Red Bull KTM Factory Racing riders Tony Cairoli and Jeffrey Herlings on Sunday delivered four races in keeping with their prestigious talents to pull off a double victory for the factory team at the northern Italian circuit in Trentino.
Romain Febvre and Tim Gajser took the minor podiums in MXGP while Dylan Ferrandis and Jeffrey Herlings’ factory team-mate Pauls Jonass were second and third in MX2.
For Tony Cairoli it was a sweet victory in MXGP, his second consecutive top step after battling injury at the beginning of the season in front of a euphoric home Italian crowd who rewarded him with rapturous celebration at the end of the second moto.
Cairoli took the win in the first MXGP moto after snatching the holeshot on his KTM 450 SX-F and managing to stay out in front throughout the moto while there were serious scraps behind among other major players. He was second behind Gajser out of the gates in his second race but the Slovenian rider took a heavy fall with 14 minutes of regular time still on the clock and Cairoli advanced into the lead. The Italian conceded the race victory in the final stages of the race after a furious duel with Febvre but his 1-2 was good enough to take the overall victory.
Cairoli’s two GP wins in Italy, and in the last round in Teutschenthal, Germany have allowed him to start to close the gap to points leaders Gajser and Febvre. They top the points table after eight of 18 rounds and are now separated by 14 points while Cairoli, the eight-time champion trails second placed Febvre by 21 points. The Italian however is gaining in fitness, confidence and strength with each round. Cairoli’s team-mate Glenn Coldenhoff finished his weekend in 17th overall after a 16-16 moto results but is still confident of improving in the next round.
“I’m finding my speed again and my physical condition is improving,” said Cairoli. “My arm is improving with the latest therapy that I am doing and I am feeling stronger.
“It’s difficult to win a home GP. This track is not one of my favourites and it’s where I have struggled a bit in the past. But this weekend was good for the championship and I made a lot of points. In the last two weekends we have almost closed the gap.”
Speaking about his two young rivals he said: “For sure they are in better shape. They are motivated and riding aggressively but the championship is long and I am getting closer every weekend.”
Coldenhoff commented: “I had a good week of training and I always feel good here so I was looking forward to the race. But I crashed in the first turn of the first moto with quite a few guys and I hurt my hip and ankle a bit, so that was already not so good. We know it’s difficult to pass on this track and the start was critical. On the other hand my riding has improved over the last few races and I’m happy about that. Also we made some changes with the suspension that that worked well so now we are looking for results.”
Jeffrey Herlings was riding with a badly swollen ankle from a race incident in the last round but the afternoon kicked off with an opening MX2 race that evolved onto a thriller that had the fans on their toes and the commentators breathless with excitement.
The holeshot went to Dylan Ferrandis while the two KTM riders Herlings and Jonass were 3-5 out of the gates. 18 minutes into the race Herlings had advanced to second and the two front-runners settled down to a dogfight that lasted right up to the chequered flag. The race went to Ferrandis and Herlings was gracious in his first race defeat this season, congratulating his rival as they wrapped up the race. Jonass, also improving with each round finished his first race in third. But it was in the second MX2 moto that Herlings bounced back to his usual devastating form with his KTM 250 SX-F, taking an early lead on the rollercoaster circuit of Arco and going on to control the race. The early laps were dominated by a slew of KTMs at the front of the field while the two riders that have emerged as Herlings closest rivals, Ferrandis and Jeremy Seewer, were buried down in the pack.
They were able to work their way closer to the front during the course of the race although Jonass did a masterly job to hold off Ferrandis in the final stages of the second moto. Jonass wrapped up his race weekend in Italy with a 3-2 result for overall third and a welcome return to the podium.
“It was a difficult weekend and even half way through the week we weren’t even sure we could be here,” admitted Herlings. “My ankle was very big and swollen and on Thursday I couldn’t really walk properly.
“We came here with the hope of picking up some points and we came out on top and that was pretty surprising. Obviously I lost the first race and won the second moto and took the overall, so in some way I’m relieved because the pressure of being undefeated is gone. But I’m still kind of sad that I can’t break the record any more.
“Now I’m looking forward to Spain in two weeks. It’s also a track that I don’t fancy the most but I hope to make the best of it there as well.”
Jonass commented: “The weekend turned out well and I’m happy with the results. I struggled a lot this weekend with the headache before the first race and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to race. Then I skipped the warm-up and went straight into race mode. I had a good start in the second moto and I felt much better. Third overall was good here because I’ve struggled with this track here in recent years.”
The picturesque but challenging Arco circuit at the foot of the Dolomites was also a good venue for KTM Factory Junior Jorge Prado. Racing his first season in the bigger class, the Spanish teenager and EMX125 champion from 2015 took a 2-3 for a podium third, his best result so far this season.
“I like this track and I could make a good weekend,” said Prado. “I started first in both motos and that’s really important, and I fought to the end. The track was drier today than yesterday and you have to ride smooth and without mistakes. Now I am very motivated to ride in Spain in the next round. The track there is always good for me and I hope we can be on the podium again.”
MX2 team manger, Dirk Gruebel, commented: “We made a good start to the weekend with Jorge leading the race for a while yesterday and also today when conditions were not as hard as yesterday to finish second and third for third overall. We were worried about Pauls this morning because he seemed to have some kind of a migraine attack. He missed warm-up but pulled himself together and rode really strong in the first moto and in the second he surprised everyone to finish second for third overall.
“Jeffrey had a tough weekend and he is still not 100 per cent healthy. He’s been battling with the flu all week and with a bad ankle. He rode through the pain in the first race and rode smart to take second and took no risks. Then in the second race he dominated and was in a class of his own. Overall to have four guys on the podium was very good.”