It seems as though Jeffrey Herlings is en route to a perfect comeback, after breaking his collarbone just over two weeks ago, as he led every lap of the qualifying heat at the Grand Prix of Indonesia and won with relative ease. Tomorrow is the real test though, just as he is quick to remind everyone. The race is well and truly on for the premier-class title in the FIM Motocross World Championship.
Although Antonio Cairoli closed in towards the end, it is so difficult to determine what to attribute that to. Was Jeffrey Herlings struggling with fatigue in his return to racing? Was Antonio Cairoli just faster? Did he simply back it down? The latter is perhaps the most believable, as Herlings did have a comfortable margin and could afford to play it safe. It is most unlikely that he would have given it his all on Saturday, especially considering his current situation. It was later mentioned that he does not expect to win this weekend, even though he romped to pole position, which is a testament to how his race craft has improved.
“Yeah, definitely, it was a good moto,” Jeffrey Herlings said in the press conference. “I did not ride for seventeen days, so to come back in Indonesia after surgery is not good for the body. After that I could not train for a few days and did not ride for seventeen days. I felt like every time I was out on track I was growing and, yeah, for tomorrow we will just go out and have fun. Definitely my goal is not to win and it is crazy that comes out of my mouth, but I just want to build from here. When you are in MXGP and have not ridden for almost three weeks, plus have a surgery, then you take a few steps backwards.
“Tomorrow we will hopefully get a good spot and then somewhere around third should be my spot, but I am happy with that,” Herlings continued. “I came here and was not even sure if I could ride, as the collarbone was pretty sore at the beginning of the week, which is why we did not ride. There is a big plate in, so it is pretty incredible to be back riding seventeen days after surgery and at this level. We are in a tough situation with the competition being so strong.”
“I have been training a lot, but nothing is the same as riding a dirtbike. The intensity and feeling that you have between man and machine, it is something that you have to do on a daily basis almost. Even if you are really talented and out of the programme for seventeen days, you just need a little time to get back. You just miss that feeling of when you need to shift and the braking points. It is the normal routine, but now sometimes I miss a rut or whatever.”
“I have to get back riding a lot. We cannot ride this week, but once we get back from Indonesia we will put the hammer down. We came here for damage control and I am prepared to give the red plate to somebody else. After these two races, I want to fight hard and man to man at the last seven races. I know that I am not in a good shape right now, which is normal because of the condition that I have been in,” Herlings concluded in the statement.
Perhaps the most surprising point from today was just how good the fastest lap time that Jeffrey Herlings recorded was. The table below highlights that. Imagine if he takes a holeshot and throws down lap times that are that much better again? It would undoubtedly give him the breathing room that he needs to manage the situation, rather than push past his limit and risk making mistakes. There is certainly an interesting dynamic in the premier division.
There was an intense battle for second that included Antonio Cairoli, Clement Desalle, Gautier Paulin, Romain Febvre, Tim Gajser and Max Anstie. Anstie was arguably the most impressive in that group though, as he ended lap one in tenth and eventually moved right onto the rear wheel of Cairoli. It would not have been too surprising to see him slot into the top three, but a fall towards the end left him outside of the top ten. There is no denying the fact that the speed is there though and that will give him plenty of confidence heading into the two motos.
It is worth addressing the reason why Tommy Searle failed to finish, as there are undoubtedly a lot of fans who want an answer to that. It was because of a bike problem. Searle crashed on the same lap as the issue, so it remains to be seen if that was related, but his bike came to an abrupt halt in the waves and then he could not get it going again. Searle will start from twenty-fourth tomorrow, but it is not like he will be outside of the points on lap one. There are only nineteen MXGP regulars on the starting line this weekend.
Onto the MX2 class, where Jorge Prado romped to pole position for the sixth time this season. It was not exactly an easy for him, however, as Ben Watson was nipping at his heels the entire time. “The qualifying race went really well,” Jorge Prado said. “I got a decent start and then made some quick passes on the first lap. I was trying to ride smooth, because the track was quite difficult with all of the ruts and it was quite muddy in places. Well, soft. I think I rode pretty good. There are just a couple of points where I can improve for tomorrow. I am really happy with my riding and the track was fun to ride.”
Although Ben Watson did not quite get close enough to attempt a pass on Jorge Prado, the fact that they were so close kept fans on their toes. The gap between the two constantly changed, but in the end there was a single second between the pair at the chequered flag. The lap times really tell the story.
Much like Max Anstie in the premier division, Davy Pootjes was much better than his result may indicate. A crash early on, which was caused by Pauls Jonass, left him with a considerable amount of work to do. Pootjes has actually had quite a few good rides lately. Adam Sterry and Jago Geerts also deserve props, as both riders hit the gate and then had to push forward. A final note from MX2 is that Anthony Rodriguez, the third rider beneath the Kemea Yamaha awning, did not race, as he knocked his shoulder blade in time practice.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: KTM Images/Ray Archer