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2023 Motocross of Nations | Kickstart Recap & Gallery


The time I spent in France to watch and work the 2023 Motocross of Nations went by in a blur. 9184 MQMs aboard a Delta-branded plane, 834 kilometers behind the wheel of a Volvo, and dozens of conversations at the track/hotel/airport filled the six days between my departure and return to the STL airport. Still, as I walked out of the terminal, it seemed like only a few hours had passed since I had parked and locked the Buick.

And then it took a week to remember and rewatch everything that happened.

Getting to Paris on Wednesday but without my checked bag, making the most of the day with Tom Journet and his girlfriend in the city, and taking the four-hour toll-free route to Laval with team trainer Jarrett were the vacation parts of the weekend. Getting upgraded to an SUV, with Google Maps programmed into the dash and windshield display, was a reward for being a trusted Hertz member. The open passenger seat is why Chris Bond rode back and forth to the track all three days. I’ve sort of known “Bondo” for a few years, in that we’ve said hi to each other in the tunnels at races, but the thirty-minute trips from the hotel in Laval to the track in Ernee were our first times really talking. Bond’s first race as a producer was the muddy Seville Supercross in Spain, and his stories of making week-delayed one-hour replays were eye-opening when compared to the live race footage, pre-recorded profiles, and sponsored segments that are now crammed into a four-hour window on a Saturday night. He explained the how and why of the broadcast on Peacock, great information that we’ll have to formally record for a future feature, and outlined the various projects that production departments from Feld and NBC will work on ahead of Anaheim One. Launching a post-race show on Peacock and a midweek series on YouTube is how Feld and NBC want to keep the conversation going after the checkered flag flies, and the programming style is a proven winner with similar shows covering the NBA and NFL.

The first drive from Laval to Ernee felt like an hour, but by the end of the weekend, the roundabouts, hidden red lights, and traffic dodging detours were easy to navigate. Ernee is a picturesque village in the Mayenne department, with a cluster of shops, bakeries, and tabacs for the 6000 or so people living there full-time and the 60,000 who showed up on Sunday for the third MXON in twenty years.

The track’s proper name is Moto Club Ernee Raymond Demy, a tribute to a founding member who presided over the facility for 35 years. Demy helped the track earn its first GP in 1990, a 125 special won by Donny Schmitt, and gradually become a fixture to the championship calendar, with Stefan Everts’ single-day domination of the 125/250/Open Classes in 2003 and a first Motocross of Nations in 2005 being highlights of his reign. Ernee was supposed to host the race in 2020, but the pandemic and confirmed events in other countries pushed the return to 2023. The wait proved worth it, with promoter InFront Moto Racing stating that the team turnout-ticket sales-media requests were all the highest in the history of the MXON.

Doug Dubach’s assessment of the place was hilariously accurate: “It’s a French track, so it’s hard pack and hilly.” As impressive as the natural amphitheater and built-in amenities were, enough to put it in the top five motocross tracks I’ve ever visited, the Doctor’s description is what I faced hiking up and down the rocky walls. Riders had an even more daunting challenge, including the shallow ruts cut into the off-chamber corners, baked-in braking bumps at the top, and square-edge chop that developed everywhere. Unseasonably warm weather, with temperatures in the high 70s and no rain in the week leading up to the race, had to have played a part in the prep. Although a small creek runs right through the property, the Moto Club website says it has been forced to reduce water consumption, meaning no recent practice days, and there’s no way environmentally conscious France would change this stance for one weekend and a few dozen motorcycles.

The KTM Group’s commitment to the MXON is hard to overstate. The unwavering support of RJ Hampshire, Aaron Plessinger, and Christian Craig is a big reason why Team USA was able to go at all, and the factory racing efforts of the three OEMs were represented in nine total teams (France/Italy/Germany/Belgium/Spain/USA/South Africa/Canada). Working with up-and-comers like Everts/Vialle/Adamo/Coenen ensures the Austrians will have a stable to pick from in the future, and their program has ensured a future at the MXON for all the previously listed countries.

Some see the Motocross of Nations as an end-of-year formality, with results that mean little in the grand scheme of things, especially if their country did poorly. This year’s race gave plenty to talk about regarding who beat who, but I was especially impressed by the young riders that iconic MXON efforts like Spain/Italy/Belgium sent to the starting line. Spain was in the hunt for a podium, even with a substitute rider dropped into the MX2 slot. Italy had to swap MXGP podium finisher Mattia Guadanini for EMX rider Andrea Bonacorsi, a teenager with no prior race time on a 450, and still finished third overall. The Belgians had to bump nineteen-year-old Liam Everts to the Open Class role to make room for Lucas Coenen, but the decision gave Everts a chance to go against a deeper field and could revive the 350cc at the professional level.

The best line of the weekend happened on Sunday night when a Belgian fan in an Everts jersey walked by me and the guys from Alpinestars. The Red Knights are notorious for having a beer or ten after the race and listening to techno, and in obvious but broken English, the man stated, “France win, no party. Belgium five, we party!”

As we’ve said before, seeing everything on the track and shooting is next to impossible, and what happened during the three motos is just a rush of color and noise in my head. I rewatched the entire Sunday feature a week later and was just as captivated by the Prado-Febvre/Fernandez-Renaux/Roczen-Lawrence battles for the win as I was watching them in person. Moto One between the Prado and Febvre was so good that they let it run uninterrupted for twelve minutes on the MXGP-TV feed, cutting away just in time to see a six-rider pack of GP podium finishers/AMA winners fight for spots in the top ten. I obviously saw Renaux get Fernandez in front of the crowd, there’s a sequence of the pass in the gallery below, but I had no idea that the ten-minute push by Renaux had him close the gap, jump off the track, and then get around two laps later in the same section.

Seeing France win at home is something I won’t forget. Track workers started to set up the temporary fence during the last moto, and with a mass of people ready to rush from the hill to the starting line, I decided to stay near the finish and mechanics area until the checkered flag. The most passionate were pressed against the chain link before the bikes were wheeled onto the podium, with scorching hot smoke flares in one hand and a flagpole, chainsaw, or both in the other. The FFM’s organization, from coordinated practice days to the two-story rig that serves as home base, is the standard that every other country is trying to match, but thats not the reason for the success. Like KTM, France has spent years shaping their next stars so that they can pick who they want when the time is right, and in the case of Gautier Paulin, promote them to an executive position. Each rider has exceptional technique and support from the significant race teams, and if one doesn’t work out, another is in line to take their place.

A Sunday coffee while watching the B Final Warm-Up is another moment I won’t miss. Each morning in France started out chilly, but the hillside was already dense with people who knew they needed to stake off a spot for the day, and I plotted through the pack to a small opening halfway up. For twenty minutes, I got to see the race and place how everyone else did, then rushed back to the media tent, formatted a memory card, and made it back to the track in time for the Group One Warm Up.

Michael Antonovich

Michael Antonovich has a wealth of experience with over 10 years of moto-journalism under his belt. A lifelong racing enthusiast and rider, Anton is the Editor of Swapmoto Live and lives to be at the race track.

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