At the halfway point in the 2016 MXGP championship, Red Bull KTM’s Dutch master Jeffrey Herlings is the dominant…
At the halfway point in the 2016 MXGP championship, Red Bull KTM’s Dutch master Jeffrey Herlings is the dominant force in the MX2 class. In this interview, conducted at the MXGP of Great Britain, Herlings discussed his rivals, switching up to MXGP in 2017 and racing in America.
Jeffrey went on to record two more victories at Matterley Basin, despite a heel injury and again the following weekend at Mantova to add to his remarkable 23 (from 24) race wins this year.
We notice you’ve been taking it a little easy there in the first practice session, was there a reason for that?
Yeah, I got a small injury in my foot just this week and in the beginning when it is cold it frickin’ hurts pretty bad! But once you get riding it gets better and better and that’s why the first few laps was a little slower.
It should be gone in a three weeks but, you know, riding dirt bikes this much nobody really heals up so it is what it is. Luckily after Mantova we have four weeks off so hopefully it will be good till then and we can rest it a little.
How many years is it in MX2 now? Since 2010? That’s a long time to race and be at the top of the class, was that always the plan?
There was never really a plan to stay here, or do a few years then move up to MX1 or anything. Even at the beginning of my career I always wanted to go to the US, but it is a choice you make year-by-year.
Obviously this year or even next year is going to be the last year, because then I have to move up anyway.
So even at this stage in the 2016 season you are not sure about next season what you would like to do?
We haven’t really discussed it yet but it could be an option to stay another year regarding my age I could do one more season. But nothing is decided and we haven’t even talked about it yet. It’s a decision from me and the team. At some point in the season we always sit together and decide what I want to do, what KTM wants me to do and then we try and get it all together.
All the other years it’s always been the same people wanted me to stay but for next season I haven’t even thought about it. I just want to stay focused and try to become world champion and then look to the future. My focus is on winning races and on winning the championship and hopefully we can do that and move forward.
For five or six years you have been, if not the dominant force, then certainly one of the championship contenders?
Yeah, yeah, I’ve been on top of the championship for a couple of years now. I won the championship in 2012, 2013, runner-up in 2011 and 2014, last year I was leading the championship and got injured the same but hopefully this year I can finish a complete season and win the world championship.
Do you think there is something, a reason, what you can be on top of a championship for that long?
It’s not that long really, if you look at Cairoli he’s been on the top for maybe fifteen years. But, you know, I’ve been on the top for a while now and I think I train well, the bike really suits me and I’ve been riding it for so long I really know how it works and I know what I have to do to make it as good as possible for myself. I have experience too, of course.
Obviously the bike has changed a lot in those years but have you changed over those years? Mentally and in terms of your riding?
Obviously my riding style has changed a lot in that time, you know when I first went into the championship I was just 15-years-old and I was something like 80kg and 20cm smaller than I am now so those make big changes in my riding. I also during the years make some changes to the bike engine-wise but all things came with experience.
The tracks have changed, the riders have changed, the races have changed from 35 to 30mins so as a rider you have to be more aggressive. You think, ‘oh, that’s just five minutes, they don’t make much difference’ but it does really.
How can you be that fast each year when the opposition changes?
Yeah, for a start it was Musquin and Roczen, then only Roczen, then Searle…those guys have all moved on to the US or MXGP. And those guys are really big names, currently there are not really big names in MX2 so nobody really challenging me in all races.
I remember with Tommy it was week-in, week-out, and the same with Roczen, week-in, week-out always a battle. Now it is just like, this guy finished second, then that guy finishes second.
I just try and focus though on my job and try and become a world champion again. I now it is such a tough job and, you know, even now I have just a small injury and it is looking like it will be ok. But it could so easily have been a broken ankle and then you’re out for six weeks and miss a couple of races and then the championship is over. So it is never easy to win a championship because you have to be good for a very long time.
Do you think you learned from any of those guys you’ve raced against in the past?
I definitely learned a lot from the experience of racing with them: how they race, how they battle, the way they train so I learned a lot about that because every rider is different. Someone like Tommy was very different to race against and also the last couple of years I’ve had not just one but different competitors to race against and that is different.
Some of the riders, in fact two of the riders currently leading the MXGP championship, are people you raced againstDo you think you’re speed and consistency is making MX2 riders step-up to match you and making a new breed of rider?
I think the guys who tried to challenge me like Fevbre, Tixier and Gasjer last year, you know those guys are the guys to beat in MXGP right now, they are really fast and doing really good. I think that in MX2 they tried to match my speed and they were pretty close but never got there and now they step-up to MXGP and they are doing pretty good and capable of winning GPs in the big boys class straight away.
Everything evolves and gets faster each year I guess?
Everything gets faster: bikes get faster, racing gets faster, tracks get faster, riders get more experience and knowledge, now with phones and technology you can analyse everything, everything gets better no matter if it is motocross, MotoGP, cycling, it doesn’t matter what it is we all progress constantly at the top level.
With everything getting faster do you think it is possible to go too fast? Are tracks too fast?
Each track allows you to go that fast, I mean as fast as that track allows. Somewhere like Loket for example is a very technical track, very hard packed and you can go that pace and if you go over you will crash. While you have tracks like Lommel where you can go as fast as you want to, you know. Every track has its own thing and the current 450 models are very fast at some tracks they maybe have too much power but from a rider’s point of view that can make a difference you know you have to handle the power you have to handle the difficult track and circumstances. I think that’s what makes you a world champion and what makes you a good rider.
Do you spend much time on the bigger bikes?
Yeah, I did quite a bit of riding on the bigger bikes. Actually a race a couple of weeks ago but usually just for practicing.
On the 350 or 450?
Actually a couple of years ago I was riding the 350 a lot but then concentrated on the 250 for a couple of years so didn’t ride either much. Then this year because I have to make my choice regarding next year so I wanted to do a little riding on the 450 and actually I feel super-positive on it, it’s a really good bike and I really enjoyed riding it. So that was good.
Is your ultimate goal to go to America and race?
Nah, currently I don’t want to go to America and race. I mean we have a great GP there but to race in AMA, no. There’s no real reason for that but, you know, I bought a house recently, I like to stay home, I have my friends and family and I like to be there. All those things together it just makes me wanna stay home!
A lot of people think you’re maybe the fastest man on a motocross bike right now, do you see it that way?
No, definitely not. I mean on the lites bike I’ve been showing I’m pretty fast and also on the big bikes I’m pretty fast but I never raced against Villopoto, Dungey or the top guys in Europe. If you ask me “are you the fastest 250 rider on the planet?” then I would say, “maybe.” But the big bike? I’ve never proven myself and also it is always hard to judge by one race or one moto. You have to judge it in a world championship where there are different riders in different conditions and surfaces. It’s hard to say.
I’d like to challenge myself against the US guys like Jeremy Martin on the 250 but when we go there it is different and when they come here it is different.