Preview – Grand Prix of France
4 June 2004
The French track of Saint Jean d'Angely, home of the 2000 Motocross des Nations will mark the midway point of the sixteen round 2004 FIM Motocross World Championship this weekend.
Unfortunately for the home fans, the first part of the season has not been too rewarding for French riders, with just a single MX1 win for Mickael Pichon in the third round (Portugal) and an MX2 heat win for Mickael Maschio at the second round (Spain) to show for their efforts. But two years ago both were world champions, and as such their fans are expecting much better results from them this weekend.
Of the two, Pichon has most expectation, but he's still recovering from being knocked unconscious in a serious fall one month ago in Germany.
“I can't train so much on my motorcycle between the GP's, but I can do cycling, jogging, and physical training,” he said. “My problem is that this training program is not the best one for a motocross rider, as you need to train on the bike to be fit for the races.
“I've always in pain from some muscles in the neck and shoulder, and I've not always enough power in my damaged shoulder to correctly hold the bike. But it's coming better every day, and for me the tough schedule is better at the moment with a GP every Sunday,” he added.
“Now I take every race separately, as I'm so far from (Stefan) Everts in the championship,” he revealed. “I will never give up, but my goal is to collect as many podiums as possible and at the end of the season we'll see my position; the most important thing for me, at the moment, is to enjoy racing, to have fun on my Honda and to give my maximum.
“That's the reason why I was not too disappointed last weekend when I lost the GP to Josh Coppins, as I gave my best. Josh surprised me, he was really fast and even if I would have been in great form I'm not sure I could have beat him,” he said sportingly.
Although reigning champion Everts has a strong point's lead, the MX1 series (previously named MXGP and before that 250cc) has rarely been so open in the last ten years, with five different GP winners and six heat winners since the opening 2004 round in Flanders.
Everts' team-mate Cedric Melotte will try to take as many points as possible with his damaged back, while Josh Coppins will have been boosted by his first ever GP victory last weekend in England. Always fast but lacking consistency, Steve Ramon, Brian Jorgensen and Kevin Strijbos will be looking for further podiums, while it's not unrealistic for RM250 rider Tanel Leok to aim for another top five result.
Local fans will also be keeping an eye on Yves Demaria, the MX3 championship rider will make an appearance in the MX1 class on a factory 450 KTM in his home event and hope to convince team managers that he deserves to return to the premier-class.
Missing this weekend will be multiple world champion Joel Smets; the Flemish Lion is due to undergo surgery this Friday, ending his season prematurely. Also absent through will be Kenneth Gundersen and Javier Garcia Vico.
Meanwhile, with three double-wins and five GP successes, Ben Townley is now the clear championship favourite in the MX2 class, having defeated main rivals Tyla Rattray and Stephen Sword in recent events.
They are both, with Mickael Maschio, Andrew McFarlane or Antonio Cairoli the main contenders in the class, but veterans James Dobb, Alessio Chiodi or Andrea Bartolini could also break into the top three.
Finally, the French Grand Prix will be a good opportunity to look at local rising stars Sébastien Pourcel and his young brother Christophe, Thomas Allier, Nicolas Aubin and Jeremy Tarroux.
The action will start on Saturday at 10am with the first free practice session, followed by qualifying from 3 to 6pm. Sunday will see the MX2 races at 12.05 and 15.05, and the MX1 at 13.05 and 16.05.