Interview: Tony Cairoli

Interview: Tony Cairoli

Tony talks Herlings!

Eight-times world champ Tony Cairoli opens up about his championship chances now he’ll face MX2 champ Jeffrey

By Adam Duckworth. Photos Adam Duckworth and Ray Archer/ KTM

We’ve all been waiting a long time for Jeffrey Herlings to make the step up to the 450 class so we can really see who is the best in the world. Of course for years, the prospect of Herlings at his best versus Tony Cairoli at his peak have been what the world of motocross has wanted. But looking at the results of the past two seasons, Cairoli has had his two worst years in the MXGP class. Injuries took their toll and the young pretenders of Romain Febvre then Tim Gajser moved up and took the title from the Italian in both of their respective rookie seasons.

So for 2017, it’s a clash of the titans as Herlings will face Gajser, Febvre and Cairoli - as well as a glut of other riders like Max Anstie, Clement Desalle, Arnaud Tonus, Kevin Strijbos, Max Nagl, Gautier Paulin and more.

We caught up with Cairoli to ask him how he sees the forthcoming season and what he really thinks of Herlings’ chances.

He may be one of the most experienced in the MXGP class but TC2222 can still hang it out!

MotoHead: How is it going to work with yourself and Glenn Coldenhoff as well as Jeffrey Herlings all as factory KTM 450 riders?
Cairoli: I live in Rome now, rather than Belgium like I used to in the winter. All the De Carli KTM workshops are by me in Rome now so I prefer it that way. I’m quite happy that way as it’s just me and Glenn working from there next year.

Jeffrey will do his own thing and work by himself. He is one of the favourites as he is young and moving up form a 250. And when any top rider moves up from a 250 to a 450 they are very motivated and competitive. He’ll be one of the favourites along with Tim Gajser and Romain Febvre and myself. It’s going to be a good championship, I hope.

Splashdown! Cairoli has won in all conditions... just not that often in 2016

MotoHead: You came straight from 250 and won the first year, as did Romain Febvre and Tim Gasjer. Can Herlings do it?
Cairoli: When you move up you don’t think about the risks. You ride the 450 like a 250 – but pretty soon you start hitting the ground hard and realise that a 450 is a very different bike.

MotoHead: Will you be sharing information between your team and Herlings’ team?
Cairoli: KTM share everything. We are both testing the same stuff at the moment and we will work as a team. I don’t know if we’ll go riding together though. In the past, when we weren’t directly racing against each other as he was on a 250, he’d go riding a lot compared to me. He rides almost every day. We have different plans.

Valkenswaard will be interesting next season as Cairoli loves the place and Herlings is undefeated there!

MotoHead: Do you think you have the speed to match him?

Cairoli: I think I can beat him, yes. 2016 was one of my worst years for both my physical and mental condition, as I had a lot of injuries – especially the one at the start of the season when I broke my ribs and had a problem with my back. It was difficult for me to get over this. The injuries didn’t seem too big but it was tough. Even in normal life it was hard, but actually when I was riding I felt stronger.

I’ve not really had a year like that before. The injuries with my neck and nerves were very difficult to deal with. If I broke my arm or wrist, it’s easy to see it’s broken and in 40 days you know it’ll be OK. But the nerve problem took me a lot of time and even now I’m not as strong as I was before as some of the mnuscles still don’t work so good. And my balance is not 100% as good as it was before, which I can really feel on a rough track. I think to finish second in a year like that is actually pretty good, and that gives me motivation to be back on the top next season.

The Brits have a special place for the Italian who always gets a warm reception

MotoHead: What are your plans for the winter before the GPs start?
Cairoli: I will do the same as before, with testing in Rome and Italy and the Italian championship. Last year I had the crash and I missed some races, but I hope to have a better winter and try to be super trained for the season.

The bike is finally is getting some development parts too. Last year it felt like the 450 didn’t develop too much and I had no real testing on it. I started testing in January then crashed. When I came back I won two GP then got injured, so did no more testing in the season. I’m been testing a lot of stuff now and the bike has changed a lot from the one I rode at the Nations. We want to make it even better.

Cairoli says he's motivated to push harder in 2017 than he ever has before

MotoHead: Are you still as motivated to race?

Cairoli: Yes, because of the pleasure I get from the sport and I think I still have something to prove. I was never riding at 110% in my career, so I thing I can still put myself on a really hard schedule and see what I am capable of. For so many years I’ve been in the top three and I still have some years left where I can be on the top in the world championship.

Bit of unusual style - whatever it takes to go fast!