An already topsy-turvy season in the Monster Energy FIM World Motocross Championship has turned even crazier, as series leader Tim Gajser entered the weekend's MXGP in Sardegna nursing a freshly broken and repaired collarbone. With the Honda HRC man ailing, Red Bull KTM's Jeffrey Herlings struck at the right time with 1-1 scores to take the points lead. A few months ago, Herlings suffered a broken shoulder blade and his title hopes seemed finished! Monster Energy Kawasaki's Romain Febvre and Red Bull KTM's Jorge Prado remain in the title hunt, but MXGP legend Tony Cairoli crashed out of action during Saturday's practice, a serious blow to his title hopes.
The following post-race press release from the MXGP series sums up the action, and we'll have analysis from our Adam Wheeler as well.
RIOLA SARDO (Sardinia) 19 September 2021 – Red Bull KTM Factory Racing dominate the MXGP and MX2 podium once again, as Jeffrey Herlingsand Tom Vialleadded a third consecutive Grand Prix victory with a win at the MXGP of Sardegna in Riola Sardo.
The deep sandy conditions of the circuit here in Riola Sardo mixed with humidity and the intense Sardinian sunshine tested the field who fought for top scoring positions. And despite these challenges, the MXGP and MX2 categories once again showcased some close racing.
In the first MXGP race of the day, it was Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Jeffrey Herlingswith the Fox Holeshot as he led the way ahead of Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing’s Ben Watson, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Jorge Prado, Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing’s Jeremy Seewer and Calvin Vlaanderenof Gebben Van Venrooy Yamaha Racing.
Team HRC’s Tim Gajserwas one of the unlucky riders to crash in the first turn and then pushed his way to 19th position by the end of the race to score two vital championship points.
Though back at the front of the field Herlings was looking comfortable as he pulled a gap to Watson and Prado. Seewer remained close by as Monster Energy Kawasaki Racing Team’s Romain Febvre charged through on Vlaanderen and started to chase down the Swiss.
Watson continued to guard his second-place position from Prado but eventually succumbed to the pressure by lap four as he dropped to third.
As Febvre looked to go around Seewer, Vlaanderen made the most of this opportunity and caught the pair out, to steal two positions and get into fourth. It was then game on for the Gebben Van Venrooy Yamaha Racing rider as he got around Watson for third pretty quickly too.
Herlings then stretched the lead to 9.487 seconds as Prado couldn’t do anything to stay close.
Watson then came under more fire as both Seewer and Febvre forced their way through and as Febvre climbed up the field, Seewer did the opposite and eventually finished the race in sixth position as Standing Construct GasGas Factory Racing’s Brian Bogers made a close pass on the Swiss on the final lap.
In the final few laps of the race, we saw Febvre catch up with Vlaanderen as the pair battle for third, though eventually it was the Frenchman who came out on top, as Herlings won the race 42.419 seconds ahead of Prado. Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Thomas Kjer Olsenand Arminas Jasikonishad a strong race to finish eighth and ninth respectively.
In the second MXGP heat it was Prado with the Fox Holeshot that time around as he edged out ahead of Herlings, Febvre and Standing Construct GasGas Factory Racing’s Pauls Jonass.
Vlaanderen had another good start and was running seventh on the opening lap, while Gajser started much better that time around and was 12th. Watson also had another good start in sixth place.
Much of the second MXGP race saw Prado being chased by Herlings, with the Bullet trying all that he could to get around the young Spaniard. Prado was riding defensive which made it extremely hard for Herlings to get around and after countless failed attempts the Dutchman was able to make a pass stick on lap 12.
While Prado and Herlings were busy battling at the front, Febvre was not too far behind as on several occasions the Frenchman was within striking distance of the pair.
Further down the field Gajser was fighting for every single championship point as he worked his way up the field passing the likes of SM Action Racing Team YUASA Battery’s Alberto Forato, SS24 KTM MXGP’s Shaun Simpson, Olsen and Bogers on the final lap to get up into eighth by the chequered flag.
Vlaanderen was also chasing another strong race as he got around Watson for fifth. He was also able to pass Jonass and Seewer to finish the race fourth.
In the end Herlings was the race winner with Prado second and Febvre closely behind in third. With a 1-1 result, Herlings took to the top step of the podium, with Prado there in second and Febvre third. Vlaanderen narrowly missed out on the podium after a solid 4-4 in the races.
