MXGP returned to the scenic climes of Orlyonok for the fourth Grand Prix of Russia this century and just the second on the coastline of the Black Sea. An undulating fast hard-pack layout lay in store for the FIM World Championship elite. Despite some travel drama that saw his baggage delayed and caused him to miss the first Free Practice session, Jeffrey Herlings ran to a third consecutive Pole Position on Saturday. The Dutchman could do little about 2017 winner Clement Desalle’s runaway performance in the first moto under clear blue skies on Sunday and a close duel with World Champion and teammate Tony Cairoli meant the KTM 450 SX-Frunners finished second and third behind the Belgian.
Cairoli would make two mistakes across the slick terrain that dropped him out of fourth position and down to fifth in the second moto as Herlings was able to holeshot and escape to eighth triumph of the season; eight chequered flags from a possible twelve. Desalle’s second spot meant he earned overall honours on the day. Herlings was able to make 7 point gain on Cairoli and now holds a lead of 23 over the Sicilian in the championship standings. Both riders have graced all six MXGP podium ceremonies so far.
Herlings: “We improved here compared to last year but we are still missing the win! It was a couple of important results for the championship and we gained more points. I couldn’t really find my rhythm in the first moto and couldn’t get by Tony and Desalle but made the holeshot and checked-out in the second. 1-3-1 for the weekend is not bad at all. To be world champion in this class you really need to be consistent so I am always looking to the podium. I think we have done a good job with that so far and I’ve been in the top three every single moto.”
Cairoli: “I’m OK with the result but not with the two small mistakes in the second moto: I’m a bit disappointed. Third place would have been OK because this is not the best track for me. It is strange and difficult. I’m not worried about this result. I’m already looking to the next GP and I know we can improve many things. A good start is always key and it is good that Desalle was in the middle of Jeffrey and I today; it’s positive for the championship that he is going faster. Hopefully in Kegums we can have some more battles. Our goal is to always be on the podium this season and so far we have achieved that.”
Glenn Coldenhoff was unlucky to tangle with Romain Febvre in the first race while jostling for a top ten position and fell to almost last. The Dutchman circulated to 21stand failed to post any points. In the second outing Glenn rode to a respectable 9thand almost relegated Jeremy Seewer in the final stages. #259 is still 6th in the MXGP table.
Coldenhoff: “I had a hard weekend. I couldn’t find my flow and it took a while to come on Saturday but I had two great starts on Sunday and gave-my-all from that first lap in the first moto. I knew it would be hard but in the end I didn’t crash because of my mistake but because Febvre got out-of-shape and I was too close. My bike was in a strange position and it took a long time to get back on track. It was really disappointing to finish that race without any points because I’m still quite high in the championship. We made some changes on the bike in the second moto and I gave the maximum. It was a weekend of some damage control and I’m happy to still be sixth in the championship. We’ll look towards Latvia now because I have good memories of that track.”
A sixth holeshot of 2018 was snared by Jorge Prado with his KTM 250 SX-F in the first MX2 moto but Pauls Jonass attacked hard by the end of the opening lap and started to build a manageable lead; the Latvian would go on to claim his seventh chequered flag of the year and his first since round three of the series in Spain. Jorge was a solid runner-up and had no answer to Jonass’ prowess away from the gate in the second sprint as #1 nailed his first holeshot of the season.
From that advantage Jonass was able to keep Prado in his shadow and returned to the formidability that bagged three wins on the bounce at the start of the MX2 campaign. Red Bull KTM have owned all six of the Grands Prix so far with Jonass claiming four and Prado enjoying spoils in two rounds; they have 11 of the 12 races in their pockets. Both riders were more than 38 seconds ahead of third placed Michele Cervellin in the second moto. Jonass leads the Spaniard by 20 points in the standings and is 47 ahead of Thomas Kjer Olsen in third.
Jonass: “After the last two GPs I was a bit bummed about my riding and was disappointed in myself. After Portugal I was telling people I would be ‘back in business’ for Russia and my trainers pushed me hard in Belgium building up to this GP. It was tough but I believed in their programme and people were saying to me already from Saturday morning here that the ‘old’ Pauls was back. Now we need to keep working and not repeat those mistakes. It is always nice to go 1-1 and especially just before my home GP. I hope many fans will come to Kegums and cheer me on because the fans’ support is important. I’ll have a bit more pressure but I’m going as World Champion and will enjoy it. I hope to hear that Latvian anthem on the podium again.”
Prado: “It was a really good weekend and compared to last year 100% better! I’m happy. The track was very sketchy and in the beginning it seemed as though the times were very tight between the riders but finally Pauls and I could make a big difference. That was surprising but it was great that both Pauls and I could be out-front again. I think we are stronger and faster than the others at the moment. I’m looking forward to Latvia because it is a track that suits me and is a bit sandy.”
Pit Beirer, KTM Motorsports Director: “I think this is one of the strongest teams and team efforts I have seen in my management career. It is fantastic to follow the results and I know the hard work put in by the riders but also the team and all the guys in Austria. To keep getting these wins and results is not normal but we are really enjoying them and seeing these fantastic riders on our strong technical package. We are seeing a tough fight with both the MX2 and MXGP boys but for me it is important that they all stay healthy and we have some clean close racing. I also want to congratulate Clement for winning the GP today.”
The rapid loamy curves of former Motocross of Nations site and staple Grand Prix venue Kegums will welcome MXGP to Latvia in less than a fortnight.
Next race: MXGP of Latvia, Kegums, May 12-13th
Words: KTM Pics: Ray Archer