ALL ORANGE: HERLINGS AND KTM MAKE MOTOCROSS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY
On the 25th April, 2010, at 15 years of age, Jeffrey Herlings won the MX2 Grand Prix of the Netherlands at Valkenswaard. It was just his third GP and would be the first of nine victories in the Dutch Eurocircuit sand alone. Forward on to May 7th, 2023, in Madrid and round six of the current MXGP campaign, the 28-year-old climbed the top step of a world championship podium for the 102nd time and put his name at the top of the record books. Here is what he had to say about the feat…
It’s round two of 2023 MXGP, the FIM Motocross World Championship, in Sardinia during late March. Jeffrey Herlings has won with his KTM 450 SX-F for the first time since the final round of his 2021 title-clinching season. The revered Dutchman had missed all of 2022 with a broken heel and elective surgery to improve the condition of both of his battered feet. Sardinia brought relief but also surprise that he had scaled the rostrum so quickly again and after missing such a big amount of race mileage.
The Sardinia success was also notable for delivering Herlings’ 100th triumph. He is only the second rider ever to ‘top the ton’ in the history of the FIM series that began back in 1957.
One month later Herlings climbed to 101 for round five in Portugal. In doing so he equaled the great Stefan Everts’ record haul, set by the Belgian with his final world championship race appearance in France and the last event of the 2006 campaign.
Herlings did not stop. His best Grand Prix performance in recent years came with a 1-1 scorecard just seven days later in the heat of Arroyomolinos south of the Spanish capital on May 7th. With 102 wins now next to his name the #84 is the most decorated individual in world championship history. The figures could have been higher. Injuries prematurely ended his racing seasons in 2014, 2015, 2019, 2020 and 2022. Put simply though: when Herlings has raced, he has won. Importantly, every single one of his victories have been achieved in Red Bull KTM Factory Racing colors and with largely the same technical crew or management in place.
The team has watched Herlings grow from a cheeky teenager with limitless potential to become the best sand rider in the sport, the most relentless and ambitious racer, a five times world champion, a dominator (his 2018 MXGP championship raised the level of Grand Prix) and a true ambassador of the performance of KTM SX-F technology. He has won in 23 different countries and at 43 different circuits. He has conquered Italian rounds on 18 occasions and sent his home fans crazy 14 times.
On the eve of the fateful, milestone Grand Prix of Spain and then directly afterwards we grabbed thoughts and reactions from KTM’s motocross talisman. A man from the Netherlands that painted the sport in his (and KTM’s) colors in his own words…
Is the first one the most special? I would say ‘yeah’ because it’s the moment you live for from the time you start. When I was small – five-six years old – the ultimate dream was to become world champion and to win a GP. One of the things you really fight for at the beginning is that GP, and the first one coming for me at home in Holland in just my third attempt, and being fifteen, was pretty amazing.
If someone had said then: “yeah, this is the first and you’ll have one hundred more…” I would have said: “man, what have you been smoking?” It wasn’t realistic. But we made it…and we are still going strong. I also feel that I missed out on some wins. We could have reached this point some time ago. We’re still in a good position to win more in the future.
When did you first think the record might be possible? I would say in 2018, towards the end of that season I reached 84 wins, and I was only 23-24. I knew I was coming up fast and I had another seven-eight years ahead. My average win rate was ten GPs a year until then. I also thought ten championships might be possible but that’s done now.
When things do not go well, and you have setbacks and injuries then the motivation for training also drops. When I start winning then it’s like a snowball; it just gets bigger and bigger. I don’t need to do it for the money anymore. I do it because I’m still passionate about racing and winning. Even though I make some huge crashes that cause me to think ‘why the hell am I still doing this?!’ I get back up, and for moments like in Portugal when I lead and really dominate like I used to I’m like ‘yeah boy, this is why I’m out here’.
The ‘journey’ rather than the destination? It’s true. Especially all the hard work. On Friday morning before Spain, I did a huge interval training session and I was so tired but I told myself to keep pushing because, for me, the sacrifice and the journey to win a race and the tiredness and the training during the week brings the satisfaction and happiness on the Sunday.
Of all the wins I honestly don’t have one favourite…but if you asked me to make a list of five or ten then I could do it! Valkenswaard and my first one, the first 1-1 that brought me a championship in Faenza , the 1-1 in Lierop [2012, where he lapped most of the field], the 1-1 at Assen that brought my first championship in MXGP  and in front of so many home fans…then beating Tony at Matterley Basin  was special. There have been plenty of nice ones, but apart from the first, not many that standout strongly.
In Portugal I had matched the record…but someone else had already won 101 so I wanted to beat it! I wanted the next six days to go quickly. If I could not make it happen in Spain, then I at least wanted to try. 101 was a goal but I wanted to go beyond it and 102 means way-more than 101. I think 100 was even nicer than 101.
I won today [Sunday in Spain] but tomorrow morning I’ll be back on the cycle…we don’t get time to really enjoy a win as much, that’s how racing goes. It’s the game, but this record has been on my bucket list for a while. I’m very happy to have accomplished that. Stefan was one of the best ever and he had strong opponents but so does every era. For me I had the likes of Jorge [Prado], Tony [Cairoli], Tim [Gasjer], [Gautier] Paulin, [Arnaud] Tonus; they were fast guys too, especially Tony, to fight with him was not easy. Some people say “Yeah, but you have 60 MX2 wins…” Bull***t. A GP win is a GP win. Stefan won 500s and 125s. Everyone is in MXGP now whereas in those days it was split because there were good guys in 125s, good guys in 250s and 500s. Yes, a 250 win is easier than a 450 win now, but a win is a win. I hope I can win one or two more championships and then I will be pretty satisfied. We’ll see where we end up.
Photo credits: all images by Ray Archer.