Much talk of the Grand Prix of Belgium revolved around Red Bull KTM Factory Rac teammates Tony Cairoli and Jeffrey Herlings, largely due to their pedigree and results on sandy tracks, and a compelling duel that occurred in the ‘soft’ terrain of Ottobiano, Italy in June with their 450 SX-Fs.
Herlings set a mean pace in Free Practice, almost three seconds quicker than the MXGP standings leader. A top ten start in the Qualification Heat was not a deterrent as Herlings soon worked his way to second place and squashed Cairoli’s five second lead to nothing with two laps remaining. It was exciting stuff: Herlings on full-charge and Cairoli making several small errors that gave the Dutchman hope. Herlings seized the lead on the last lap for his second Pole Position of his debut MXGP year and the stage was nicely ‘lit’ for the thirty-minute and two lap motos on Sunday.
The strong rain showers of Saturday that swamped sections of the sand and helped roughen the surface further were thankfully replaced by warm sunshine for race day, and a crowd of 30,000 found places around the sandy venue that is a well-used and well-known training location for many of the Grand Prix riders.
A reversed and altered layout for the fourth Belgian GP at Lommel helped offer a fresh challenge to the riders that would already be pushed to physical and mental limits (as well as those of their machinery).
The first race saw the third member of the crew, Glenn Coldenhoff, produce his best moto of the season so far with an excellent start and leading the first four laps of sixteen. He then followed Herlings’ superior pace for the midpart of the chase and was passed by a conservative Cairoli. As Herlings dealt with some arm-pump to remain free and claim his sixth race win, Cairoli made a mistake late on and crashed, handing second spot briefly back to Coldenhoff but soon recovered. The KTM trio ran ahead of Jeremy Van Horebeek by fourteen seconds in a dominant show.
The second race permitted Herlings and Cairoli to renew their dispute. Several close exchanges for the lead and some cat-and-mouse games ended in the last ten minutes as Herlings forged a gap and Cairoli accepted 22 points for second place and to safeguard a hefty window in the standings (now over Herlings who has moved up from third). Coldenhoff was again strong and found a way past Clement Desalle to capture fourth position; the classification allowed #259 to walk the podium for the second time in 2017 and give KTM a historic sweep of the premier class rostrum.
The next round of the MXGP heads to Frauenfeld in Switzerland for the MXGP of Switzerland.