KTM caught the MXGP community off-guard thanks to their announcement of a new two year contract with double MX2 World Champion Jeffrey Herlings.
The 20-year-old Dutchman will compete in the MX2 class again in 2015 for the factory Red Bull KTM team and reached an agreement to stay orange for 2016 and 2017 to ward off interest from every other manufacturer for his services.
Herlings and KTM Sport Director Pit Beirer completed the paperwork in Austria where the rider is currently resident at the Red Bull rehab facility to help with the final phases of recuperation from the broken femur he sustained in July and which ultimately cost him the 2014 crown by just four points to outgoing team-mate Jordi Tixier. We caught up with #84 for an exclusive chat…
DBR: So what’s the thinking behind a month in Austria?
Jeffrey Herlings: I want to get 100 per cent in shape and 100 per cent healthy. The appeal is that they have everything I need here; the right people and high quality facilities. I’m doing everything, and that means physio, training, endurance, co-ordination and even psychology. I go from 8-12 and then 2-5 and it is hard work but I feel it is paying off. I’ve been here three weeks and I’ll stay a couple more. It is hard to find this anywhere else to be honest. The people are so professional and have a lot of experience. Everyone was always saying ‘come down, you should try it out’ and I know a lot of other Red Bull athletes have used the place.
DBR: You must be an improvement over the zombie we saw at Mexico for the final GP. When do you think you’ll be riding again?
JH: In Mexico I was still sick in the stomach. I was so weak and I did look like a dead person! I lost a lot of kilos and couldn’t really do anything. At the moment I’m in good shape and can do whatever I want apart from running. I feel like I can ride already and it would be without any pain but I’m still going to work and get to 100 per cent. The plan is to get back on the bike around early or mid-December and that should give me a good couple of months before we go to Qatar.
DBR: What was the thinking and background behind the new KTM deal? You could have picked anybody and pretty much have named your price…
JH: My contract was due to finish at the end of ’15 but I already had the other manufacturers calling me…almost a year beforehand! I’ve been with KTM since 2009 and I’m really happy there. They gave me a good offer to stay and the decision was quite easy. Maybe I could have made more money with another manufacturer but I don’t really care. KTM made me a fair and a good offer.
DBR: It seems that you also have the freedom to ride whatever and wherever in 2016 and 2017…
JH: That’s the good thing. With our brands like Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki it would have been an MX1 [sic] deal only but with KTM I have options. It means I can choose whatever I want together with Pit and the team and I’ll probably make my decision half way through the  season. Our original plan was 2012, ’13, ’14 and ’15 in MX2 and to win those titles but obviously with the broken leg it didn’t turn out like that. For 2016 it is all open. I’m happy where I am.
DBR: What is your view on that dramatic last Grand Prix at Leon now, almost two months later…?
JH: When I look back now I think ‘what an idiot’ to have put my career and health on the line. It was a big risk. The leg was bad enough but to have that virus that caused me to lose twelve kilos…I had no power, no muscles and looked like sh*t. You’ve seen me before…and you saw me there. It was not the same person…and then to have that half broken leg…but you know what? I almost pulled it off.