Photos by Ray Archer/Courtesy of KTM
Since the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship took its first break of the year this past weekend, the attention of the die-hard American motocross fan simply turned to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and the FIM MX World Championship. Holding the race at the historic Maggoria circuit was a nice touch, since it played a role in American motocross lore, but that was simply a footnote to a major discussion that took place in the days following the event regarding Red Bull KTM’s Jeffrey Herlings. The Dutch teen is in the midst of dominating season in the MX2 ranks, having won all but a single moto competed thus far, but still finds his future on the circuit in flux.
FIM and Youthstream, the organizers behind the series, have implimented a number of rules to usher riders through the class, including an age restriction (the oldest a rider can be in the class is 23) and mandating that a defending champion would have only one year left in the class to defend their title. These rules have been met with a mix of praise and criticism, but from the inside looking out, seem logical. Having veterans in the class, particularly ones that consistently run at the front of the pack and keep the results from changing, makes for boring racing, and despite what anyone claims, there are no fans hoping to see something predictable. This also fills the limited spots teams have for MX2 riders, spots created to bring fresh talent into the circuit. If a racer is able to compete at a high-level and win, they should want to do so on a much bigger stage.
Jeffrey Herlings is just shy of turning 19 years old, which makes the age limit far from being a concern. However, this is an incredibly young age to take on the MX1 division. Most in the class are at least in their mid 20s, and have the experience and the physical build to handle a powerful 450. To make the jump next year would put him against the likes of Clement Desalle, Gautier Paulin, Tommy Searle, and legend in the making Antonio Cairoli. These are racers who have years of experience around the world to their credit and know the MX1 class well. Even though Herlings has raced everywhere on the FIM circuit, he would be instantly considered the incoming rookie in a new class.
To debate where Herlings would stack up is possible; he turns similar lap times, if not faster, to all of the riders mentioned and for lack of a better term, handled Searle throughout last season. Red Bull KTM has the 350 SX-F, which has proven to be a contender against the 450s when placed in capable hands, and could make the jump to the bigger bike a bit less daunting. And lastly, he has the riding style and aggression that can only come with youth. This last note has been both a blessing and a curse to Herlings; his aggro style will sometimes bite him, but he can rebound from the bone-jarring crashes quickly.
So, the question is not how would he rank in MX1, but if he even wants to. Following his win this past weekend in Italy, he took to Twitter and stated: “I hope all of you guys had a good weekend and I’m Happy about my win from yesterday, I hope wednesday the current rule will change that I can be able to keep racing the mx2 class next year otherwise I guess I need to make the step to the US to race lites over there. #Excited…. Im 18. The average european career age is lets say 30 without big accidents, why race 12 years mx1.. U get me?” It becomes obvious that he is not ready to open the next chapter of his career (racing a 450) without it being on his terms.
This is not the first time Herlings coming to the US has been discussed. We have heard on numerous occasions that sponsors have attempted to bring him to Southwick, but circumstances kept the one-off race from happening. But even more intriguing and consistent is the talk from those close to Herlings that Ken Roczen’s bump to the 450 class will bring the Dutch racer stateside for good. It has become somewhat known through Roczen and Marvin Musquin’s paths that Red Bull KTM grooms MX2 riders and brings them to America, which is the epicenter of motocross. Both claimed MX2 titles before moving across the world and being competitive both indoors and out. With this in mind, it is not far-fetched to believe it could happen again.
Herlings tweeted again late Wednesday afternoon, saying, “Hey all, No news yet. The moment I know something I’ll keep you guys up to date directly.” The lack of information one way or the other only further drives the speculation of where the teen sensation’s career will head. If he is able to stay in the MX2 ranks and continue his career in Europe, an air of controversy and criticism will again envelop his image. If he comes to the United States, he will be faced with the culture shock, new competitors, and the task of winning over fans. That last one could prove to the most difficult, as Americans seldom warm to foreign talent immediately. Either way the decision ultimately lands will present him with new challenges, but he will undoubtedly meet them with the same determination that has made him a world champion.