We spoke with #41 about his preparation for 2017 in which he is expected to be a contender for the title and potentially KTM’s fifth in the category since 2008. Pauls Jonass chatted about expectations, crashes, comebacks, working with new coach and former KTM ace Marc de Reuver and the dedicated crew around him…
Pauls, you came to Qatar in good shape…
Yeah, we had a really good winter and I started early: I was working with Marc from October and then on the physical side with Willy Linden. We didn’t change the physical side so much…it was more the riding and training. Marc was there a lot showing me lines and giving me tips. Mentally it was a very good time for me and I’m hoping it will show now in the results.
MX2 is now at its most ‘open’ since 2009. People are talking about you, Benoit Paturel and Jeremy Seewer as the main men. Is that nice or a bit of a pressure-cooker?
I’ve heard that since the end of last season but I really haven’t thought about it too much. You want to avoid putting too much pressure on yourself and that means coming to a race and looking just at one weekend and trying to find the fun part of it. Things tend to go wrong with pressure! In Qatar I was relaxed and enjoying the atmosphere. With nineteen GPs one of the goals you have to have is to remain safe.
But it is still a different scenario for you? To be one of those ‘favourites’?
Of course but if people are only talking about me, Benoit and Jeremy then they are ignoring the fact that there are other riders who can win in this class. If you look at the MX2 list then I think there are ten guys who can win a GP; for sure. It will not be so easy. It will be fun.
What about the level of expectation at home?
Well, everyone is talking about big things but it goes in one ear and out the other! I have to keep my focus because that’s the only way to get results.
How does it feel to be the leader of the team now?
In this team the atmosphere is always good and you don’t feel that there is a first or second rider. The guys work hard for everyone and you can do whatever you want for bike set-up. It is not a situation where, say, Jeffrey would choose a set-up last year and I’d have to have it also. Each rider can do his own thing. The KTM 250 SX-F has also been really good and we’ve only had to make small changes. When a new model comes again then we might have more development but this year there was not so much to do.
You have a nice story of going to the Latvian Grand Prix as a kid and seeing this team and wishing to be a part of it one day, and looking back there have been some incredible names here like Townley, Rattray, Musquin, Searle, Roczen, Herlings. It must be really nice to lead this effort now…
For sure. You just to look at those names…it’s quite crazy. Now I am the lead guy in MX2…it is something I try not to think about when I’m racing! Just focus, focus, focus!
You’ve had some big crashes over the last eighteen months and you’ve been lucky in some and unlucky in others. You must feel like the sport has given you a bit of a kick…
I would not say I crash a lot…but when I do it is big-time! And then everybody is talking about it. It’s disappointing. After the crash in Loket (Czech Republic Grand Prix where he suffered a concussion in a tumble while leading) I had a long time off and could think about a lot of things. I fixed myself and my mind and this year I would say I am a slightly different rider; I’m made a change mentally.
Is that about being more mature or taking the races differently?
Well, I took a holiday and went off for a week by myself. I thought a lot. I looked at things and my life a bit differently and I hope it will have some impact in the GPs. Qatar felt like a long time since I rode a Grand Prix!
Will the fans see a different #41 then?
I don’t think the fans will see much difference. They’ll see the same rider but sometimes I might back-off a little bit. Not from a battle but I won’t take so many risks.
If I think of Marc De Reuver then I see a funny guy, very fast but also very unlucky. Has he been able to impart some of that experience?
Yes, totally. People were saying to me ‘Marc is crazy…’ but he was the guy who took me a little bit back from the edge. He was not pushing me. In fact he was slowing me down off the track and that’s what I needed because I am sort of like a soldier: what you tell me I will do it 100%, sometimes 110%. So he calmed me down and reduced the risks I was taking. Nineteen GPs is a lot of racing and a lot can happen. I have to try and stay on two wheels.
Apart from Kegums and your home GP what other race on the calendar makes you rub your hands in anticipation?
Good question…it was Qatar! I was ready before Christmas! I think it would have to be Argentina (round three). It is a long trip but I like the track (Neuquen), the fans, the nature and everything around that area.