With thousands of sun-baked Cairoli-mad Italian fans packed into the compact old-school Faenza circuit, the atmosphere at the GP of Europe was electric and it was a fitting venue for Cairoli to capture the incredible sixth world title that puts him equal with the great Joel Robert.
On the first anniversary of his mother’s death, Cairoli was more determined than ever to win and showed his true class, nailing superb top-three starts in both motos and making quick work of the fast starting top qualifier Seb Pourcel to control the pace out front. Back on from after suffering a cracked shoulder at Matterley Basin’s British GP, Chris Pourcel kept the pressure firmly on Cairoli in both motos in his usual effortless style, but the home hero was never going to give up the wins on this day and rode two sensational motos for the win.
The title was wrapped up after the first moto – a mass of Tony’s friends, family and team waiting for him at the finish – but decked out in awesome one-off Axo kit sporting gold leaf and the world champion’s rainbow stripes he was determined to win the GP as well and held off constant pressure from Pourcel to wrap it up in style.
Pourcel was sublime in second overall, putting by far his best ride of the second half of the series, whilst Suzuki’s Clement Desalle looked much faster and happier on the rutted hard-pack of Italy than the deep of Holland a week previous and claimed the final podium spot with 3-4 finishes.
Shaun Simpson was a superb fifth in the opening moto but couldn’t back it up in heat two and finished tenth to leave him ninth overall, whilst his team-mate for the final two GPs, soon to be retired Josh Coppins showed that he’s still a world class rider with 12th overall. There were good points in both motos for STR’s fill-in twosome Jamie Law and Bryan Mackenzie, who ended the day 16h and 17th overall, whilst Graeme Irwin scored in both motos for the first time too, ending the day 20th.
MX2 was the Jeffrey Herlings show. No-one was going to deny him today. The Dutch teenage knew he could wrap up his first world title in the second moto and set about doing just that in some style, totally dominating to go 1-1. Setting the fastest laps of the day, not even Tommy Searle had any answer to Herlings and he lead from gate to flag in both motos, gapping the field with ease as he stormed to victory. Crossing the line at the end of the second moto to claim the title the emotion boiled over and Herlings burst into tears, the joy and relief at finally wrapping things up clearly etched on his face. The title was well deserved, Herlings was imperious.
Tommy kept fighting to the bitter end to keep his faint title hopes alive, but even he had to concede that Herlings was the better man on the day and his 2-2 result for second overall was a great ride for the Kawasaki ace.
Herlings’ KTM team-mate Jeremy Van Horebeek claimed the final step on the podium, whilst one of the stand out rides of the weekend came from French privateer Romain Febvre, who stormed to superb sixth overall.
There was mixed fortune for the rest of the British contingent on the day. Jake Nicholls was a solid seventh in the opening moto, but crashed whilst fighting for a top-five in heat two to finish 13th that put him ninth overall, whilst Eillott Banks-Browne got lightening starts in both motos but faded back to 15th in the opener before crashing whilst second in moto two and then charging back to 12th,, which put him 12th overall. Max Anstie came from almost last in the opener after a terrible start to climb all the way to 12th, but a crash on lap one of the second heat left him almost a lap down and he was out of the race before the halfway mark to leave him 17th overall.
With the titles decided the series takes a week’s break before the big final at Teutchsentha, leaving Cairoli, Herlings and the KTM crew plenty of time to get rid of their hangovers after the party that will undoubtedly kick-off in the team awning tonight.
Words by Ben Johnson
Images by Ray Chuss