Interview: Maxime Renaux reflects on his career so far and his JWC title

Flashback to 2015 and Maxime Renaux was the name that was on everyone’s lips. At the tender age of 14-years old, the young Frenchman had taken the world by storm.

After joining the Kemea Yamaha Team (which has since become the Monster Energy Yamaha Factory MX2 team), the youngster raced his YZ125 to the top of the leader board in the world’s most competitive 125cc series, the EMX125 championship, with an emphatic win at the opening round of the 2015 season in Trentino, Italy. “I started in the European Championship in 2014 but without big results, because I was sick with a virus in my blood, so I was powerless.” He reflected, “then in 2015, we came into the EMX125 Championship without any expectations. It was just a year to build, but I won the first race in Arco di Trento, so was just incredible. From there I just kept growing on the 125cc with the good guys and the front guys, so that was really good to have this year to boost my career and get some good support from people like Yamaha that trusted in me and put me with the Kemea Yamaha team even though I didn’t have any good results in 2014. It was kind of like a bet for them, but it turned out to be a good bet because we won the World Championship in 2015.”

That same year, the kid that was recognized by his unique number ‘959’ lived up to the hype that surrounded him when he edged out Spanish prodigy Jorge Prado for the Junior Motocross 125cc World Title on Prado’s home soil in El Molar, Spain. “I was 14 years old when I was World Champion. It was a big deal because it was like one of the first races for me on the European Championship scene.”

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(Image: CDS)

Regrettably, soon after he was crowned Junior World Champion, the EMX125 Championship leader Renaux suffered a broken collarbone while training for the final two rounds of the series. “Unfortunately, I did not get to win the EMX125 Championship because I broke my collarbone at the end of 2015 which was a shame because I, and everyone, wanted to win the European title, but this is racing, you cannot predict what will happen.”

A woeful end to the most successful year of his career triggered a string of injuries that plagued his next two-seasons. “In 2016, I had a stupid crash and broke my Humerus in Germany. The second injury was at the French Championship at the first race of the year in 2017, I crashed with another rider that landed on me and it was a lot more problematic. I broke the Humerus again, and the shoulder and it took a while to heal. It took me all of the year to come back on the bike, so I was 18-months without the bike with these two injuries. It was pretty hard to come back.”

After two-years of luckless set-backs, Renaux had to rebuild his confidence. “For me the big thing was confidence, because I knew how to ride the bike, I didn’t lose it and I was still a racer mentally, so I can say it was just confidence to come back after two injuries like I had.”

“It’s strange” he divulged,  “after some injuries, even if you want to go fast, even if you want to fight, there is even something in your head that is scared and tells you to go slow and that you need to take the time and build your speed step-by-step.”

In 2018, the then 17-year-old had been through the wringer with injuries and was ready to make a ‘come-back’. “In 2018, I was kind of free of expectations because it was a year to come back a little bit and build some confidence,” he said, “I made one podium in the EMX250 so I made some good results, but I didn’t make really consistent results.”

A continual curve of progression and the belief that Renaux would eventually reach the top of the FIM Motocross World Championship saw Yamaha and the SM Action M.C. Migliori Yamaha Supported Team sponsor him for his first full season in MX2, in 2019, where he eventually achieved a career milestone with a podium finish at the MXGP of Italy in Imola. “At the beginning of 2019, I started pretty bad with some bad luck and some mechanical problems” he reflected.  “So, it was difficult to start the year like this, but it got better and better and I managed to get third in Imola. We saw that at the end of the season I was consistent and my pace in the last part of the championship was really good. Yamaha gave me better support for the last rounds and then with a better bike I started to get better starts and got a lot of confidence. It was a good year.”

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At the end of 2019, Renaux was consistently running the pace of the top-five and was challenged for a place on the podium at most of the rounds in the second half of the season. He eventually finished his first full term in MX2 and was ranked seventh overall.

As a famed young rider that has been on the radar of many teams and manufacturers since he was on a mini-bike, it is easy to forget that Renaux is still only 19-years old. This year he enters the 2020 MX2 World Championship as the underdog, and despite feeling the pressure at round one in Matterley Basin, Great Britain, where he finished eighth overall, the talented YZ250F rider bounced back five-days later, at round-two, with a podium finish as the Grand Prix runner up at the MXGP of The Netherlands in Valkenswaard.

“The first race of the year didn’t go like I wanted” he said disappointedly, “it went pretty bad, but we know it’s a big championship with 20 or 21 rounds, so I just decided to take that result that weekend and try to come back stronger in Valkenswaard, and that’s what I did.”

His performance at the second round of the MX2 World Championship saw the youngster mount the second step of the podium for the first time in his career. “Second at Valkenswaard was a strange feeling” he admitted, “I crashed on the fifth lap, I think, it was a pretty hard crash and I hit my head. When I got back on the bike, I was thinking just one thing, focus on the podium!”

What the mechanics communicate with the riders is always interesting, especially when they are in line for a career-best finish. “Before the race, I had a little discussion with my mechanics,” he said, “I told him before the race that all I want on the pit-board is the lap-time only. So, all the race after my crashes I didn’t know what position I was in, so I just had to fight hard every lap.”

When the #959 launched his YZ250F over the finish line jump in Valkenswaard he was directed to the podium, “I had to look at my mechanics and they looked happy, so it was really good and I was really happy too to rebound like that after Matterley and at a track like Valkenswaard that is a historical venue.”

Words and pics: Yamaha Racing