“I’M ADDICTED TO RIDING MY BIKE”: JORGE PRADO INTERVIEW
The new double FIM MX2 Motocross World Champion opens up on a remarkable racing season, good and bad performances, motivation and being part of the best MXGP team in 2020…
Is Jorge Prado one of the best 250cc riders ever? The eighteen-year-old phenomenon from Galicia – who spent five years in Belgium and is now based in Italy close to mentors Claudio de Carli and Tony Cairoli – has the goods and numbers to make a solid case. Amazing start skills with 20 holeshots from 30 starts so far in 2019, unbeatable pace and feisty racecraft all combined with the power of the KTM 250 SX-F. Prado is a product of the KTM ‘pipeline’ and the early signs were very bright and clear with Jorge taking a podium finish on his very first Grand Prix appearance at Assen in 2016.
Less than three years later Prado holds two FIM Motocross World Championships and 29 GP victories. He is also the most prolific Spaniard in the history of the sport by far. He is 19 on January 5th and laid waste to MX2 in 2019: 14 wins from 15 rounds he contested, a 100% podium record, 27 chequered flags from 30 starts. Due to his second consecutive MX2 crown he is obliged to move to the MXGP division for 2020, where he will be part of an astonishing three-man line-up together with Cairoli and Jeffrey Herlings. All three are boasting a collection of 15 FIM Motocross World Championship titles between them.
We talk in the glistening confines of the Red Bull Energy Station at the Grand Prix of Sweden, where Prado would bag his second gold medal two rounds before the end of the season: he has become the third back-to-back MX2 world champion and the third for Red Bull KTM Factory Racing after Marvin Musquin (2009-2010) and Herlings (2012-2013).
Fluent in three languages Jorge has a happy-go-lucky demeanour and an endearing trait of smiling quickly and easily. He can also mix comments and thoughts in a jovial manner but swiftly become serious. You leave with the impression that Prado is still a kid but also has hard self-discipline and can flip into a state of committed determination when he wants.
There is very little doubt that MXGP will be terrorized next year…
With 14 wins from 15 Grand Prix, does it ever feel like the victories just roll into each other?
“I won every round I raced and it’s difficult to keep the focus every single time you go on the track because a small mistake means you don’t win a moto. It’s hard to stay on two wheels for a whole championship but it’s so important, also for the future: to know you can make that consistency. Sometimes when I get home or I am travelling back from the race I do stop and think ‘I’m doing an incredible job this season’. I thought at the beginning of the year that I could win many rounds – honestly – because I had the championship last year…but to take every single one is not easy at all.”
When you say it is tough, you can understand why people might find that hard to believe because you make it look very easy…
“Maybe from the outside it might look a bit easy but I am keeping my rhythm. In the last races I have been taking more distance over the second placed rider and I’m improving also: this is another goal next to winning the championship. I want to improve. Sometimes I don’t push too much because I want to manage risk but I want to ride the best I can each week. If I can ride smoothly then that’s better because I am always thinking about the future and I know the MXGP class will be hard. I need to grow up and get better.”
How difficult is it to be disciplined and committed at 18 when you are so successful, when life is good and you are so far ahead?
“Yeah, I have a think for that. You can ask the people around me. I remember I just started with my girlfriend and we were in Sardinia for the winter – a week before we were due to start testing – and I had an easy day ahead with just a run planned. I got up at 7.30 to do it and she could not understand how I could do that when I had the whole day. It’s funny but that’s just who I am. I’m very ordered with everything I do. I want to get my work done and then after you can relax. I am always thinking that the others are working and training more. I need to do what I do in the best way I can. I give my all…and sometimes a bit too much; the time to recover for the weekend can be too small. If you push too much in the week then you can have some consequences at the weekend, which I’ve had before. When I do something, I want to be better than the last time. I also know that work means you can win.”
Has that ever caused motivation problems? Winning so much is one thing but perhaps the lack of a hard challenge means another type of test…
“Hmmm, when Tony got injured it was different. We had always trained together and when he was hurt I didn’t have that partner. The first days were a bit disorientating and I didn’t know what to do. I would ride but it was weird being on the track alone. I wasn’t used to that. I’d trained by myself all my life and in the beginning it was difficult when I started to ride with Tony but I could always put challenges every time I went out there, whether it was a lap-time or trying to be smoother or small things like my father coming to corner and telling me I was slow in one particular area: and he does that a lot! It’s good that he sees where I can improve and he’s good at that.”
