Jeffrey Herlings has really taken control of the premier division in recent weeks, thanks to some small changes that have eliminated his weaknesses. Starts, pit-board messages, battling with Antonio Cairoli, a positive act and much more are all discussed in this chat from the Grand Prix of Portugal. This interview was originally posted as a post-race podcast.
MX Vice: Perfect day, really. I don't know what more we can say. It did not really seem like you put a foot wrong all weekend.
Jeffrey Herlings: No, it has been actually really good. It feels like we got our starts more dialled in. Got second twice and the pole also first moto. So, that was really decent and the riding. I felt great on the bike. I felt great on the track. It was a picture perfect weekend almost. Same in Arco di Trento. Let’s keep going like this, I would say.
I know you said yesterday that you struggled with line choice to begin with, just figuring it out on the first couple of laps. Was that harder today; leading from the front, not being able to watch anyone else and see what others were doing?
I felt like the second moto was good regarding my line choice, but the first moto I was struggling. After the moto I checked. My team made some videos and I checked like, dude, you are using bad lines my man! Bad lines. So then I felt like I was not riding good, but it was still enough to win. The first moto I could really control, because Tony [Cairoli] had to come from tenth place or something.
I knew Tim [Gajser] and [Gautier] Paulin were behind, but I knew they were a little bit less of a risk than Tony. I could just basically do my own thing. Coming back to your question, I think the Saturday I was having a tough time, same first moto because there were so many line options because of the track being so spongy, but the second moto I was good.
Speaking of that first race, watching your team, it kind of looked like they were worried that you were going to settle too much. Every lap they were kind of telling you to pick up the pace. I noticed that on the start in the second race they put on the board that you needed an eight-second gap immediately. Was that just their way of motivating you and making sure that you kept the intensity high?
Yeah. I felt like the track was capable of doing that second moto. The first moto the dirt was spongier and more wet, so second moto I felt like I was going to be able to really attack the track. I felt good. They always want me to put a little gap so in case if I go down or whatsoever. I went down the second moto after four or five laps and I at least had a small gap to afford a crash [and make sure] that I can still go out first. Just so I am a little safer.
Was that what happened in the second race then, on like lap three just after the finish? You lost like five seconds or whatever? Was that a crash?
Yeah. From the dirt what came up, there were some stones in-between. I just landed and there was just one stone in the line, then my front wheel went over the line. It was two lines together and I opened, whiskey throttle. I was like "yup, yard saled it."
I know obviously starts are a big thing now. You led every lap in the first moto and then pretty much in the second race as well. From your perspective, is winning a race like that more rewarding or can you get more from starting fifth and working your way forward. You kind of earn it a little more, maybe?
No, I like it way more this way. Just give me a good start and preferably a holeshot and let me do it this way. I like it way better.
Speaking of starts, I spoke to Dirk last week and he kind of filled us in on the light and what’s going on with that. Is that the only part you got? It seems kind of simple that it just took a light to fix your starts.
Yeah, obviously I was not capable of getting the same RPM what was actually needed to pull a good start. When I was alone I could do it, but when there is like twenty-nine bikes next to me, for example, I could not hear my own bike. Then I was either too high or too low with the RPMs. Now the team made a great job and just put on some lights, so I can see that I am in the right RPM zone and since then it got better.
Do you even feel more confident just sat on the gate? Are you sat there now knowing that you can holeshot whenever?
Yeah, basically I just have to drop the clutch. I get the right RPMs, lean to the front and drop the clutch. They got it made pretty easy to me for now, but it is not that easy. To get the good start is one thing, but you have to keep doing it over and over and that is not going to be easy. The rest will also improve.
Obviously, Tony kind of changed his strategy in the second race and went next to you on the line. Did you think anything of that? It kind of reminded me of the old Ferrandis days a little bit, trying to get next to you and squeeze you out into the first turn?
Yeah – that is what he did. He went over the gate and actually had a better jump. I almost dropped over just before the gate dropped, because it took longer than I expected it to be, so I was hesitating. Then I got out of balance and then I almost tipped over, so I was in the right RPM but was just out of balance and he just got his handlebar in front of me. He cut me off a bit, but I probably would have done the same.
I wanted to talk to you about this last week, but obviously you had a flight to catch. I heard about something you did with another rider in time practice? Someone was down under their bike and you stopped, got their bike off them or whatever. You obviously have a lot of haters, so I feel like people would probably like to hear that story.
Yeah, because people don’t know I have got a good heart! Some rider was down and people just kept getting past him, but I was just on a slow lap. I was not on the heater so I was just like, come on. The guy’s under his exhaust, under his bike, and I was like somebody has got to help him. The flag marshal was just looking at him. I was like, all right. I'll do it!
Finally, a little break now. I ask you this all the time. Anything you need to fix? Anything you want to do? Is it just perfect for the moment?
For the moment it is pretty perfect. I still want to keep working on my starts, but I think regarding fitness and speed I’m on a good level. Can we improve? Yeah, we can always improve, but also bike-wise I feel great on the bike. The team did a great job over the winter with testing and whatever. They keep coming with good things and improvements. I’m very happy. The only thing I can do is just keep going and doing what I’m doing right now.
Interview: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: KTM Images/Ray Archer