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Monster Energy Kawasaki Racing Team’s Ryan Villopoto finally swung the axe in the FIM Motocross World Championship last weekend. The multi-AMA Champion became the first American to win a Grand Prix since Zach Osborne in 2008 and did it with one of the most convincing moto performances to be seen this season as ‘RV’ went 1-3 in temperatures that scorched most of the 24,000 spectators in attendance.
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Thailand Circuit was a gnarly mix of rutty corners, relentless jumps and waves and a weird combo of terrain that offered traction in places and was almost as slick as ice in others. The track was unchartered territory for all. However the previous two Thai Grands Prix meant that the vast majority of GP stars knew about the heat and humidity. The stuffy air wrapped the venue like a smothering cloak and it left some of the Europeans – training and testing in minimal winter temperatures back home – gasping for breath. The thermometer was revving at 39 degrees (101 Fahrenheit) and with a hefty humidity index.

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The season-opening Grand Prix in Qatar saw Villopoto struggling to exert any authority but after two days of testing in Europe and a quick flight to Bangkok on Thursday the former multi AMA Champion was in a better groove. Attacking the jumps with the kind of relish that used to intimidate his supercross rivals, Ryan blitzed qualification for his first pole position on Saturday. He then enacted the same performance in the first moto to win without a shred of a challenge from the best of MXGP. The second race was actually reduced by five minutes as riders were physically struggling to come to terms with the heat and the decision was made in the interests of safety. Villopoto did not gate as well and by the time he slid into third spot had too much to do in order to catch Clement Desalle and Tony Cairoli. Still, with an easy third place in the bag he was able to stand o n the top step by virtue of one point over Desalle.

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“It was definitely a lot better than last weekend,” RV told the press afterwards. “The first moto was really good and felt good. Clement was riding really well and kept pushing me. In the second moto I didn’t get the start that I wanted to and was held up in the first couple of turns. It was hot today and I haven’t ridden in heat like this for over a year and a half; it has been a long time. It was a pretty big shock – for all of us – coming from the cold.”

‘The star spangled banner’ rang out across the Thailand Circuit for the first time in a Grand Prix in seven years. “It is definitely different and pretty cool,” Villopoto said. “The only other time I hear it is at the Motocross of Nations…you could say it is like the cherry on top today.”

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Team-mate Tyla Rattray was markedly better in Thailand and profited from the same bout of testing at KRT that helped honed the race set-up for RV. The South African’s best effort on the day led to two eighth positions and a large step forwards after the disappointment of Qatar.

More victory and personal success was savoured in Thailand. In round two of six in the FIM Women’s World Championship reigning number one Kiara Fontanesi was uncatchable in both motos and utterly peerless with her lap-times. The win represented her first ‘double’ of the year and took her to the top of the standings.

In the MX2 class Dylan Ferrandis was second and fourth, to again ‘walk the box’ for the second time in one week. The Frenchman was spraying the fizzy liquid on the podium from the third step as world champion Jordi Tixier was desperately trying to ingest his own form of hydration. The Monster Energy CLS Kawasaki rider crashed only yards before the chequered flag with heat exhaustion and could not go out for the second moto. The Thailand Circuit was a happy hunting ground for Thomas Covington. The American enjoyed two punchy starts and with two fifth positions was fourth overall: his best Grand Prix of work since Qatar in 2014.

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“I’m pumped I can get a top five at such a gnarly race,” he said. “It shows we have been putting in the work in the off-season and it’s cool to see it pay off. Thanks to the team for getting me to this point.”

“I was pretty close,”he added on being fourth and within proximity of his maiden trophy, “but I’m not disappointed at all. The podium will come, I just need to keep working.”

After trips east to Qatar and Thailand, MXGP now hitches a 180. The teams will travel back across the time zones to Europe and then have to think about re-stocking the freight in anticipation of the first Grand Prix of Argentina this century on March 29th. The South American country is the biggest follower of the sport on social media channels and there is already an excited build-up occurring for the arrival of MXGP to Neuquen near the southern Chilean border.

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