Lommel was typically demanding, brutal and daunting: the sandy bumps and berms taking no prisoners and punishing the slightest error. Grand Prix athletes are well accustomed to the layout as the famous Belgian circuit is a popular venue for training and testing but the high summer temperatures only added to the difficulty. A near-capacity attendance created a busy and atmospheric event.
Coming to the sand meant that MXGP was firmly in ‘Herlings territory’. The Dutchman took his KTM 450 SX-F to the top of every time sheet and was undisputed in the Qualification Heat and both motos for a weekend of perfection. The championship leader’s speed and confidence was untouchable but two small crashes in each moto gave his Red Bull KTM crew a brief nervous flutter. He only lost a few seconds and fulfilled many pre-race predictions by running to a clear-cut victory. The 1-1 was Jeffrey’s ninth of 2018 and from 12 Grand Prix wins. He has 23 chequered flags from a possible 30.
World Champion Tony Cairoli had made progress from his left thumb injury and completed two lonely races in a comfortable runner-up position. The 2-2 by the Sicilian meant that Herlings only extended his margin in the standings by 6 points and the difference between the teammates is just 36. Cairoli has accumulated 13 podium results.
Glenn Coldenhoff made the overall top five after a bright second moto that began with the holeshot; the Dutchman’s first of 2018. Some modifications to his #259 racebike helped in terms of his potential on the sand and he remained ahead of Max Anstie to record his first top three moto classification. He was just two points away from a maiden podium for the season and only a mediocre start in the first outing and 6th place counted against him.
Herlings: “I’m really pleased with the weekend. Three good starts and fastest in each practice. This is one of my favourite tracks on the calendar so I’m happy to extend the points gap a little bit. There are five rounds left, we’re 75% ‘in’ and the end is in sight, and we’ll look forward to Switzerland. It will be a new weekend and you cannot get a more different track compared to here. I want to give a special thanks to the Red Bull KTM team; the guys did an amazing job. Also WP because the suspension was awesome and the atmosphere in the team is great so a big shout out to them and all the support I’ve had.”
Cairoli: “Overall I’m happy because I know in the sand and on this type of track Jeffrey is very fast. It would have been nice to be a little bit closer but I’ve had issues with my thumb and could not train exactly as I wanted in the sand lately. I know how to ride it but to keep this kind of speed the whole moto is very tough. Two-times second is OK and for the rest of the season we’ll try to stay as close to Jeffrey’s wheel as possible and make a win where we can. A lot can still happen in the races to go. I’m looking forward to Switzerland. It is a track I really like and hopefully we can have a better result.”
Coldenhoff: “I was not near the top five in the practice sessions and it was a bit frustrating. We made some changes to the bike – actually for the first time since the beginning of the year – with the engine after we’d tested last week. I had to get used to it and that contributed to the bad start in the first moto. I couldn’t make my own speed or rhythm and was just too slow. Finally I got to sixth, which was solid but not for this race where I expected to be nearer the front…like you saw in the second moto. I was a bit slower than Max but he went down. I finally got my first holeshot of the year! It has been too long. I can be happy with the second moto but we were aiming for that podium.”
Dirk Gruebel, MX2 Team Manager: “The way Jeffrey is riding the bike at the moment is like ‘one unit’. He is really happy and there are some hints for next year where we can still improve but this is not the time to change anything. He is riding good, feeling good and very happy with the performance. But we keep working. We want to keep the kid happy with the best package.”
Jorge Prado showed that the ‘weight’ of the red plate as MX2 FIM World Championship leader will not be an issue for his seventeen-year-old shoulders. The Spaniard aped Herlings’ form by disappearing to both chequered flags today. He was shadowed for the first half of the opening moto by teammate and world champion Pauls Jonass, until the Latvian had to avoid a backmarker and crashed as a result.
Prado, who logged his eighth win and thirteenth podium from 15 races, made the most of another holeshot to control the second moto. Pauls was rattled by Brent Van Doninck spectacular miscue in the start gate next to him and was mired deep in the pack. He rode hard and fast to go 4-6 on the day and was 5th overall.
Prado leads his fellow KTM 250 SX-F racer by 28 points.
Prado: “A great weekend and I was feeling very good today, even from warm-up with the bike and the track. They left it pretty rough for today and it was a bit weird in some places in the second moto but I was enjoying it. We train really hard so when we get to a track like this then you can see who is really fit and who can keep the focus: if you lose focus then it is so easy to make a mistake. I think I did well in this way and to go 1-1.”
Jonass: “I actually felt pretty good all weekend and my speed and fitness was there. I felt good behind Jorge in the first race where I was waiting until the end to attack but a small mistake with the lapper in the waves meant I went a bit sideways trying not to touch. I landed in and out of the rut, crashed and lost a lot of time. I still got back to fourth. Van Doninck jumped out of the gate at the start of the second moto and I was a bit shocked. I completely lost my concentration and then after the first jump I lost the blisters on my left hand. It was tough and painful. For the first ten-fifteen minutes I was trying to find the position to hold the handlebars but in the last fifteen minutes I was again good. Sixth is not what we wanted and we’re 28 points behind Jorge now but there are five races to go and 250 points on the table. I’m looking ahead.”
Davide De Carli, MXGP Assistant Team Manager: “Jorge was unlucky this winter because he’d trained so well and then before Argentina he took that injury, otherwise he would have been even more competitive from the start of the season. He started to catch many points on Pauls and now we are leading. The races are passing fast and he needs to keep focussed until the end. Today he rode really nice. He had ridden a lot on hard-pack in the winter as he needed some more laps on that terrain but when we came back to Lommel last week for training he did a great job in the heat and it was nice to see him riding like that in the sand again.”
The Grand Prix of Switzerland at the popular and enclosed circuit of Frauenfeld-Gachnang will be the scene of round sixteen in two weeks.
Next race: Grand Prix of Switzerland, Fraunfeld-Gachnang, August 19th
Results MXGP Lommel 2018
1. Jeffrey Herlings (NED), KTM (1-1)
2. Tony Cairoli (ITA), KTM (2-2)
3. Max Anstie (GBR), Husqvarna (4-4)
4. Romain Febvre (FRA) Yamaha (3-5)
5. Glenn Coldenhoff (NED), KTM (6-3)
Standings MXGP 2018 after 15 of 20 rounds
1. Jeffrey Herlings, 683 points
2. Tony Cairoli, 647
3. Clement Desalle, 503
4. Tim Gajser, 478
5. Romain Febvre, 468
7. Coldenhoff, 388
Results MX2 Lommel 2018
1. Jorge Prado (SPA), KTM (1-1)
2. Thomas Covington (USA), Husqvarna (2-3)
3. Thomas Kjer Olsen (DEN), Yamaha (3-4)
4. Jago Geerts (BEL) Yamaha (7-2)
5. Pauls Jonass (LAT), KTM (4-6)
Standings MX2 2018 after 15 of 20 rounds
1. Jorge Prado, 645 points
2. Pauls Jonass, 617
3. Thomas Kjer Olsen, 492
4. Ben Watson, 453
5. Calvin Vlaanderen, 444
Words and image courtesy KTM Sportmotorcycles GmbH