MXGP landed back in Europe for round fourteen of twenty in the 2018 FIM Motocross World Championship and the compact, fast and narrow hard-pack of Loket again hosted the Grand Prix of Czech Republic. Overcast and occasionally showery conditions graced race day and where a near-capacity crowd watched Red Bull KTM continue to stamp their dominance on both MXGP and MX2 classes.
World Champion Antonio Cairoli came to Loket (with several marked new improvements to the track to drop the speed and heighten the technical demands of the course) with two fractures in his left thumb but started brightly on Saturday to obtain his third Qualification Heat win of the year.
It was a teammate and principal title rival Jeffrey Herlings who was the strongest in the opening laps of the two motos on Sunday. The Dutchman controlled the two 30 minute and 2 laps sprints on his KTM 450 SX-F; lap-times were tight and it was not always easy to gain time on rivals. The first circulations of each race were therefore crucial.
Herlings’ triumph represented his first at Loket since 2013 and his 11th in 2018. Cairoli went 2-2 to limit the numerical damage in the championship standings and the gap is now 30 points between the KTM stars. Glenn Coldenhoff rode well to recover 12th position after a tumble on Saturday and posted two top ten results with a brace of 9th places in the motos for the same ranking overall.
Herlings: “It was really good today. We had a good start gate and I passed Tony on the first lap of the first moto and pulled a gap directly. In the second moto, I was again leading early-on and battled with Tony for a while but was able to escape. I’m really happy with this win and now to get to Lommel in two weeks time. I’ll do my best and go for the win in Belgium; the podium is the goal but it is a sand race and quite close to my house so I definitely want to fight for the best we can get.”
Cairoli: “It was a difficult week after we found out about my thumb but Qualification was good on a dry track and it was easier to ride. Today it rained and I couldn’t really find a good rhythm; the track was very bumpy with a lot of ruts and I had a lot of pain, especially in the second moto and after the first fifteen minutes I could barely ride. I was fast behind Jeffrey but when he dropped the times I could not really follow him. Hopefully, now we have more time to heal again and be in Lommel with less problems and pain and be able to fight for the win.”
Coldenhoff: “The weekend started good and I felt very good with the bike and track. In the first moto I went from 9th to 5th in the first lap; afterwards I made a mistake and rode very tight to finish 9th. For the second moto, I had a great start but got block-passed from the inside in the first corner and was down in 24th. I pushed very hard all moto and had some good battles: the result didn’t show the effort. In terms of riding, I was happy with the day but the results were a bit disappointing.”
Jorge Prado conquered a gripping MX2 contest on his works KTM 250 SX-F after winning the second moto at Loket and heading a narrowly split podium trio of Calvin Vlaanderen and Thomas Covington as teammate Pauls Jonass classified 4th overall.
Both Red Bull KTM riders had to negotiate a slick and wet track on Saturday and after mediocre starts away from the metal gate grill left them both buried deep in the pack. Jonass found his way back to 16th (after a crash) while Prado managed 10th. Despite the adventure the duo were firmly in the mix on Sunday.
Prado was part of a thrilling dice for second place in the first moto and then defied Covington to claim the second chequered flag. His achievement meant a ninth win of 2018 and seventh GP. The seventeen-year-old now grasps the red plate for the first time in his young career. He heads Jonass by eleven points as the Latvian managed a 4-5 on the day and now has an authentic battle on his hands for a title defense.
Prado: “It was a really good weekend. The track was pretty sketchy but they left it rough from yesterday so the bumps were big from the warm-up and it was very physical. I tried to attack Covington in the first moto but made a mistake with the goggle and Vlaanderen passed me. I rode strongly at the end but couldn’t rise higher than third. In the second moto, I had a really good start and could handle the pressure from Covington in the last laps as well which means first place overall and the championship lead. I was able to fight for every single point and having the red plate is great. I know I need to keep doing what I am doing and keep the focus. I’ll be happy to get back to Belgium now and train in preparation for Lommel; a really tough track where I won last year. It is important to ride relaxed in the sand and not push too much.”
Jonass: “It is never easy to lose the red plate but I’ll try to stay positive. I was feeling really good on Saturday but something – some click – was missing on Sunday. I was fighting with the track and not really flowing; my bad starts didn’t really help and it wasn’t easy to pass. I was riding well in the first fifteen minutes of the first moto but then just ‘lost’ it a bit. For sure I am a bit disappointed but we’ll keep working and fighting. There are still six races to go and you only need to win a championship by one point.”
From hard-pack to deep sand: arguably the hardest and most physically demanding fixture of the season now awaits in two weeks time with the Belgian sand of Lommel prepped for the first of six remaining dates on the 2018 calendar.
Next race: Grand Prix of Belgium, Lommel, August 5th
Results MXGP Loket 2018
1. Jeffrey Herlings (NED), KTM (1-1)
2. Tony Cairoli (ITA), KTM (2-2)
3. Tim Gajser (SLO), Honda (2-3)
4. Romain Febvre (FRA) Yamaha (7-4)
5. Jeremy Van Horebeek (BEL) Yamaha (5-5)
9. Glenn Coldenhoff (NED), KTM (9-9)
Standings MXGP 2018 after 14 of 20 rounds
1. Jeffrey Herlings, 633 points
2. Tony Cairoli, 603
3. Clement Desalle, 479
4. Tim Gajser, 450
5. Romain Febvre, 432
7. Coldenhoff, 353
Results MX2 Loket 2018
1. Jorge Prado (SPA), KTM (3-1)
2. Calvin Vlaanderen (RSA), Honda (1-3)
3. Thomas Covington (USA), Husqvarna (2-2)
4. Pauls Jonass (LAT), KTM (4-5)
5. Thomas Kjer Olsen (DEN), Yamaha (7-4)
Standings MX2 2018 after 14 of 20 rounds
1. Jorge Prado, 595 points
2. Pauls Jonass, 584
3. Thomas Kjer Olsen, 454
4. Ben Watson, 427
5. Calvin Vlaanderen, 414
Words and images courtesy KTM – Image by Ray Archer/KTM Images