Courtesy of KTM Racing
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing made a successful and entertaining start to the 2018 FIM Motocross World Championship. Jeffrey Herlings and Pauls Jonass sprayed winners’ champagne after triumphing in MXGP and MX2 respectively through the volcanic sandy terrain of the Neuquen circuit. The MXGP race in particular was sensational with a close and tense duel between Herlings and Tony Cairoli keeping spectators at home and across the globe riveted.
The first round of nineteen in ‘MXGP’ took place in cloudy and cool conditions for the Grand Prix of Patagonia-Argentina and at the end of the summer. Tony Cairoli and Pauls Jonass dominated Saturday proceedings for their first Pole Positions of the season.
The MXGP contest on Sunday could not have been more gripping. Cairoli sprinted clear with the opening moto holeshot to lead almost the entire race until Herlings closed the gap and applied immense pressure in what was a grandstand finale. Cairoli managed to secure his first-ever chequered flag in Argentina by just one second at the line. The second moto was almost the same. The Sicilian set the pace and Herlings had to battle for fourth and third positions until arriving to second place with less than ten minutes remaining and a nine-second deficit to his teammate. The Dutchman worked hard to close the gap – his rhythm and speed through the waves section making the difference – while several small mistakes by Cairoli shrunk the distance further. The dispute heated-up on the final lap and when Herlings made his move it stuck and he toasted his seventh career GP victory with the KTM 450 SX-F. The duo shared the points but Herlings walked the top step courtesy of his second moto spoils.
Herlings: “It was a good day. I made a charge in the first moto but couldn’t make the pass; Tony was riding really well and deserved to win. In the second race I got pushed wide at the start again and had some battles going on for fifth, fourth and third. I knew there was only ten minutes left in the moto but I worked on the gap and was really glad to make it happen. I’m blessed to have won the first GP of the year and the hard work of the winter is showing. This is only the first race of nineteen and there will be a lot of good competition ahead. I feel good on the bike, even better than the end of last year. I want to thank the team because they are always supporting me through thick-and-thin.”
Cairoli: “We almost made it with the perfect weekend. In the second moto – I had a good start and made a good lead – but ran into some lappers and changed some lines. I made some mistakes and almost went out of the berm in some corners. I hit some kickers and had to slow down a little bit but if you do that then the seconds quickly go away. Jeffrey came closer and was stronger in the end. I was making mistakes and was tired and he took his chance to go around me: it was a good move. It is great for KTM to be 1-2 in both motos and I’m looking forward to continuing this championship. It will be an interesting season.”
Glenn Coldenhoff picked up a small injury to his left leg after a tumble in Saturday’s qualification heat race but the Dutchman, struggling for peak race fitness after his recent hand injury, was able to race to a 10-11 for 10th overall.
Coldenhoff: “I picked up an injury to my hand before Riola and we analysed just now that the last four-five weeks have not been the best training period. In my head I was ready for solid results but it turned out to be a difficult weekend, especially after two big crashes on Saturday and I feel sore everywhere! The first moto wasn’t too bad and in the second I made a few big mistakes and took those as a warning and decided to bring it home. I’m sore…but I’ll be ready to go next week.”
In the MX2 class Pauls Jonass raced with the No.1 plate to denote his position as reigning champion; the first time the number has been seen in Grand Prix since 2015. The Latvian was brilliant in Argentina, taking the fastest times in all practice sessions, Pole Position and both moto wins on the new KTM 250 SX-F.
Jonass: “We did the pre-season races and I knew I had the speed and the fitness because I had worked hard in the winter time. I came into this race confident…but I did not expect to win every single session when we went on the track. It is a boost for us but we won’t let it get to our heads too much because there is still a long way to go. The new bike worked so well and we can see all that testing and work in the off-season paid off. I didn’t get any holeshots today so we still have something we can improve on!”
Teammate Jorge Prado suffered a crash through the waves section on Saturday and competed with a painful right elbow. The Spaniard hit the dirt again early in the first moto but recovered to 16th place. Later in the day he managed 7th for 11th overall.
Prado: “It was a tough start to the season. I felt good on the bike all weekend and had really good speed and it was just a shame about that crash in the qualifying race that hurt my elbow. We went to hospital, because there was a lot of inflammation, and nothing was broken so that was a relief. A rider took me out while I was looking at the top five in the first moto and going to the second I was annoyed about the crashes and bad luck, so I fought to the end and finished the day quite happy.”
Dirk Gruebel, MX2 Team Manager: “We couldn’t have hoped for better. The race in the MXGP class was unbelievably close and it’s been quite a while since we’ve seen something like that. Those two guys were flying and on the podium Tony said to me he couldn’t believe how fast both of them were going. It was a big effort, but clean racing and so good for the sport.”
The fledgling world championship standings are a carbon copy of the overall Grand Prix result with eighteen rounds and thirty-six motos still to run.
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing will have just one week to recover from the lengthy trip back to Europe before the series lands at the Eurocircuit in Valkenswaard, just south of Eindhoven, for the Grand Prix of Europe on March 18th.
Results MXGP Argentina 2018
1. Jeffrey Herlings (NED), KTM (2-1)
2. Tony Cairoli (ITA), KTM (1-2)
3. Clement Desalle (BEL), Kawasaki (3-3)
4. Jeremy Van Horebeek (BEL), Yamaha (5-4)
5. Romain Febvre (FRA), Yamaha (4-5)
10. Glenn Coldenhoff (NED), KTM (10-11)
Standings MXGP 2018 after 1 of 19 rounds
1. Herlings, 47 points
2. Cairoli, 47
3. Desalle, 40
4. Van Horebeek, 34
5. Febvre, 34
10. Coldenhoff, 21
Results MX2 Argentina 2018
1. Pauls Jonass (LAT), KTM (1-1)
2. Thomas Kjer Olsen (DEN), Husqvarna (3-2)
3. Hunter Lawrence (AUS), Honda (2-6)
4. Ben Watson (GBR), Yamaha (4-4)
5. Jed Beaton (AUS), Kawasaki (7-8)
11. Jorge Prado (SPA), KTM (16-7)
Standings MX2 2018 after 1 of 19 rounds
1. Pauls Jonass, 50 points
2. Thomas Kjer Olsen, 42
3. Hunter Lawrence, 37
4. Ben Watson, 36
5. Jed Beaton, 27
11. Prado, 19