The biggest shock of the weekend came from Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Antonio Cairoli who had an unfortunate crash in the MXGP Time Practice and did not line-up for today’s races. The nine-time World Champion had a scan which showed no injuries but just as a precaution the team made a decision to withdraw from the day's races and focus for the upcoming weeks while Team HRC’s Tim Gajser entered the Sardinian Grand Prix nursing an injury, making today’s races a real challenge for the defending champion.
With Gajser only scoring 15 points in the races, Herlings has taken the championship lead by just a single point, as Gajser drops to second and Febvre remains third a further three points behind.
Jeffrey Herlings: “I am happy from one side and unfortunate from the other because it’s a sad way to take the red plate. The points have never been so close before after 10 races, as it is right now, we are super close. For today, I was first in time practice and then the first race I managed to get the holeshot, that was a surprise and then managed to control the rest of the race. The second race I started behind Jorge, I tried to overtake him, and it was tough to pass. I tried many times and eventually I managed to pass him, pull a gap and control the rest of the race. It was a picture-perfect weekend and I hope I have more of those throughout the season. For now, we keep going and be the best every weekend. We have improved on many occasions this season, like the starts, we have worked hard on this.”
“Speaking of the MXON, with the team we have for Holland, I think we have a chance to win, and I will do my best to help my team to come out on top but Italy also has a strong team but we will see”.
Jorge Prado: “It was a very good day, and I am super happy. The last round we had problems with the crash, lost many points and I knew this weekend would be important. I had extra motivation because I like the sand and I was expecting to do what I did today. It was a perfect day, two solid races, it was perfect. I was thinking I really need to get the holeshot and try to manage to keep the "Bullet" behind me and I think I managed quite well for a lot of time. I gave it everything I had. I tried to block him when he was trying to pass but he made a really clean pass on me and flew by. Then I just managed to stay second because already I was suffering a lot and that’s what I did. I am very happy, I made a good step in the second race in terms of my riding and I’m taking all the positive and we will see at the next round in Germany”.
Romain Febvre: “It’s a good weekend for us. Turkey, I didn’t feel so comfortable. That’s the past and today I managed to get 10th in time practice, we were all very close, but I just couldn’t get a clean lap and I had to manage the start. First race, my start was not that good, I was in around 10th or something. I managed to come back to third so, I was pretty happy about my riding, and I knew in the second one I had to get the start and it was definitely better. I was in the group with the top three riders, so I thought now it’s time to fight. It was a nice race, and I was just behind watching as Jeffrey was putting a lot of pressure onto Jorge and I thought maybe if they make a mistake, I could pass them. They didn’t and I was not in the position to pass them so managed to get third again which is good for the championship”.
In the opening MX2 race of the day, it was Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Tom Vialle who grabbed the Fox Holeshot from his teammate Mattia Guadagnini as well as Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing’s Thibault Benistant. Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Rene Hofer followed behind with Wilson Toddof Bike it MTX Kawasaki Racing and Maxime Renaux of Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing.
Honda 114 Motorsports’ Ruben Fernandezwent down in the first corner and did not re-join the race as the first lap also caught out F&H Kawasaki Racing’s Mathys Boisrame, Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Jed Beatonand Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing’s Jago Geerts who went down later in the lap. He was ninth before the crash.
Vialle then got his head down and focused on leading the race as Renaux began his charge up the field. The first rider to come under attack of the Frenchman was Hofer.
Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Kay De Wolfhad a nice battle with Isak Gifting of DIGA PROCROSS GASGAS FACTORY RACING for seventh position, with the youngster eventually going through. De Wolf finished the race in fourth after some nice moves on Todd and Benistant.
As Renaux pushed to pass Hofer, the pair caught onto the back of Benistant who was third at the time. The pressure must have gotten too much for the MX2 rookie as he crashed out allowing Hofer and Renaux through.
By lap 10 Renaux was finally able to get Hofer who went down, as the Frenchman set his sights on Guadagnini who was second. Just two laps later the factory Yamaha got around the KTM rider to move into second and start his charge for the win.
Meanwhile Vialle had an almost five second lead which quickly started to come down as Renaux continued to push. By the final few laps Renaux was all over Vialle, with Vialle managing to keep control and take the race win. Renaux was second and Guadagnini third.
