Interview of the Month: The words of a master – Herlings talks mammoth 2018
One week after his 24th birthday Jeffrey Herlings blew out the candle on an utterly dominant MXGP season so we collected a few exclusive words with the world’s fastest dirtbike racer.
2018 is just four numbers among a thick ledger of other digits for Red Bull KTM’s newest World Champion (and just his second season in the premier class of the FIM Motocross World Championship) Jeffrey Herlings. His first title with the KTM 450 SX-F was secured in Assen last weekend and crowned a season of emphatic achievement; only the training accident that led to collarbone surgery and his absence from round eleven in Italy in June remains the sole blot on a peachy copybook.
Talking about the commitment to defeat the world’s best – including nine times No.1 and teammate Tony Cairoli (runner-up in 2018) – and the effort into construction of a record-breaking campaign Herlings gave us the low-down.
Jeffrey Herlings (NED) Assen (NED) 2018 © Ray Archer
Argentina and the last lap victory by passing Tony: it seemed to set the tone for the season. Did you feel like it was a big statement at the time?
“I came into Argentina with high expectations but I also did not know what to expect. On Saturday I was really nervous. I think I was fastest in Timed Practice but then in the Qualification Heat Tony passed me on the third-fourth lap and I wanted to fight back but went down. I was seventh or eighth and I wasn’t riding well. I had two bad starts on Sunday and things were not really going my way but in that second moto I started picking off riders like Desalle and Van Horebeek and then with seven-eight minutes to go it was only Tony in front of me but with a serious gap. To close that gap to the reigning world champion at the first round was something special. To then take the lead on the last lap was a way of making a statement. I was saying: “I’m here for the big picture”.”
Was that the perfect start? How much did it help your confidence?
“It gave me a boost. Every year you come out of the winter period and you never really know what will happen. Some riders do the Italian championship and some riders look to other races but [the first Grand Prix] is the first time where everything really comes together, and with all the top guys. I think everybody wants to make some sort of statement at the first round. I came home from Argentina and thought ‘Ok, good …’ but also thought ‘nineteen rounds to go, must stay fit, must stay healthy’. Obviously, my confidence grew during the season with more and more wins. It was pretty amazing what we have achieved this year and to win so many motos and overall GPs, despite missing a round, I don’t think many people have done that.”
You’ve only dropped something like 17 points all season, which is incredible …
“Yes, I had a couple of second places and a third but to race 36 motos and win 31 of them is pretty cool.”
Jeffrey Herlings (NED) & Tony Cairoli (ITA) KTM 450 SX-F Neuquen (ARG) 2018 © Ray Archer
What was the secret to beating a nine times world champion and a force of consistency like Tony Cairoli?
“At the beginning of 2017 I did not take the MXGP class that seriously or behave in the way I should because I was not ‘all-in’ and was still going out with friends and doing things that I should normally be doing at my age! I realized quickly that to win in MXGP you have to go for it 110% and be totally committed to the sport from the moment you wake up until the minute you go to bed for ten months of the year. That’s’ what I did this time. The key to winning was making sure that ‘nothing was left on the table’. I watched out for anything and everything: my food, the training, the travelling, resting, testing. Everything had to click together as well as the people around me. It was necessary to beat a great champion like Tony. We raced 18 times together and I beat him 17 times: I think it is not pure luck any more.”
You said you lived like a “monk” to make the results happen – great quote – but that must carry quite a cost …
“If that’s what it takes to win then I have to do it. It was something I milled since the beginning of last winter. Maybe if I was somewhere in between the commitment of 2018 and 2017 then I could still win but I wanted to make sure I gave the maximum and make sure it was enough to win. I’d rather do that for a short number of years and try to collect titles and win races and GPs instead of going easy for fifteen years and maybe not winning much at all. I prefer to go all-out and shorter.”
It has been a season of dreams, real domination. How can you beat it or muster motivation to go again or try to repeat it?
