The gloves are finally off under the Red Bull KTM awning after an inevitably ill-tempered showdown between team-mates Jeffrey Herlings and Tony Cairoli at today’s MXGP of GB at Matterley Basin.
On the super-fast hardpacked track the pair harassed each other all day with Herlings, the series leader, coming out on top following two hard-fought victories in the premier MXGP class ahead of the defending champion to extend his championship lead to a commanding 54 points after nine rounds.
But it wasn’t just the wins, it was the demoralising manner of the 23-year-old’s victories as Herlings reeled in Cairoli seemingly with ease in the closing stages of both races and, of course, there was that controversial pass which landed him the opening race…
Cairoli had stayed tight around the first turn to holeshot moto one ahead of his Dutch team-mates Glenn Coldenhoff and Herlings who quickly moved up into second followed by Tim Gajser (Team HRC) and Clement Desalle (Monster Energy Kawasaki). At the end of the opening lap Romain Febvre (Monster Energy Yamaha) sat sixth ahead of Jeremy Van Horebeek (Monster Energy Yamaha) and leading Brit Tommy Searle (Bike It DRT Kawasaki).
At the front Cairoli looked in full control on a track where he’s won six GPs and not even Herlings looked like catching him until, with three laps to go, a mistake allowed the younger man to close and make an audacious pass around the outside of a turn by railing a rut. Cairoli immediately struck back but with the two-lap board out the pair came together twice in a right-hand turn and the Italian went down.
Was it dirty? Well, that depends on which rider you support the most but there were no penalties handed out by the FIM and, as the saying goes, ‘rubbing is racing’!
Gajser was third, four seconds behind Cairoli and 14 behind Herlings, with Desalle and Febvre ahead of Coldenhoff, Van Horebeek and Julien Lieber (Monster Energy Kawasaki) as Searle hung on for ninth – equalling his best finish of an injury-hit year – from Evgeny Bobryshev (BOS Suzuki).
Following a dreadful start Max Anstie (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna) pulled through to 13th after ending the opening lap in 20th with Graeme Irwin (Hitachi ASA KTM UK) 19th and Shaun Simpson (Wilvo Yamaha) in 21st after a crash.
Cairoli holeshot the second 30-minute plus two lap moto from
Tim Gajser (Team HRC) who survived a high-speed scare as he raced along the pitlane which allowed Desalle, Herlings and Febvre through.
Simpson was 12th, one place ahead of Searle with Anstie back in 20th and Irwin 22nd.
After four minutes Herlings eased aside Desalle for second but by then Cairoli was already the length of the wave section ahead and both were clearly on the limit as once again they began to pull clear.
By half-distance Cairoli had a three-second lead but Herlings looked content to hang back, stay out of his team-mate’s roost and work out where he was going to make a move. Cairoli then set the race’s fastest lap but Herlings responded with a fastest lap of his own with two to go and on the final lap he did it again – but this time for good measure he threw in a pass on Cairoli up the inside of a fast left-hander to win by just over a second.
As he pulled off the track Herlings held out his hand to Cairoli to acknowledge a great race but was ignored by the Italian…
“I did my best,” said Herlings. “It was a little unfortunate in the first moto but in the second we could keep it clean and it was a good moto I would say. At one point I was like ‘okay, three more laps to go, last push’ and luckily I was in a position to overtake Tony and win the GP.”
Following a fantastic three-way battle with Desalle and Gajser, Febvre came home third for his first podium finish of the year with the Belgian taking fourth in the race and on the day from the Slovenian.
Searle ended the day as best British rider with his 10th in race two good enough for eighth overall in just his second GP back after breaking his collarbone. Anstie finished the moto one place behind Simpson in 12th for 10th on the day with the Scot 17th overall. Irwin failed to score second time out in 21st and was 23rd overall.
The Herlings versus Cairoli duel resumes next weekend when the 2018 FIM Motocross World Championship hits the halfway mark at Saint Jean D’Angely in France.