MXGP echoed to life through the trees, epic mountains and crystal blue lakes of Patagonia-Argentina for the first Grand Prix of nineteen in the FIM Motocross World Championship. For the riders of the MXGP and MX2 classes the opening blast of action in 2018 helped to calm nerves and ease qualms about performance and potential. Jeffrey Herlings and Pauls Jonass may have given KTM a firm double but the dark volcanic earth of the Neuquen circuit was also the stage for some small sporting milestones.
Chief among the achievers was 114 Motorsports Hunter Lawrence. The Australian earned just the third rostrum appearance of his career and a maiden prize for his new Honda team with the third step of the box. “If I look back to last year then it is a helluva lot better start!” he said. “I wasn’t on fire with the track and it isn’t one of my favourites; it wasn’t a great weekend and I’m still on the box so we’ll take it.”
Next-up Kemea Yamaha’s Ben Watson, who realised a personal best of fourth position overall in the MX2 class – two years after the 20 year old Brit smashed his left foot to pieces at the same venue and missed most of the 2016 campaign. This was a dramatic and deserved reverse of fortune. “I didn’t have any pressure on my shoulders and the team have given me absolutely everything to get this job done,” #919 said. “This feels pretty emotional to be honest. It is an unbelievable feeling. In every single session I was ‘up there’ and it is a massive boost in many ways and I think this is a big step for my career.”
The Neuquen layout – a consistent presence on the MXGP schedule for the last four years – was again relished by the elite of off-road motorcycle racers. The grainy soil/sand was rough and inviting but the layout fast, wide and relentless. The site inaugurated the championship for the first time and almost 30,000 fans filled the banks and filled the shadows under the tress through the weekend.
Argentina was also notable for Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Clement Desalle first podium trophy with third place and after having defeated the warring Monster Energy Yamaha’s of Jeremy Van Horebeek (fourth) and Romain Febvre (fifth).
The latches clicked shut on the freight cases Sunday evening as the trucks slowly pulled into the near-deserted circuit. The long journey east and back to (colder) European climes begins immediately for the paddock who can now begin to think about a sustained campaign on soil closer to home and with Grands Prix in Holland, Spain, Portugal and Italy to come in the following weeks.