“As a kid I always wanted to win a premier class world championship. MX2 is a world title … but it is nothing compared to this and what I had to do for it. I felt that in MX2 – especially the last years – people would think “Herlings is here, which means he is either going to win or probably go to the hospital’. This time it was against the hard guys, the heavy-hitters, like Tony, [Tim] Gajser, [Romain] Febvre and those that have been taking titles. I really wanted to beat Tony at his best and I don’t think he was at his best this year but he was close. I’ve seen races from him a few years back and also close-up now and personally I don’t think he has been riding as well as he is now and to beat him straight-up? Pretty cool. I have been studying and watching him for a number of years and I’ve always thought ‘I want to beat that guy …’ and to do it for the championship is something really nice.”
Jeffrey Herlings (NED) KTM 450 SX-F Sevlievo (BUL) 2018 © Ray Archer
One negative is that you’ve made it look easy, almost like an MX2 campaign. You’ve said repeatedly that the level is so high but it must be tricky to make people believe that …
“Yeah, it is difficult. People might see it like MX2, but if I look back now then MX2 was a bit like for ‘children’ whereas this [MXGP] is like for the big boys. Winning an MX2 championship is still not easy – believe me – there were still some amazing riders there. The level of MX2 might not be the same as it was in the past now, but everybody looks at it in a different way and from their own perspective. I think the MXGP class is one of the ‘heaviest’ it has ever been; there are multiple world champions in the class and a lot of GP winners. Even now there are some top riders who are struggling to find a ride for 2019. It is a very tough class so that’s why you have to go all-out and put all of your heart into it. Some people might see that and some might not but I’m sure that most in the sport and the industry will.”
What about the emotion of a day like Assen?
“When I woke up in the morning I felt ‘today’s the day’ and I had all the flashbacks of getting up and doing the routine: getting on the road bike, going into the gym … all the ten months of hard work and dedication went down to this day when it was most likely going to happen. My mum and I had tears in our eyes this morning. It was definitely emotional and going into the last lap I knew I was world championship because I’d lapped up to 7th-8th and everything went through my head of what we’d done this year and in the past. I was a big fan of Tony back in 2004 and then he won in Lierop I thought ‘one day I want to be like those guys’ and here we are fourteen years later fighting the biggest racers in the world and I have won the biggest championship I could possibly win.”
Jeffrey Herlings (NED) KTM 450 SX-F Assen (NED) 2018 © Ray Archer
You’ve credited the team and said the KTM 450 SX-F has been almost perfect. Is there much to improve with the bike because you have an unbeatable package at the moment?
“Well, we have some new things [to come] and the competition is always working to get closer. I think they are really pushing to take the crown away from KTM. This year the team will again have MXGP and MX2 championship and the group also took the Supercross title as well as the 250 West. I think the other manufacturers are looking and trying to stand up to beat us. We have to improve. If we stop development then we won’t be number one any more. We have things to test: something on the engine and also with the chassis to keeping working and to try to be better. Up until now the package has been really good … but if you look at the bikes ten years ago then they were great but compared to now they are pretty crappy! Our 2018 bike is awesome now but again in ten years it will be something that’s not good enough. Development never stops.”
How will you treat yourself in the coming weeks and do you have any other ambitions?
“The plan after the Motocross of Nations is to not ride for about six weeks: I asked for some time off! Obviously, there are still some [promo] things I need to do but that’s my job and I love to do them as part of the marketing but I asked not to ride the bike for a few weeks and finally be able to hang out with some friends and have a holiday. Even small things like when friends go out for fast food and I have to have a salad: scrap that! I want to enjoy a little bit of being a normal 24-year-old kid. We have to make a lot of sacrifices [as a rider] and that’s what I do to try and win. KTM are really supportive of that; they see how hard I have worked and understand wanting a few weeks away from it. I think it is also necessary: I have to recharge the battery if I want to win next year and do it all over again. I don’t really have any burning challenge away from the bike. I just want that normality that I have to avoid during the year! Halfway through November we’ll start the preparation for next year.”
