Paddock talk: MXGP paddock discusses one-day V two-day format

There seemed to be surge of favouritism towards MXGP’s pandemic-induced one-day format at the end of last year and when it became clear that promoter’s Infront Moto Racing were keen to re-establish the two-days for 2022. World Champion Jeffrey Herlings was a particular advocate, saying the single day of Grand Prix action would prolong careers by reducing the physical demands and the potential for injury.

MXGP had spun from the well-established programme of free practice, timed practice and a ‘Qualification Heat’ on Saturday to a Lucas Oil AMA Pro National-type timetable of a short free practice blast straight into qualification and then the GP motos all on Sunday. All European Championship and support class competition were moved to Saturdays through all but one round of the 2020 campaign and the full 2021 series. The move was to ease time constraints and pressure on both the championship logistics and the teams in the dash around select corners of Europe, and through a sequence of calendar delays and twists to circumnavigate Covid-19 restrictions and vaccine roll-out schemes.

Riders and teams found their track mileage severely reduced. It was a culture shock for some but became standard routine for the rookies that found their way into MX2. The change was necessary. 2021 MXGP squashed 11 events into 10 weeks for a brutal second half of the season. Grand Prix was defined by two hours on a Sunday or a Wednesday and little else, even as fans started to gather once more at fences and inside paddocks. The disappearance of the polemic Qualification Heat – designed to order for the start gate on Sunday but also provide entertainment for fans at the circuits on Saturday – was a welcome consequence of MXGP’s pivot: the sprint was deemed disproportionate for the amount of risk versus reward.

As the championship works its way through twenty fixtures in 2022 the teams and racers are now acclimatising again to the older itinerary, with sessions interspersed with other categories and competitions, drawing out the Grand Prix running order and conditioning the state of the track (in the past GP riders would complain of the ‘odd’ bumps left by slower EMX participants). How many believe this ‘re-transition’ is the way to go? More than you’d think…

Antonio Alia Portela, FIM CMS President: “This was a way to return to normality. Having two days was not only a way for us to have more visibility but also for the riders and teams to have time to try more things. Another factor was allowing the riders more time to adapt to the track.”

Jed Beaton, F&H Kawasaki: “It’s good in one way and a bit pointless in another. It’s good to ride the track and get a feeling for it and even test the bike in the conditions; it’s beneficial but the qualifying race? There’s not such a need for it. Timed Practice is then pointless. You can qualify 1st for that and then finish 10th in the heat race. If we did three sessions or two practice and one qualification then this would be good: I’d like the two days then.”

Glenn Coldenhoff, Monster Energy Yamaha Factory MXGP Team: “We started the one-day events two years ago and got to the point where we had three in one week and, for me, it was too much. It was a good solution for that time but I’m happy to go back to the two-day format and to get more time on the track, more time with the bike. It can be a stress doing it all in one day and I think it looks amateurish if we are a long time on the test track on a Saturday! I always wanted to ride on a Saturday…and it meant more organisation for the team because we’d need to take a van, find a track and do the laps. Now we have a lot of time to set-up and make changes. I like it.”

Ruben Fernandez, Honda 114 Motorsports: “Honestly, I prefer one day, taking into account that we have a lot of races during the season. In a way it’s more relaxed because you don’t need to be at a circuit two days before the actual motos. More track time means more risk for what is already a long season and, sometimes, with lots of weekends together. Two days has a higher physical cost.”

Alberto Forato, SM Action Racing Team Yuasa Battery: “For me two days is the best way. More time on the track and with the bike and more time to get a good feeling to try and be on top. That’s my opinion but I hear many guys like the one day…”

Tim Gajser, Team HRC: “I’m super-happy we are back to two days. Whenever I was asked in press conferences about this for the last two years I always said that I missed the two days. I think if it’s a world championship then it should be like this. Of course we get more track time and my view is that it is safer because we can work on the bike. One day was very intense.”

Giacomo Gariboldi, Team Principal Team HRC & Honda 114 Motorsports: “I prefer the one-day format. Last year it worked very well and we didn’t take any risks on Saturday. I’m not a fan of the qualification heat. Maybe we can use Saturday for a practice or qualification session but not to race. I think one day is better for the riders and the teams.”

