Interview: Jorge Prado
Jorge Prado’s numbers in his first season in the Motocross World Championship
THE RECORD CHILD BACK TO ASSEN
“Two victories, four podiums, fourteen holeshots… a good learning experience”
Jesus Prado is driving the KTM motorhome trough the highway that links Lommel with Assen. Just 256 kilometers that separate the MotoGP cathedral from the MXGP temple. His son, Jorge Prado, is heading to the TT Motodrome, the track that brought him glory, first in 2015 when he won the EMX125 title and again in 2016 when he starred in that memorable fight against Jeffrey Herlings “It was a good race. I got the holeshot and went first for over 15 minutes until Herlings arrived. The battle was so useful for me, because of the effort, because I learned from Jeffrey and because it is not the same to be alone on the track than in a duel like that when you have to go looking for new lines every lap around the circuit. I hope that all this learning will help me this year”.
“SixT1” arrives to the Netherlands after his problems at Jacksonville where he got a heat stroke when he was riding so well after a problem in the start due to Seewer’s “strike” of both KTM guys. After training during the week, Jorge feels well: “I arrive well, in good physical shape and I think I’m fully recovered, so I hope I can have a good race on a sand circuit that I like and if it’s bumpy even better”.
Jorge Prado is about to finish his first season in the MX2 World Championship, a complete campaign that, despite some ups and downs, places the Spanish rider as the “man” to watch for 2018. At the moment Jorge has already won two races and precisely in two of the most recognised and different tracks of the world championship circuit, Pietramurata and Lommel. In addition, he has added two other podiums and shattered the prejudices that labeled him as a sand specialist (precisely his two biggest failures of the year have been on soft terrain). The prodigy child of motocross is already a regular in the top five, he has perfectly soaked in all the experiences along the year and in this last phase of the championship is being one of the most solid and consistent pilots.
In the first half of the season his lack of world championship experience proved costly as he faced new challenges, long journeys outside of Europe, totally muddy tracks, and some very different tracks than those he usually trains on. That made him miss out on almost any points in five of the races (Indonesia, Mexico, Valkenswaard, Ottobiano and Agueda) which kept the rest of the season’s excellent results from showing in the overall standings, including the podiums at Argentina and Trentino. The hardest moment of the year that came with the withdrawals in Italy and Portugal, where the heat and physical condition forced him to take a break: “In the first part of the season I was a little irregular. It’s actually really hard to keep up at school and keep racing, and it also takes a toll on you physically. Just as I finished school right before Ottobiano, I had two bad races, I was completely exhausted from the exams and I decided to take a vacation after Agueda, and since then I have not been off the top five.” He took a few days off in his native Lugo, hung up his school backpack, replanned his training with Stefan Neuser and put his head back in its place to come back stronger than ever and with consistency worthy of a much more mature rider. Since then, in the four races before the USA grand prix, Jorge has scored 159 points, a number only surpassed by Jeremy Seewer in two points and Pauls Jonass in seven; Also gaining dozens of points on Olsen (who has added 120), Covington (114) and Lieber (81). We do not know what will happen in the remaining races, but Prado’s intention is to keep up the pace and get as close as possible to the top five overall: “I’m happy because once we overcame our issues, finishing the exams and school, we have worked better and that has translated into much more consistency, fighting in each race until the last turn and enjoying myself on the bike. When have a good time on the bike, things go well…”
Consistency was the weapon that he lacked to be able to defend what without a doubt is his most effective weapon, the start. With fourteen holeshots and a few more lost in the photo finish, no one doubts that Jorge is the fastest rider in the world when the gate drops. An innate skill that has always allowed him to tackle the races from the top positions. A task that requires reflexes and talent, which everyone tries to imitate, and which Jorge does not even train too much: “Starts are a matter of focus, starting at the right time, shifting at the right time, sliding the clutch, having a good body position and braking as late as possible, although it depends on many more variables as well, but at the moment I haven’t been too bad at it, so we prefer not to change anything on something that is working so well at the moment.”
