The FIM Motocross World Championship picked back up at the picturesque track of Pietramurata this past weekend and, once again, the event proved to be poignant. Although the results in the premier division followed a similar pattern to recent weeks, a statement was made that could shape the title fight moving forward.
Jeffrey Herlings took a holeshot. Hallelujah! The relief and delight on his face as he collected his award said it all, as he has just eliminated the one blip in his programme. There should be no doubt that he will win whenever he leads through turn one, ninety-nine percent of the time at least. How is anyone going to be able to stay close to him if he takes the holeshot once a weekend? Everyone knows that he worked on new parts with Red Bull KTM and his team manager, Dirk Gruebel, exclusively explained what improvements were made.
"We were testing a while ago," Dirk Gruebel said exclusively in an MX Vice post-race interview. "We are constantly improving his starts. We found out that he is a little bit inconsistent with his RPM getting off the gate, like so many in his field already, we installed a light now so he sees which RPM he is on. It seems to work for him. Luckily the first holeshot – he is pretty happy about that."
If Agueda is identical to Pietramurata, with Jeffrey Herlings controlling the race from start to finish each time, then it may be time to grip to the memories of those great races that occurred at the first three rounds, because they may be tough to come by in the future. Anything can happen though and Sunday could have turned out differently, had Herlings not made it to the line in the second moto or bowed out with a mechanical issue. It very nearly happened! What a shift in momentum that would have been. It was clear that something was up when his mechanics were sprinting around after the sighting lap in a frantic fashion.
"He said the bike is cutting out a bit, so we took some connectors off and just blew some air in and tried to solve the problem," Gruebel confirmed in that same interview. "It seemed to work. Luckily it did work. It was a little bit of stress. It is not the best thing before the start for the rider’s confidence, but it was all fine afterwards. We had similar problems in practice, but the material is much older on a practice bike let’s say. It is pretty fresh here. With the washing and the water, it is always the devil and sometimes it just goes wrong."
The way in which Jeffrey Herlings won was not a surprise, especially considering the positions that he started in, but the way in which he handled Antonio Cairoli on the opening laps was noteworthy. Cairoli has proven that his sprint speed is a strength, as he was five seconds quicker than anyone else on the opening lap in Valkenswaard, but was powerless from the drop of the gate at the Grand Prix of Trentino. There were actually some rather revealing comments from Cairoli in our exclusive post-race podcast, which have gathered traction across the internet.
"Actually it is very hard for me to keep the motivation, especially after fifteen years to train in the week and go one hundred and ten percent like I did five or six years ago," Antonio Cairoli told us exclusively. "It is fifteen years that I am training every week. Sometimes it is difficult to find the motivation in the week to keep pushing at that pace for forty minutes two times. Sometimes I skip some training. This is not what we need because I know that he is training very hard. It is also not easy to focus for so long time and be consistent always."
There may not be a reason to overanalyse what is said, as Antonio Cairoli does not put an exact figure on how often that happens. Perhaps it is just once every couple of months? Would that really make much of a difference? There is no way that it happens every week, because holes in his programme would be more evident. It would be almost impossible for anyone to know just how relevant that statement is, unless a person who spends one hundred percent of the time with Cairoli can offer a candid statement. It is an interesting confession from a nine-time champion though and one that has sparked intrigue. Perhaps this is the start of mind games?
It is funny. The first four rounds have straightened things out in the FIM Motocross World Championship. There were so many questions being asked the year that Romain Febvre won the title, as Antonio Cairoli floundered and an inexperienced challenger emerged victorious. Had the level in the MX2 class really been pushed higher than MXGP? Were guys like Febvre, then later Tim Gajser, better than Jeffrey Herlings, but just in need of the bigger bike? Those questions became more frequent when Herlings struggled twelve months ago. Now, however, everything is playing out just as everyone expected all along. They are who we thought they were.
Switching things up for the MX2 class, here is a run through the top ten finishers from the division in an easy-to-read format.
1st Jorge Prado (1-2): This is still just so confusing. Is it really possible to break your elbow, miss two months of riding, jump back onto a bike a week or two before the first round and then immediately contend for wins at the highest level? Jorge Prado missed out on some crucial bike time and it clearly is not much of an issue, the race at Valkenswaard acts as additional confirmation, so he deserves a lot of recognition. The forty-five-point deficit that he faced heading into Pietramurata was slightly worrying for those in his camp, but it has already been cut down to twenty-eight points. That really is nothing at this point in the game.
