Herlings: “the bike is running awesome”
The Red Bull KTM rider claimed clear-cut victories at the Hawkstone Park and Lacapelle-marival Internationals in the UK and France in successive weekends and completed a happy pre-season prep that flew in complete contrast to the injury drama of 2017 when the former three times MX2 world champ broke his right hand only days prior to the first Grand Prix in Qatar.
Ominously for his rivals, Herlings – who won five of the last six rounds in 2017 – seems to have refined his feeling and synergy with the works 450 SX-F even further. The 23 year old was singing about his potential with the bike after his rout at Lacapelle last Sunday. “The bike is running awesome so I have to give-it-up to KTM and all the work they have done for me,” he said exclusively. “How is it now is better than what we had last year so ‘top job’ by the guys in Austria. I feel really comfortable and I cannot wait for the season to start.”
The hype of an inter-KTM duel between Herlings (23) and champion-incumbent Cairoli (32) has not waned or dimmed as a consequence of the few races that have occurred since the dawn of the new year. The sole fixture clash between the two was over in a matter of seconds as Herlings fell on the first corner of the Internazionali d’Italia in Sardinia and was fortunate to escape more physical problems; Herlings withdrew from the rest of the event as Cairoli took a maiden triumph. The Sicilian faced brief opposition from Monster Energy Yamaha’s Romain Febvre on home soil a week later but wrapped his tenth national crown without qualms at Mantova. Herlings swept his respective outings on the other side of the continent. The pair have only ridden together once and appeared as a group for the KTM photoshoot in Sardinia.
Herlings missed out on being the third consecutive MXGP ‘rookie’ in a row to rule the class in 2017 but his second place and undeniable form in the latter half of the campaign clearly roadmapped his potential for ’18. The match-up with Cairoli is gathering heat. #222 has not been pushed up against another rider so obviously since Ryan Villopoto’s surprising and ultimately doomed transition to Grand Prix in 2015.
So far only positive vibes have emerged from #84’s camp and side of the Red Bull awning, and in the soft and unique terrain of Neuquen – where Herlings won in 2016 (he was hit out on the first lap of the first moto by Pauls Jonass in 2015 and was unfit in 2017) – it is hard to imagine a tougher challenger for the defending champion.
Photos by Ray Archer