He just had to score four more points this weekend at the last Grand Prix of the year, but Jorge Prado can already call himself the new MX2 World Champion. An injury forced title-contender Pauls Jonass to undergo an operation and prevented his chances of defending the MX2 crown in Imola, Italy. Just before this unexpected turn, we sat down with the Spanish Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rider to fire a few questions in his direction.
Jorge Prado experienced a perfect weekend in Assen and the battle in MX2 seemed to have been decided. In the far north of the Netherlands, reigning world champion Pauls Jonass had the opportunity to reduce his 24-point deficit, but an injury sustained at the Grand Prix of Turkey, a crash in the first moto in Assen and finally the surgery made it impossible for the 21 year-old Latvian to defend his MX2 world championship title. The crown is passed to a talented young man from Lugo, Spain.
Jorge Prado has been recognized for many years as a major motocross talent, and that’s no surprise. At just 17 years of age, the Spaniard’s well stocked trophy cabinet already contains several important prizes. So it doesn’t feel strange for him to be world champion; after all, at the tender age of 10, he won the world championship title in the 65cc class. And he didn’t stop there: in 2015 he also claimed victory in the EMX125. The route to major success doesn’t seem far away for the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rider. After making his Grand Prix début in 2016, it was only a year later, during the fifth race weekend of the season, that he managed to secure his first victory. A MX2 world championship title fits perfectly in the success story of Prado. To get to know the new world champion a little better, we sat together with him while he talked openly about the MX2 title, his native country Spain, and his dreams for the future.
Had you expected Pauls Jonass to perform less strongly in Assen?
“To be honest, no. Jonass is always a strong opponent and he’s also an extremely good sand rider. Plus, he knows what it’s like to win in Assen, so I definitely had to take him into account. In any case, it could still have gone any way in the championship, but in the end it turned out perfect for me with a double moto win. Before I went to Assen, I was feeling the pressure. Before the start of the first moto, I was really nervous. It also felt different to usual, because you know this is about the world championship. Fortunately, I got everything under control and I won the first moto. Once I was on the bike, I didn’t feel any stress. With Jonass’ lesser result, some of the pressure was taken off me, which meant I felt a bit more relaxed riding the second moto.”
You’ve already been world champion, in the juniors. Do you feel the same kind of pressure now?
“It’s definitely comparable, but this title is a bit more significant of course.”
Last year you were seventh in the final ranking, and now you are world champion. A huge step forwards. Is that purely down to the experience, that you’re now getting better results?
“The problem was that I wasn’t consistent enough. I won three GPs and was really often in the top five, but scored zero points in the eight motos. Last year I was still at school, while participating in the Motocross World Championship at the same time. There were a lot of competitions and training sessions on the program, but I also wanted to do as well as possible at school. That didn’t really work. Sometimes I was really, really exhausted, which made it difficult to train well and maintain focus. I was sleeping less, so I also wasn’t getting enough rest. It was really difficult, both mentally and physically.”
And that’s no longer the situation this year?
“Correct. That’s why, at the start of the season, I also had the idea that I could go for the world championship. I trained really hard in the winter, but two months before the first GP, I got injured. I was back on the bike just two weeks before the competition in Argentina. But I still knew I had a chance of winning the title.”
And now the time has come, your first MX2 title!
“It’s the reason why my whole family moved to Belgium, to realize my dream. We wanted to end up exactly here, so that I had the opportunity to win a world title. It’s great that my dream came true.”
It’s been a considerable sacrifice for you and your family, leaving your home for your dream.
“It definitely hasn’t been easy, because the rest of the family still lives in Spain. My mum and dad also had to put aside their work to come to Belgium. So they made a lot of sacrifices to embark on this adventure. We’ve lived in Lommel for six years now, that’s also where I went to school. I also speak Dutch now, as well as Spanish and English. I think we’ve adjusted reasonably well to this new situation. In the beginning it was difficult of course, but now we seem to be doing well.”
What things were the most difficult to adjust to?
