Two years. A long time in any case but a dry spell that can feel ruinous in sport. Monster Energy Yamaha’s Romain Febvre has fought a broken ankle, concussions and confidence-rattling bike set-up issues since he last stood on the top step of an MXGP podium in the summer of 2016. At the Grand Prix of Czech Republic last weekend the Frenchman snapped series-leader Tim Gajser’s seven-race run to sample that forgotten feeling of elation. His 1-1 performance in the stuffy heat of the Loket circuit was just the tonic to refresh MXGP and reinvigorate the Febvre’s quest for glory.
“I feel amazing,” the 2015 champion said. “The whole weekend has been good for me. Right from the beginning my speed has been good, and I managed to go 1-1 today. I am really happy. It has been a long road back to victory and not an easy one. Many tough GPs and some injuries. We are back! I am so happy, and happy for my team Monster Energy Yamaha Factory MXGP. It means everything."
Ankle surgery in the wake of the first round means that Romain is a distant figure in the chase for the title - Gajser is more than 170 points ahead of Febvre’s teammate, Jeremy Seewer (the Swiss was 3rd in the Czech Republic for his third consecutive trophy) – but is now firmly in the mix for the chequered flag in the meetings remaining in Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Turkey and China. Monster Energy Kemea Yamaha’s Gautier Paulin finished fourth overall and fared better than teammate Arnaud Tonus who rode to a 10-5 in spite of illness.
Loket was also notable for Tommy Searle’s debut as a Kawasaki Racing Team representative. The Brit will steer the factory bike for the rest of 2019 after the injuries to Clement Desalle and Julien Lieber and #100 showed top six speed at the first time of asking.
A crucial third round of five in the FIM Women’s World Championship at the same venue provided more rich pickings for New Zealand’s Courtney Duncan. Tackling WMX for the third year and the first on a Kawasaki KX250F (actually using the brand new 2020 model at Loket), the Kiwi decimated the field for the second time in a row, racking up her fifth victory from the six motos so far. With sorties in Italy and Turkey left on the late Duncan has already built a fourteen point lead over Nancy Van Der Ven.
“I'm just so happy for myself and the whole team: everyone has been working so hard to achieve this success,” she said. “It was pretty much a perfect weekend as I even set fastest lap in practice, which is something I rarely do. I got two good starts and could immediately make good passes to lead every lap.”
“I've also got a good lead in the championship now so I just need to keep focused and bring it home,” she added. “It was really nice to race with the 2020 bike this weekend; I tested it a couple of weeks ago and after just ten minutes I knew it would be the bike I’d love racing with here. It’s a new engine so the power is a lot different, but it’s just so good and I could really feel the difference from my old bike."
Loket to Lommel: the two ‘L’s but with vastly different challenges. The marble hard-pack of the Czech course now gives way to the deep, draining sand of the Belgian Grand Prix and a test that could not be more of a contrast or more extreme.