When Spaniard Jorge Prado moved up to the MX2 class at the end of last season, few expected him to give Jeffrey Herlings a run for his money. Especially in the deep sand of Holland, at Assen. Butt hat’s what he did, and many are saying he might be the new powerhouse in the MX2 class. On Sunday is the first big race of the season, the inaugural round of the Italian International, marking the start of the international motocross preseason races. He has grown a few centimetres, is still barely sixteen years old, but he is already facing one of the decisive moments of his career.
Riding for the KTM-Red Bull team, he faces his first full season racing the MX2 World Championship.“I am happy with the preseason we are doing. In Lanzarote we prepared physically (swimming and cycling) and then we have been on the bike for over a month in Italy, Red Sand and in Sardinia,” he says.
His GP debut saw him contest the last three races of 2016 and he showed shades of brilliance, such as his third place finish in Assen after winning the qualifying race and leading most of the second race. But he also showed some physical disadvantages to more seasoned riders: “The main objective this year is improving physically, I think I am much stronger than in my best moment last year, and that allows me to go much faster, but we still have a lot to improve. I am working really well with my trainer, Stefan Nausser and it is clear that we are making improvements much faster.”
On the bike, nobody doubts his talent, but he is better on sand than on hard terrain. He knows it, too. “Our track time now is mostly on hard pack because during the season I am in Belgium and Holland and most of my training is on sand tracks. In the sand I am really comfortable, I think I am one of the fastest and on hardpack I am still fast, but there isn’t as much of a difference as in sand.”
He has spent two weeks in Sardinia with the whole official KTM team, after spending time in RedSand and Rome. He’s barely spent any time in his new house in Lommel. “Yes, we have a slightly bigger and more comfortable house, but I’m still not allowed to build a pump track in the backyard! ” He also has not been able to go to school a lot. “It is tough to manage the studying, but we are getting along pretty well. I study in the hotel and I take the tests whenever I come back, so far I am getting good grades. It could get more complicated now, but I will try to keep studying.
“I am taking on MX2 with great excitement, willing to give it all in every race, but keeping calm at the same time. It is a very long championship and regularity will be paramount, finishing every race and trying to avoid injuries.” We asked him some questions on the eve of his 2017 race season.
Have you set yourself any specific goals?
-“My goal is to finish in the Top 5, and honestly, I think it’s possible because I already got third in Assen and I am very cocky…just kidding! This year is a lot more open because number 84 is moving to MX1 and all the riders are training hard to try to take his place; I believe the average level will increase notably and it will be very hard to be at the front every time, but I trust my good starts and hope to be in a good place physically.”
It is also the first time you are fully integrated in the official KTM Factory Racing structure, is it that different to be a factory rider?
-“For sure, I have a lot more attention than previous years, I have more support, I feel very well surrounded and the bike is fully factory and that always gives you more confidence, because with a standard bike like last year’s it is really tough to fight against the factory riders. With this year’s bike I can pull off five seconds a lap, haha!”
With no Spanish GP, the RedSand race was your only big race in Spain this year. Were you disappointed it was cancelled due to the weather?
“I would have loved to race there, I spent a week training, the track is big and just like a World GP track. It is a track where they do a great job maintaining the terrain and in very similar conditions to several Grand Prix races. On top of that, they have multiple tracks, of different levels and it is unbelievable what happened last week, as it is almost always sunny there.”
What about the American dream?
“I don’t know, at the moment we are taking things day by day and year by year, so until this year is over we won’t know what is next for me. To race supercross you have to practice so much, have a perfect preseason and by the moment that seems hard. Right now I am focused on the GPs and in my season, and if I end up going to the USA it will only be to do good, already being a World Champion or with a high enough level as well as preparing specifically to race across the pond”.
Is it that different?
“Yes, a lot more than it looks. When European riders go to the USA they don’t do well and when Americans come to Europe they aren’t that fast either. Each place has its tracks and it is almost a different sport so you have to prepare specifically for that. It is hard to compare.”
This year the start gates will have a metallic grid for more traction. Have you already tried it?
-“We have already been training with the metal grid and it is quite different, the feeling changes a lot, you shoot off the gate but the bike lifts when you hit the dirt, although I still hope to get a few good holeshots, as it has gone fairly well so far with my teammate…”
How is it to live in a foreign country and always be travelling?
“I don’t get tired of travelling although last year in the US I had jet lag, this year will be tough with that much travelling, because there is no time to stay at home. With so much time abroad I keep missing my friends and family.” However, he appreciates the support of his followers on social networks, which are hundreds of thousands, something which excites him without adding pressure. “I never feel any pressure, I love to have so many supporters and in the races it gives me something extra to know that I have that kind of support. I hope this helps to increase the level in Spain, I see many little kids starting to race early and I like that.”
What number are you using this year?
“Yeah, with the 61 the bike is way faster, it makes you have better style and just drags you to the podium like in Assen, haha! Also, there is a number 1 in 61…”