“They both need to accept that they cannot win every week” KTM talk 2018 MXGP tussle
Red Bull KTM won eight of the last nine rounds of the 2017 MXGP series with Tony Cairoli earning his ninth crown and Jeffrey Herlings finishing as runner-up in his debut season in the premier class. The riders appeared on the podium together seven times from the nineteen Grands Prix and many observers of the series are expecting a Cairoli-Herlings duel for the 2018 championship.
The prospect of the Sicilian and Dutchman battling for top honours and from within the same team awning is already a theme that the factory set-up from Munderfing have to anticipate. Could it be difficult to handle?
“It is hard to say,” admitted MX2 Team Manager and Team Technical Co-ordinator Dirk Gruebel in December. “This year they really respected each other in the fight. There was never any dirty riding and I think if it stays at this level then we can manage.”
“It is give-and-take and luck will play a big role and some days one will be better than the other,” the German adds. “They both need to accept that they cannot win every week and guys from other brands will also be in there. They both need to be consistent. I hope we don’t need to manage anything but we will need to gauge the situation and it is not something we can really plan now. It is a luxury situation to have two guys from the same team going for a title…but it is also high maintenance!”
Gruebel has been working closely with the De Carli faction of the operation on the 2018 version of the triumphant 450 SX-F; a motorcycle that swept both Supercross and MXGP last summer. In spite of resurgent form that saw Cairoli claim twelve podiums and six wins, #222 has still managed to improve his racebike. Cairoli is renowned for sticking with a technical package that he favours and famously used his 2010 350 SX-F chassis through four title campaigns. According to Gruebel some gains have been made however. “He loves his bike, that’s clear, and it took two years to get it to that level because he could not ride at the top of his game,” he says in reference to the broken arm and nerve damage issues in 2015 and 2016. “It is difficult for him: why would you step away from something you have been winning on? But there is always evolution and we need to make that step. He has tried something and is happy.”
Gruebel also oversees Herlings progress and has done since the mercurial Dutchman came into the factory squad in 2011. He says an enforced break for #84 has been beneficial this winter. “He had the metal out of his hand which good, so we didn’t need to force him away from the bike. Last year  we made a bit of a mistake with too many off-season races like the Beach race in Holland and he kept himself on a top level until November and maybe we paid the price in the spring because he suffered a little with his wrists in training and I don’t know if that led to the crash in Ottobiano in the Italian Championship that broke his hand. He wanted to prove a point but was maybe not on top of his game then.”
Glenn Coldenhoff will start a third season in orange and after swapping ‘logistical spots’ with Jorge Prado in the Red Bull KTM awning has fallen more into Gruebel’s charge. “We’ve done a couple of tests together – as we’d done in the past – but now we are closer,” the technician says. “He always calls up when he has something to ask or some issue. There is no language barrier for him now and it makes life easier. Having that direct contact makes things easier also. I think he is a good fit for the team and he gets along well with Jeffrey: we have half a Dutch team next year!”
Photos by Ray Archer