Jeffrey Herlings (Red Bull KTM) landed a massive psychological blow when he twice came from behind to run one-one at today’s MXGP of Latvia at Kegums and extend his championship lead by another six points over team-mate and defending champion Tony Cairoli.
After seven rounds of the FIM Motocross World Championship the Dutchman has now won 10 out of 14 motos and claimed five overalls to head the Italian in the MXGP title fight by 29 points.
“I had a really good start [in race two] but in the first turn I span a bit,” he said. “Tony had a big gap before I got into second and I closed 10 seconds so that was really good and I could overtake him and managed to go one-one on the weekend which is awesome.”
The perceived wisdom that starts are 90 per cent of the race doesn’t appear to apply to Herlings. Following a 50-second win in qualification yesterday he twice emerged from the first turn at a serious disadvantage before twice chasing down Cairoli.
In the opening 30-minute plus two lap race it was the nine-time world champion who holeshot as Herlings found himself mid-pack after getting squeezed out. Cairoli briefly lost the lead to 2015 champion Romain Febvre (Monster Energy Yamaha) before re-establishing his advantage with Gautier Paulin (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna) third ahead of Jeremy Van Horebeek (Monster Energy Yamaha) and Clement Desalle (Monster Energy Kawasaki) who won last time out in Russia.
By the end of the opening lap Herlings was already up to 10th – one place behind Britain’s Max Anstie (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna). Carrying incredible corner speed, he was soon posting a series of fastest laps as at one-third distance he caught and passed Paulin for third.
At the halfway point he overhauled Febvre for second and cut Cairoli’s advantage to just two seconds with clever line choice and by staying low over the jumps before making a decisive pass through the wave section on lap nine.
Cairoli initially managed to keep him in sight but there was a sense of inevitability as Herlings opened up a gap and then, to preserve energy in the 30-degree heat, was content to manage it to win by just over three seconds.
Febvre came home third more than 30 seconds behind the leader after getting a better run through back-markers than fourth-placed Paulin with Desalle a distant fifth ahead of Van Horebeek, Anstie and Glen Coldenhoff (Red Bull Racing KTM).
Tim Gajser (Team HRC) had a remarkable ride for ninth after holding 30th on the opening lap with Lithuania’s Arminas Jasikonas (Honda Redmoto) 10th in what is the closest he gets to a home GP.
Coldenhoff showed that Herlings isn’t the only Dutchman who can holeshot an MXGP in race two but Cairoli was in the lead before the end of lap one with Gajser third from Paulin.
Herlings was hanging it out and came close to crashing through the wave section but kept the power down to move into fifth by the start of lap two as Febvre fell and went back from sixth to 20th. After remounting the Frenchman suffered a brutal crash when he collided with Jasikonas and couldn’t continue.
After only four minutes Cairoli was already two-and-a-half seconds clear as he attempted to check out and hide but Herlings was on the move, first passing Gajser and then zeroing in on Coldenhoff before taking second on lap four.
By this point Cairoli was almost 10 seconds down the track and after 15 minutes it looked like he was firmly in control but, as we’ve seen so many times before, Herlings began to pick up the pace. Dramatically closing the gap, he took the lead in lapped traffic two-thirds of the way into the race.
Both riders were clearly on the limit – Cairoli to re-take the lead and Herlings, with no second race to conserve energy for, intent on breaking his team-mate. The end result was, predictably, a six-second win for Herlings.
With Paulin almost a minute behind Herlings in third to secure third overall, Desalle snatched fourth from Gajser in the closing stages before gifting the Slovenian the position back when he slid out.
Anstie, in just his second MXGP back after a serious concussion, continued to grow in confidence and pace and came from 18th on the opening lap to ninth at the flag for eighth overall.