As the gate dropped for race two, it was once again Vialle with the Fox Holeshot ahead of Guadagnini, Bastian Beogh-Damm of WZ Racing Team as well as Todd, Benistant, Renaux and Geerts.
Boisrame and Hofer had an unlucky start to the race. The pair crashed on two separate occasions, with Boisrame not finishing the race while Hofer fought back to 14th place. Simon Längenfelder of DIGA PROCROSS GASGAS FACTORY RACING was another rider to retire from the race early on.
As Vialle continued to lead, Boegh-Damm was coming under pressure from Renaux, who managed to pass the Dane by lap three and focus on going for the win.
De Wolf then had the fastest lap time of the race, a 1:52.600 as he looked to pass Benistant for fourth. Though Benistant was focused on his own thing as he got Boegh-Damm for third position.
Hitachi KTM fuelled by Milwaukee’s rider Conrad Mewse was having a good race as he fought his way inside the top 10. The Brit eventually finished the race in ninth.
Boegh-Damm then dropped a couple more positions as Geerts and De Wolf went through, while Benistant caught onto the back of Renaux. Several laps later Geerts was able to get past Benistant and focus his efforts on catching Renaux, while De Wolf was looking to do the same.
Benistant then crashed which also caught out De Wolf who could not avoid him, with the pair dropping a few positions. De Wolf got going fairly quickly behind his teammate Beaton who he passed not long after.
Guadagnini then took his day from bad to worse as he crashed for the second time and did not finish the race as he struggled to fire up his factory KTM machine.
Vialle went on to win the race, while Renaux was caught out by Geerts in the final four laps thus having to settle for third in the race as his teammate finished second.
With a 1-1 result, Vialle made it his third GP victory in a row, while Renaux occupied the second step of the podium, and De Wolf joined the pair to round out the top three of the Sardinian Grand Prix.
With Guadagnini having an unlucky day, this has allowed Renaux to edge out in the championship standings by 71 points, with Geerts remaining third and Benistant moving up to fourth.
Tom Vialle: “First time for me in Sardegna, it was pretty tough but very good. I liked the track but I didn’t feel so good, so my time practice was not my best one. But I had a great start, holeshot in the first race and cleared every lap to win the first race. I was pretty confident after that. In the second race, I felt really good on the track and I could pull a gap on Maxime and Jago. It was pretty nice to win again. Two race wins, I am really happy”
“It is pretty exciting. First time for me representing Team France at the Motocross of Nations. Mantova is a track I really like, so it is going to be nice. It’s the first time so I don’t really know what is going to happen. We will see. We have a good team in France, so I am pretty excited to race there”.
Maxime Renaux: “I got a bad start in the first race, so I had to really push until the end. I really tried to go for the win. The last five or six laps were really good, so I was really happy with the rhythm and I could catch Tom. I tried to make a pass in the later stages, but I couldn’t make it happen. Overall, I was satisfied with my first race. Second race, I had a better start. I think I was around fourth, then I got to second place really quick. I tried to catch Tom. In the beginning it was okay but then I was a little bit tired, and my legs were burning a lot. I tried to handle it to the end and that’s what I did. Jago got closer to me, then I saw Mattia next to me and thought I should also think about the championship. So, I played it safe. I finished third and it was enough. Now I extend my lead at the championship and that’s a really good thing. There is still eight races to go, which is quite a lot. But I really want to keep pushing, but also to be smart about it. I know Tom is back to fitness. But I will not take any crazy risk for it because I also have the bigger picture in mind. But yeah, it is going to be a really nice battle with him”.
Kay De Wolf: “I had a really bad start in the first race. Then I managed to get back to fourth place. My race was really good in that first one. I kept pushing till the last lap. I managed to pass Thibault in the last turn, so I was really happy with the riding. I was also confident going into the second race, I had a better start but still not how I would like it to be. Then I had a few good opening laps, then made some small mistakes, then I went behind Thibault. He made a small mistake right in front of me. I couldn’t avoid him, and I crashed into his bike. I was stuck but stood up as fast as possible and still managed to get fourth in that second race. It wasn’t an easy day, but we fought till the end and it paid off. The goal in the beginning of the year was top 15 and we’ve been there every single race almost. So, I am pretty happy of how my debut season is going. But we still have to focus on the main thing which is to do our best and see where we end up".