Jago Geerts, Monster Energy Yamaha Factory MX2: “When they told us last year that we’d go back to the two-day format I thought it would be difficult after getting used to the demands of one-day but it was actually really nice to have the two days again. We have more time to try different things and it’s less stress. So, it’s a good thing. I’ve changed my mind.”

Mattia Guadagnini, Red Bull GASGAS Factory Racing: “For me this is the first time with the two-day format and it’s not so bad. It’s good to be able to check the track and find the rhythm. It’s a little bit more riding and the qualifying heat means one more race and one more start, which is a bit dangerous, but it’s good to have more time to think about the track. Before this it was ten minutes to have a look and then full-gas to qualify. It’s better.”

Pauls Jonass, Standing Construct Husqvarna Factory Racing: “It’s been a while since we had the two days but I think MXGP needs it. We have to develop the bikes and work on settings. We see in other top level motorsports that they have a two or even three-day formats. It might lead to more injuries but then perhaps we need to balance it out with less training during the week.”

Simon Längenfelder, Red Bull GASGAS Factory Racing: “I like it because I can have more time with the race bike! It’s a little bit different in some ways to what I train with and you can feel a bit stiff because of that. More time means you can be more loose, more free and find the lines.”

David Luongo, CEO Infront Moto Racing: “The one-day format was not foreseen as a long-lasting change. We had to adapt the timetable in order for the riders, the teams and all the stakeholders of MXGP to be prepared for the triple headers and back-to-back events because of Covid. The MXGP World Championship uses prototype bikes from the manufacturers. Our sport has a two-day format like the other major motorsports disciplines because teams and especially factory teams need more practice on track for the settings of the bikes and to develop those prototypes. The two-day format also makes the championship more complete and demanding. We also have to think about our local organizers and their needs. Spectators are used to travelling from Friday to Sunday and have two days of activities on the track and, for sure, to have the MXGP riders racing also on Saturday is an important plus for the organizers.”

Jorge Prado, Red Bull GASGAS Factory Racing: “I have varying opinions. At first, I wasn’t a fan of returning to two-days because I thought Saturday wasn’t very useful. We’d race for nothing, just gate positions. On the other hand, I can see that having more time on track can actually help in terms of safety because you can get the feeling of the circuit and the ground. If we have to race on Saturday then why not award points? It would make it more worthwhile because for most circuits a top ten position for the qualification heat is enough for the starts and the motos.”

Antti Pyrhonen, Team Manager, Kawasaki Racing Team MXGP: “For us the two-day format is much better. Of course, we understood the necessity of one day during the pandemic but two days is better to allow us to set up the bike and for the rider to build up his feeling with the bike and the track. It allows us have time for adjustment and to really work through the weekend and up to the crucial moment which is the two motos. I saw in the last two years – when we had rookie riders – that it was more challenging for them to get into high speed and get comfortable after just one session. It was difficult and very demanding to go right into a race.”

Thomas Kjer Olsen, DIGA Procross KTM Racing: “I’m happy with the two days. One day was tough to get adjusted to the track and to give some good feedback to the team as well. There simply wasn’t enough time to make any changes to the bike. You were heading into the first moto with something that you weren’t sure about. I also feel that it was quite a lot of travelling just to be riding for one day at a GP.”

Maxime Renaux, Monster Energy Yamaha Factory MXGP Team: “It’s different, a different approach. We have to be smart with our energy and not go to crazy on Saturday. It’s useful for bike settings but, on the other side, I think the one-day format was good for the teams. I’m 50-50. It’s my first year in MXGP so you could say that I need the extra time…but I was already fast and won the qualification heat at Matterley. I know those extra track sessions will help later in the season but, at the same time, I would have been OK with the one-day format.”

Roan Van de Moosdijk, Nestaan Husqvarna Factory Racing: “When I started my MX2 career in 2020 we were already dealing with the Covid situation. Before that time I’d done four-five ‘normal’ GPs but the one-day format felt like something I was used to from the European Championship. Now I’m enjoying the extra time we have but I think I need more GPs, maybe a full season or two, before I can really say which I prefer.”

