Nineteen rounds, thirty-eight motos and seven months of FIM MXGP Motocross World Championship racing begins this weekend with the Grand Prix of Patagonia Argentina at the popular Neuquen circuit. Reigning champions in both MXGP and MX2 classes, Red Bull KTM, head to South America highly motivated to chase the possibility of another memorable campaign.
Tony Cairoli begins his sixteenth season in the FIM World Championship and in pursuit of a record-equalling tenth title, as well as hoping to improve on his total of 85 career wins. 2019 will be the Italian’s ninth term as a Red Bull KTM rider and as an athlete that has sampled GP and championship success with both the KTM 350 SX-F and KTM 450 SX-F. Cairoli, who has won the opening Grand Prix only twice in his ten years in the premier class (but also boasts seven crowns in that time), will be searching for his first victory at Neuquen and after coming so close twelve months ago.
Unfortunately #222 will be the sole Red Bull KTM representative in the premier class with defending world champion Jeffrey Herlings still on the sidelines after breaking his right foot in January. The Dutchman will begin to learn more about his rehabilitation and recovery when he changes protective casts on March 11th.
In MX2 Jorge Prado comes into his third Grand Prix term as Spain’s first ever FIM world champion in the principal categories. The recently turned eighteen year old enjoyed a positive pre-season period with an undefeated record in the three round Internazionali D’Italia domestic championship. #61 scored a runner-up position in his first visit to Neuquen in 2017 but could classify only 11th at the start of his title-winning year due to the effects of a broken elbow during the winter that interrupted his training and testing for 2018.
Jorge is joined on a works KTM 250 SX-F by new recruit Tom Vialle. Another eighteen year old, Frenchman Vialle will make his Grand Prix bow as a factory rider in Argentina after impressing in EMX250 European Championship outings and having working hard under the guidance of team Sport Director Joel Smets throughout the off-season.
Neuquen first entered Grand Prix in 2015 and was quickly established as one of the best fixtures of the series. 2018 will be the second time that the circuit opens the MXGP calendar. Formed from a grainy volcanic soil that has a similar texture to sand and the same tendency to roughen, Neuquen has a fast and undulating layout with a hard ‘base’ that can sometimes leave riders and teams pondering set-up options for maximum traction and optimum handling. The Grand Prix itself is well-liked due to the picturesque setting near to the Chilean border and adjacent to the ski resort town of Villa la Angostura. It also boasts a vibrant atmosphere created by the many passionate fans that crowd the compact and accessible venue.
KTM will be well represented on the line in MXGP with no less than nine other riders on KTM 450 SX-Fs and five of those former Grand Prix winners. After Neuquen the series returns to Europe where the equally renowned Matterley Basin will host the British Grand Prix on March 24th.
Tony Cairoli: “I’ve never had great results in Argentina and I’m still searching for the win but it’s a really nice GP for me. The location is great, as is the track and the atmosphere made by the fans so I look forward to going there. Of course the season is really long and this is just the first race but we will all see ‘where we are’ and how things will run. The first races are not really the key to the whole championship – and I have seen this in my years in GPs – but it is important to build a good start and momentum from the beginning.”
Jorge Prado: “I’m excited for the first round of the championship. Aside from the fact that it is the first GP it’s cool to be in Argentina because the fans are crazy over there! Neuquen is a track I’ve enjoyed the last two years. It is tough as well though because everyone is going fast and it’s hard to make gaps. We go to Argentina very prepared and in very good condition. We have put-in the work. The bike in particular is working really well. The level is really high in MX2 so it will be important to start with a good result and maybe show some of the graft we’ve done in the off-season. We want to come away happy and in one piece. I will try my best and try to win if possible. Another important thing will be to avoid any big mistakes.”
Tom Vialle:“I’m impatient for the weekend. My pre-season races and preparation have gone pretty well and my starts have been good. I know this is a big opportunity for me and I feel that the winter has gone well. I’m already looking forward to Sunday!”
Robert Jonas, VP of Offroad KTM Group: “For the second year in a row we start the season as reigning world champions in both classes but this is not a situation that we take for granted at all. All of our previous success has been fantastic and has been taken thanks to brilliant riders, great motorcycles, a hard-working team, the right partners and maximum support back in the factory. We are missing Jeffrey for the start of the season but we know we have all those ingredients in place again to be able to give our best. It feels like a long time without a Grand Prix so it’s exciting to be starting again.”