Andy McKinstry: There’s been a number of riders that stepped up their game in 2018. In the MX2 World Championship, Jorge Prado improved on his weaknesses from 2017 and became the complete package but that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise as he had all the ingredients to become a World Champion.
Ben Watson was a sensation this year on his Kemea Yamaha and deserves a mention but again I didn’t find that too surprising. German, Henry Jacobi also improved on his STC Husqvarna and ended up on the podium once and secured tenth in the championship which showed a massive improvement.
In MXGP, Alessandro Lupino and Ivo Monticelli deserve mentions. Before the season not too many people would have had them down for good results considering how stacked the MXGP class is. Lupino was consistent and ended up thirteenth in the championship while Monticelli had a few top ten finishes and earned a ride with Standing Construct KTM in 2019.
However, for me, the rider that improved the most in 2018 is Calvin Vlaanderen. The HRC Honda rider continued to improve as the season progressed. Not only did he get plenty of podiums but he also won the first GP of his career. Honestly, if you’d have told me before the season he’d win a GP I wouldn’t have been so sure about it! So for that reason, he’s my most improved rider of the year.
I feel like Vlaanderen matured a lot this year as rider and was much smoother than he had been previously. Next year will be his final year in the MX2 World Championship and with his smooth style he should suit the 450cc even better. HRC Honda would be silly to let him go for 2020! But before that Vlaanderen will want to possibly challenge for the title in 2019…
Jonathan McCready: A lot of riders stepped up this year, especially in MX2. Calvin Vlaanderen won his first GP and became a genuine front runner week-in, week-out while Ben Watson made good on his potential with fourth overall and a the first podium of his career in his first year on factory equipment.
For me though, Henri Jacobi was the most improved. The German rode a privateer machine but after some hype about his potential a few years ago it was looking like he might not fulfil what many expected of him – until this season!
Jacobi was superb and when he got away he was right in the mix with all the factory machines and was able to stand on the podium. He even ran with Plessinger, Ferrandis and Lawrence in the qualifier at the MXoN and all were on established factory US championship winning equipment.
Jacobi has turned his stagnating career around in 2018 and now gets a shot in a big team for his final year in MX2 with the F&H Kawasaki squad, he earned it the hard way and fully deserves his spot for 2019 to really show what he can do.
In MXGP Alex Lupino finally showed his potential on the 450 after a tough couple of years. He seemed to really gel with the Kawasaki and was very impressive in the second half of the year, getting into the top ten and challenging the top five in MXGP and topped the year off with a brilliant performance at the MXoN on not his best conditions to help bring Italy to second place on the podium.
Ivo Monticelli also stepped it up this year with the help of Christophe Pourcel and Jeremy Seewer was also impressive in his first 450 season, he started well and kept getting stronger as he grew in confidence and experience, doing enough to earn a factory Yamaha spot in 2019.