Preview - Grand Prix of Benelux
14 May 2004
After a short break, the 2004 FIM Motocross world championship is back in action this weekend in the Netherlands, for the Grand Prix of Benelux at Lichtenvoorde.
The sandy track, located north of Arnhem and near the German border, hasn't entertained a GP since 1996 (125 GP) so most of the riders will have never seen the venue before tomorrow (Saturday).
After Zolder and Valkenswaard it will be the third time this season that the GP stars will have raced on sand, and as there are no top Dutch riders in the MX1 class at the moment, the GP could be another all-Belgium affair.
With nine wins from the last ten 500-650cc GPs, Joël Smets is the most successful rider in the Netherlands, and after strong performances last weekend in France and Belgium the 'Flemish Lion' is hoping for his second podium of the season, after Valkenswaard.
However, Joël will have to beat his fellow countrymen Cedric Melotte, Stefan Everts and Steve Ramon who earned heat wins in Zolder and Valkenswaard. Melotte once more impressed and defeated his rivals last weekend in Kester, as he dominated the Belgian series and took the overall win, followed by Everts and Ramon.
The unfortunate Kevin Strijbos, who hasn't collected the results his speed deserves due to some technical problems, is the fifth member of the Belgium squad, and it seems that only two riders are able to stop this domination: Honda men Joshua Coppins and Brian Jorgensen.
With a good experience of sand riding, Josh (who has been based in Belgium for some time) and Brian (first double winner of the season two weeks ago in Teutschenthal) both have the pace to reach the podium.
Mickaël Pichon will probably not be fit enough to repeat his previous wins in the sand, due to constant shoulder troubles after his big crash in Germany. Things are even worse for Kenneth Gundersen, who was injured during a crash in the second German heat; the Norwegian had surgery to his knee and will be back in action for the following GP (England on May 29th-30th).
Unfortunately Marc De Reuver, the top Dutch rider will also miss his national MX2 Grand Prix after his injury at the start of the second race in Teutschenthal. The crash was not heavy, but the KTM rider suffered neck and back complications.
As his countryman Eric Eggens is also out of action (Eric has an injured back and has just started again to practice), Ben Townley will be the leader of the Austrian set-up. Losing the red plate (championship leader) after his crash in the second German race, Ben dominated the Dutch championship in Oss and regained some confidence.
Living in Belgium and racing the Dutch series for a couple of years, Townley will be the favourite in this class, but after his first ever GP win in Germany, the new championship leader Britain's Stephen Sword could again be strong.
Other likely contenders in the sand will be Tyla Rattray and Andrew McFarlane, while Michaël Maschio, Jamie Dobb, Antonio Cairoli or Alessio Chiodi will try to secure strong points before their home GPs (Britain, France and Italy, the following rounds of the series).
Italian Andrea Bartolini, recovering from his crash during the first German race is sitting out this weekend's action and will return at the Isle of Wight.
The action will start on Saturday at 10am with the first free practice session, with qualifying taking place from 3 to 6pm. On Sunday the MX2 races are scheduled at 12.05 and 15.05, and the MX1 at 13.05 and 16.05.