PR-The hard-pack of Arco di Trento the previous week gave way to a soft and rain-hit Agueda layout; a course with many cambers and undulations. The Grand Prix of Portugal was a difficult event due to the rough, spongy terrain and the high race rhythm of the MXGP stars. Mistakes were easily punished even if the athletes embraced the line choice and increased technical demands of the surface.
On an overcast Sunday it was Jeffrey Herlings who went to the gate first as Pole Position holder on his KTM 450 SX-F for the second time this season, just ahead of Tony Cairoli and Glenn Coldenhoff in 9th position. The championship leader rode to another holeshot and led every lap of the opening moto while Cairoli had some inventive lines – despite having his right eye smashed by a rock – to pass Romain Febvre, Gautier Paulin & Tim Gajser to secure second place. Coldenhoff didn’t have the best start around the uphill lefthander but worked his way from a first lap slot of 12th to take 7th.
The second moto saw Herlings and Cairoli veer close together coming out of the gate and before the end of the first lap they were again fronting the pack. Herlings rapidly established a gap of almost eight seconds as Cairoli fought the slight handicap of affected vision. #84 fell off briefly by losing control in a rut but then worked to rebuild his lead. Herlings toasted his second success in a week, his fourth of 2018 and the 71st of his career. Cairoli’s 2-2 maintained a 100% podium record and he conceded just 6 championship points to his teammate. For the second GP on the bounce Glenn Coldenhoff made the overall top five with 5th spot and rode excellently to escape two near-misses on the first lap of the second race to reach 6thby the flag.
Herlings: “We led all the way in both motos and I had a small crash after 4-5 laps in the second race when I just tipped over but aside from that it was a perfect weekend. The starts were great and we’ll keep pushing like this. I have so much motivation right now so a big thanks to Red Bull KTM; I feel like we are in a great position. I know if Tony is behind me I really have to go full speed and in the first moto I was in the luxurious position that he had to come through so I could go a bit easy. The rest of the field were still pushing strong and Tim [Gajser] had a good race. I think this track was one of the best we’ve had so far this year. It was a little spongy but thanks to that we had a lot of different lines. The rain turned out to be good for the track.”
Cairoli: “It is a good championship and very difficult. It is always me or Jeffrey out front at the moment. I’m happy with today but made some mistakes in the first moto, first at the start by going a bit wide and then when a stone hit my goggles and I struggled to pass. I eventually found some good lines and could overtake quickly in some places; and I was really happy about that. My eye bothered me more in the second moto and I was losing some focus. Jeffrey passed me and he was riding very fast as always. Two times second is OK. We know we are not 100% physically because it is a long season. My only regret so far is that fourth place last week in Arco. That was not part of the script but we are looking forward to the next race.”
Coldenhoff: “I don’t know what happened yesterday but I felt bad and managed to turn it around today. I came back strong in both motos and actually had a great start in the second but [Tim] Gajser almost crashed and I was right behind him. On that same lap [Julien] Lieber got his footpeg stuck in my rear wheel. It was a good day and solid results. It is good for my confidence to come back like that and with better starts I can fight with the guys.”
Dirk Gruebel, MX2 Team Manager: “Two good starts again for Jeffrey and once more riding on a very high level with lap-times so solid and fast. The confidence is growing and Jeffrey is approaching the starts a bit differently now because he knows he can win them. We are in a good way. Everybody is putting in a lot of effort and also in Austria behind-the-scenes in coming up with some of the technical solutions. We make many requests during a season – as you can imagine – and every little thing helps.”
Herlings continues to head the standings and holds the red plate by 16 points from Cairoli while Coldenhoff guards 6th spot in the table.
Jorge Prado followed up his very first Grand Prix Pole Position in Italy last week with another commanding performance on Saturday that gave the Spaniard first choice in the gate for the two motos and in front of a generous helping of home support. The teenager was peerless away from the line and controlled every minute of the first MX2 race. Pauls Jonass needed several laps on a drying course to find his way to 2nd for a Red Bull KTM 1-2 with the KTM 250 SX-Fs. The second outing saw Prado again imperious and the seventeen year old completed his ‘clean sweep’ of the Portuguese meeting; a date in which he suffered two DNFs in 2017. Jonass started brightly but admitted that he fought the track and could not establish an effective rhythm. The Latvian finished 7th for 5th overall.
Pauls still retains the MX2 championship lead but the gap has shrunk to just 14 points over Prado.
Prado: “I didn’t expect two wins today because the track was very difficult and I’m not used to theses kinds of surfaces with so many ruts but this year I pretty strong and I can handle it. That’s two-in-a-row now and last year I took three all season! I’m getting near where I want to be. Training hard pays off. Last weekend in Italy was almost perfect but I made it happen here; I’m really happy.”
Jonass: “It is still nice to have the championship lead but I am disappointed with my weekend. The first moto was not too bad but I couldn’t find a rhythm or flow in the second one. I was struggling a lot with the track and had a small-tip over. I’m happy we have two weeks now before the next race because it gives us some time to work hard and be back in Russia.”
Claudio De Carli, MXGP Team Manager: “Jorge had a tough start to the season with the injury and the operation which meant he had to stop for one month and racing only began for him in Argentina. He needed to get his focus but continued to find his rhythm and speed and in both Italy and here he was very good, very fast. Here he was incredible and I think there is still more to come from him.”
The Grand Prix of Russia at the well-received Orlyonok circuit – the second edition of the event at the hard-pack venue and just the fourth MXGP race to venture into the country this century – will take place on Tuesday May 1st.
Next race: MXGP of Russia, Orlyonok, May 1st
Results MXGP Agueda 2018
Words: KTM Pics: Ray Archer