Strijbos nets another moto top three result, Smets in 5th
Kevin Strijbos experienced another World Championship round of varying luck after clinching third place in the opening moto of the Grand Prix of Spain at Bellpuig but then suffering a mechanical problem during the second race that forced his retirement.
The start of the day saw the Catalan circuit revealing the worse of the continual rain that plagued practice and qualifying on Saturday. The initial MX1 moto was run in slimy, boggy conditions with thankfully the low temperatures of the previous day this time absent. The single racing line and slippery terrain meant that the slightest mistake by the riders would be punished. Strijbos hit the front after an error and crash by Brian Jorgensen and stretched out an impressive leading margin only to have his hopes of a debut GP moto win ruined by running into backmarkers.
The baulked 18 year old, who didn’t dare venture off the ‘line’ for fear of ending up stuck-fast like former team-mate Mickael Pichon in one of the giant sticky ruts, was rapidly pegged back by Stefan Everts and then Josh Coppins.
The overdue Spanish sunshine finally arrived by the middle of the afternoon and dried the mud significantly. Everts was a clear winner in the last race of the day while Strijbos hopes ended on lap one when he developed engine trouble coming out of the whoops section.
Joel Smets experienced similar difficulties with his machine and although he restarted the bike twice in the first moto, he pulled his way through the pack from 16th to 9th. The 34 year old was satisfied with his riding and this was clear to see in Moto 2 when the Belgian gained his best start of the year so far and enjoyed an entertaining scrap with local hero Javier Garcia Vico before getting the better of the Spaniard and crossing the line 4th to seal an overall classification of 5th.
“In the first moto I was something like seventeen seconds ahead, it was so easy,” Strijbos reflected. “I then got caught up in the lapped riders and I could not get through. I got the sign that Everts was closing on me like I was standing still and he made up something like 8 seconds in a lap. We then went past Cedric Melotte and he blocked the line after Stefan went through. I was quite angry after the race because if the back-markers had moved over then I might have been able to win. I started badly in the second moto but I turned inside and caught some solid ground and got some good drive. I moved up into fourth and then rolling the whoops the bike felt like it hit neutral; I couldn’t free the engine and was out. It is disappointing because with the points I should have I would be leading the Championship. Still, being positive third place was not too bad in the first moto.”
“I had a small crash and the engine stalled once or twice,” said Smets commenting on his first moto. “When I finally made it out of the whoops after restarting I was almost last but got up to 9th so my riding was ok. The second moto was really good but I got locked up behind Vico for some time who was obviously going for it. It was hard to pass him and I do not yet have the confidence to attack like before. I was watching for where I could overtake and made the move on the start-finish straight, where he was looking back a lot expecting me to go. Once through I realised I had been losing a lot of time to Coppins and that was a pity. Apart from maybe Stefan I felt that I was as fast as the top three. Altogether 5th place is satisfactory today. I said before the race I was hoping for top five and I made it. There is still some progress to be made by the bike and myself. I want to be fighting for the podium in Portugal and hopefully for first place by Valkenswaard.”
Despite excellent results in two of the four races Strijbos’ poor luck means that he currently rests 11th in the early Championship standings. Smets’ consistent scoring means that he lies in 6th.
Info, photo (C) Suzuki Racing