MOTOCROSS: World: Belgium round 12 preview

McFarlane set for another major test After a six-year exile, the spectacular 22-jump Nismes circuit in Belgium makes a welcome return to the world championship calendar on July 30-31, which will provide another searching examination for...

McFarlane set for another major test

After a six-year exile, the spectacular 22-jump Nismes circuit in Belgium makes a welcome return to the world championship calendar on July 30-31, which will provide another searching examination for current MX2 leader -- Australia's Andrew McFarlane (Ricci Yamaha YZ250F).

When the last world title round was held at Nismes in 1999, McFarlane had just won the first of two successive Australian 250cc motocross championships, and it wasn't until the start of 2001 that he made a full-time move to Europe.

By that time, Nismes was off the scene, which means that the Brisbane rider will again start from scratch this weekend -- just as he has done in the Sugo (Japan) and Sun City (South African) rounds of this year's title.

Although the 28-year-old wasn't a giant killer at those events, his new-found maturity still saw him score valuable points. In South Africa on July 17, McFarlane scored 33pts out of a possible 50, while his main championship rival, Italian Antonio Cairoli (YZ250F), fared only marginally better - he finished with 34.

After the dust had settled, McFarlane left the African nation with a 24pt (378 to 354) lead over Cairoli, with another two Italians also over the 300-mark -- veteran Alessio Chiodi (YZ250F, 344) and the hard-charging David Philippaerts (KTM 250SXF, 305).

The latter, who only finished 19th in last year's MX2 (125cc 2T-250cc 4T) title, brought up his second race win of the year in South Africa, and has accrued a swashbuckling 210pts in the last five rounds, well clear of McFarlane (193) and Chiodi (141).

Philippaerts is one of nine riders to have won MX2 races in 2005, with the others including South African Tyla Rattray (KTM 250SXF, two), Cairoli (eight), Billy Mackenzie (YZ250F, two), Stephen Sword (Kawasaki KX250F, two), McFarlane (two), Davide Guarneri (YZ250F, one), Carl Nunn (250SXF, one) and Anthony Boissiere (YZ250F, two).

McFarlane last greeted the chequered flag in Great Britain's round seven, and is primed to add to the tally -- especially after what he felt was an underwhelming performance in South Africa.

"Sun City was a bit of a disappointment and I wasn't happy," said McFarlane. "My fitness was fine and the bike was working really well, but I had a lot of problems with backmarkers. In the first race I made three points on Cairoli, but then lost it again in the second one.

"I feel strong and confident at the moment. I've had a weekend off after South Africa to recuperate and get in some more training, and I'm now ready for Nismes."

In addition the coterie of 2005 race winners, Belgian star Cedric Melotte (YZ250F) shapes as another potential 'agitator' at Nismes, because it's a circuit which he would have ridden on many times in national events. Despite an injury-marred year, the mercurial Melotte, who was sixth in the 2004 MX1 (250cc 2T-450cc 4T) title, is still fifth in the MX2 standings on 284pts, and he'll be counting on some partisan home country support to help his cause.

Meanwhile, factory KTM rider, Dutchman Marc de Reuver (250SXF), is set to make his first appearance for the year after suffering severe ligament damage during a pre-season.

Although he will be underdone, de Reuver is a serial front-runner when he's on song, and his form in the last five rounds could well determine whether McFarlane becomes Australia's first world motocross champion.

In MX1, New Zealander Josh Coppins (Honda CRF450R) has just come off two irresistible performances in Sweden and South Africa, which has seen him trim Stefan Everts' (Yamaha YZ450F) championship lead back to 39pts (455 to 416).

At this rate, 28-year-old Coppins will at least equal his best performance in a world championship (second in the 2002 250cc title), but he'd like nothing better than to supplant Everts as MX1 world champion -- a rider who he has gone on record as saying is a poor loser.

Coppins has won four races in 2005, the same as fellow Kiwi Ben Townley (KTM 450SX) and behind Mickael Pichon (CRF450R, five) and Everts (six).

MX1 rookie, Townley, who has been named in New Zealand's 2005 Motocross of Nations team alongside Coppins and newly crowned Australian champion Daryl Hurley, sits in third on 368pts, ahead of Joel Smets (Suzuki RM-Z450, 349), Steve Ramon (450SX, 304) and the capricious Frenchman Mickael Pichon (CRF450R, 299).

Pichon latter will re-join the fray in Nismes after missing the last two rounds with what was thought to be a season-ending knee injury. Instead, he just had as small operation, and now says that he wants to race until the Motocross of Nations, after which he will submit for a bigger operation.

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Series General
Drivers Andrew McFarlane , Mickael Pichon , Tyla Rattray , Joel Smets , Stefan Everts