There is no doubt, the nine motocross world championships, and 84 Grand Prix victories are something a very young Antonio Cairoli could never have imagined when he arrived on the Grand Prix scene back in 2002 at the GP of Belgium, in the then 125cc class.
Maybe as a young GP rookie he was just happy to qualify, maybe get a top ten, or top five. Was a GP victory possible? For most young riders, no matter how good they eventually get, those early years in Grand Prix motocross are harsh.
While the 2002 and 2003 seasons didn’t go to plan for the young Sicilian, where he failed to score a single GP point, his arrival was as stunning as it was exciting. It was 2004 that Cairoli was first noticed, and after scrapping through the first two Grand Prix’s with six points in round one, and 22 points in round two, he began to get confident, and that speed came to him.
It was obvious his confidence was growing and round three brought him 27 points and a fourth-place finish in the second moto in second moto. All was set for round four in Valkenswaard, Holland, where the little guy from Sicily actually led series leader Ben Townley for a handful of laps, before eventually finishing third behind KTM factory riders Townley and Tyla Rattray.
Many motocross insiders were surprised by his performance, but Cairoli wouldn’t stop with these type of performances, winning his first Grand Prix at the famous Namur circuit, and ending the season in third place in the championship points. This same little guy who hadn’t scored a GP point until that opening round six points was suddenly a hot commodity.
That first world MX2 championship in 2005 after a season long battle with Australian Andrew McFarlane. Also, his first GP race win, and a handful of GP wins to add to his Namur success.
Of course, the rest of Cairoli’s career is well documented. His climb to legendary statues written with truckloads of GP wins, and world titles. Along the way becoming the greatest Italian motocross rider of all time, the only rider to ever win at least one GP for 15 years running, and possibly soon to become the greatest Grand Prix rider of all time (many believe he already is).
But the legacy is far from over. Now in the most heated battle of his career, where he is fighting the young lion in Jeffrey Herlings, Cairoli continues to improve, surprises us, and heads towards world title number 10.
On April 8, at the Pietramurata circuit in Trentino, Italy, the Italian hero will return to the place he pulled off that surprising victory in 2017. Coming from a crash, and down in the pack, Cairoli showed his strong will, and his determination to never surrender. You see, Antonio Cairoli isn’t racing for any status in our sport, he is only racing for one thing, and that is to hold the MXGP championship trophy above his head in September, at the famous Imola circuit in Italy.
If he does get world motocross championship number 10 in September, it won’t be as much as surprise anymore. In a career of unbelievable memories, and broken records, Antonio Cairoli remains modest and friendly to his fans and the people around him. With those values, every single race win, GP victory and championship has been deserved. Maybe the only real surprise why many didn’t see it coming in 2002.