All this makes his rivals no longer look at him as the championship’s “mascot” who is only there at the beginning of the races, but instead they now respect a rider that next year, with the acquired experience and an improved physical condition, will not be easy to beat. To this we must add that there are several big names leaving the MX2 category, forced to move to MX1 for having reached the maximum age (Seewer, Lieber, Paturel, Petrov, Monticelli…) This is not the case for Pauls Jonass, who seems likely to stay in the 250cc category for one more year even if he wins the title, consolidating Red Bull-KTM’s options, but in doing so, putting two roosters in the same pen, which could create some tension: “Motocross is an individual sport, the team is very important, but on the track we are all rivals and that’s why I do not really like team orders very much and I would not want anyone to slow down to let me by, I think Championships are won by being the best on the track. Anyway, it has been a clean fight so far, and although there are things I haven’t really liked, we will keep riding clean. “
THE YOUNGEST OF HIS CLASS
Since he started riding a motorcycle and proving he had a sixth sense when on two wheels, Jorge Prado is used to challenges. His talent allowed him and almost forced him from the outset to compete against older rivals, which was always a special challenge and has led him to set many records in the history of this sport. The Galician rider was the youngest to win a World Championship, when in 2011 he won the 65 c.c. crown. When he was just ten years and eight months old, a record which will stand forever because the International Federation decided to withdraw this category from the World Championships. His passage through the 85 c.c. category was plagued with success, but without culminating in titles because of an injury at the key moment of the season. Already on a 125 c.c. Jorge set another record and in his first season with big wheels he became the European 125 c.c. Champion, making him the youngest to do so, at only fourteen years of age. He spent only one year in that category, and only one year in the European 250 class as well, where a small shoulder injury kept him from fighting for the title, although he did show his credentials and lived up to the expectations that the team had set, so much so that he convinced the team to try his luck in MX2 in the last races of 2016. And yet again, number 61 was ready to set another record, being the only rider to climb on the podium in his first grand prix, after that memorable race head to head with Herlings in the sand of Assen: “He was not angry, he was affectionate with me and told me that I was going to be the next king of the sand”.
His ability to fulfill objectives and his upward trajectory led KTM to extend their contract with Prado until 2021 and to assure this way that their gamble on such a young rider would not be taken advantage of by another manufacturer. In fact, the Austrian firm kept its structure in the 85 c.c., 125 c.c and 250 c.c. European categories while Jorge Prado was racing in them, but gradually dismantled them as the Spanish rider stepped up from class to class, until now, when their structure races only in the MX1 and MX2 championships. Pit Beirer’s squad has also listened to Jorge’s dreams of a future in the United States, but he has also slowed down the program to take the steps at the right time: “At the moment I prefer to focus on the World Championship series and keep calm, I am very young and I will have time to go there and adapt.”
AFTER THE STEPS OF ROCZEN AND HERLINGS
This opinion has recently been strengthened by Jeffrey Herlings’ domination in the last race of the American National series and in the USA MXGP, which places European motocross at a slightly higher level than American: “It was a very good thing for motocross because it was always said the AMA was a stronger championship and Jeffrey, who struggles to win in MX1, was head and shoulders above everybody”; Something that will have to be confirmed in the motocross of Nations in England. For that event Prado had opted to enter the Open category on a KTM 350 cc, but finally it seems that he will settle for the 250: “Although I have been testing the 350, I feel more adapted to the 250, and it makes more sense that this year I ride in that category, so if nothing changes, I’ll be in Matterley Basin riding MX2 and with number 35.”
The highlight of the season came with his first Grand Prix victory, at the Pietramurata circuit in Italian Trentino, where Jorge reached another milestone as one of the youngest ever to win a World Championship overall. He did it at 16 years and 101 days of age, the third youngest in history, behind Ken Roczen who won his first GP at 15 years and 53 days and Jeffrey Herlings who did it at 15 years and 224 days, but ahead of Dave Strijbos (16 years and 172 days) and Sebastian Tortelli (16 years and 345 days). Roczen and Herlings were also the youngest to win the title, doing so at only 17, something that Prado could still match if he won in 2018. Of course, speaking of records, there are other more complicated ones such as the one achieved by Stefan Everts , who was the only rider to win the three categories of a single grand prix, when one could participate in different classes and they all raced on the same track and at the same day. The Belgian also has the world record for a total of 10 crowns, which could now be threatened by Antonio Cairoli, who is about to claim his ninth title.
GO FAST, EAT PAELLA
“Go fast, eat paella” stated KTM pit board as Prado stormed by victoriously in the final lap of the Belgian Grand Prix. We do not know if it was the paella, the “pulpo a feira”, the weather or what, but the fact is that motorcycling is the most successful sport in Spain; Spanish supremacy in MotoGP is widely recognised, with 46 titles won by 18 different world champions, from Angel Nieto to Marc Márquez. The trials scene is not too bad either, with Tarrés, Raga, Bou and company adding up to 39 World titles, to which we must add the thirteen achieved by Laia Sanz. The enduro scene, led by Ivan Cervantes, has won six titles and in cross country, Marc Coma has won another five. All this without counting national victories or Dakar Rally wins. Among all these overwhelming statistics there is only one blur, motocross, which has only brought two world champions so far, Carlos Campano in MX3 in 2010 and Jorge himself, in 2011 in 65 c.c.
