MXGP red plate holder, Antonio Cairoli was at his golden best on Sunday at the Grand Prix of Brazil, taking a decisive 1-1 victory to surge 30 points ahead in the championship after just three rounds. It was the Italian’s 65th career GP victory.
The seven-time world champion opened his account in the first moto with a stunning display of riding on his KTM 350 SX-F that thrilled the 20,000 Brazilian fans.
After getting hemmed in at the start he moved from 16th up to sixth in the opening lap and then settled down to pick off his challengers one by one while at the same time setting a string of personal best lap times.
And at 12 minutes into the 30-minute plus two-lap race he was just half a second behind the leader Jeremy van Horebeek. Two minutes later he took the lead and began to distance himself from the rest of the field.
Even the rain that started to fall on the Beto Carrero red clay track failed to undermine the pace of the race leader. Cairoli was in front by almost 16 seconds when he charged across the finish line, setting the stage for a thrilling second moto.
Heavier rain in between the two sessions threw in another difficulty factor, ensuring that the surface became slicker and stickier than in the opening moto. Cairoli was fourth at the start as MXGP riders shot out of the grid for the second time but he quickly moved up a position to sit behind his traditional rivals Gautier Paulin and Clement Desalle. Cairoli settled down in the next laps to put pressure on Desalle while assessing his overtaking options.
At about the half-way point the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing pilot made his move into second. One minute later he was in the lead and immediately put down his fastest lap. The Italian went on to wrap up the race in style to pick up maximum points for this outing in South America.
Considering the impressive display from the champion it is hardly surprising to hear that he likes coming to this venue. “I like this track a lot and I like being here in Brazil with a lot of cool people cheering.”
Cairoli added: “It’s a very technical track and this level of difficulty was increased after the rain we had between the two motos. Also the track this year was ripped way too much but it was the same for everyone. In some ways that was good because it was even more technical. It’s nice to be winning again like we did last year. Now I have 65 GP wins so it was another great result.”
With Jeffrey Herlings absent while resting an injured shoulder this weekend, the competition was fierce in the MX2 class, however it proved to be an unlucky weekend for Cairoli’s factory team-mate Jordi Tixier of France. A series of crashes on the slick red clay track left him with a 12-12 result for an uncharacteristic overall 11th.
Tixier admitted after the races that he had struggled with the Brazilian circuit right from the opening practice. “I never had a good feeling for the track right through this weekend and I also didn’t have the speed. I crashed three times in each race and twice I finished 12th so I am really disappointed. In practice I am good but I am not so good in the race so it is something in my head I have to try to sort out.”
MX2 GP winner Arnaud Tonus of Switzerland took the victory and Herlings, who has consistently been the MX2 championship leader over the past two seasons dropped to fourth in the points.
But as Brazil is only the third of a long 18-round season, there is plenty of opportunity for KTM’s Dutch rider to make up lost ground in his quest for a third world title.
In other news from the Red Bull KTM Factory team, Cairoli’s MXGP partner Ken de Dycker, who has been recovering from an off season injury, suffered another slight setback this week when he sustained a small injury to his left ankle as the result of an accident at home. Ken has been told by his doctors that it should be healed in about 10 days.
The next round is at Arco di Trento in Italy on April 13.