Will Jorge Prado be able to stop Tim Gajser's MXGP charge in Agueda?

The Motocross World Championship returns to action this weekend, with the first trip to the Agueda circuit in Portugal since 2019.

2022 MXGP of Patagonia Argentina race start. - Juan Pablo Acevedo/GasGas Media.

The MXGP of Portugal has been absent from the Motocross World Championship’s calendar since the 2019 round. 

Covid restrictions meant Agueda was unable to feature both in 2020 and 2021, but now - as Argentina two weeks ago - it is back, and it needs to deliver. 

Tim Gajser arrives in Portugal having won each of the three GPs held so far in 2022. He has a 17-point lead over reigning MX2 World Champion, MXGP rookie Maxime Renaux, and over 20 points in hand on Jorge Prado. 

Gajser is also the last rider to win in Agueda, when he dominated the 2019 round. That year, the Portuguese Grand Prix fell in the middle of Gajser’s magnificent run of seven straight Grand Prix wins. 

That streak came after Jeffrey Herlings was injured in the 2019 preseason, and Antonio Cairoli took himself out of contention with a mid-season injury. This year, Herlings is out once again after a preseason crash which damaged his ankle, Cairoli has retired and last year’s world number two Romain Febvre is still recovering from his crash at the Paris Supercross last November.

Gajser’s closest rivals in 2022 are a rookie, and a rider who is clearly not on his best form. But could that change this weekend?

The rookie status of Maxime Renaux is not going to change in Agueda, but he could win his first GP. Renaux won his first MXGP class moto in Argentina, beating Gajser in a head-to-head in the first race. Gajser got the better of the young Frenchman in race two, but Renaux nonetheless took his best MXGP finish with second. Whether he can keep it up or not on a consistent basis as we go forwards will determine his title credentials.

As for Jorge Prado, the track in Argentina did not suit him. Regarded as the most technical rider in MXGP, Prado was unable to use his strengths in the soft, ‘wide-open,’ volcanic dirt of Neuquen. In Agueda, things should be different. He dominated the 2019 MX2 race there, and the track is a bit slower, the dirt a bit harder, than Neuquen.

After Argentina, Prado admitted to it being “a very tough weekend” in Neuquen. He said, in anticipation of the Portuguese round, “I am excited to get back to Europe, with some slower tracks coming up. We are all working very hard.”

It is also possible that part of Prado’s issue in Neuquen was that he is riding the new GasGas, which is the same as the new KTM. We have seen in America that Cooper Webb has struggled to adapt to the new model from Austria, and even the AMA 250 riders like RJ Hampshire and Jalek Swoll. 

Of course, supercross is a different scenario than motocross, and Prado has been genuinely positive in his appraisal of the new machine. But it could be something more along the lines of when riding in conditions and on a track that does not suit his skill set, necessarily, Prado’s struggles were exaggerated by a lack of familiarity with the bike. 

Maxime Renaux is in a similar position, of course. The Frenchman has moved up to the MXGP class and has jumped on the YZ-450F Yamaha for the first time in 2022. 

He was the undoubted deserving champion of the 2021 MX2 World Championship, but that is not always necessarily an indicator of 450 speed. Certainly, though, Renaux has made the transition well early on.

Renaux comes into the third round of the season 17 points behind Gajser in the championship in second place. Coming into the weekend, he said, “I’ve only raced in Portugal once before, so I hope to make some good memories this weekend. I really like the track. It has nice jumps and nice ground, so I think it’s a track where you can have a lot of fun. I look forward to it and hopefully being back on the podium this weekend.”

Certainly, the podium is where Tim Gajser will expect to be. The three-times MXGP World Champion has not had to deal with any of the changes that Prado and Renaux have had to face in the beginning of the season, and has clearly made the most of it. He has not finished outside of the top two in a race all season, and has won all three Grands Prix so far. 

Ahead of the MXGP of Portugal, Gajser said, “Agueda is another track that I like and I’ve won here before, so hopefully I can continue this run and try to get my first 1-1 of the season as well.” 

A 1-1 scorecard would be an important result for Gasjer, and also for the championship. If after four rounds the #243 is able to go home with a points lead of more than a moto victory; it will be a significant milestone for the Slovenian in his quest for a fifth Grand Prix crown. 

And that is why it is imperative that Agueda delivers this weekend- or, more specifically, that Prado and Renaux deliver. Gajser is already getting away in this championship, he is not making mistakes and the pressure on him from his rivals is relatively low at the moment.

Although the season is long, there is not unlimited time for Gajser’s rivals to stop his momentum’s seemingly exponential growth. With Prado’s history at Agueda, perhaps this is his opportunity.