Day One: MXGP of Portugal

Analysis from qualifying at Agueda

· 6 minutes read

Jeffrey Herlings won, which is considered normal at this point in the season, but how should his ride be categorised? Herlings started behind Antonio Cairoli, the defending champion, and passed him en route to the victory, but then only won by a couple seconds. Was it a masterful ride, where he read his competition and did all that was necessary, or did it give his foe hope and additional motivation for tomorrow? That makes for an intriguing bench-racing discussion and one that will not truly be answered until tomorrow.

"Yeah, it is good," Jeffrey Herlings said in a post-race statement. "I am feeling good and feeling strong. I am definitely looking forward to tomorrow, but hopefully we keep it a bit dry. I think the track was really good, the best that we have had a track this year. I think that, with the rain, the track got soft and a lot of lines. Maybe some guys say that it was dodgy or maybe a bit dangerous, which I think is true. It also gives a lot of variations to obviously pass, so I think the track was perfect. Hopefully they keep it safe, but do not flatten it completely.

"I felt like I had speed from the beginning," he continued. "The first two laps I was struggling with my line choice, just because there were so many lines, so I was like I am not going to get roosted in every turn, so I gave him a little gap, like one or two seconds, and followed him. I put my good lines and his good lines together, so could pass him and managed to pull away. I am very thankful for that and like to be on the inside gate here. I think it is a little advantage."

Jeffrey Herlings will have pole position in Portugal tomorrow (KTM Images/Ray Archer)

The ride that Antonio Cairoli was equally as baffling. This is the longest that he has stuck with Jeffrey Herlings, as his advances are typically rendered mute after just a couple of laps, but was that really much of a surprise? Cairoli stated in an exclusive MX Vice interview that he knows that he can run the pace for twenty minutes, the length of a qualifying race, but struggles to do that across a regular moto. Should a ride such as this be expected in the shorter heat? One would presume that his efforts to chase Jeffrey Herlings right to the chequered flag were to try and establish what kind of intensity is needed tomorrow.

It honestly seemed as though Antonio Cairoli was going to triumph, as his times in the first half of the race were extremely impressive, but then the script was flipped in the second half. It is not like Jeffrey Herlings just found another gear either, like he did at the first three rounds, as his times did not drop that drastically. The table below offers a better look at that.

Jeffrey Herlings

Antonio Cairoli

Difference

Lap 3

1:53.986

1:53.165

+0.821

Lap 4

1:54.585

1:54.464

+0.121

Lap 5

1:53.403

1:54.040

-0.637

Lap 6

1:53.704

1:53.249

+0.455

Lap 7

1:53.644

1:56.084

-2.440

Lap 8

1:54.705

1:56.608

-1.903

Antonio Cairoli is searching for intensity across the whole race (KTM Images/Ray Archer)

The MXGP qualifying heat was not all about those two riders, which makes a change, as Romain Febvre actually kept things rather close for the duration. Although he was never close enough to attempt a pass for the lead, he was a constant threat and added an additional layer to the incredible class. Can he record a similar ride tomorrow? Well, it may be irrelevant trying to answer that now. The forecast indicates that torrential rain is going to hit the facility in the morning and, if that is the case, then all bets are off.

There was one particular area, the first sector, where Romain Febvre thrived. The sector covered the area from the finish line to the second turn and he consistently recorded times that were around half a second quicker on that part of the circuit. The times below support that.

Jeffrey Herlings

Antonio Cairoli

Romain Febvre

Lap 1

0:27.293

0:27.516

0:27.406

Lap 2

0:27.652

0:27.404

0:26.844

Lap 3

0:27.571

0:27.520

0:27.068

Lap 4

0:27.583

0:27.494

0:27.109

Lap 5

0:27.582

0:27.061

0:27.580

Lap 6

0:27.771

0:27.158

0:27.390

Speaking of the Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing team, Jeremy Van Horebeek withdrew after tipping over on lap one and bending his bars. The former Grand Prix winner faced a substantial deficit at that point and, consequently, will start from thirty-second tomorrow. That is twenty-one spots down on Shaun Simpson, who pushed through to eleventh with a sore shoulder and elbow. Those ailments should not stop him from coming alive in the rain.

Romain Febvre could be the first rider to steal a win from KTM in MXGP (Yamaha Racing)

It is funny how quickly things can change, as discussions about Pauls Jonass going undefeated were still raging on at this point last week. Now, however, it seems that Jorge Prado is the man with all of the momentum. "Yeah, this weekend has started pretty good," Prado said in the post-race press conference. "The same as last weekend. I am pretty happy. I had a good start, made a small gap and managed to keep it until the end. I did not want to make any mistakes. I took it a bit slow the last three laps, just in case I crashed or something, as I did not want to do it like Valkenswaard again. It was a good race. Like Jeffrey said, it is quite rough."

Pauls Jonass showed great speed early on, but was not superior, and then struggled to move forward after a small fall. Ben Watson gave him all that he could handle towards the end, but could not quite find a way through. A lot has been said about the way that Watson is starting, as most believe that fixing that is the key to success, but they are not as bad as they may seem. Watson had a great jump today, but just got bumped in the first turn and lost a handful of spots. Eleventh was the position that he emerged in.

Pauls Jonass

Ben Watson

Difference

Lap 7

1:55.223

1:55.204

+0.019

Lap 8

1:56.907

1:57.057

-0.150

Lap 9

1:56.941

1:56.191

+0.650

Lap 10

1:57.306

1:57.625

-0.319

Lap 11

1:57.705

1:58.244

-0.539

Lap 12

1:58.285

1:57.284

+1.001

Pauls Jonass watches on as the pack begin to bridge the gap (KTM Images/Ray Archer)

What other notes emerged from the MX2 division? Davy Pootjes has the speed to put his LRT KTM in the top six again and could have even done that in the qualifying heat. A snapped chain ruled him out early on though. Ruben Fernandez joined him way down the order, as he had a spectacular crash alongside pit lane and eventually retired. The Spaniard was a revelation early on, however, as he charged into fourth and looked comfortable towards the head of the field. There is no doubt that he possesses plenty of raw speed that will serve him well in the coming months.

Those in the paddock are now in a state of flux, as no one really knows what is in store tomorrow. Beginning to prepare for a mud race may be a waste of time, as promoters have already defied the odds once, and everything that was learnt today could be irrelevant. Whilst that may be frustrating for those inside of the paddock, it is a mouth-watering prospect for those following the action. What will tomorrow bring?

Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: Yamaha Racing

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