MOTEGI, JAPAN, AUG 20 - Repsol Montesa's Toni Bou overcame a sterling first lap by rival Adam Raga (Gas Gas) to claim victory on the difficult first day of the SPEA FIM Trials World Championship on the hills outside the Twin Ring Motegi road racing circuit.
Overnight rains made the course much more treacherous, especially in a few key sections. The third section was tricky, and produced a lot of fives, and section 14, a gully section added this year, also claimed most of the riders.
Raga was away first of the world championship riders, by virtue of his win in the previous round in Fort Williams, Scotland. On a dry track it may be an advantage, but today the Spaniard spent the first lap spinning the top inch of mud off the course, cleaning it up for the competition.
Section three began claiming victims from the outset, with Raga, Bou, and Takahisa Fujinami, Bou's Repsol Montesa teammate, all taking fives, though for different reasons. Raga touched a course marker, which this year is an automatic five. He argued with the observer, but to no avail. Bou had the most spectacular failure when he lost control over a boulder on a downhill, the motorcycle landing above him as he cursed in Spanish. Fujinami took the most conventional five. And Fujinami would take a five on the next section-he failed to clear the first boulder-and was out of the running for first or second.
"I think it's very bad riding today," he said. "Very bad riding from the start to the end."
Raga's hopes of a win took a blow early on lap two. He had difficulty clearing a boulder at the end of the fourth section and took maximum marks. Then he lost a single mark in the next section, which he felt he shouldn't have. Still, the two Spaniards were tied on points until section ten, an isolated area on the crest of the forest where Raga lost three marks to one for Bou. They were both clean in the last five sections, save for section 14 which claimed most every rider with a maximum five on both laps. Bou finished the section 3-5 for his two laps, with Raga taking fives on both tries.
The win was Bou's sixth of the season, out of eight tries, and sixth in the last seven races here in Japan. It gave him an 18 point lead, 152 to 134, over Raga with Sunday's race and the final two events in France to be decided.
"Yeah, I think it's a fantastic day today. I think it's good work," Bou said. "Adam (Raga) was pretty strong for the start in the first position, some incredible riding. But I'm happy for this victory in this house and, sure, for the championship it's very important."
Bou added that his burgeoning points lead wouldn't cause a change in strategy for Sunday.
"I think it's my mentality is to go attack tomorrow," he said. "I think it's a good mentality."
Raga was one of many riders to lament the conditions. Had it not rained overnight, the scores would have been in the eight and nine marks range, he said. "Yes, because when we get here it was dry and some days without rain, so when you don't have that kind of mud and instead of the mud you have just the dust or the sand, it's not that difficult, because on the rocks it's not that slippery.
"Already yesterday when we looked at the sections, it was already muddy and I knew that it was very difficult for me starting first, because when you start first you have the first two or three centimeters of mud that you take out for the others, but you have to spin around. That's why I'm happy from today, because it's a very good race."
Fujinami finished a distant third, at 64 marks, double that of Raga. Fourth went to Spaniard Jeroni Fajardo (Ossa), one of the few series regulars to make the trip. The fear of radiation exposure, as well as financial constraints, took a number of European riders out of the picture. Among them was Alberto Cabestany (Sherco), who was tied with Fujinami on points prior to today's race, but now finds himself at a 15 point deficit after choosing not to compete here.
Dougie Lampkin (Gas Gas) was forced to miss his second race in succession with an ankle injury. The former world champion made the trip to Japan to act as the Gas Gas team manager
"Obviously I'm disappointed not to be riding in Japan, it is a great event and somewhere I have previously won, but my ankle just isn't right and won't let me be competitive," he said.