MXGP Preview: Championship battle hotting up – intense!

We are seven rounds into the MXGP World Championship and what a season it’s been so far. It’s been a while that the MXGP championship chase has been as close as it has been 2021 and it’s starting to hot up at the front of the standings.

Four riders are only separated by 18 points after fourteen moto’s. We are over a third way into the season and usually by this stage some of the heavy hitters are injured and out for the season. Aside from Jeffrey Herlings shoulder injury the other four contenders coming into the season have been fully healthy and long may it continue. Even though Herlings has had his injury he’s still in championship contention so it could have been a lot worse. Fingers crossed the top five can stay healthy for the rest of the season and the championship battle can go down to the wire.

Despite the championship being so close, only one man has carried the red plate so far this year and that’s Tim Gajser. The Slovenian started the season off in fine style in Russia dominating and going 1-1, at Matterley Basin he also won a moto. However, he hasn’t won a moto since which has let his challengers close down the gap. The HRC Honda man had the perfect response in Latvia to go 2-2 and secure the overall win after a Herlings crash with four corners to go!

Pic: Shot by Bavo

Gajser has four world titles (three of which in the MXGP class) to his name and knows exactly what it takes to win championships. With this experience he’s going to be hard to beat and with the majority of the sand races out of the way, he’ll be looking forward to the hard pack tracks coming up.

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At the moment, Gajser’s closet challenger is in the form of Romain Febvre and the French rider will probably be kicking himself as he’s certainly had the speed at every round of the series so far but he’s had too many crashes. Despite the crashing, Febvre is only 13 points off Gajser which is very little – the KRT man also believes this is his year.

Pic: Kawasaki Racing Team

After winning the MXGP of Belgium at the gnarly Lommel, Febvre said he believes this is his year so he’ll be looking to add more Grand Prix wins to his name as the season progresses and get his hands on that red plate. Make no mistakes about it, Febvre has the speed and if he can keep getting good starts which has been a big positive for him this season, he shouldn’t be far away and especially if he can start keeping it on two wheels.

After such an impressive rookie season last year for Jorge Prado there was a lot more expectation for him coming into the 2021 season. The young Spaniard had somewhat of a slow start to the season recently admitting he’d been struggling due to long Covid but he’s been getting better and better recently.

Pic: Ray Archer

Prado won at Loket and that has seemed to click his season into gear and he’s now riding at the level many expected coming into the season and he also won the second moto in Latvia. The Red Bull KTM rider sits only 15 points behind Gajser in the championship and that’s despite a slow start to the season – you could argue he’s now the man in form.

Watching Antonio Cairoli ride a bike you wouldn’t think he turns 36 years old soon but that’s the reality.  The nine times world champion is still very motivated and still believes he has what it takes to win his tenth world title. At the moment you can’t underestimate him either as he’s only 18 points back in the championship chase.

Pic: Ray Archer

After his second moto crash at Russia which led to a DNF, Cairoli has been playing catch up ever since and if it wasn’t for that error he might even have the red plate! Despite the slick, hard pack tracks being his weakness in the past, this year he’s actually performed better at those type of tracks as oppose to the sandy tracks where you expect him to be right at the front. Lommel and Latvia were quite underwhelming as he couldn’t put two good rides together at either Grand Prix but the break before Turkey could be coming at exactly the right time.  The 9 times world champion will look to reset the batteries and then come back firing in Turkey and you shouldn’t be too surprised if it hasn’t either!

Last but not least, Jeffrey Herlings and just where do you start?! At the start of the season, Herlings was being consistent and he was right in the championship picture before being landed on by Ivo Monticelli in Oss. Remarkably he rode on despite breaking his shoulder and even won the first moto. However, he was ruled out for moto two at Oss as well as Loket.

Pic: Damon D’Hanis

Herlings made his return to Lommel and won a moto despite having to push through the pain barrier. In Latvia he was four corners away from the overall win before a crash gifted the GP to Tim Gajser. However, despite not scoring points in three moto’s he’s done really well to just be 43 points back and the break in the calendar comes at exactly the right time for Herlings. He should be close to 100% for Turkey and he’ll be out for the win in Turkey – the only way for him to get back into this championship chase is to rack off the 1-1’s – it’s a tough ask in MXGP but if anyone can, Herlings can.

With five riders still in the hunt for the championship, roll on the rest of this series as it should produce some brilliant bar banging battles – there’s plenty of twists and turns left yet!

Article: Andy McKinstry

Main image: Ray Archer