The fitness, form and happiness of Red Bull KTM’s Jeffrey Herlings present an ominous sign for riders in the 2016 FIM MX2 World Championship.

The 21-year-old recently romped to victory in the first round of the Italian Championship in Sardinia by over a minute ahead of his rivals and after finally enjoying a strong and uninterrupted winter the Dutchman is highly focussed on ending his career in the MX2 class with a third title this season.

Herlings has been the exceptional talent on a 250 in Grand Prix for almost half a decade. Titles fell in 2012 and 2013 and he was leading the standings comfortably in both 2014 and last year until a broken leg and dislocated hip respectively ruined two bona fide chances of silverware.

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Herlings might not have raced at the top level since the end of July and since his season-ending smash at the GP of Czech Republic, but the extended period of recovery and training means he is likely to be in his strongest shape since 2013 come the opening round of 18 at Qatar at the end of this month. In 2015 Herlings came to Losail unsure and underprepared after needing surgery on his femur in December. His shape this time is in stark contrast.

“We only started riding around this time last year and from having an operation in December there couldn’t have been a worse winter of preparation,” he commented exclusively. “This time we started in November and have had two solid months on the bike, sometimes out four or five times a week. We’ve done a lot of testing and spent weeks in Sardinia making the most of the good weather.”

“I’m happy,” he added. “I felt kinda confident last year but this is something different. I know I have done the work. I realise my rivals will have also done everything to be ready but for the last two years I built up leads of 140+ points in the championship and I think the only thing that can hold me back is injury again…but I have learnt from that.”

One of the advantages of being fit at a key time of the year has been room and time for Herlings to work on the KTM 250SX-F. ’84’ is one of the taller and heavier riders in the class and although he has not hungered for engine power from the works machine he claims the handling on the new racebike is better for the extra development mileage.

“We’ve looked at the suspension, chassis, clutch and engine and things can always be improved but I think we have made a lot of progress with the suspension,” he says. “Last year I was injured and Pauls [Jonass] was just coming into the team so we didn’t have too much of a reference but plenty of bike time for this season and it feels much better.”

Herlings is bound to face questions again soon over his future after a protracted period of indecision through the autumn and until the end of 2015. He eventually elected to try MX2 once again and is tied to Red Bull KTM for a further season in 2017 where he is expected to finally jump into MXGP. A lot could depend on the direction taken by Tony Cairoli whose deal with the Austrians finishes this year.

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