Riola - History Lesson

Posted on April 02, 2024

With the MXGP championships heading to Sardinia this weekend, we thought we might go through a little history of the Riola Sardo circuit. A rather new facility to the Grand Prix scene, Riola was first visited in 2021, just after the horrible 2020 Covid season and for Red Bull KTM factory rider Jeffrey Herlings, it was a dream weekend, with 1-1 results, a victory and regaining the red plate, but his win came with some questions marks, as drama engulfed the series.

The biggest shock of the weekend came from Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Antonio Cairoli who had an unfortunate crash in the MXGP Time Practice and did not line-up for the Sunday races. 

The 9-time World Champion had a scan which showed no injuries but just as a precaution the team made a decision to withdraw from the day's races and focus for the upcoming weeks while Team HRC’s Tim Gajser entered the Sardinian Grand Prix nursing an injury, making the races a real challenge for the defending champion.

Herlings-Prado-2021-riola.jpg#asset:80065

“I am Happy from one side and unfortunate from the other because it’s a sad way to take the red plate,” Herlings said. “The points have never been so close before after 10 races, as it is right now, we are super close. For today, I was first in time practice and then the first race I managed to get the holeshot, that was a surprise and then managed to control the rest of the race. The second race I started behind Jorge, I tried to overtake him, and it was tough to pass. I tried many times and eventually I managed to pass him, pull a gap and control the rest of the race. It was a picture-perfect weekend and I hope I have more of those throughout the season. For now, we keep going and be the best every weekend. We have improved on many occasions this season, like the starts, we have worked hard on this”.

In the first MXGP race of the day, it was Herlings up front as he led the way ahead of Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing’s Ben Watson, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Jorge Prado, Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing’s Jeremy Seewer and Calvin Vlaanderen of Gebben Van Venrooy Yamaha Racing.

Team HRC’s Tim Gajser was one of the unlucky riders to crash in the first turn and then pushed his way to 19th position by the end of the race to score two vital championship points. Though back at the front of the field Herlings was looking comfortable as he pulled a gap to Watson and Prado. Seewer remained close by as Monster Energy Kawasaki Racing Team’s Romain Febvre charged through on Vlaanderen and started to chase down the Swiss.

In the final few laps of the race, we saw Febvre catch up with Vlaanderen as the pair battled for third, though eventually it was the Frenchman who came out on top, as Herlings won the race 42.419 seconds ahead of Prado. Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Thomas Kjer Olsen and Arminas Jasikonis had a strong race to finish eighth and ninth respectively.

In the second MXGP heat it was Prado with the holeshot that time around as he edged out ahead of Herlings, Febvre and Standing Construct GasGas Factory Racing’s Pauls Jonass. Vlaanderen had another good start and was running seventh on the opening lap, while Gajser started much better that time around and was 12th. Watson also had another good start in sixth place.

Much of the second MXGP race saw Prado being chased by Herlings, with the Bullet trying all that he could to get around the young Spaniard. Prado was riding defensive which made it extremely hard for Herlings to get around and after countless failed attempts the Dutchman was able to make a pass stick 12. While Prado and Herlings were busy battling at the front, Febvre was not too far behind as on several occasions the Frenchman was within striking distance of the pair.

In the end Herlings was the race winner with Prado second and Febvre closely behind in third. With a 1-1 result, Herlings took to the top step of the podium, with Prado there in second and Febvre third. Vlaanderen narrowly missed out on the podium after a solid 4-4 in the races.

“It was a very good day," Prado said. "I am super happy. The last round we had problems with the crash, lost many points and I knew this weekend would be important. I had extra motivation because I like the sand and I was expecting to do what I did today. It was a perfect day, two solid races, it was perfect. I was thinking I really need to get the holeshot and try to manage to keep the Bullet behind me and I think I managed quite well for a lot of time. I gave it everything I had. I tried to block him when he was trying to pass but he made a really clean pass on me and flew by. Then I just managed to stay second because already I was suffering a lot and that’s what I did. I am very happy; I made a good step in the second race in terms of my riding and I’m taking all the positive and we will see at the next round in Germany”.

With Gajser only scoring 15 points in the races, this allowed Herlings to take the championship lead by just a single point, as Gajser drops to second and Febvre remains third a further three points behind. Of course, this season would be an all time classic, with Herlings winning the championship just a handful of points ahead of Febvre and Gajser.

As for Riola, a year later in 2022 the surprise victory went to Calvin Vlaanderen with 1-1 results and in 2023, it was again Herlings who won with 2-2 scores. An interesting fact, current fastest man in the MXGP class, Jorge Prado has also been very strong in the deep sand of Riola, going 2-2 in 2021, 3-3 in 2022 and 1-6 in 2023. Yes, it might be another classic on the beautiful island of Sardinia in 2024.

Ray Archer images