Who impressed: MXGP class in Portugal
Arminas Jasikonis: What a ride from the 19 year-old Suzuki talent! Jasikonis took third place in a moto in Ottobiano but a crash in moto one (and getting hit in the back by Romain Febvre’s machine as he lay on the ground) meant the big Lithuanian wasn’t a podium threat.
But the confidence was up for Portugal and the news that he had secured his ride with Suzuki for 2018 clearly inspired Jasikonis, who pulled two great starts on his least favoured hard-pack surface and ran with the fast guys to get the first podium of his career.
It was also the first podium for the new 2018 RMZ450 Suzuki and was a great boost to the entire team who have worked so hard on the machine.
The way Jasikonis rode in both motos was fantastic. He showed pure speed in race one and determination and drive to do what it took to make the podium in race two.
In the first moto he passed Herlings on lap one and even caught Cairoli in the opening laps, Jasikonis was the only rider with the speed to even see Herlings and Cairoli on Sunday in Portugal.
In race two he fought hard, very hard, and eventually made a beautiful pass up the inside of Max Nagl and then put in a blistering lap to make the difference and seal his maiden podium. “I knew that if Nagl stayed there I wouldn’t get the podium so I really put a big effort into this race. I had to finish in front of him and gave everything I had to make that happen,” revealed a jubilant Jaskionis.
With Cairoli now 31, everyone is looking to see if there is anyone who can really challenge Herlings and Gajser in the future and Jasikonis might just be that man. This is his first season in MXGP, he has so much more improving to do, but already has that blistering raw speed and it now looks like he can run that pace on any surface. He might just be the rising star who can give Herlings some trouble for a title in a few years!
Jeffrey Herlings: After being ill last weekend, Herlings got some flack for his fitness but just seven days later and still not fully recovered from heat-stroke, Herlings silenced the critics by running down Cairoli in race one to take a brilliant win. That not only shows the desire of Herlings but also that his mental strength is improving all the time as he grows more comfortable in the 450 and his injury becomes an increasingly distant memory.
Even in race two when he didn’t get the start he needed, he still put a charge on Cairoli to force the Italian to push to the end. Herlings is back to his MX2 form and he is determined to get the better of Cairoli – the only man who can run pace of the extraordinarily talented Dutchman. But each time Herlings is learning lessons from the champ and improving. He admitted his frustration at getting second again, but that just shows how badly the 22 year old wants to beat Cairoli straight up while the Italian is in some of the best form of his life.
Tony Cairoli: The track was hard-pack, not Cairoli’s favourite surface, but he still came out on top and you have to think the challenge by Herlings is helping Cairoli’s motivation to win on tracks he usually plays it safe on.
In Portugal Cairoli pushed hard in both motos and didn’t settle, and even when Herlings passed him in race one he refused to give in, pushing Herlings right to he last lap. Cairoli is using all his experience but he is pushing hard to send Herlings and the world a message, and he is showing speed he has never had to previously show on such a consistent basis. It seems Cairoli was riding at 90% previously when his competitors were at 100%, now with Herlings in the mix we are seeing what Cairoli can do when he pushses at 100% and just how brilliant he really is when he wants to show it.
Tim Gajser: Tim Gajser had a tough comeback race in the heat and sand of Ottobiano last weekend but in Portugal the defending MXGP champ was much improved. Sixth overall and running in the top five showed Gajser is still not where he wants to be but he is getting closer and the Slovenian admitted: “I am quite satisfied with today, every race is getting better, step by step.”
That smart strategy was in evidence in Portugal as he didn’t take any unnecessary risks on Sunday after a big “moment” on Saturday when he jumped on track and narrowly missed the advertising boards. With three weeks of no racing and the next round at the slick, hillside venue of Loket, Gajser now has the time to get his fitness and his bike-sharpness back and really challenge for a podium and maybe even the win on a track that will suit his strengths.