Jeffrey Herlings (NED) & Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team (NED) 2018 © Ray Archer
Photos: Ray Archer
Caden Braswell: A bright spark for the future
Posted in People, Racing Caden Braswell is the 2018 FIM 85cc Junior Motocross World Champion. A 14-year-old with a bright future, Braswell hails from Shalimar in Florida, USA and is an emerging talent that has progressed through the ranks since he began racing at the age of six.
Following in the footsteps of his father, who also raced, Braswell started riding at five years old and began racing a year later. He went on to the compete in the Mini Os, and then at the famed Loretta Lynn´s – the proving ground for many young American motocross racers, and Braswell qualified at his first attempt.
Caden Braswell (USA) KTM 85 SX © Marc Jones Photography
Fast forward to 2018 and Braswell was selected to compete for Team USA at the FIM Junior Motocross World Championship, which was held in Horsham, Australia. Braswell scored third and first aboard his KTM 85 SX and with it the youngster took the overall honors to be crowned the FIM 85cc Junior Motocross World Champion. Belgian racer Liam Everts won the opening moto in convincing style aboard his KTM 85 SX, while unfortunately crashing out of moto two, and the overall podium was made up of KTM racers with Dutch rider Kay de Wolf in second position and fellow countryman Kay Karssemakers in third. KTM riders Marek Vitezslav and Logan Best won a moto each in the FIM 65cc Junior Motocross World Cup, making it a weekend where KTM racers shone around the hardpack Horsham track.
“It was awesome,” said Braswell when talking about the experience of racing in Australia. “I had a blast and I really got to know the other teammates and their families. It was unlike anything I’ve ever done. Such a cool experience. The team spirit was high and it felt great to represent Team USA,” continued the junior.
“In the first moto I grabbed the holeshot and I was out front, but then my knee brace locked up so I fell back until I was able to fix the issue. I charged back up to third, which was okay.”
“For the second moto I got a horrible start. Mike (who went with Braswell to the event) said I was about 25th or so around the first turn. I’m not sure, but I felt like I was last (laughs).”
“I knew I had to go, so I put my head down and just started pushing. When I saw the chequered flag, I wasn’t sure if I had won. I pulled off the track and everyone came running over yelling that I won! It was incredible. Nothing could beat that feeling.”
Caden Braswell (USA) © Marc Jones Photography
Braswell was in Australia without his parents, but was supported by Mike Burkeen who was there at the event with the young gun. The Junior World Championships are held over one weekend in a similar format to a MXGP World Championship round, and the outcome is determined by two motos. It’s an intense, but useful experience for young riders to compete against the very best in the world in their category, and while also performing as a part of a team representing their country. Team USA finished in fourth position.
Talking about his bike, Braswell said: “READY TO RACE is what I think of my KTM. KTM provided me with a bike in Australia that we ran stock. I put my suspension on the bike and raced it. It was super-fast – I pulled a start and won a world title right out of the box. So yea, READY TO RACE is a great way to describe my KTM.”
Caden Braswell (#6, USA) & Team USA KTM 85 SX © Marc Jones Photography
Braswell has big dreams for the future, hoping to replicate his home hero Ryan Dungey, who he says was always fast, smooth, consistent and smart. In Braswell’s words he’d love to “make his mark on the sport and break records”. A lover of hills, breaking bumps and ruts, like those found at his favorite track – Millcreek in the USA – Braswell has certainly made the first major step on his ladder of success.
