Cairoli and Herlings on their battle in Portugal
The paddock reconvened after the long drive to the west of Europe and the distinctive Agueda circuit with the red dust and loose top soil providing a slippery, bumpy and tricky surface and a different challenge to the rough sand of Ottobiano in Italy seven days previously. Wide in many places and with some spectacular jumps, Agueda was also limited away from the main racing line for passing opportunities among the front-runners.
On this stage and watched by 20,000 people (weekend figure) MXGP Championship leader Cairoli and ‘rookie’ Herlings resumed their duel from Ottobiano with the Sicilian fronting the field in the first moto until lap twelve of eighteen when Herlings found a superior rhythm and sliced past his rival. Cairoli kept pressure on the Dutchman and the gap at the flag was just over a second as Herlings toasted his fifth moto success (the second highest tally of the season). In the second race Cairoli again found first position on the opening circulation while Herlings dispensed with Tim Gajser to move up to second and work on the margin to the #222 but the eight times world champion used his considerable experience to register his eighth moto win, the fifth of the term and the 82nd GP accolade of his career.
Cairoli: “This is my first win here in Portugal with KTM so it is already important. It was a very difficult track and very bumpy and hot weather again. First moto I had a good start but Jeffrey was riding better in some parts of the track; I was struggling a bit and couldn’t follow him immediately but eventually found a better rhythm. I made a good gap in the second moto and could stay at the front to win the GP. I’ll keep training but also rest a bit now because we have passed the middle of the season. I will try and do my best in Loket but we are starting to control the championship and have a good lead so we have to ride smart.”
Herlings’ fifth second place from a total of six podiums finishes (from the last seven rounds no less) now makes #84 the second most successful rider behind Cairoli and bumps him to within just 2 points of the top three in the MXGP standings.
Herlings: “It is a bit frustrating being second again and we were closer than we were last weekend but it is something to build and work on. We did some good things for the championship because only a few rounds ago I was almost 50 points back and now it is 5-or-something to second place: that’s quite impressive. So I’m happy for that and I didn’t lose points to Cairoli today. [Getting to] second in the championship will not be so bad and everyone has worked so hard in the team. To go 1-2 would be amazing for KTM. My starts were good again today by the way and we are getting better and better.”
Cairoli sits atop MXGP by 91 points meaning an increase of 24 over Clement Desalle who was eighth in Portugal.
Glenn Coldenhoff, who qualified in 9th after recovering from a first lap hold-up, was 11th overall on the day. The Dutchman started and finished in seventh place in the first race and then just ‘survived’ through the temperatures and exertions of two sun-kissed Grands Prix in quick succession to obtain fourteenth position.
Coldenhoff: “I think I felt the effects of last week today. It is strange because I was fine yesterday and I was riding well and the bike was perfect. I had a little bit of bad luck in the qualification heat because someone crashed in front of me and had to use energy to come back from dead-last. The last four laps were really tough and I used too much yesterday. The first moto was still OK and I found my rhythm but I was ‘done’ after that moto and had to throw-up. I gave everything I had and I knew the second would be tough and I tried to eat and drink but I wasn’t 100%. At one point I thought I might be able to run upfront for a while but then the ‘man with the hammer’ came up to me and I really had to slow down. Again, some positives but also some things to work on. We’ll take a week off now to recover from these two heavy races. We work to be on the box and we’ll keep trying for that.”
Steering the KTM 250 SX-F, MX2 red plate holder Pauls Jonass tied on results and points with title rival Jeremy Seewer – the pair notching a win and second place each – but the Swiss walked the top of the podium due to his second race proficiency. The Latvian was forceful in the first moto after moving up, stalking and then relegating Thomas Covington to second spot. Pauls looked to repeat the result and aim for his fourth ‘double’ of 2017 in the second sprint but had no match for the pace of Seewer after he chipped into #41’s lead after twelve laps of seventeen. The hot and physical conditions meant another hard test for the MX2 contingent and Pauls was satisfied to maintain his championship cushion of 37 points from Seewer.
Jonass: “We didn’t gain anything and we didn’t lose anything. I was happy with the first moto and my riding this weekend. I got a pretty good start and had a nice battle with Thomas and was satisfied with the win. I started well again in the second race and was leading for a long time but Jeremy came past and I was a bit disappointed about that, anyway, the points gap is still the same in the championship. We have a three-week break now and I’m looking forward to that. We have a lot of progress to make. We’ll get some hard work done with the team.”
Teammate Jorge Prado enjoyed some boisterous support from the Spanish fans that had made the short trip across the border and the teenager showed positive speed on Saturday by flying back from a first corner fall to seize 12th place in the gate. The sixteen year old rookie was as high as third in the formative stages of the first moto but faded badly in the heat and with the rough track, and classified outside of the points. For the second affair Prado could not take to the gate still reeling from the effects of the first race and also the heatstroke he suffered just seven days beforehand in Italy.
Prado: “After last weekend I took a full week off to recover and my feeling yesterday was not too bad but today I felt tired from the beginning. I had a good start but then just felt empty and couldn’t give my best. I really enjoyed the track and the crowd that were supporting me a lot but physically I was not ready.”
MXGP now enters a small summer break with two free weekends preceding the Grand Prix of Czech Republic at Loket on July 22-23 for the thirteenth round of nineteen in the 2017 campaign.
Next Round: July 23 2017 – Loket (CZE)