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10 Things to Watch: MXGP of USA

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WW Motocross Park Jacksonville, FL Race Center: MXGP of USA

We’ve talked about this over and over and over and over. I don’t have anything new to add. Hopefully the hype delivers.

Cairoli Looks to Clinch

While much of the talk entering the weekend will center around the rematch between Jeffrey Herlings and Eli Tomac, we could see a World Championship clinched on U.S. soil for a fourth time in the last three years (Tim Gajser clinched MX2 in 2015; Gajser and Jeffrey Herlings clinched MXGP and MX2 titles in 2016). Entering the weekend, Antonio Cairoli holds a nearly insurmountable 101-point lead over Herlings with three rounds remaining. “I will do my best to do a good race, but you know when you’re in this position, it’s always difficult to risk something extra,” he told us this week. If Cairoli can just hold serve, he’ll clinch a ninth World Championship and move one step closer to the legendary Stefan Everts’ record of 10. 

Can Cairoli clinch his ninth FIM Motocross World Championship two rounds early this weekend?
Can Cairoli clinch his ninth FIM Motocross World Championship two rounds early this weekend? Ray Archer/KTM Images

Without the AMA’s production and homologation rules to be concerned about, Cooper Webb will finally race the all-new 2018 Yamaha YZ450F this weekend. Wilvo Yamaha MXGP rider Arnaud Tonus debuted the bike at the MXGP of Czech Republic earlier this year. While Webb has continued to race the 2017 YZ450F in Lucas Oil Pro Motocross, he’s had the 2018 in his possession for a while and he and the team really began testing it out in California last week to get it race-ready for this weekend. Webb, who won the MX2 Class at his home race in 2016, didn’t have a spectacular rookie 450 campaign, but did show some flashes. Pulpmx’s Kris Keefer wrote on Twitter that Webb looked like a new rider on the 2018. Will the 2018 make a difference this weekend? 

Confidence is a scary thing, and Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Adam Cianciarulo has plenty of it. After a few missed opportunities closing the deal on his first win, AC finally got it done at Budds Creek. He followed it up with a 2-2 performance at Ironman. Over the last four motos of the season, AC went 1-2-2-2 to finish third in points—a career-best finish to a Pro Motocross Championship. “I really feel like these past four or five races that I’m 100-percent fit enough and that I’m one of the fitter guys out there,” he told us earlier this week. “When it comes to that and when it comes to the mental side, I kind of feel like I have everything dialed right now.” Can the Florida native get it done at home?

Savatgy’s Health

Earlier this week, Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki announced that Joey Savatgy would race the MXGP of USA despite missing the last two rounds of Lucas Oil Pro Motocross with a foot/ankle injury. If Savatgy’s 100 percent—which he apparently is close enough or he probably wouldn’t race—he is a favorite for the MX2 win. After making inroads with his bike setup mid-season, Savatgy closed strong, finishing 1-2-7-1-1-4 with two overalls in the last three rounds. “It was a bummer for me to have to stop racing after going on a roll there at the end of the season,” said Savatgy in a team statement. “I’m excited to race and try something different, hopefully making our team proud in the meantime.” We’ll see how much his injury affects him this weekend.

There are still a few big pieces of the Silly Season puzzle to figure out, with Justin Barcia’s name at the top of many lists. From what we’ve heard, it’s a forgone conclusion Barcia will not return to JGR next year. With a lot of teams presumably full, it doesn’t leave the two-time 250SX champion with many options heading into the off-season. As Justin Bogle can attest to: it’s a lot easier going to the table with strong finishes to end the year. This is Barcia’s last chance to show he’s worth signing for next year.

Other U.S. 250 Contenders

Aside from Cianciarulo and Savatgy (who we mentioned above), the MX2 field is loaded with U.S.-based riders. Florida native RJ Hampshire and his GEICO Honda teammate Chase Sexton will compete. Nicky Hayden AMA Horizon Award winner Justin Cooper is also in, as is Mitchell Harrison, who podiumed at the USGP at Glen Helen last year. Justin Hill, Dakota Alix, Lorenzo Locurcio, and Hayden Mellross will also line up at WW Motocross Park. Many are high on Hampshire coming into the race, but watch out for Harrison, who like Barcia, is shopping for a ride for 2018.

The Track

Opened by Wayne “Junior” Scarborough in November of 2013, WW Motocross Park is a 1.2 mile track built by Dream Traxx that features a mix of clay and sand. The track, voted “Best Track in Florida” by Moto Playground reader’s choice in 2016, features lots of rollers and tabletops, some split-lane corners, and one massive jump right in the middle dubbed Mt. Ruthless, which is 35’ above pre-existing elevation. Like the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway last year, the U.S.-based riders won’t have an advantage like they did at Glen Helen, as the track will be new for everyone. We’ll see who can make the quick adjustment.

As of today, it looks like we should have a clear weekend in Jacksonville. On Thursday, it was calling for 80 percent chance of rain on Saturday, but as of today, it’s down to 50 percent. Rain or no rain, one thing is for certain: it’s going to be hot. Like, really, really hot. Saturday is expected to reach a high of 86 with 76 percent humidity. Racing on Sunday won’t provide any relief, as temperatures are expected to reach 90 with 72 percent humidity. Europeans typically struggle with hot and humid temperatures, so we’ll see how they adjust this weekend. 

Debut of 2018 Honda

Another bike that has gained a lot of traction in the last few months is the all-new 2018 Honda CRF250R. This weekend, Honda HRC MX2 rider Michele Cervellin will debut the 2018 CRF250RW (works bike), which is based on the CRF250R. “I really like the power of the new bike, it is also much better off of the starts so I think we should be able to get a good start and then a better result from that,” said Cervellin in a team statement. Let’s see how the Italian performs on the new machine.