“I’d like to thank my parents for always supporting me. Sean Michael Gerrits, as he really helped us this year. Mike Burkeen for taking me to Australia since my parents couldn’t be there. Ricky and Mike from the AMA for giving me the opportunity. KTM for providing me a great bike to race while in Australia. OB for the awesome graphics. TLD for keeping me looking good. Alpinestars for killer boots and Oakley for great goggles. FMF for helping make my KTM even faster. Dunlop tires for keeping my bike hooked up with great tires. Factory Connection Suspension for making sure my bike handled flawlessly. Mika Metals for sprockets and bars and great support Nihilo Concepts, Lynks Racing and Team USA. I’d also like to thank the other riders and their parents for the support while we were there. It really was a team effort. One for all and all for one Team USA,” concluded Braswell.
Caden Braswell (USA) KTM 85 SX © Marc Jones Photography
Photos: Marc Jones Photography
Jeffrey Herlings: The numbers of a motocross master
Posted in People, Racing The MXGP World Champion-in-waiting and birthday boy has been a statistical force of nature in 2018. On the edge of a momentous weekend ahead for Jeffrey Herlings we delve into the digits …
Jeffrey Herlings (NED) KTM 450 SX-F Kegums (LAT) 2018 © Ray Archer
Today (Wednesday) Red Bull KTM’s Jeffrey Herlings celebrates his 24th birthday, and is only a matter of hours away from his home Grand Prix this weekend and a double celebration with fulfilment of his lifetime dream of winning an FIM Motocross World Championship in the premier class of MXGP. 2018 has been nothing short of sensational for the Dutchman who has not stopped racking up statistics.
There is always a bigger story behind the numbers (we’ll get to that) but Jeffrey’s track record is perhaps the most comprehensive in any FIM motorcycle racing series this year. How? Just see …
Jeffrey Herlings (#84, NED) KTM 450 SX-F St. Jean d´ Angely (FRA) 2018 © Ray Archer
Since the end of February 2018 MXGP has reached 18 rounds and 36 motos to-date. In that time and through heat, humidity, freezing cold, rain, hard-pack, sand, mud and all types of conditions #84 has:
Won 15 rounds – equaling a record total of victories for one season Walked the podium 17 times (he missed the Grand Prix of Ottobiano with injury) Has finished no lower than 2nd (twice) Has finished no lower than 3rd in a moto, just once (first race of the Grand Prix of Russia) Has claimed 29 chequered flags from a possible 34, 23 more than the next rider Has led 397 of the total of 643 laps this year, 200 laps more than the next closest rider Only two other MXGP riders have won a moto or Grand Prix in 2018 He is currently in his longest winning streak in just his second season in the MXGP class with 7 consecutive successes. They have come in Indonesia (x2), Czech Republic, Belgium, Switzerland, Bulgaria and Turkey. He has also won in Argentina, Holland, Italy, Portugal, Latvia, Germany, Britain and France this year Herlings has led the championship at all but one Grand Prix in 2018 If he confirms the title by finishing 15th or higher (and if Tony Cairoli wins) in the first moto of the upcoming Dutch Grand Prix then he will have four career titles: the same amount as Harry Everts, Torsten Hallman and Heikki Mikkola He will be only the third rider to have both MX2 and MXGP FIM World Championship medals If Herlings wins the final two rounds of the season he’ll take his career win tally to 84 (he is already the third most successful motocrosser ever. Stefan Everts holds the record at 101 wins) Round 19 of 20 will take place in the sand of Assen for the fourth Grand Prix of the Netherlands to be staged by the famous Dutch Circuit. Herlings won the event in 2017.
Jeffrey Herlings (NED) KTM 450 SX-F Pangkal Pinang (INA) 2018 © Ray Archer
15 wins, 17 podiums, 29 motos, 95-point lead: It almost makes the job look easy but Herlings is always quick to stress the amount of work, compromise and sacrifice that has gone into the scorecard. He also regularly credits the Red Bull KTM Team and perhaps their most crucial work was in refining the works KTM 450 SX-F so that by round five in Portugal Herlings was in frequent contention for Grand Prix holeshots. Aside from the scrutiny of battling and facing-off against teammate, reigning champ and nine times title winner Tony Cairoli, Herlings also had other hard moments. Prior to round eleven he sustained a multiple fracture to his right collarbone while training and missed the Grand Prix of Ottobiano. Less than three weeks after surgery he returned at the Grand Prix of Asia and hasn’t been toppled from the top of the podium since. Ottobiano and the dramatic loss of 50 points from the lead he’d been steadily building in the series was a stark reminder of the horrendous narrow margins between glory and disaster in MXGP and helped Herlings refocus. The rest has been written in the annals of the sport.
