Jeffrey Herlings passed his arch rival and KTM team-mate Tony Cairoli on the very last lap of the second moto to take the overall win in the first world championship round of 2018 in Argentina. Cairoli beat Herlings to the flag by just a second in the opening moto, after the Italian led from the start while Herlings worked his way through the pack.
Race two seemed like it was going to be a replay of the first, but this time Herlings caught up to the Sicilian with two laps to fo and it was an amazing scrap between the two men. But Herlings set the fastest lap of the race on his last lap to overtake Cairoli and take the moto win. Both men were level on points but the race two win means Herlings is the GP winner. Two third places gave Clement Desalle the final spot on the podium.
Herlings said: “It was tight, man! I had a good start but I’d been sick all week – you can hear it from my voice. I crashed yesterday but I came back so strong which is amazing. I never give up. I worked all winter and did everything I possibly could to be the best I am right now and the hard work paid off. I’ve been working hard to get better out of the gate and I feel I will improve. Battles with Tony like this are impressive.”
Cairoli said: “Herlings was faster at the end of moto two I tried to hold on but I made some mistakes and he got closer. I’m happy overall as this track was always difficult for me but I was close to the win. So I’ll take the positive out of this. We were on the limit all the time and hopefully we’ll have more races like this.”
Desalle said: “I feel great and had a strong race. But the two guys in front are really fast so I’ll keep working and hope I can fight for victories. It was a good, positive weekend.”
The first moto saw Cairoli take the win by just a sec0nd from Herlings. Cairoli had taken the holeshot while Herlings made his way towards the front from a top four start. The Dutchman reeled the Italian in but never got close enough to make a serious overtaking attempt as backmarkers got in the way towards the end of the moto.
Clement Desalle and Romain Febvre scrapped hard for third place in a epic battle, although they were 30 seconds behind the leaders. Desalle finally got the upper hand from Febvre, whose team-mate Jeremy Van Horebeek started to close in and took fifth from Gautier Paulin, Jeremy Seewer and Julien Lieber who had run in second on the opening lap.
Tommy Searle was the best Briton in ninth place, a slot he inherited towards the end of the race when Max Anstie made a mistake and dropped to 12th behind Shaun Simpson in 11th. Simpson had been the top Brit until he slipped off then had to make a charge back as best he could on the roughening track. British champ Graeme Irwin took 16th on his first race as an MXGP rider on a 450 KTM.
Moto two saw Anstie crash in the first turn which also claimed Searle and Lieber. Cairoli led from Desalle, Van Horebeek, Febvre, Herlings and Simpson – who soon lost a place to Seewer then Paulin – with Irwin 20th.
Herlings quickly shot by Febvre on the second full lap, targeting Van Horebeek then Desalle who set the fastest lap chasing nine-times world champ Cairoli while Seewer crashed out in a huge highside. Herlings tailed Van Horebeek for almost half the race then muscled his way past and set his sights on Desalle who they had been reeling in. It only took half a lap for Herlings to take second place, with Cairoli seven seconds in front with 12 minutes plus two laps to go.
Herlings tried as hard as he could and reduced the gap to a second with just two laps to go as they got mixed up with backmarkers. Herlings closed right in on the champ and lunged past on the final lap but ran wide with Cairoli sweeping back past. But Herlings set the fastest lap of the race on the final lap to get by once more and held the Italian off to the flag.
Desalle took third from Van Horebeek and Febvre while Simpson took seventh behind Paulin. Searle recovered from his first turn crash to take 13th while Anstie was 15th and Irwin 20th. Simpson was best Brit overall in seventh with Searle 11th overall from Anstie in 13th and Irwin 18th.