Jeffrey Herlings interview
Posted on March 25, 2021
Red Bull KTM factory rider Jeffrey Herlings is like all the Grand Prix riders at the moment, doing some preparation for the 2021 season, but like all his competitors, the short-term future is very unknown as we look at the MXGP championship probably starting some time in June, still three months away.
2021 could be a big year for the Dutchman as he tries to win his fifth World motocross championship and catch the GP win record of Stefan Everts. Everts of course has 101 GP wins and Herlings 90, so another 11 or 12 GP wins could see the 2018 MXGP champion move to the front of that all-time list.
We caught up with “The Bullet” as he drove home from training in Holland and spoke about this long winter, the AMA supercross battle between Cooper Webb and Ken Roczen, and his chance to win a fifth World title and hopefully pass Stefan Everts as the King of GP victories.
MXlarge: Another long winter on the bike. How is that preparing for something you don’t really know what you are preparing for?
Herlings: I feel like I am ready to race, and the only reason I didn’t race those Italian races is because I knew Oss was going to start the 23rd of May and I also knew it probably wouldn’t even start then. I didn’t see the point of racing in Italy in February with when we might not have a GP until June or something like that. It is pretty sad, because we just practice, practice and practice and we do it nearly for nothing. I hope the season starts as soon as possible, but I think we will be waiting another three months. We will wait and see, but I understand Infront, the longer we wait, the longer we can run races with public and that is important for them and also the sponsors.
MXLarge: When you train for so long, is it possible to work on some things you normally wouldn’t work on as there is no real pressure to work towards something?
Herlings: Well, obviously we would travel so much in the winter, to prepare for the season, and to be honest, we have hardly travelled this winter. Now, at home, the weather is good, and we can work on the physical training, because for that you normally have to go to Spain for the cycling and stuff, because it is too cold to do that in Holland, but now its good and as the season starts in June or July, it is nicer to at home on that stuff. Also working on the foot, we have a lot of time for that. There are positives and we have almost half a year to prepare and while I don’t want that, we will have a lot of races in five months. It is difficult to plan things, but I try and be ready for when we do have to race.
MXlarge: We had those Italian races as you mentioned, and to be honest, I didn’t watch any of them, because not only did a lot of you guys miss it, but it seemed like it has no purpose. Did you watch any of the races?
Herlings: To be honest, no, not one. I saw the results, but obviously you could see guys like Gajser, Tony, didn’t race and Jorge did a little bit. I think it was good for practice, but with all the Corona tests and stuff, it is more difficult to travel, and you don’t want to take the risk if something happens, because a lot of hospitals are full of corona patients. It just wasn’t worth going for me and a lot of other riders also missed it.
MXLarge: What has given us something to watch on the weekend has been the AMA supercross and it’s been a great championship. Have you watched much of that championship?
Herlings: Yes, I have been watching it and it’s been good to watch. A lot of injuries in the 250 championships, but the 450 class most of the heavy hitters are still fit and the racing is really good. I have enjoyed it and there isn’t much going on in other sports at the moment, so for sure, Sunday morning I am excited to watch it.
MXLarge: How do you see the championship picture between Cooper and Ken, because you have obviously raced both guys and they were both very competitive against you. I still remember Cooper at that 2016 USGP at Charlotte and he was desperate to beat you on his home soil and Ken has been through so much in his career. What do you think happens from here on in?
Herlings: I believe Cooper is so mentally strong, he tried to get inside his competitors head, like that pit board just before the gate dropped, he puts red plate and all those things. Kenny got some points deducted and it looked like he was going to get it done, and there are still chances for them, and even Eli can still win it, but it looks like it will be between Cooper and Kenny. The last six races Cooper has been so strong, so mentally strong and technically Kenny is a bit better, but when it has to happen, when he has to win, Cooper just lines up and says to himself, he is here to rule, to win. He plays some mind games, and he plays it well and he is an old school racer and he just doesn’t give up. I think he wins the championship this year. I feel sorry for Kenny, because he has been through so much and it would be nice to see him win the championship, he deserves to win that championship and I hope he wins it, but I love Cooper and his attitude and of course I would prefer a KTM wins, rather than a Honda. If I have to say now, I have to say Cooper wins it.
MXLarge: Watching it just as a fan, both guys are very inspiring. I mean you look at Ken, who has been through so much and come back to where he is now and Cooper is just such a tough guy and I love his bulldog attitude, and so strong in the head. For you, also an elite rider, does it also inspire or motivate you when you see these types of performances?
Herlings: Yes, I mean it is nice to see a guy like Cooper, because he was kind of lost in 2017 and 2018, and they he started working even harder, I mean he probably worked hard, but he wanted to get 100% put pf his program and his racing. 2017 he was struggling, also with injuries and things were not going well, and now, 2019 he was so strong, also in 2020 and he had that crash in 2020 that might have cost him a championship. I remember battling the guy in 2016 at Charlotte for the GP and right before the gate was about to go down, and there was just Forkner between us and right before the gate was about to go down, he says to me, “hey, what’s up, you ready to go racing.” I remember thinking, did he just say that did that dude just talk to me and I was still shocked. It was good, because he tried to play mind games and I liked that. I know I won the first race and in the second race we both got bad starts and when he was behind me, he was revving the shit out of his bike and I wasn’t used to that, because usually I won on the 250 easy. He closed the gap and then was whisky throttling me (laughing). I liked that really and it makes me respect him a lot more.
MXLarge: Speaking about Kenny and his issues, but you have had your own issues in the past, but you can still win a fifth World title this year and join names like Roger De Coster, Eric Geboers, Georges Jobe, Joel Smets as five-time World motocross champions and you can also pass Stefan’s 101 GP wins if you have a year like you have had in the past. Do you think about those type of things in the winter?
Herlings: Yes, I think about that in the winter and the last two years I have won some races, but because of injuries I missed so much racing. I think with the moto wins and GP wins I am really close to Stefan and Antonio and also with overall wins. I am on 90 and Stefan on 101 and if I can have a year like 2016 or 2018 where I won 15 or 18 GP wins, then it is possible to get his record. We will see.
MXLarge: You usually do the Dutch Masters of Motocross, which was meant to start in April, but that won’t happen, and it seems unlikely it would start in May, they might even cancel it like they did last year. Do you have any idea what races you might do leading into the first GP in June, maybe some British championship races, or something else?
Herlings: I will race, but it is so hard to plan something. I mean the Dutch and British championship might have calendars out, but I will do some races before the GPs, that is for sure.