Jeffrey Herlings (NED) & Wayne Banks (AUS) KTM 450 SX-F St. Jean d´Angely (FRA) 2018 © Ray Archer
Photos: Ray Archer
KTM ADVENTURE RALLY: Relive the adventure
KTM ADVENTURE RALLYs allow riders from all over the world to discover the true meaning of adventure. 6 rally, 6 countries: Australia, Italy, South Africa, USA, Canada and New Zealand. Each rally awaits the riders with diverse tests of character and skills. You have doubts whether this is the right adventure for you? We offer some insight.
© C. Wood
Three of the six rallys are already completed and leave the participants with unforgettable experiences, memories and new friends.
Carrying on from the highly successful KTM ADVENTURE RALLYs in other countries, the European KTM ADVENTURE RALLY was held for the second time in 2018. At the end of June 150 hardcore KTM ADVENTURE riders descended on the island of Sardinia to enjoy the best adventure riding the northern Sardinian regions had to offer.
Here is what the participants of this year´s European KTM ADVENTURE RALLY experienced during three days of riding on and offroad.
Three KTM ADVENTURE RALLYs are still to come in 2018 before we launch the next adventure: the Ultimate Race.
Photo: C. Wood
Video: Luca Piffaretti/Filmer Force Productions
Team Junior Luciano Benavides: Why I wanted to race Dakar
KTM Factory Racing’s Luciano Benavides is 23 years old. Joining the rally squad, the Argentinian had no previous experience in the notoriously difficult rally races, but he had the speed, the will and the right kind of personality for the job. Heading towards his second Dakar, which will take place next January, the KTM-ace is optimistic on what he can achieve.
Luciano Benavides (ARG) KTM 450 RALLY 2018 © Rally Zone
Having started racing at just five years old, Benavides competed up to top level in enduro nationally and raced the ISDE in 2015 and 2016 – winning a medal in Spain 2016, whilst showing his potential. The Argentinian went on to race the ‘Full Gas Enduro’ series in the USA, and finished as the top rookie rider of the year, as well as second overall in his class. A solid foundation to what was to happen next, some might say.
“In 2017 I started to try and move to the rallies, and the opportunity came with the KTM factory. Alex (Doringer) called me and said he had a chance to give me a factory ride. I said yes of course, it’s a big opportunity. I am still so happy, it’s such a unique opportunity and I’m the junior in the team. Last year I started in August with the rally in Argentina, I didn’t know how to navigate or nothing, and I crashed on the first day. I broke my collarbone,” said Benavides.
“After that I went to Morocco in October, my second race, and I finished I think in around 16 or 17 overall and second as a junior, which gave me the qualifying for the Dakar. It was good. I trained a lot for the Dakar and that was my third race. In stage 10, which was my home stage as I live in Salta, I was riding in 15th overall in the standings and on that stage I was going really well, I was around fifth or sixth on the day. Then, I had a big crash and broke five vertebrae in my back. It was really painful in the middle of my back and I was really frustrated. It was a steep learning curve.”
Luciano Benavides (ARG) KTM 450 RALLY 2018 © Future7Media
Now recovered and having spent time over in Europe with the KTM Factory Racing Team testing, Benavides is ready to race Chile, Argentina and Morocco prior to heading to his second Dakar in January. Benavides’s brother Kevin began racing rally in 2015 having seen the huge interest in the South American region thanks to Dakar. Luciano willingly supported his brother at his first Dakar in 2016 and he decided then, having followed the race, that he wanted to be a rally racer.
