Jeffrey Herlings (Red Bull KTM) and his team-mate Tony Cairoli renew their battle tomorrow as the FIM Motocross World Championship heads to the shores of the Black Sea for the MXGP of Russia at Orlyonok.
Running on Monday and Tuesday over the Russian Bank Holiday weekend, the race – round six of the championship – sees the action move into the second quarter of the season. So far it’s either been the Dutchman or the Sicilian on the top step of the podium and don’t expect that to change anytime soon.
The younger man has the upper hand at the moment. Herlings has won the last four motos in Italy and Portugal and taken seven from 10 race victories so the defending champion needs to halt his charge in Russia if he’s going to take a record-equalling 10th world title this season.
But barring a technical problem or a crash it isn’t likely to happen…
Now Herlings has his starts dialled no-one can live with him. As he showed last year in his one-off ride in the States when he destroyed America’s best riders, he’s the fastest man on the planet at the moment. Eli Tomac, Marvin Musquin and Jason Anderson spent the day at Ironman, Illinois, chowing down on his roost and the Euro racers can look forward to more of the same in Russia.
Clement Desalle (Monster Energy Kawasaki) won at Orlyonok last year but the Belgian hasn’t shown the speed in 2018 to get close to Herlings who can drop his lap times by several seconds – mostly in the closing stages of a race – at will.
Desalle’s title aspirations took a huge hit last time out in Portugal with a mechanical DNF and he now sits fourth in the championship behind France’s 2015 champion Romain Febvre (Monster Energy Yamaha). Febvre’s compatriot Gautier Paulin (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna) – third in Russia last year behind Desalle and Herlings – also DNFed a race in Portugal with a technical issue and needs to make up ground quickly.
Slovenia’s Tim Gajser (Team HRC) has been building steadily since returning to action following a pre-season injury and showed in Portugal that he’s regaining the bike fitness to go with his pace and is a definite podium contender.
Tommy Searle (Bike It DRT Kawasaki) was back on a bike last weekend at the British championship round at Canada Heights in his first race since breaking a collarbone at Valkenswaard but he’s not due to make his MXGP comeback until Latvia on May 13. This leaves UK hopes resting with Max Anstie (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna), Shaun Simpson (Wilvo Yamaha) and Graeme Irwin (Hitachi ASA KTM UK) but don’t expect too much.
Anstie, fourth in Russian in 2017, has missed the last three rounds to recover from concussion so will be race-rusty, Simpson has also been battling a shoulder injury and Irwin has yet to find his feet in his debut MXGP season.
It’s a different story in MX2 where Britain has three podium contenders in Ben Watson (Kemea Yamaha), Conrad Mewse (Hitachi ASA KTM UK) and Adam Sterry (F&H Kawasaki).
Watson has to be the pick of the bunch after Mewse failed to pick up a point in Portugal but both have come close to top three this season and Sterry can’t be discounted as he continues to pick up the pace.
The man everyone wants to beat is 17-year-old Jorge Prado (Red Bull KTM) who, after a slow start at the opening round in Argentina, has now closed to within 14 points of team-mate and defending champion Pauls Jonass. The Latvian went off the boil in Portugal while Prado took two wins and a repeat performance would give the Spanish teenager the series leader’s red plate for the first time in his career.
Russia also marks the third rounds of both the EMX250 and 300 championships and there’s a strong British interest in both.
Former champion Mel Pocock (REVO Husqvarna UK) leads the Euro 250 title chase after consistent performances in Spain and Portugal and his team-mate Martin Barr is just 11 points behind in fourth. James Dunn (GL12 Racing KTM) will also attempt to stick his two-stroke up front against the four-strokes.
Dunn’s Dutch team-mate Mike Kras leads the 300cc championship with defending champion Brad Anderson (Verde Substance KTM) only 15 points off the pace in third.
The EMX classes get a race each on both days and the two world championship qualifiers take place tomorrow afternoon before the points-paying races on Tuesday.