Holder of the red plate since round five, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Pauls Jonass finally changed the background shade to gold at the nineteenth and last race of the 2017 Motocross World Championship.
The Grand Prix Pays de Montbeliard in eastern France was won by Jeffrey Herlings in MXGP and Thomas Covington in MX2 but the twenty year old Latvian made history with his KTM 250 SX-F by classifying fifth through the mud, showers and slippery conditions at Villars sous Ecot.
The final Grand Prix of the season was all about minor bragging rights for the MXGP faction of the works team. Tony Cairoli and Jeffrey Herlings had already confirmed KTM’s first ever 1-2 in the premier class with the 450 SX-F the previous weekend at the Grand Prix of the Netherlands and Glenn Coldenhoff was competing with a sore left arm after his unlucky accident at the Assen circuit.
The steep hill of Villars sous Ecot was battered by showers both before and during the meeting, creating thick and sticky mud and a slow, carved and very technical course that involved a degree of luck and rewarded those quickest out the gate.
Herlings secured his fifth win from the last six rounds by recovering from a first lap crash in the opening race, watched by 39,500 spectators (weekend figure) to find third position by the flag. A second moto holeshot allowed him to follow the lively Max Anstie on the FC450 and the pair circulated close together for the duration and through more rainy spells. Finally the Dutchman was able to pounce with two laps remaining and his twelfth moto win of the year (the highest of any rider in 2017) permitted a third celebration in a row.
Herlings: “The starts were key in the mud. I got covered at the start of the first moto and then had a pretty big crash and somehow only lost a few positions. I knew it would be tough to take the overall win so I had some luck with that one. I had my first holeshot of the year in the second moto! I had some good lines and Max also, it was hard to pass him and you had to be lucky with the lapped riders, especially in the last two laps when it was really slick. Six overall wins this year and eleven podiums: it has been good and I really want to thank Red Bull KTM. They have always believed in me and stuck behind me. There are a lot of good people in the team and they are all motivated. Whatever I have asked for they have tried to deliver it and whenever I wanted to test we went. I really appreciate the hard work they have put in and without them I wouldn't have been able to come back that strong.”
“The second part of the season we were good and strong and have won five out of the last six and I’m super-pumped about that. It was a shame about the beginning and the injury but congrats to Tony again because he was the most consistent and maybe also the smartest rider this season. I have learned a lot and I underestimated the guys. I was living in a cloud in the winter and I should have been doing other things. I had a reality-check at the first round and I knew I had to change and stick to my programme. I think I am good to go for next year. Our bike set-up is good now and we have experienced a lot. Hopefully next season we can move one step up.”
Glenn Coldenhoff was facing an uphill struggle in more ways than one at Villars. The Dutchman persevered despite originally being doubtful to participate in the Grand Prix. Glenn managed to finish seventh and ninth for ninth position overall. He finishes 2017 with tenth spot in the championship standings.
Coldenhoff: “Not so happy today. I picked up an injury in the second moto in Assen and I had a very tough week. I didn't recover well so coming here was difficult and the conditions were not on my side. Two top ten results are quite solid with how I feel at the moment. I was still looking at seventh in the championship before Assen and I’ve finished tenth so I’m definitely not happy, but it is what it is. Now we have two weeks before the Nations and some injuries have struck [other teams]. I feel that we can win it this year.”
World Champion Tony Cairoli was understandably feeling the effects of a busy week and since the celebrations of his ninth title in Holland last Sunday. The Sicilian hit the ground in the first moto and took ninth place and then fell again while running sixth in the second outing and retired with a slight tweak to his knee.
Cairoli: “I’m very happy with the season. We worked to win ‘the war’ and we made it. We have lowered our pace in the later part of the season but that was part of the plan with such a big points lead. I still enjoy riding so much and we are already looking forward to next year. I want to do some testing. The bike is already in a good place and I really like it but we have some things to do. This week was very tough because after the title we partied a little bit! It was hard to follow the ruts today! It is part of the job. You need to enjoy when you win. It is nice to race with these ‘kids’ because they are quite a bit younger than me but we will come back next year full of fire for the MXGP class again.”
The three riders in the MXGP class posted a total of twelve wins and twenty-five podium appearances from nineteen rounds. They claimed twenty-one motos and led the most laps. The Grand Prix of Belgium at Lommel, one of the hardest and most demanding tracks, saw a clean sweep by the orange trio.