“I followed the Dakar in 2016 with my brother, and I said I wanted to race it. I was looking at the KTM team from the other side, taking pictures of Toby, Sam – they were all my idols, and now I’m riding with them and they are my teammates. You can say it’s a nice opportunity, and I really like the rallies. It’s fun, it’s about taking a decision, trusting yourself, I like the fast piste, it’s cool. I’m riding with the best riders in the world in the best team. This was always my dream, to be a factory rider and do what I love. I’m living the dream.”
“My dad rides in enduro as an amateur – in Salta the enduro was not really famous,” explained Benavides, when asked how he got into riding. “Then my brother started, and when I was younger I was always trying to be like him, trying to copy him, and we are so competitive. I want to beat him in everything and he is the same. It is really cool, because it pushed me to grow up as a rider and as a person I think. It’s a family passion. My sister also rides for a hobby, she has a KTM 250 SX-F.”
Luciano Benavides (ARG), Matthias Walkner (AUT) & Toby Price (AUS) 2018 © Rally Zone
There’s a huge difference between Luciano’s home place and Europe, and the economy in Argentina makes it quite difficult for aspiring riders. The base cost of a motorcycle is high, and it’s extra challenging for amateur riders to progress in the sport. While the youngster explains there are some nice places to ride in Salta, it’s more enduro than motocross due to the mountains close to the city.
Luciano is based still in Argentina, and will continue to train there, whilst travelling to Europe for group tests, which are predominantly done with the team in Spain close to Jordi Viladoms’ home. The weather is good in Salta, and it’s possible to do a lot of roadbook training nearby, or even in Chile. Luciano explains it wasn’t easy stepping into the team, and he felt a level of expectation, but after a hard learning curve the KTM rider is ready to mature as a rider and learn his craft.
“Now I feel I have more confidence with the guys in the team. In the beginning for the first time it was really strange for me. They were like my idols and now we ride together. They are super good guys, they teach me a lot and now I’m trying to learn from them. We have the last three winners of the Dakar, Antoine is a five-time world enduro champion, and there is so much talent.”
“I feel pressure. It’s always pressure, and in the racing. Last year I felt that pressure a lot because I say ‘okay’ I’m in the best team; I was trying to show them how fast I could be, and that was my first mistake I think. This is why I think I crashed in the Ruta 40 in Argentina. In the Dakar it was a different story, because I felt pressure in front of the people of my city, as I was the home hero. The team told me to be careful, and not to push in Salta, and I didn’t listen, so I crashed because of this. I learned some hard lessons.”
“In the Dakar anything can happen, and a lot will happen; you can get lost, you can crash, you can get bike problems, and I learned a lot, so now I feel I have more experience. The navigation is something really difficult, you have to stay focused on this and your riding. It’s really hard to keep the concentration and focus for five hours or more. In rally it’s long stages, long days, you don’t sleep well in the Dakar, and it’s a lot of hours. Enduro is more aggressive, more explosive.”
Luciano Benavides (ARG) KTM 450 RALLY 2018 © PhotosDakar.com
Luciano’s goal now is to finish the next races and learn – he needs more experience having only really done two rally races so far. He would like to be a top 10 Dakar rider aboard his KTM 450 RALLY factory machine, and a good result in the junior class in the Cross-Country Rallies World Championship, as he has two years left competing there.
“My life is 90% dirt bikes. I wake up thinking about bikes, and go to sleep also thinking about bikes. I love spending time with my friends, hang out with them, but mostly it’s about bikes and racing. I really love it.”
“I’m also studying to be an accountant. I did two years, and there’s two years left now. When I signed with the factory team all my focus changed towards the rally, because this is what I love and it’s a unique opportunity. We will see when I can continue with the studies, because it’s important as well for the future.”
Luciano Benavides (ARG) 2018 © PhotosDakar.com
Photos: Rally Zone | Future7Media | PhotosDakar.com