The big guns of the FIM Trial World Championship fire into action tomorrow for round two of the 2019 series at the iconic Twin Ring Motegi circuit, 100 kilometres north of Tokyo, which this year is celebrating its 20th consecutive season hosting TrialGP Japan with a three-day feet-up festival that runs from June 7-9.
The only round this year to feature two points-paying days, the premier TrialGP riders will compete alongside the Trial2 and Trial125cc classes with the top-flight females of the TrialGP Women class also getting in on the action for the first time this season.
The biggest gun of all is, of course, Toni Bou (Repsol Honda) and the Spaniard – who has his sights set on a 13th consecutive TrialGP World Championship – was in imperious form at the series opener in Italy at the end of May to underline his status as the greatest rider in the history of the sport.
Running out winner at Arco di Trento’s Metzler Offroad Park with his total of 33 marks almost half that of second-placed Jeroni Fajardo (Gas Gas), brilliant Bou starts this weekend’s event as a clear favourite – but last year’s TrialGP Japan didn’t go to plan for him.
With his outdoor preparations interrupted by a back injury sustained at an indoor event, Bou struggled to 4-2 finishes in 2018 on the venue’s huge rocks and imposing wooded hillsides with Fajardo and Jaime Busto (Vertigo) coming out on top.
This time around, however, Bou is firing on all cylinders and will be looking to extend his championship lead. Can anyone stop him? That remains to be seen but – once again – Fajardo and Busto along with Adam Raga (TRRS) will be hoping to cause an upset on Honda’s home turf.
“The Japanese Trial is always special for us,” says Bou, “it's like the home GP. Last year was not too good but we have had great years, winning on both days. I think that in Italy people enjoyed the more technical sections so let's hope it's a bit more complicated than last year and let’s hope we get a great result.”
France’s Benoit Bincaz (Beta) – fourth in Italy after having the advantage of starting at the back of the field – will be looking to build on this result but it’s home hero and fan favourite Takahisa Fujinami (Repsol Honda) who can expect the most support from the passionate Japanese fans. Fujigas finished on the podium with a fighting third on day one in Japan last year and will be aiming to emulate that result at least once this weekend.
The Queen of Trial, Britain’s Emma Bristow (Sherco) kicks off her campaign for a sixth consecutive TrialGP Women title in Japan and it would be a brave person who would bet against her following her 2018 clean-sweep of all four World Championship events. That’s not to say it will be easy and Spain’s Berta Abellan (Vertigo) and Sandra Gomez (TRRS) will be among the riders determined to push her hard in what is a fiercely-competitive class.
Reigning Trial2 champion Matteo Grattarola (Honda) came out on top in at the opening round ahead of the British pairing of Jack Peace (Sherco) and Toby Martyn (Beta) but the Italian will need to bring his A game if he wants a repeat performance in a stacked class that’s packed with talent that includes Luca Petrella (Beta), Gabriel Marcelli (Montesa) and Alexandre Ferrer (Sherco).
Kieran Touly (Scorpa) emerged as the front-runner in the Trial125 class in Italy from Carlo Alberto Rabino (Beta) and Alex Canales (Gas Gas) but consistency is key among the championship’s youngest competitors so don’t be surprised if TrialGP Japan results in a major shake-up of the title chase.
TrialGP Japan gets under way with the first of two Qualification sessions on Friday at 1pm local time. Stayed tuned for regular updates at www.trialgp.com or by downloading the free TrialGP Live app and across our social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – just search for TrialGP.