hotbeds of fandom in Europe for the sport – it more than makes up for in terms of spectacle and is a unique and special occurrence, especially through the TV screens.
“I’m feeling positive about this weekend. My physical condition is good and my shoulder is in good shape. I don't feel any pain riding and there is the normal amount of strength so things have been going well and I’m happy for that. We haven’t made any big changes to the bike for 2014. The RM-Z450 was already something that I liked a lot and I knew could do the job. We have a few small details like a lighter seat, new throttle body and a smaller fuel tank. Of course I have some good memories of Qatar. It was our first visit there last year and I came away with the win! The first GP is always a busy time but it is good to get back racing. I’m looking forward to starting the season properly.”
“It is a case of ‘just in time’ for me. Of course I’m happy I’ll be on the line in Qatar and I have to be realistic about my possibilities in these opening three races abroad. The doctors tell me I only need time to come back to 100% feeling and be without any discomfort so I’m being patient. I’ve had six days on the bike and one race and while it may not seem much I was encouraged by my speed last weekend in France. The track was a bit rutty and my leg was a bit painful sometimes, so that is the reason why we decided not to start the last moto. I was being a bit cautious. We did a lot of testing work in October and before I got injured and I can honestly say that the changes we’ve made to the bike mean that it is the best I’ve ridden since the 450s came into the championship. The power off the gate is fantastic and the bike just wants to pull straight…not get sideways. It means that I cannot wait to get to Qatar and get things underway. We have no idea what will happen but if I can get the starts I want then we’ll be happy with the highest position we can manage in the motos.”
“I’m feeling the fittest I have ever been. We haven’t had a pre-season race this year and that can be good as well as bad because we don’t really know how our speed and work will be against the others. Anyway we have put a lot of effort into our preparation and testing. The RM-Z250 handles so well; it feels like such a light bike. We have also made improvements to the power. I love going to Qatar and enjoyed the race a lot in Losail last year. Competing under the lights is something a bit different and the layout of the track is great. If nothing has changed and the track-prep is the same then it will be soft for practice and we’ll see some ruts and lines come up before the dirt dries for the motos.”