Spain is a country with a lot of enthusiasm for motocross, but its riders have never achieved great international success. Few precedents came before Prado. Javier García Vico achieved a victory in the Russian Grand Prix and in the Motocross of the Nations in 2006. The following year he claimed second place in the 650 c.c. category right behind Joel Smets, who is currently the sports director of the Red Bull-KTM team for which Prado rides. The Andalusian rider, Campano won the only Spanish World title in the now abandoned MX3 category and did so when he was 25, winning seven races. The next to succeed internationally would be Jonathan Barragán, who also raced in the ranks of the official KTM team and would make the Spanish anthem play in seven GPs with his best overall result in 2008, when he finished the MX1 championship in fourth place. Barragán preceded Jorge in his international adventure and moved to Belgium to adapt to the sand, eventually managing to win in the legendary track of Lommel. Finally, José Antonio Butrón had a prominent role in the 2013 MX2 World Championship in which he finished third after climbing onto the podium seven times, and although he could not win a Grand Prix, he did win a moto in Brazil. Butrón would then move to the MX1 category where he remains the best representative of Spanish motocross. Other Spanish ambassadors in the world are Iker Larrañaga, who was having a great season until struck with injury, Jorge Zaragoza and Ander Valentín, who are getting up to the pace after their respective injuries. Of the youngsters, Sergi Notario and Rubén Fernández have shown promise this year in the European series. The difficulty and the effort required for the Spanish to earn a spot among the world’s best motocross racers, is yet another statement of how good Jorge’s numbers are, who in just one year and at just 16 years of age has won two GPs, three motos, has been on the MX2 podium five times, has claimed three fast laps and has stormed fourteen holeshots.
THE MOST CHARISMATIC
In the same way, he also possesses a very valuable virtue nowadays, called charisma. Jorge, due to his age, his image, his sympathy and his personal history has gathered tens of thousands of followers and without seeking or wishing it, has become an important “influencer” in social networks. Here the Galician is also above most of his rivals and even above most of the heavy hitters in MX1. Only on his Facebook page, Jorge has 194,542 supporters (regardless of the 44,548 in his fan club), while his rivals are far away, Jonass with 26,831; Paturel with 17,258; Seewer with 9,178 and the rest with irrelevant figures. In this social network Jorge is ahead of Gajser (106,546), Febvre (87,111) and even Tomac (126,728) and is only surpassed by the four motocross giants: Ryan Dungey (1,006,945), Ken Roczen (774,465), Tony Cairoli (708,102) and Jeffrey Herlings (378,883).
On Instagram, where Jorge started later, he has 114k followers, far above Jonass (69’3k), Seewer (38’9k) and Covington (38’6), but still far from Roczen (1MM), Cairoli ( 542k) or Herlings (255k). Similarly, on Twitter Jorge triples any of its competitors’ followers in MX2 and is only far behind multi-time World Champions or American stars.
As a user, the Lugo native dedicates more time to Instagram (logical for his age) where he follows almost all the riders in the World Championship or in the AMA. Usually doing so on his phone relax during races or killing time on long trips. When he is at home and training sessions or studies allow him, he also likes to play motocross videogames online with his Spanish friends, but they are always motocross games: “I play on the same tracks which I compete on, but I really only do it for fun.”
Jorge reflects on the season so far and anticipates what is ahead: “It has been a good year, I think we can be happy and even more so if we can finish these three races at the level that we have had lately. It has been a season of learning and experience in travel, in adapting to tracks, in managing problems such as mud or goggles and in planning our training.” And while this season is still coming to its end, the great hope of Spanish motocross anticipates what could be coming for 2018: “I like the calendar a lot and there are many tracks that I really enjoy and play perfectly to my strengths like Argentina, Matterley Basin, St Jean d’Angély and of course Red Sand, I am very excited to have a Grand Prix in Spain and on a track as special as Red Sand. I hope to work well this winter and to be ready to fight for the title.” With the experience gathered this year and a more developed teenage body, Jorge Prado will set off in search of a new title for his record book.