Jeremy Seewer, Monster Energy Yamaha Factory MXGP: “Having a normal season of two days makes it just a bit more relaxed for us riders. It is not so intense on the Sunday. We can get on track during Saturday and work towards the motos: this wasn’t possible last year. We had four laps basically and then we really had to go fast and sometimes that was a bit dangerous. The quali race is not really worth it. It would make more sense to have two decent sessions on Saturday and then race on Sunday. Overall, two days is better for everyone.”

Tom Vialle, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing: “It feels different, for sure. I had only one season like this, in 2019, and I’m enjoying the fact that we have a bit more. I’m still young and it’s not like I have been riding in MXGP for ten years. I like it. There is more time to work and check that everything is alright for Sunday.”

Ben Watson, Kawasaki Racing Team MXGP: “I prefer two days. I could have done with the extra day in my first MXGP season last year and I’m still learning a lot now. The one-day format meant you were doing sprint laps immediately and I struggled a bit with that and then I struggled with my starts and one session led into another. Now there are more laps to build up the intensity. It works better for me. You also have to remember that we are travelling quite far. Now we have a real race weekend and the schedule makes more sense.”

Opinion: No middle ground

I’d long supported the idea of piling MXGP motos to a Sunday, running EMX/WMX/Whatever-else on a Saturday and using riders’ theoretical free time at circuits in promotional work for the companies that pump their cash into Grand Prix. Why? There was increasing feeling of resentment towards the amount of time MXGP and MX2 riders felt they had to hang around on Saturdays and take undesirable risks through an extra race start courtesy of the qualification heat. When the championship smartly reverted to the one-day structure then the switch was extreme: from too much to too little. It worked for two reasons. Firstly, through sheer necessity and the fact that an international series was lucky to be in existence at all as the world went lockdown mad and secondly, racers were able to quickly adapt training and riding rituals to prioritise those key competition days on weekend and mid-week.

Riders have been through a confusing time. Not only have they had to cope with the massive delays both in 2020 and 2021 but then also rushed calendars and the shortest off-season ever running into 2022. They have had to be flexible; training, riding and preparing either more or less and at different times. The ‘blueprints’ that existed for their profession have been entirely smudged. So, the luxury of pushing race bike technology on Grand Prix-spec circuits for more minutes seems to have come as a relief. It will be quite a while before they start to get restless again at the Saturday/Sunday outline for Grand Prix.

The qualification heat will always be contentious, even if it is the fairest and most engaging way to decide the roster for the gate. Perhaps new systems can be trialled? The top sixteen riders could pair-off in eight one-lap duels? The start would be safer and the lap-times recorded by each could still count towards the final qualification chrono. The paying public would also get their show, and perhaps points or some sort of prize could exist for the rider that wins the duel out of the top two fastest from Timed Practice?

Catering to paying spectators has to an area of renewed interest for Infront. The niche nature of motocross means the sport will never be mainstream. The two-moto format means it will always be an awkward fit for TV and – quite rightly – why should the sport veer away from its roots? (even though I’d love to see a simplified structure to somehow catch the curiosity of more neutral motorcycle or motorsports fans). Therefore, the emphasis for growth and for the promoters – and their parent company – to build their business model has to come from events and the same kind of wider appeal from more on-site activity to generate revenue. Hopefully the worst of the pandemic has passed and there will be enthusiasm for public entertainment once more in 2022; any promoter knows they must be ready to captivate eager audiences. As tourism builds there will be renewed incentives to encourage international travel and awareness: how quickly and how abundantly this can happen and filter into funding for sport is up for debate.

So, 2022 and 2023 must see MXGP maximising the on-the-ground potential of this gripping discipline while also not being left behind in terms of small broadcasting innovations (drones? onboards?) that can make it seem fresh through our screens. Securing local organisers, recovering costs, improving broadcasts, offering some form of assistance to teams to ensure the health of the championship in terms of rider numbers and contracts and then seeing where and how MXGP can push-on: it’s not an easy task.

Article: Adam Wheeler/JP Acevedo

Pic: MXGP/Infront Moto Racing

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Paddock talk: MXGP paddock discusses one-day V two-day format

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