The all-new track in Turkey, Afyon, was broken in by the best in the world today. A black cloud hovered over proceedings early on, as Romain Febvre had a horrific crash and was taken away in an ambulance. It was an uneventful day though, aside from that particular crash, as both Jeffrey Herlings and Pauls Jonass dominated proceedings.
It is hardly surprising that those Red Bull KTM riders won, as they have done that in many locations. Herlings claimed pole position for the eleventh time this season with relative ease. It seemed that way from the outside looking in, but it was actually quite a difficult race for him where he had to manage the situation. “Yeah, definitely,” Jeffrey Herlings said when questioned afterwards. “I took a holeshot and then checked out. Around lap four or five I started to get stomach pains, probably something with the food, but I am already starting to feel better right now.
“I think it was just something I had for lunch, so at that point I just wanted to save it and just do enough to win,” Herlings continued. “I just controlled it, like I said, because I did not feel too well. Pole position and fastest in time practice, so I will definitely look forward to tomorrow. Hopefully I can get two good starts and ride like I know how to.” There were two particular laps, the fourth and fifth, where Jeffrey Herlings really broke Tim Gajser, which makes sense. Herlings said there that he managed the situation from the fifth lap onwards, as he obviously felt as though he had done enough to maintain a comfortable margin.
It worked out that way too, as he backed it down by just over a second and reeled off consistent times that really ensured that he was never under threat. The times that he recorded stayed within a second through the final seven laps, with the exception of one that was four tenths slower. The table below compares the two protagonists.
There is actually a fairly good chance that Jeffrey Herlings will claim the title tomorrow. Presuming that he will sweep both motos, which has become fairly normal at this point in the season, he would need Antonio Cairoli to score just twenty-three points across two motos. It would be ludicrous to expect that at a normal round, but the track at Afyon could create a scenario in which that would happen. It is very, very fast out there and that means that it is difficult for even the greatest riders to make progress. Very few riders made a considerable number of passes on Turkish soil.
Bearing that in mind, a poor start or simple crash would penalise Antonio Cairoli more than at any other track. It is certainly a possibility. Cairoli also stated that the track is not exactly helping his knee injury. “It was a difficult day,” Antonio Cairoli said. “With the injury, I am still not feeling one hundred percent. This track is very fast and so are the corners, so you have to attack them very hard if you want to make up time. I was not really happy about my time practice. My conditioning is not the best at the moment. I have been struggling since Indonesia with training and stuff, so I am really not happy about the riding at all.
“We have to try and survive to make some good races,” Cairoli continued. “There are still a lot of races and points, so we will try to do our best always. Hopefully we try to stay out of injury. Hopefully [Romain] Febvre is not too bad and he can be back soon. It is one second and one moment where you can crash and then everything is over. I will try to finish the season, heal up from the injuries, do my best for these coming races and the Motocross of Nations. It is a nice event to be a part of with Italy. We had the news this week that we have been selected. Hopefully we can end the season on a very high level, this is what we want, and then we are already looking forward to next season.”
The start is going to be so, so crucial in the races tomorrow. It really is. Afyon actually features a hair-raising first turn, as even that is extremely fast and leaves the riders with very little room for an error. Pauls Jonass mentioned that in the press conference earlier this evening. “The qualifying race went pretty good,” he commented. “I just did not get the best jump but got to the inside in the first turn. I managed to pass Jorge. I do not know who else was in front to begin with. I went back and forth with Jorge for a few turns, then after I just rode my own race.
“The track was really fast today. It was a little bit slick in some places, where they put water down before our moto,” he continued. “It was a little bit dangerous in the first laps. Like I said, I felt good and am looking forward to tomorrow. Hopefully they work on the track to make it a bit slower, because it was really fast and one-lined. I am not so much thinking about the championship at the moment as I am second and just hunting Jorge. We are just going step by step and GP by GP.“
There was an intriguing battle between Pauls Jonass and Jorge Prado, as the time sheets were arguably just as entertaining as the on-track action. Although the pair did not bang bars after lap one, they traded blows on many occasions by exchanging the quickest lap times. It was unclear who had the upper hand through the first half, then things calmed down and it became quite obvious that the running order was not going to change in the latter stages. The way that the qualifying race unfolded makes it impossible to predict what is going to occur tomorrow.
It was difficult to look away from the lead duo, but Thomas Kjer Olsen had an impressive charge and pulled away from his teammate with ease. There were certain points where he was faster than the top two, such as lap seven, so perhaps his name should be in the mix when speaking about protagonists for tomorrow? Another win, the third of his career, would be a great way for him to start the final month of the season, especially considering that he has slipped into the background in recent weeks. It has been expressed just how important it is to get a good start though and when was the last time that he actually took a holeshot? There was one in the first moto in Latvia and, hey, he won there!
It is going to be very interesting to see what unfolds tomorrow, as there are arguably more questions than answers. The first thing that insiders will be thinking about is whether or not the conditions have improved, so that there are more lines and the pace is a little slower. Stay tuned to MX Vice and the various social media channels for insight from the Grand Prix of Turkey tomorrow morning.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: KTM Images/Ray Archer