SWEDISH MOTOCROSS GRAND PRIX - PREVIEW
The World Motocross Championships reaches the halfway mark this weekend with the running of the seventh round of the series in Uddevalla, Sweden. In what has been an exciting season in Europe so far, some of the best riders in the world will attempt to fight out the tight points situation. Mickael Pichon, Stefan Everts and Joel Smets are all within a few points of each other in the 2003 MotocrossGP Series points standings, and Uddevalla is a track which will suit all three riders.
Last year’s event saw Smets and Everts go head to head in the 500cc moto, and Pichon win the 250cc race.
Pichon and Everts are the two main protagonists in the inaugural year of the MXGP classification having taken three races each in consecutive streaks. (Pichon opened the season with three victories and has been trying to topple Everts since.) The pair is divided by only eight points in the standings, as Pichon's two fourth positions and a runner-up spot prove to be superior than Everts' third, fourth and ninth.
After Brian Jorgensen and Claudio Federici, Kenneth Gundersen is the next-highest 250cc rider but finishing two races outside the top 15 has not helped the Norwegian's cause on the Kawasaki.
Gundersen approaches this weekend with hopes for a race that is nearest to being a home Grand Prix. The 22-year-old took the holeshot and set a mean pace on the opening laps of the 250cc moto 12 months ago before buckling under the pressure from Pichon, who went on to claim one of his 11 wins from 12 that season.
Pichon and Everts were both winners at Uddevalla last year, while Gundersen claimed the 125cc GP in 2001. To date, Gundersen is the only other two-stroke rider to have earned a podium place, aside from the Suzuki number-one.
Another possible candidate for podium glory this Sunday is Gordon Crockard. The Irishman bounced back from injury problems at Austria to record his second top-three result of the year on the factory 450cc Honda and now travels to a venue where he defeated Pichon in 2001.
The 125cc category is even tighter. Only 11 points divide the top four riders with four different winners in the six races so far. Factory KTM man Steve Ramon holds a slender advantage at the top ahead of the 250cc Yamaha four-stroke of Andrea Bartolini (the only member of the leading group not yet to have stood on the top step of the podium), although Ramon's teammate Marc de Reuver is only four points adrift. Currently standing in fourth is defending number-one Mickael Maschio who has struggled for consistency but has sealed two GP victories already.
Taking the first of his six World Championships in the 125cc class back in 1991, Everts has twice claimed GP wins in the category this season and his dual-moto strategy has paid dividends, with the Belgian remaining undefeated in the MXGP series while riding the 250cc four-stroke Yamaha less than two hours before hand on race day.
New Zealand youngster Ben Townley should be ready for his World Championship comeback at the circuit where he won his first Grand Prix in 2002. The KTM rider has missed several races recovering from wrist surgery and is now ready to resume activities on his 125cc two-stroke. Steve Ramon finished second to Townley last year.
Smets continues to top the rest of the opposition in the 650cc class, leaving nearest rivals factory KTM teammate Javier Garcia Vico and Honda man Cedric Melotte frustrated at the sight of his rear wheel.
The Belgian has captured six consecutive race wins and is almost turning the senior class into a foregone conclusion before the gate even drops, thanks to his blistering form. Vico currently chases a 20-point gap in the championship, while Melotte, enjoying a career best run of results with four podiums, is 32 further back in third.
Sweden is one of the oldest venues on the motocross World Championship circuit. The country first hosted a GP back in 1958 for only the second season of 500cc racing. The current top Swedish rider is Husqvarna's Jonny Lindhe who finished fifth in the 2001 500cc campaign before an injury-ravaged 2002.
The weather forecast for the weekend is not good with rain predicted on both days. The Motocross GP event is slated to be broadcast live on Eurosport.