2nd Thomas Covington (5-1): Results like this always act as a reminder of just how far Thomas Covington has come. Covington, who is now in his fifth season of European competition, really struggled to master stereotypical European circuits to begin with. Wins like this and also the one that he claimed at Loket are such a statement. Is this going to help him turn things around and make a run at the series leaders? There is no doubt that he is capable of contending, but it all comes down to consistency and that may be one of the hardest traits to master. This is still a big step in the right direction.
3rd Henry Jacobi (2-10): There used to always be wacky scorecards like this that got riders up onto the overall podium, but everyone seems to have mastered the art of consistency in recent years. Chaos reigned supreme outside of the top two at the Grand Prix of Trentino though! Henry Jacobi has been a revelation thus far this season, thanks to some extra support that the STC Racing team can offer after merging with Sturm, and finally broke through on the rocky surface. Will this be the last time that he stands on an overall podium? No, as he has now proven that he has the speed on all surfaces.
4th Vsevolod Brylyakov (9-3): Vsevolod Brylyakov was probably expected to do more aboard his Kemea Yamaha, but it is important to remember just how terrible his injury was last year. The shoulder that he paralysed has come a long way, obviously, but it will never quite get back to the same level and other parts of his body have to compensate for that. It would have been a very emotional time, had he jumped up onto the box for the second time in his career, but it is coming. This surge is perfect timing as well, because the Grand Prix of Russia is just around the corner and conditions will be rather similar there.
5th Pauls Jonass (4-9): Odd, huh? It is easy to simply state that Pauls Jonass had an off weekend, because of those results, but he was so good in every single practice session. It was just difficult to come through, true, but his times were not exactly noteworthy whilst further down the order. Traffic would have had an impact on that, one could argue, but Ben Watson managed to go a second quicker than the leader whilst in a similar position! There is no need to panic, as it seems that he will never do any worse than tenth, but Jorge Prado can smell blood in the water. This is a huge shot in the arm for the class.
6th Davy Pootjes (8-6): How many people really noticed that Davy Pootjes ended sixth overall at the Grand Prix of Trentino? This was an underrated ride and massive improvement over his previous performances with LRT KTM. Pootjes worked forward from ninth each time too, so did not exactly get handed this finish. It is easy to forget this, seeing as he has been around forever, but he has only just turned twenty and has three more seasons in MX2. There is no doubt that he will return to a factory outfit soon enough, especially if he keeps hovering inside of the top eight. There will be some seats free in a couple of months.
7th Michele Cervellin (6-11): The Martin Racing Technology outfit is a privateer effort and that obviously makes this much more impressive. There is just a van and a pop-up tent really, much like two seasons ago, so it is quite the step down from Team HRC. Despite that though, he never did better than this with factory machinery last year. That finish in moto one on Sunday actually tied his career-best result and he only just returned from injury too, so maybe there is the potential for something to happen here? However, then again, Pietramurata is a track that he has ridden a ton, it was his home race and good starts helped.
8th Thomas Kjer Olsen (3-16): Even the consistent guy could not keep it together across two motos! Thomas Kjer Olsen is missing something, but what is that? Olsen is very quick, not a terrible starter and remarkably consistent more often than not. There is just something that is stopping him from becoming a consistent winner though and threat for this title. The crash that restricted him to sixteenth in the second moto could have been a lot worse, as it was a pretty hard hit on a rock-hard surface, so salvaging five points was rather impressive. Olsen could be labelled as the third-quickest rider in this class, but perhaps Thomas Covington has the edge when everything is clicking?
9th Ben Watson (11-7): This was so good and yet it will just get overlooked. Ben Watson hit the gate in moto one, which just happens from time to time, and exited turn one in thirty-ninth. On a track that was extremely hard to pass on, he made it up to eleventh and even crashed before reaching that spot! Pauls Jonass did not make as much progress in the qualifying race on Saturday, to put that into perspective, and Watson was even the fastest man on track whilst working through traffic. It is extremely likely that he would have finished third overall, had he not hit the gate in the first encounter. There is a lot more to come from the Yamaha-mounted rider. This is going to be exciting to follow.
10th Jago Geerts (7-13): It is probably important to temper expectations here, as some undoubtedly expect too much too soon. There is a good reason for that though, as he keeps showing these flashes of brilliance that get everyone excited. The overall win that he claimed at the Dutch Masters last weekend is a perfect example of that. It is actually a great shame that the Grand Prix of La Comunitat Valenciana was so disastrous for him, because of a couple of crashes, as an extra twenty points would put him sixth or seventh in the championship standings. What a start to his career that would be, especially considering that he is a full-time student.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: KTM Images/Ray Archer