Two weeks of (rare) rainfall in the build-up to the 2017 MXGP opener helped soften the desert soil at the renowned venue close to the city of Doha. By the time of the second moto the hard ground was rutted, bumpy and difficult to negotiate and pushed the power and handling of the KTM 450 SX-F and KTM 250 SX-F technology to the fore.
Tony Cairoli lurched into the first moto with second choice of positions in the gate after a solid run in Friday’s Qualification Heat. The Sicilian had previously won a race at Losail during the inaugural event in 2013 (the ill-dated Superfinal) but took command of the opening sprint with such authority that he stretched a lead of almost thirteen seconds by mid-race distance.
Unchallenged, Tony’s eventual gap of 8.9 seconds by the flag represented the biggest margin of victory in the five years of the Qatar Grand Prix and was his first moto triumph since the Dutch round at Assen last year.
Come the second outing and he could not repeat the holeshot but soon climbed into the roost trail of Tim Gajser. #222 followed the Slovenian and seemed to have conceded the race when he slowed to check a potential front wheel problem that transpired to be a lodged stone in the front disc. Reassured Cairoli was able to drop his lap-times considerably and eat a four second deficit to Gasjer who was also fading to the effects of illness. With two laps to go Cairoli made his move and registered his first ‘double’ since the 2016 Grand Prix of Germany last May. The top step of the podium means the KTM 450 SX-F will again wear the red number plate as series leader for round two.
Glenn Coldenhoff classified ninth overall under the Losail lights. The Dutchman suffered with an early first moto crash that forced a charge from the rear of the pack and he gained fifteenth place. The 26 year old left the circuit encouraged with a more consistent run to eight position in the second race.
Jeffrey Herlings travelled to Qatar only partially optimistic of his chances of a debut in the MXGP category. The Dutchman was still dealing with the fallout of a broken fourth metacarpal on his right hand only two weeks previously. The reigning MX2 World Champion made a bright getaway in the first moto to slot into the top ten but understandably faded due to arm-pump through the 30 minute and 2 lap distance and made it to the line in eighteenth. #84’s plight to gain as many MXGP points as possible was better served in Moto2 where he felt more comfortable to score eleventh for fifteenth overall.
Cairoli: “It was a great weekend and I’m really happy. It is my fourteenth season here in the world championship and I’m really happy; not many riders have reached this before and to be here for so many years. I have won at least one GP each year, which is amazing. The start of the season we had some good races and no injuries during the winter so I could train a bit better than the years before. We also had the bike set-up much better. So I was looking forward to this first GP. I was a bit sick with some intestinal flu coming here and was still taking medicine up until Thursday so I was unsure how my reaction would be for the race but it was pretty good and I really enjoyed the racing, and the track was pretty technical so I could make some good lines in places. I could push until the end in both motos. We are really happy with the result and will be ready for the next GP.”
Coldenhoff: “The day started off not so good. I had a bad start but worked my way up to tenth on the first lap before I wanted to push too fast and ended up making a mistake. So I had to restart dead-last and wanted to get back with the guys as quick as possible and made another mistake: I was not focussed enough. I told myself to keep calm, do my thing and get a rhythm. I had some hard fights and finishing in fifteenth is not the result we are working for. My riding was quite good in the second moto. Van Horebeek and Bobryshev passed me and those guys were just a little bit quicker. That race was quite solid though. I’m ninth in the championship right now and it could be worse.”
Herlings: “What can I say? It was terrible but what can we expect? I broke my hand less than two weeks ago, we got it plated the day after (the crash) and then I was supposed to race ten days later. Plus before that I had an injury with my wrist so I missed another four weeks. I didn’t really have the feeling I needed on the bike and I had a lot of pain: it was pretty bad. In Motocross you need your entire body and I wasn’t 100%. We made some improvements on the bike anyway and I’m grateful to have such a strong team behind me and such a strong 450.”
With only one previous winner of a Grand Prix in the entire 2017 MX2 pack, Qatar was likely to be a milestone moment for one of the field and it was Pauls Jonass who made a small slice of history by not only celebrating his maiden view from the top step of the podium but also achieving a GP ‘first’ for Latvia.
#41 set the pace from the first lap of the first moto and weathered pressure from Julien Lieber on a stock KTM 250 SX-F as well as Benoit Paturel. The 20 year old displayed maturity and confidence to control the race from the front and collected his second career chequered flag. In the second dash Jonass again faced opposition from Paturel; the Frenchman remaining within two seconds of his rear wheel for the entire affair. Jonass was faultless to enable Red Bull KTM Factory Racing to acknowledge a half-decade lockout of MX2 at Qatar.
Jorge Prado kept Jonass company in the lead group before finishing his first sprint as a full-time member of the MX2 crew with a creditable seventh. The sixteen year old Spaniard, who admitted being unable to gel with the course, ended the second moto in eleventh for a respectable eighth overall.
Jonass: “I didn’t expect that I would get two moto wins this weekend as well as qualifying. I had a good gate pick, two good starts, two consistent motos without any big mistakes – which was also a goal coming to this race – and to go home with two wins and my first overall makes me so happy. We still have eighteen GPs to go; it is such a long season. It will be difficult to continue like we were today but I will do my best! Today I really enjoyed my riding. I think I still have a lot of room for improvement but I am so happy with the bike and the team have done so much.”
Prado: “I didn’t feel so good on the bike. I rode pretty tight and I think we can expect better in the next races: I know I can do much better. I feel pretty bad…but sometimes you have bad days. I didn’t get arm-pump but couldn’t ride like I normally do. The track was really rough and I had trouble with the deep ruts and the bumps inside them.”
By the time dawn started to throw natural light on the renowned Losail circuit – where Red Bull KTM will make their highly anticipated first appearance as a full time participant on the MotoGP grid in just under a month’s time – freight and flight cases with the 450 & 250 SX-F motorcycles were already prepped and ready for the next stage of the MXGP journey. A 7000km trek to a new facility on the island of Pangkal Pinang will entertain the first Grand Prix of Indonesia this century and constitute the second ‘flyaway’ round from the opening stint of the calendar with trips to Argentina and Mexico to come in the following weeks.
Next Round: March 5, 2017 – Pangkal Pinang (INA)
Results/Standings MXGP Losail 2017 after 1 of 19 rounds
1. Tony Cairoli (ITA), KTM, 50 points (1-1)
2. Tim Gajser (SLO), Honda, 42 (3-2)
3. Clement Desalle (BEL), Kawasaki, 40 (2-4)
4. Evgeny Bobryshev (RUS), Honda, 32 (4-7)
5. Romain Febvre (FRA), Yamaha, 31 (10-2)
9. Glenn Coldenhoff (NED), KTM, 19 (15-8)
15. Jeffrey Herlings (NED), KTM, 13 (18-11)
Results/Standings MX2 Losail 2017 after 1 of 19 rounds
1. Pauls Jonass (LAT), KTM, 50 points (1-1)
2. Benoit Paturel (FRA), Yamaha, 44 (2-2)
3. Julien Lieber (BEL), KTM, 40 (3-3)
4. Thomas Kjer Olsen (DEN), Husqvarna, 36 (4-4)
5. Michele Cervellin (ITA), Honda, 28 (6-8)
8. Jorge Prado (ESP), KTM, 24 (7-11)