For the third year in a row the Grand Prix of Qatar will open the FIM Motocross World Championship and seven factory teams and some of the fastest and best off-road motorcycle racers in the world will gather under the lights at the Losail circuit for the first of 18 rounds this Friday and Saturday.
Among the elite will be the Rockstar Energy Suzuki MXGP and Rockstar Energy Suzuki Europe teams for a renewed assault on the premier MXGP class and the MX2 division. Clement Desalle, Kevin Strijbos (fourth and third in the 2014 standings respectively) are joined by MXGP rookie Glenn Coldenhoff on the works RM-Z450s while Jeremy Seewer enters just his second MX2 term (and first as a full Pro) on the factory RM-Z250.
In 2014 the MXGP crew celebrated four GP wins, eight moto chequered flags and 14 podiums overall as Desalle and Strijbos forged a consistent and formidable partnership at the front of the blue ribbon category; it is expected that the Belgian duo will again be firm contenders for trophies as well as the MXGP crown that has been held by Sicilian Antonio Cairoli since 2009. Armed with new support from Blackbird and MBA solutions as well as revised back-up from Rockstar Energy, the proficient Lommel-based squad is primed for racing.
Strijbos (29) comes into 2015 in better condition compared to the build-up to Qatar 12 months ago when the former championship runner-up was fighting for fitness and form in the wake of a cracked pelvis. After a sustained period training and riding in California in January, Strijbos returned home to win the Hawkstone Park International in the UK (ahead of Desalle and Coldenhoff) and then also competed in the mud of Valence in France. The ‘#22’ has been resting over the past week after a bout of tendinitis in his right wrist was proving troublesome. “I had an injection before Hawkstone and it was OK for riding but a bit sore afterwards,” Strijbos explained. “I went to get it checked-out after Valence where it still bothered me and the doctor said there was still some inflammation and I should take it easy for a while. Otherwise I feel good and very happy with all the riding we did in the U.S.”
Losail’s remarkable lighting system is just one characteristic of this special showcase event and the sweeping course of tacky and hard-packed mud also boasts some spectacular jumps and aerial sections. Strijbos believes his wrist and ability to wring the maximum possible speed from his RM-Z will not be affected. “I think Losail will be OK,” he confides. “It is fast and although there are some big jumps the landings are pretty good and soft. For sure I’m in better shape than 2014 and it will be interesting to see where we all are.”
Desalle has had an excellent stint of pre-season ‘warm-up’ after finishing as runner-up to Strijbos at Hawkstone and then winning Internationals at Valence and Mantova (in Italy last weekend). The 25 year old has not entered a Grand Prix since the Czech Republic round where he needed to withdraw from the final three meetings of 2014 with a broken scaphoid. The ‘#25’ is back on the boil.
Clement Desalle Q & A:
Clement, you spent most of January riding in the USA and in southern California. You did that in 2010 and won three of the first five GPs. Did you want to try this formula of preparation again with a view to this championship?
“Yes, but I also went there in 2011 and I had bad luck because I arrived in California and was sick! This time I stayed with a friend, was healthy and it was great. I was riding for three-and-a-half weeks and it was so good. It was then a shock to come back to Belgium and the winter! You realise just how positive it is for the body being out in good weather…for dealing with the aches and the demands.”
The pre-season Internationals for you were run in the fog, rain and the cold. You won two from three so did you get some decent benefit from these races?
“It was good in a way. Hawkstone started foggy but then it was fine for the motos and it became good training because Kevin is strong in the sand. It was a good reference for me because I was riding within myself and he didn't disappear at the front. Valence was more like Enduro! It was difficult to see and it wasn’t great for training or getting a look at the other guys but is was still a ‘gate’ and some race starts. Then Mantova was good also.”
You look slim, fit and ready…
“I said to my Dad the other day, actually, ‘I feel fit and happy.’ I am not generally fatigued through my work and I’m looking forward to racing again.”
MXGP should be difficult this year with a lot of good riders involved…
“I think it will be difficult to get through those guys if you have a bad start…but I don't care. I will do my best and see where it takes me. For sure the usual goal is to aim for good starts, and some race wins!”
What did you change on the ’15 version of the RM-Z450?
“We changed just a couple of small things on the engine but only minor details…I am also using the air forks now. I tried them two or three years ago and didn't like them so much but we made some tests at the end of 2014 and I saw that we could find a good setting and progress with it. It has made a difference to the front end, saving nearly a kilo of weight I think…it makes it easier to scrub!”
Also armed with a RM-Z450 is Glenn Coldenhoff. The Dutchman is making his debut in the MXGP class for 2015 after shining with Suzuki in MX2 last year. Coldenhoff joined Strijbos and the rest of the Suzuki elite for a training camp in Portugal in December and then for the Californian riding trip in January and his very first race on the larger 450cc motorcycle went well with a podium finish in the Hawkstone Park sand. Sadly, Coldenhoff has been forced to the sidelines in the last week due to a practice spill that led to two broken toes on both feet as well as other aches and pains. It means that ‘#259’ will head to Qatar looking for damage limitation and until he recovers to full strength to really start getting a grasp on the demands of the competition. “I did not think the injury would affect me for this long,” he said. “My back and toes are still painful, especially the foot with which I need to shift gears but my mechanic made a small aluminium plate for my boot that is working pretty good and makes it more bearable!” Coldenhoff was planning to ride on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week to get the feel of the motorcycle again before having to lap Losail.
His Rockstar Energy Suzuki team-mate, Jeremy Seewer, is on the cusp of a memorable year. “For sure this time I feel different,” he explains ahead of his second MX2 campaign. “I could not imagine how much better I would be able to prepare physically and mentally and simply through having much more time to ride the bike. This time last year I was still studying a lot and it was busy having to balance everything. Now I have been able to make a big step forward.
“I know I am by myself in MX2 now but I have some excellent support from the guys in the team and we have worked hard on the bike in the last couple of weeks. One area we have changed is the suspension, I am now on Kayaba, and it meant some work to get that set-up right for me but it has been a good process.”
Heading the team will be Suzuki International Europe’s Thomas Hannecke, who will also oversee the EMX250 European Championship effort with Brian Hsu and Bas Vaessen on RM-Z250s.
“The structure of our Rockstar Energy Suzuki Europe team is a bit different in comparison to the past years,” he says. “Although Glenn has to start the season in Qatar with a small injury he has practiced hard and already showed his potential on the big bike. The results from pre-season make us confident that he will provide some positive surprises in his first MXGP year! Jeremy made great progress during the winter period and will start in his best physical condition ever since he doesn't have to combine training and school anymore.
“Brian showed amazing results since switching to RM-Z250; he feels really great with the bike already. Brian and Bas will join the team at the first European GP in Italy to start the EMX250 season. We are all now well prepared and we are eagerly awaiting the first GP in Qatar this weekend.”
Practice and qualification takes place on Friday at Losail with the MXGP and MX2 races on Saturday evening. Both Suzuki camps will then re-load the freight cases as the FIM Motocross World Championship then heads to Nakhonchaisri for the third ever Grand Prix of Thailand the following weekend.