Where some fear to tread. The deep Belgian sand is almost trademarked as the toughest MXGP on the calendar and round fifteen of twenty in the 2018 FIM Motocross World Championship increased the demands through scorching summer sun and the glare of 33,000 spectators that nearly filled the venue near the Dutch border.
While Jeffrey Herlings and Jorge Prado repeated their mastery from 2017 and continue to control both MXGP and MX2 categories, Monster Energy Yamaha’s Romain Febvre almost swiped his third podium finish of the season.
The Frenchman tied on points with Max Anstie but nestled in fourth position overall after just failing to relegate the Brit (who has the unusual distinction of having won at Lommel three years in a row in MX2 and with three different brands of motorcycle) in the second moto.
“I saw Max ahead and I knew whoever finishes in front of the other would be on the podium,” #461 said. “I gave my all but I made a mistake and crashed and lost quite a lot of time. I caught him again after a few laps and was looking to make a move but I lost ‘stupid energy’ and was exhausted by the end. The same points as third but fourth overall so I’m a bit disappointed. But we made points today and that's important because I want third position in the championship.”
With his 3-5 Febvre - who is currently fifth in the standings - was not too disheartened. His efforts in the baking Belgium sand and the myriad of holes, trenches and bumps hid a background story. “This feels like a good result because after Loket [Grand Prix of Czech Republic] we made a lot of testing here at Lommel and changed quite a lot on the bike; improving the engine for better starts mainly,” he explained. “We had some suspension testing also in the last two weeks. We changed the bike because I felt we needed to do something, and I was surprised that I didn't have to adapt myself that much to it.”
For the 26 year old the prospect of tweaking the YZ450FM involved some hesitation. A misstep technically two years ago virtually ruined half a season. “I’m always a bit nervous when we alter the engine because I don't want to make a mistake like I did in 2017,” he admitted. “Anyway, my starts were a lot better and my riding this weekend was really good.”
All that was left for Romain was to conquer the terrain, and surfaces do not come more ruthless than Lommel where a special skill set is essential. “I’m used to racing in the sand and I live close to here,” he says. “I actually like these kinds of GPs because you see who has made the work in the sand. I think the difference was huge today between some riders.”
“It’s a technique, a different technique,” he commented when it comes to speed on the ‘soft stuff’. “It is something to learn. It is not just [about] physical condition but the hours you make in bumpy sand. I was really bad before. In France I hardly ever rode deep sand like Lommel. I remember my first year in the European Championship I was really bad! I think my first time here I took the holeshot and finished 14th! And that was without crashing! Now I’m battling for the podium in MXGP. To people around the track it might seem easy sometimes because we are jumping the bumps and everything but it is far from easy.”
Starlet Jago Geerts – arguably the brightest of Belgium’s young motocross talent – shone on his Kemea Yamaha to reach second position in the second moto for a small career milestone. The teenager almost made the Lommel sand (a natural ‘home’ for the rookie) look easy and therefore further underlined his enormous potential.
At least one other sandy test awaits the Grand Prix pack and the dates are starting to crowd-up in the run-down of MXGP. Respite comes this week but the show moves to the busy Frauenfeld facility for the Grand Prix of Switzerland and then only two more free weekends split visits to Turkey, Bulgaria, Holland, Italy and then 2018 Motocross of Nations in the USA.