The 2018 Grand Prix of Russia, round six of twenty in the FIM Motocross World Championship, was an important and potentially pivotal fixture for Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Clement Desalle and in the short career of Kemea Yamaha’s Ben Watson.
The Orlyonok circuit staged MXGP for just the second time and hoisted a fast, slick and potentially perilous layout that teased the temptation of the world’s fastest off-road motorcycle racers to buck the limit.
Desalle took his fetching #25 machine to a 1-2 scorecard and not only repeated his success from 2017 at the same venue (but under a cape of clear blue as opposed to the swampy mud of the facility’s inauguration ten month earlier) but broke the KTM stranglehold on the series that had been in place for the first five rounds of the championship. By defeating current points leader Jeffrey Herlings and Tony Cairoli, Desalle fired a shot for the rest of the MXGP division against the orange bikes.
“A good day for me but I took the GP step-by-step and I’m really happy with my riding,” the Belgian said. “To finally have a green bike up there in first position is really nice. A good feeling and we want a few more!”
Desalle may have achieved a breakthrough but his grin was arguably eclipsed by Ben Watson in the MX2 affair. The young Brit missed a very first podium appearance at the Grand Prix of Portugal two weeks previously by half a second. This time Watson, just 21 and six events into his career as a ‘factory’ rider, made sure of his first elated dowsing of champagne with a 3-6 set of results.
“I was riding around in sixth and when I came over the line I was absolutely gutted,” Ben said. “I thought I had missed the podium by one place again. I pulled off the track and saw all the team celebrating so I just dropped the bike and was going crazy! I was absolutely over-the-moon. I just hadn’t worked out the points well in my head. I was doing my own race and it ended up being the biggest surprise ever. I was speechless and I’m still struggling to say how I feel. I want to give thanks to the team for believing in me and taking me on. To give them back something like this is a feeling you cannot explain that easily.”
Watson talked further on that fresh experience of climbing the MXGP Skybox steps and all the formalities that go into the prize-giving. “It was all new! I didn't really know where to go or what to do but the whole process of the anthems, trophies, champagne and then having to be so fast with the TV interviews afterwards; it was a bit of a blur. Although I had kinda dreamed about it I didn't really know how it would feel. I’m so f**king happy.”
Watson had already bagged two fourth positions in the five rounds prior to the trip to Russia. A trophy was hanging over his head and through the pain and memories of trauma like missing most of the 2016 season with a badly broken left foot. “In the lead-up to this event and even since the first round most of the messages from the team have been like ‘Come on! This podium is yours…’ and that I deserved one,” he explained. “It has been all about trying to reach that milestone. I wouldn't say it is a weight off my shoulders but I have shown I can do it. I know the feeling and it will give me so much more drive. The pleasure of being up there on the podium is so special and something I haven’t known at this level before. I want more, and although I know the team cannot put any more effort in I know this is going to motivate people even more. We’ll keep this rolling.”
The long trip to the shores of the Black Sea – some 2000 miles from central Europe – not only produced a results bonanza but also highlighted a large and captive audience for the sport in this corner of the world. MXGP now makes the relatively ‘short’ hop north and to Latvia in two weeks time.