The MX GP series will take off the next weekend in Spain (Bellpuig), offering for the first time in history single-moto rounds (with all the three classes together the same day on the same circuit), a race format took from road-racing experience. That being the case, tensions are mounting in Eruope, though there's some disappointment due to the unsettled TV coverage situation (TV was the main reason for the format change).
Meanwhile, today on the nice, sandy track of Mantova, Italy, some of the World Championship stars faced each other in three motos (each with two classes - 125cc and Open - running together).
There was a tight battle to the very last lap of the third moto, as contenders like Joel Smets, Andrea Bartolini, Marniq Bervoets and Johnny Lindhe all had a chance to get the overall win. Finally, the experienced 32-year-old Italian (Bartolini) on the factory Husqvarna took a convincing victory. The former World Champion got a second and a first in the first two motos, but in the last one he finished eighth after a great start and subsequent early crash (while trying to pass the leading Smets). Bartolini remounted only after the entire group had passed, and he started an impressive charge, only to go down again with moto-one winner Andrew McFarlaine after four laps. Bartolini then tried to just finish in the top 10 to assure himself the prestigious victory over World Champion Smets in front of his home crow.
“It was a good race for me, as I’m feeling a great confidence on the new bike," Bartolini said. "I’m just having fun, and that’s my goal starting from the next week in Spain - to have fun throughout the series, so the results come more easily.”
Smets' performance was also strong overall, as he wasn’t really satisfied by the one-lined track. His race could have been better were it not for lost concentration and a couple mistakes. Obviously, he remains the man to beat this year.
“I’m getting better and better," Smets said. "My condition is not 100 percent yet, but I’m fine and ready for the start next week. I’m really surprised how Andrea Bartolini got so quickly adapted on the new machine after spending so many years on Yamahas. He’s going to be dangerous this year - like Stefan [Everts], even though he doesn’t look like he is now. Look at Lindhe also. I know him, and he is fast also on hard tracks.”
Not impressive was Everts’ race on the Yamaha four-stroke, as he was somewhat of a non-factor in the first two motos. Fortunately, things looked better with him the last time out, when he showed some good speed and finished third.
This was also the debut 2001 race for defencing 250cc World Champion Frederic Bolley (pictured), who was out of action for an incredibly long time (he last competed in last September's French Motocross des Nations). Bolley felt a little pressure today, officially debuting the colors of the UFO Honda Martin Racing team (chosen by Honda Europe to replace PAMO - folded due to financial problems - as the factory squad for the next three years). The same team will also have the exclusive opportunity to manage the four-stroke project, which it's likely we'll see at some GPs this year (probably mounted by an American rider, according to team manager Paolo Martin).
Bolley, the two-time 250cc world champ (second in Saturday's timing behind Smets) finished sixth overall in the Open class, and had his best score at the second moto with a third place.
“I’m ready for the beginning of the season," Bolley said. "I’ve been testing a lot. This was my first race, and I was just a little nervous because I’ve been away from racing for a long time.”
The 125cc class was dominated by Italians, with Erik Camerlengo besting Christian Stevanini and Alessandro Cinelli. Fourth went to American Scott Sheak, who will take part to the 125cc World Championship under the same UFO Honda Martin tent as Bolley, on a works bike.
MOTO ONE: 1. Andrew McFarlane; 2. Andrea Bartolini; 3. Johnny Lindhe; 4. Pit Beirer; 5. Frederic Bolley; 6. Joaquim Rodriguez; 7. Joel Smets; 8. Marniq Bervoets; 9. Fabrizio Dini; 10. Danny Theybers.
MOTO TWO: 1. Andrea Bartolini; 2. Marniq Bervoets; 3. Frederic Bolley; 4. Joel Smets; 5. Joaquim Rodriguez; 6. Johnny Lindhe; 7. Fabrizio Dini; 8. Shayne King; 9. Danny Theybers; 10. Trampas Parker.
THIRD MOTO: 1. Joel Smets; 2. Johnny Lindhe; 3. Stefan Everts; 4. Joaquim Rodriguez; 5. Danny Theybers; 6. Lauris Freibergs; 7. Shayne King; 8. Andrea Bartolini; 9. Christian Stevanini; 10. Fabrizio Dini.
OVERALL (Open): 1. Andrea Bartolini (52); 2. Joel Smets (45); 3. Johnny Lindhe (45); 4. Joaquim Rodriguez (31); 5. Marniq Bervoets (27); 6. Frederic Bolley (26).
OVERALL (125): 1. Erik Camerlengo (43); 2. Christian Stevanini (42); 3. Alessandro Cinelli (39); 4. Scott Sheak (37); 5. Ben Townley (34); 6. Stephen Sword (30).