Interview: Jorge Prado talks MXGP 2022 and his future

Nearing the end of his seventh season in the FIM world championship, his third in the MXGP class and with two superlative titles from his four-year tenure in MX2, it’s easy to forget that Jorge Prado is still only 21. It’s been another bumpy campaign for the poster-boy Spaniard – the boy-next-door who smiles in an instant but harbours fiery determination, resilience and attitude that he can ignite in a moment.

Prado faltered as a slight teenager in his first term, barely sixteen. The length of his first Grand Prix season and several excessively hot meetings that year in 2017 (he pulled off the track in two events) was an eye-opener to the demands of the world championship, as well as the folly of throwing a spindly teenager into the mix  From 2018 though he started to smash MX2 through a combination of uncatchable speed in the first two laps, superior technique and an authority with race starts that is virtually unparalleled in any class or any series. When Prado wasn’t disappearing at the front then he wasn’t afraid to bare his teeth; the confrontation and clash with then-teammate Pauls Jonass in Turkey offering a fine example. On-track ruckus was relatively rare though, even now he half-jokes that he isn’t the best at overtaking. He hasn’t had that much practice.

MXGP beckoned and the challenge of the 450, as well as the resistance of his new, more experienced peers was the next wall to jump. 

Arguably though, Prado’s biggest opponent has been himself. 

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In 2020 and 2021 he rapidly rose to the position of title contender in the premier class only for illness, crashes and incident to nudge him to the supporting cast. Two years ago he won his first MXGP Grand Prix for KTM but then contracted Covid and missed several key dates in the condensed 2020 schedule. Midway through 2021 the controversial finish line collision with teammate Jeffrey Herlings in Germany led to a badly cut arm and a large hiccup to the momentum he was building to be the fifth rider capable of winning a superbly close championship chase. A broken femur and collarbone in practice accidents were further big waves to the plain sailing he’d enjoyed on the 250.

For 2022 he diluted a lifelong association with KTM orange to be the new face of Red Bull GASGAS as the De Carli team shifted to the red colour and Cairoli departed, leaving Prado as the de facto leader. 2022 was a fresh start in many senses. Prado had signed a revised and improved contract with the Austrian group after months of rumours that he was unsatisfied with his long-term deal. He was the ideal Spanish athlete for the GASGAS brand’s repositioning and the MC 450F was based on the new factory KTM 450 SX-F, which meant development as much as racing. 

Again, his season would bounce. Five consecutive podium finishes in the first five rounds meant he was keeping in Tim Gajser’s wheel tracks and a victory in Portugal raised questions of whether he could really start to push the Slovenian but then he injured another upper limb. His shoulder issue seemed ruinous until he was able to deal with the condition and keep toiling. Prado though was not his usual cheetah-self out of the gate. He seemed perturbed at times and then became ill after the visit to Indonesia and did not make the podium for the next four dates. 

Jorge was also one of the most vocal participants in the brief rider boycott of the Qualification Heat at the Grand Prix of France in Ernee this summer. He felt the stars of MXGP needed more of a platform for their concerns about the tracks, safety and other issues circling the championship. The move led to the establishment of a two-rider rota system where the delegates per-GP would communicate worries directly to promoters Infront Moto Racing and the FIM. 

Prado has the second-highest podium tally in 2022 and has led more laps than anybody, other than Gasjer. He’s barely been able to match his Honda rival though. It’s a differentiation of competitiveness that needs to be rectified next year. He was 6th in the world in 2020, 5th in 2021 and needs to finish ahead of Monster Energy Yamaha riders Glenn Coldenhoff and Maxime Renaux in the MXGP finale in Turkey to make sure of 3rd. Jorge is still on the rise but is having to show that patience is now one of his strongest virtues. 

Almost midway through the season you suffered a dislocated shoulder. We were hearing that your season was done. Less than three weeks later and you were racing in Sardinia, so how serious was it?!

When it happened [the practice crash] I had two options: the most realistic one was to get surgery and be done for the season – at least three months because it was a dislocation with a fracture and also a torn ligament – and the other was to give it a try and hope my shoulder would stay in if I didn’t crash again and I had a decent rehab. It was a pretty big deal. I took the risk. I went to a good specialist and had good doctors who really explained the situation to me. The risk was my own. I worked hard to get movement and strength in the shoulder when I didn’t really have any power at all and it was really painful. It is hard to explain but I really don’t know how I was able to race at the Grand Prix of Sardinia. I had all sorts of doubts. I had a go and gave it my best and that was also thanks to some great guys who helped me get in the shape to be able to race again. Hard work. Eventually I became pain-free…but it took a while. I was not feeling that great at my home Grand Prix [the following round] and all the time I was scared of making it worse. I knew a crash would mean I was in trouble and I was thinking too much while I was riding. This was the most difficult thing.