Was there one race this year where you were really disappointed with your performance? Where you thought ‘I was terrible, this needs to get better…’?
“Maybe the Qualification Heat at Loket [Grand Prix of Czech Republic]. I still won but I felt bad. Just didn’t have a good feeling. Then the first moto in France. I lost because I did not push. I knew Jago [Geerts] was there behind and it wasn’t a problem. I was still leading with two laps to go and thought ‘I’ve got it’ and I made a small mistake. He got a bit closer and I decided to push but ran into the backmarkers and then he got me. If I really wanted to I could have taken another two-three seconds from him with four laps to go, but I didn’t and paid for it. That was stupid. The second moto in Palembang [GP of Indonesia] I don’t know what was wrong there. I went from first to seventh. Something was not clicking. But then I made the switch and worked my way to the front. The race turned out well.”
So, which race was the closest to perfection?
“Obviously not this year yet – but I always get a feeling like that in Assen. I can ride so smooth at that place because of the type of sand and good starts are always important there; make the right start and you can afford to relax and ride like you want, with a bit more confidence. The second moto at Lommel [Grand Prix of Belgium] was good. I really wanted to make a gap in that race and pulled it out to thirty-five seconds until the last lap when I had a small crash. It was good, but still very tough.”
Is there one trophy on the shelf that you can look at and think ‘that one is special, I really earned it…’?
“This year has been a bit different. In many motos I made the start, got to first and then just had to focus on me and what I was doing and try not to make any mistakes. Last year with Pauls [Jonass] was a season where I look back now and think ‘that was so hard’. I started off badly in Argentina and it took me half a season to get the red plate, and another half for the title. With three rounds to go last year there were almost no points between us whereas this time I took the championship. It was a campaign where I had to push every single time. When I won I was like ‘yes!’ but looking back now it was hard racing, good racing and I was fighting a lot. This year has been incredible but different. The other riders have also been fast but I had a bit extra. I made fewer mistakes this year. The feeling around the results is different. In 2018 it was ‘Pauls, Pauls, Pauls: I need to beat him’. It was a nice championship.”
So, the KTM 450 SX-F. Your first race will be the FIM Motocross of Nations. It will almost be like a test, right?
“Yes, it will. It’s also because I have never ridden a 450. I want to make that clear.”
Not even a single play ride?
“The most I have done is half a lap at Malagrotta [Rome training base]. Ask Tony. We finished a training session back in February and I wanted to see if I could jump something. I took his bike and I don’t remember much of the sensation because the set-up was totally different for me so I was riding slowly. I hope I can start with the 450 soon because there is not much time until the Nations.”
2020 could be daunting as you won’t only be a rookie but also part of the best Grand Prix team ever. However, perhaps Jeffrey and Tony will have more pressure to be title contenders…
“There is always pressure. Everybody wants you to win. Winning next year is not the main goal. Instead, I will be looking for improvement and trying to make a good season. I cannot tell you how I will feel in 2020 until I get used to the bike and compete against the other MXGP riders. Next year is the ‘rookie year’. An adventure. I need to keep learning and keep having fun. I have the best guys behind me and Red Bull KTM Factory Racing have always been fantastic to me. I’m with them for another four years and I’m really happy about that. I just need to worry about riding and having fun.”
If you came face-to-face with the twelve-year-old Jorge Prado and told him that six years later he’d have two world titles and would win thirteen GPs in a row, what would he say?
“I think I never put in my mind the thought ‘in the future I’d like to be world champion’ but I remember that I was always ambitious. I would look at other, old riders and think ‘if he can do it then I can as well…’ One thing is thinking it, another is doing it: it’s way different. I always had a positive mindset that I would be where I am today but I think that kid would be blown-away. As a family we have worked all our lives to be where we are now and that twelve-year-old was always looking to move forward and improve every time he went out on the bike. I was looking at the leading riders of that time and trying to take all the positive and good things they were doing to put into my riding. I would copy a lot, and that’s how I built my style. I got that from not only watching at the track but also on TV and videos. If I said to the kid “you will win all this…but you’ll also still love it every time you rode” then this would be the best thing. I don’t think everybody loves riding the bike as much as I do. This is the best thing I have: I enjoy riding so much. I’m addicted.”
Photos: Ray Archer/KTM