Pauls Jonass only needed to finish in the top twelve if title rival Jeremy Seewer won the opening MX2 moto but #41 made history by becoming the first FIM Motocross World Champion from Latvia, the sixth in MX2 for KTM since 2008 and the seventh in total since the category was established in 2004 through scoring fifth position. Pauls already dealt with the nerves and expectation with a solid run to second place in Saturday’s Qualification and although he crashed at the start of the first MX2 moto, produced another comeback performance to be welcomed by a champagne reception at the finish line. Jonass rode to a steady third place in the second moto and was fourth overall; missing the podium for only the second time since the fifth round of the series.
Jonass’ success came off the back of a streak of consistency unmatched this year in Grand Prix racing. He scaled the MX2 box fifteen times and scored points in every single moto. Winning six Grands Prix and owning fourteen of the thirty-eight motos.
Jonass: “It has been my dream since I started riding to be world champion and I accomplished that in the first moto. I made it tough for myself by crashing in the second corner then got up, cleaned everything and crashed in the next corner! I started from dead last but could finish fifth for the championship. My motivation was a bit down for the second moto but I was feeling good by the end and started to ‘go’. Fifteen podiums from nineteen is a pretty good season and I’m looking forward for some holidays! I’m also happy to finish the year without injury so we can go straight into preparing for 2018 after some time off.”
Teammate Jorge Prado closed an impressive debut Grand Prix term with a 14-7 for eighth overall. The Spaniard made five podium results and celebrated three victories; the most for a rookie in the four-stroke era. He was seventh in the final MX2 table.
Prado: “This weekend was a good experience for me. I had a bad start in the first moto but set a high rhythm until I filled the rear wheel with mud on one section and had to stop the bike and take it all out. So I finished fourteenth which was only OK, because I know I am not great in deep mud. I had a great start in the second moto and if the ground had been a bit drier then I know I could have been first but I just ease off to make sure not to crash. I didn't feel so great but as it dried further my lap-times were among the fastest. Seventh was good and I leave here with a decent taste in the mouth. This year had a lot of ups and downs and could have been better but I also think it went quite well sometimes. I gained a lot of experience - the kind that you need to be a motocross world champion - so now we’ll look to prepare for the next season.”
Dirk Gruebel, MX2 Team Manager: “We have an amazing record in the class and Pauls did a fantastic job today to keep that running. Over the years we’ve proved that it is not only the bike because a number of riders have won championships, even a dark horse like Jordi Tixier in 2014. But Pauls this year rode so well. He made it a little bit too exciting at times! The start of the year was a bit rocky with that bad luck in Indonesia in round two but he stayed calm and began collecting points. He was just so consistent. It was an outstanding job and we’re really happy.”
The 2017 FIM Motocross World Championship has reached a finale but the Motocross of Nations in England on October 1st and at the Matterley Basin circuit for the first time since 2006 will be the last major fixture for at least four of the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing crew.
Results MXGP Villars sous Ecot 2017
1. Jeffrey Herlings (NED), KTM (3-1)
2. Tim Gajser (SLO), Honda (1-3)
3. Max Anstie (GBR), Husqvarna (4-2)
4. Romain Febvre (FRA), Yamaha (2-4)
5. Gautier Paulin (FRA), Husqvarna (5-6)
9. Glenn Coldenhoff (NED), KTM (7-9)
15. Tony Cairoli (ITA), KTM (9-DNF)
Final 2017 MXGP Standings
1. Cairoli, 722 points (champion)
2. Herlings, 672
3. Paulin, 602
4. Desalle, 544
5. Gajser, 530
10. Coldenhoff, 424
Results MX2 Villars sous Ecot 2017
1. Thomas Covington (USA), Husqvarna (1-2)
2. Hunter Lawrence (AUS), Suzuki (4-1)
3. Jed Beaton (AUS), Honda (3-4)
4. Jeremy Seewer (SUI), Suzuki (9-3)
5. Pauls Jonass (LAT), KTM (5-3)
8. Jorge Prado (SPA), KTM (14-7)
Final 2017 MX2 Standings
1. Jonas, 771 points (Champion)
2. Seewer, 732
3. Thomas Kjer Olsen, 579
4. Covington, 532
5. Benoit Paturel, 504
7. Prado, 460