Was that mentality a consequence of the last couple of seasons with the femur, the collarbone and illness?

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Yeah, when you are coming off an injury and you are not 100% then you are thinking way-more of your body. You ride not to get hurt and see more risks around the track each lap: the other riders, the braking bumps when you land and so on. When you see risk then you don’t open the gas and it’s hard to race like that. On the other hand, it was a risk to keep racing and to see how I’d get on and it was only getting better for a while. 

Fans haven’t seen the real Jorge Prado this year…

This season has been hard for me and for the team, for the brand. Everyone is trying their best. Everything is new with the bike and it’s very different. We all need to learn it. It’s hard to be comfortable and competitive but that’s why we are working as hard as we can. It is taking a bit more time this year but it’s a process we need to make. You need to discover where you can improve and where you might have made mistakes. Physically I am better than last year and the package is getting better. We will be competitive. I know where I can be and I know how good I can be – I have showed it many times – but I am measuring risk and we’re developing the bike to be at the front. My injury didn’t help. Wins really motivate me.

Pic: J.P. Acevedo

What has it felt like being in MXGP 2022 compared to that epic season in 2021?

Boring! We talk about improvement for me but I think everyone can always improve. We can race on better tracks; we shouldn’t be at places where there is only one line. Some tracks are so small. The layout in Indonesia was a real track: wide, long corners, speed. It was real motocross, and it was just a shame that the dirt was quite stony and was too dry. It was too dusty. If that track had better soil it would be one of the best places on the calendar. We need more like it. We need tracks with longer laps and where we can pass and fight. We also have the ‘old style’ tracks like Loket with the downhills and the natural corners and this is also nice. We need a bit of everything but at the same time the preparation has to improve, and they need to check with the riders to fix more places for overtaking. This would make the racing much more interesting. I know it is hard having so many classes on the track…but we cannot do much about that.

You have a safety delegation now in MXGP. Can more be done generally with your direct feedback?

Yes. We have representatives now and I think we did well in France because we had solidarity and we had a voice. Among the riders we have a group chat and it’s nice to talk among us. It’s a very competitive sport and it’s cool just to talk and have some dialogue. Usually that doesn’t happen in the paddock that much. We can also share opinions about the track – things like watering – and let the guys [the delegates] know and it’s up to them to do it. Sometimes when the tracks get too rough then it’s also too slow and too boring. It becomes one line. Sometimes sections need to be ‘flooded’. Care also needs to be taken with the take-offs and fixing the kickers; being able to recommend fixes is cool. 

Is there actually much chat in the riders’ group? You are a collection of different characters…

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In the beginning there was a lot. A lot of talking. It’s calmed down a bit now. 

WorldSX is coming up. You could be a supercross guy all year around now. Tempted?

It’s something interesting. It’s something different. Supercross, let’s say, is perhaps easier for the teams. There are many positive things about it but then motocross is pretty special in terms of the places you go and it’s more ‘real’. I’d need to think about it. It’s a possibility. I’d really like to get an MXGP title first…and I’ve never ridden seriously on a supercross track with a 450, so I don’t know how it feels. It would be nice to have the opportunity to try but it would be a big change in terms of the preparation and it would need a lot of organisation [to race]. 

You have the skill set to follow the likes of Ferrandis, the Lawrences…

To be honest I don’t think the level in the 250s is anything special. I think Jett is riding very well but when I raced Hunter in the GPs I never saw him! He got one podium actually in Argentina. He’s done better in the U.S. but, overall, I find it hard to compare. One thing is sure: supercross is very different and you need good preparation and plenty of time to do it. When I was there I saw how different it is between riding supercross and racing it. The tracks are so tiny and you need to be able to pass a lot of people in such a tight space. Some GPs can feel the same! But it’s a different sport. 

Do you feel you have the ability to succeed in supercross?

We’ll have to see how I feel and what I will decide. In 2023 I will be racing GPs and going for the title and by mid-season I need to start thinking more about the future and the possible step of staying here or going there. It’s also about the team…many things. My motivation right now is to win here. To do anything well you need full motivation. I feel like I can improve so much more here and I haven’t raced to my 100%  in MXGP. I don’t want to leave the GPs without racing how I want. I need to put the hammer down and then see how much I’d like to put it down if I wanted to move. One thing is for sure: if you are good here then you can be good there.

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Pic: MXGP/Infront Moto Racing