“Almost everything is different, so it takes a while before you start to feel a little bit at home. But now, we’ve even taken on Belgian habits. Such as the time that we eat. Nowadays we have lunch at twelve o’clock, while in Spain that’s much later. The same applies to the evening meal. We used to eat at around nine o’clock, but now it’s more like seven o’clock. But sometimes also half past seven or eight o’clock. Still more like Spanish times [laughs]. We still eat a very Mediterranean diet, only it’s difficult to eat fish in Belgium. And I do really love fish.”
Do you sometimes miss Spain?
“Of course, I still feel 100% Spanish. But I’m really happy in Belgium, I feel at home here. Of course, I don’t know for sure, but I think the same applies to my parents.”
Now we’re talking about your native country, that’s where your love of motocross began of course. How exactly did you discover the sport?
“I was born and raised in Lugo, a city in Galicia with a population of around 100,000. Fifteen minutes away from our house was a motocross circuit, but that was the only one for miles around. Motocross isn’t that popular there. My first experience of the sport was with trials riding, from the age of three. My father used to ride and I always loved watching. So eventually, I got a trials bike and started riding myself. When I was six I switched to a motocross bike. I enjoyed that even more.”
You were successful in motocross pretty quickly. Who was your trainer in Spain?
“My father, nobody else. He’s only ever ridden at an amateur level himself, but I think he was still able to give me useful tips. If you see where I am now, that must have been the case, right? We’re always together, my father is there at all the training sessions and races. Recently I’ve been training a lot with Tony Cairoli. That’s really important for me, because I receive a lot of tips from him. It’s difficult to say exactly what those are, but he has a huge amount of experience of course. So, he helps me both on and off the track. For example, how to handle fans and the media.”
Is it true that you also once tried your hand at road racing?
“Yes, in 2011 I went to see Sete Gibernau [former MotoGP rider]. He has his own circuit and he invited me to come and ride there. It was fun to try and I even had the opportunity to ride Moto3. But I enjoyed motocross a lot more, so I kept on doing that.”
Marc Marquez also started out in motocross, but eventually switched to road racing. That branch of motorsport gets a lot of attention in Spain. Is there still room left for you in the newspapers and magazines?
“A little, but not a great deal. Perhaps this will change a bit with the world title. But there’s still a lot of work to be done to increase the popularity of motocross in Spain. Of course, it has also to do with the fact that there are hardly any Spanish riders competing at the top level. If that changes, motocross will get more media coverage. I hope I can help the sport to grow in my country. That children will be inspired and also want to try motocross. That would really make me proud.”
Would you like to actively work on that, on raising the sport in Spain to a higher level?
“Yes, that definitely appeals to me, but first I have to accomplish my true goal. And that is the MXGP title. Perhaps after that I can think more about my role in raising the level of motocross in Spain. So at this moment in time, I’m not yet focused on that. And I’m still young, so all kinds of things could still happen.”
Who were your idols when you were a young kid?
“In the beginning, I had three. First and foremost it was Valentino Rossi, while Adam Raga was my hero in trials. I also had a favorite in motocross: Ricky Carmichael. Later, that changed again. I became more a fan of Marc Marquez, Tony Cairoli, Jeffrey Herlings and Ken Roczen.”
Back to the present. In an earlier interview you mentioned that, after winning the MX2 title, you’d like to go to the U.S. to race there. Is that still the case?
“For the next five years I’m staying here, because whatever happens I want to make the switch to the MXGP. And I’m going to try to win the world championship, as I want to be the world´s best motocross rider. Keep going until that goal has been accomplished, that’s my plan right now. And to achieve that, I have to find a way to beat Jeffrey and Tony, in my opinion the best riders at the moment. That’s also the reason I want to stay in the Motocross World Championship. So, going to the U.S. has been put on the back burner for the time being.”
But still not completely out of your mind?
“I feel really good with Claudio De Carli, and so I don’t feel the need to go to the US. If you’d asked me the same question last year, I would have answered differently. My aspiration for the AMA Supercross was a lot stronger at that time. But not anymore, because the switch to Italy has really been great for me. I have everything I need, so I’m definitely not planning to embark on a complete change at this point. What the future holds, I cannot know of course. I could still decide to make the move. I’m still young, so I can still turn my focus to the US in a few years’ time. In that respect, anything is possible.”
Photos: Ray Archer