Dark, gloomy skies, and some light rain showers greeted all of those who showed up to the Ernee circuit for Friday afternoon’s press conference, but Saturday, fortunately, was welcomed by bright blue skies and near perfect temperatures for racing. The facility in Ernee has been receiving updates and improvements for nearly a year now, and it definitely shows. The track, located in Northern France, is first-class—the perfect venue for the 59th annual Motocross des Nation, but we’ll tell you more about that in Monday Kickstart…
Saturday’s program was action-packed and began at 10:00 AM sharp with the first practice of the day—MX1. The Motocross des Nations is broken into three classes, with a representative from each country present in each class—MX1 (the equivalent of the 250cc class in the states), MX2 (125cc class equivalent), and Open (run what you brung). Here’s how the entire day unfolded…
MX1 Free Practice:
- Ricky Carmichael (USA) 1:52.496
- Mickael Pichon (France) 1:52.596
- Antonio Cairoli (Italy) 1:54.431
- Mark De Reuver (Netherlands) 1:54.805
- Brian Jorgensen (Denmark) 1:54.806
- Stefan Everts (Belgium) 1:55.703
MX2 Free Practice:
- Sebastien Tortelli (France) 1:55.129
- Ivan Tedesco (USA) 1:56.155
- Davide Guarneri (Italy) 1:56. 251
- Matti Seistola (Finland) 1:56.667
- Andrew McFarlane (Australia) 1:56.724
Open Free Practice:
- Kevin Windham (USA) 1:52.903
- Ben Townley (New Zealand) 1:54.199
- David Philippaerts (Italy) 1:55.217
- David Vuilllemin (France) 1:55.613
- Kevin Strijbos (Belgium) 1:55.614
Although many of the riders during Saturday’s free practice sessions put a ton of energy into setting the fastest individual lap times possible, it was for little more than bragging rights, as the gate positions for the following qualifiers were decided randomly by pulling a number. Unfortunately for the U.S. squad, all three guys pulled mediocre gates, and as a result didn’t get the starts that they’re all accustomed to.
The first holeshot of the day went to France’s Mickael Pichon in the MX1 qualifier. Pichon was followed closely by MX1 World Champion Stefan Everts. Ricky Carmichael, who started the moto outside of the top-five, pushed his way into third by the end of lap one. On lap two, RC made quick work of Everts and set his sights on Pichon out front. The two put on an impressive dog-fight until midway through lap four, when RC threw down a perfect block-pass on Pichon at the bottom of one of Ernee’s steep downhills. RC went on to win the moto by five seconds, despite slowing to salute the appreciative and enthusiastic MXdN fans on the last lap. Pichon cruised in for second, and Everts finished comfortably in third, some 20 seconds back.
Next to take center stage was the MX2 class, and Portugal’s Joaquim Rodrigues, who rides for the Amsoil/Chaparral/Honda team in the states, snatched the holeshot ahead of Andrew McFarlane, Sebastien Tortelli (who was competing in his debut ride aboard his new KTM250SX-F), Tyla Rattray, and Ivan Tedesco. After a poor start, thanks to an even worse gate pick than Carmichael’s, Hot Sauce was riding very impressively and was catching Tortelli for the third position when he made a mistake and went down on lap four. Fortunately for Ivan and Team USA, he was able to keep his bike running, re-mounted quickly, and charged from sixth back to fourth by moto’s end. “We didn’t get the greatest gate picks, and the starting procedure is a lot different here, but I think we’ll have the bugs worked out for tomorrow, Tedesco told us after his race. “I was riding pretty well and had caught up to Tortelli, but made a mistake and washed out. After I got back up I was riding a little tight, trying to catch up too fast, butt by the end of the race I loosened back up and put in some good lap times. It’s definitely a hard track to pass on, but I think I know what I need to do for tomorrow.
Much to the delight of the near-capacity French crowd, Tortelli caught and passed Rodrigues on lap seven and went on to win the moto by three seconds. Behind Rodrigues, Belgium’s Steve Ramon impressively charged up from a 12th-place start to finish in third, with Tedesco close in tow.
The final qualifier of the day featured the Open class riders, and it was Kevin Strijbos from Belgium who grabbed the holeshot aboard his RM-Z450. Ben Townley and Kevin Windham moved into second and third, respectively, by lap two, and on lap three Townley made his move on Strijbos for the lead. After struggling for another two laps to get by the Belgian, K-Dub made his way into second and set his sights on Townley. Windham almost immediately closed the gap that Townley had opened up, but wasn’t able to put it all together to make the pass, and eventually dropped off the pace. K-Dub commented after the race that he rode too tight and still had quite a bit more to give, but Townley did ride incredibly well, and will be tough competition on Sunday. We’ll be seeing plenty more of Ben Townley next year; he will be in the U.S. fulltime in 2006 as a part of Mitch Payton’s Pro Circuit/Monster Energy/Kawasaki team.
When the day was done, many commented on how smooth the Ernee circuit remained. Nearly ten inches of sand was added to the top surface of the entire track, and it was thought that it would progress to become much rougher than it actually did. The layout itself yielded a number of follow-the-leader, one-lined sections, making starts on Sunday a critical factor for success. “There are some little choppy bumps, but no big rollers, said RC at the end of the day. “It’s just a different track. It’s really hard to make up time. The turns are really flat, and there aren’t good lines in them, and that makes it tough. But I think the team is looking good, I am happy to be here, and I am having a good time… There are some areas on the track that are more to the European’s style and likings, and we definitely need to be better.
Thanks to the 1-4-2 performances put in by Team USA, they now hold the number one qualifying position heading into Sunday’s main events, and thus will have the first gate pick in each moto. Check back tomorrow for the full race report and final results…