It’s a winter day in The Netherlands and Red Bull Teka KTM Factory rider Jeffrey Herlings is resting after a period of testing in America.
It wasn’t a totally successful visit to the land of Stars and Stripes, but Herlings got enough out of the trip with day after day of riding the all new 350cc machine by KTM.
Now back in Europe he can reflect on that time in America and look forward to what he hopes will be a really successful 2012. European-based journalist Geoff Meyer of Motocross Illustrated caught up with Herlings and put together this interview for BikesportNZ.com
Motocross Illustrated: Jeffrey, you have time now to enjoy a little rest period or not?
Herlings: Sure it is always nice to get some peaceful time at home. The season was long and in February we have our first race in Mantova. My last Dutch Championship race was in October and we have seven or eight months or racing every weekend, then you also have the testing, so it’s nice in December to just relax. From the middle of January I will start riding again.
Motocross Illustrated: In October and November you did a lot of testing on the new 350 motor. I heard that that went very well.
Herlings: Yes, the motor is really good, it also looks different, actually the block is from the 350 and the cylinder is from the 250. I also rode a lot with the 350 machine, also with the original version, that is a really nice bike to ride. We actually have more power than we had in 2011, so that is good.
Motocross Illustrated: At the end of November you visited America, how did that all end up?
Herlings: Really good, although I also had some crashes. Training on the Supercross tracks is totally different from training on European tracks. I was also there when everyone was training and testing for Anaheim I. The tracks were all over used, a lot of riders and only once in the week they fix them. So it’s difficult to learn anything on tracks like that. The last week I rode more and I learnt a lot. The whoops are the most difficult from everything, totally different than in Europe. In America the whoops are a lot higher and steeper, that takes time getting used to them. Look at Roczen, he is a good example how much better he looks on the American tracks now. You have to be really relaxed on the bike. I didn’t have any pressure, for me it was a little training and a holiday.
Motocross Illustrated: So is America your future?
Herlings: I shouldn’t have any problem getting into the KTM team in America, that isn’t a problem. I have an option to go to America in 2013, Supercross on the West Coast and combined with racing the 2013 FIM World Motocross Championship. I think my future is in Europe, for sure I want to concentrate on the coming season; at the end of 2012 I will look further. My feeling is I will stay in Europe, but that changes from day to day. I am leaving all my options open and KTM leave me to decide what I want. You can’t ignore the fact when you race Supercross it’s just one day and the GP’s are a complete weekend.
Motocross Illustrated: You also crashed in America and there were photos of you on crutches on the internet?
Herlings: Yes, that is true. The first week I crashed a little bit, but then I had two big crashes and I had a couple of days I couldn’t ride because I had a swollen ankle and the second crash I hurt my upper leg, but it wasn’t too bad. What I learnt is you can’t ride a Supercross track when you are only 80% fit, you can’t just ride around relaxed on a Supercross track.
Motocross Illustrated: Did you sample the American culture at all?
Herlings: Not really, I was there to work on my Supercross skills, and the two days I couldn’t ride I got bored really easily. I just wanted to come home then.
Motocross Illustrated: How do you look back on 2011?
Herlings: With a positive feeling, but on the other side I didn’t get a World title. If I make a long story short Ken was just too good. His speed better and his mental side was also better than mine. I mean there were many times I was as quick as him. It became more a mental game. If you finish second in the World Championship you shouldn’t complain I guess. I had a couple of bad Grand Prix’s. I mean everyone has that, apart from somebody like Stefan Everts, even Ken had some poor Grand Prix’s. I don’t think too many people expected me to be World Champion in 2011, but they do expect me to win in 2012.
Motocross Illustrated: What about that mental side?
Herlings: Between Ken and I there wasn’t a lot of difference, but if he was a little quicker he would get a boost of 10 to 15%, but for me I went the other direction. Is started in the first practice session in Bulgaria, it was Ken and I and not much of a difference. In Valkenswaard and Lommel I was quicker; also in Brazil and Portugal I had a big boost of self-confidence. In the end the best rider was World Champion.
Motocross Illustrated: What can you say about Ken?
Herlings: For Ken is there just one word, really quick. He would take the holeshot and his tempo was amazing, no mistakes and he would get the win. There were no tactics, not like Marvin Musquin who would take it easy on the Saturday and then come out really hard on the Sunday. He would get the start, break away from the pack and then the race was already won.
Motocross Illustrated: With Ken now gone you are the favourite for the World title in 2012.
Herlings: I had a little stress last year, but not much. I try and stay as relaxed as possible. I know on paper I should be the quickest. Of course that should bring stress; I mean KTM have won the last four World MX2 Championships with Rattray, Musquin and Roczen. I want to continue that trend. If you look at the other riders, Searle, Osborne, Van Horebeek, Roelants, they all have to move to MX1 in 2013, but because of the age rule I can stay in MX2. I really want to be the World MX2 Champion in 2012, which is my goal.
Motocross Illustrated: It is expected that you and Tommy Searle battle for the Championship.
Herlings: I need to ride my best, I am sure there will be moments that Tommy and I have big battles. I don’t see too many others, maybe Van Horebeek is an outsider, and he can win a Grand Prix for sure and stand on the podium often. Arnaud Tonus is the same. I see Tommy as the only guy who will fight for the title and for sure now that Paulin has moved to the MX1. I think the others will have good days, but I don’t think they will be contenders for the Championship, that will be fought between Tommy and myself.
Motocross Illustrated: What do you think of the 2012 calendar?
Herlings: I like it, it’s nearly the same as 2011, just Russia and Mexico added. A couple of sand circuits, which is good for me. It’s a pity that Glen Helen isn’t on the calendar, I really enjoyed riding there. That circuits needs to be respected, I loved it there. I understand they needed to stop; the crowds were not the best.
Motocross Illustrated: We have Lierop and Valkenswaard on the calendar, that must make you happy?
Herlings: Yes, but I hear that Leirop won’t happen. I understand they don’t have the finances, but with Valkenswaard we will always have a Grand Prix in Netherlands. Last year around 15,000 people and their support gave a huge kick.
Motocross Illustrated: End of the season we have the Motocross of Nations at Lommel. You must be excited about that? Will you ride the 250cc or the 350cc in Lommel?
Herlings: That is an important race and really important race. There will be a lot of expectations on me; I will go there to win. I will ride the MX1 class, but I am not sure if I ride the 350 or the 450 in Lommel. I rode a round of the Belgian Championship in Balen and won all three motos on the 350, then finished second to Christophe Pourcel in another Belgian Championship race in Orp. At this year’s MXoN I didn’t feel comfortable on the 350 on Saturday, but Sunday I felt good and even led for some time. I felt like I did well for my first MXoN on the 350.
© Photos by Geoff Meyer, Motocross Illustrated & by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com