Editor’s note: At the Red Bull Indianapolis GP back in August, I was able to obtain interviews with MotoGP champion-to-be Casey Stoner, HRC Communications and Marketing Director Livio Suppo (formerly the PR manager with the Ducati Marlboro team), HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto, and San Carlo Honda Gresini marketing manager Carlo Merini. All this was stored in a small flash-memory voice recorder I’ve used for years. A couple of weeks after the race, I went to transcribe the interviews, and poof…there was a problem with the recorder, and I couldn’t retrieve any of the interviews. I asked one of the IT people at our company to see if he could retrieve them somehow, but the manic workload here forced me to constantly put it on the backburner as other duties took precedence.
Finally, the data was retrieved recently, but not without some casualties. The Suppo interview was lost, and much of the Merini file was lost as well. But fortunately we were at least able to get the Stoner and Nakamoto interviews. So here is the Stoner interview, with the Nakamoto interview to follow soon. Yes, some of the information is a little dated, but most of it is still relevant even as the 2012 MotoGP season gets set to begin.
“Aw man, that is just what we didn’t need, lemme tell ya. I mean, at least [when he was] on the Ducati, you knew you had a good chance at certain tracks where that bike didn’t go so well. Casey on a bike like the Honda, that he can get to do what he wants it to do? We might be in for a long season next year.” –Colin Edwards in 2010, when he learned that Casey Stoner had signed with Honda for 2011
At 25 years of age with two MotoGP championships already under his belt, Australian Casey Stoner has already amassed an enviable record of 33 GP victories. After making the switch to Honda for 2011, he quickly showed that he was the man to beat in preseason testing, and that quickly parlayed into a championship lead by the sixth race of the season at Silverstone, England, where Stoner’s fourth victory of the year vaulted him past early points leader Jorge Lorenzo to a lead the Repsol Honda rider would never relinquish. His impressive speed already has many penciling the Australian in as the rider to beat in 2012 as the MotoGP class makes a welcome move to 1000cc machines, even though Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa managed to go quicker during the last preseason test at the post-GP Valencia tests in November.
Stoner is one of those riders who is very articulate (making for great interviews) and very strong in his convictions (making for even better interviews). His analytical sense shines through in his answers, showing that it wasn’t just blind 120% effort that got him to where he is today. We managed to catch Stoner just before he was to give his press “scrum” (where each rider gives a mass interview to the assembled press) outside the HRC booth after qualifying at Indianapolis. Even though there were obviously major constraints on his time, Stoner was unfailingly polite in answering our questions.
SR: Has the Bridgestone tire allotment change (the FIM increased the number of front and rear tires available to each rider during a weekend) made a difference?
Stoner: No, honestly, I think since 2008 which is the last year before the single tire regulation, in my opinion they’ve gotten worse in quality. We’ve had base rubber and different things with the tires, we’ve struggled a lot more with them since then and year by year, maybe the speed and things are there but to get them warmed up, conditions need to be perfect. We haven’t really broken many lap records this year and the year before. You know there’s been advancements but as a modern tire I think they’ve gone backwards and made things a lot more difficult for us, and in a lot of instances, a lot more unsafe.
SR: Much has been said about how sketchy the Bridgestones are before they get up to temperature. How difficult is it?
Stoner: You’ve really gotta get the carcass of the tire to move. You’ve got to get very heavy on the brakes all the way into the corner, trust the thing at one point just to get that carcass to move and heat the tire up. You know that seems to be the problem because when the conditions are cold, there’s just no way to get the temperature in it, that’s when you’re seeing a lot of big crashes this year and a lot of injuries, last year and the last couple of years especially.
I know that they know how to make a tire that’s got a wider range of working temperature. I’ve ridden with them for a while and with more time they should be better at this, but the fact that year by year they seem to be getting slowly worse and having more inconsistency with the same type tires, the quality control has been less, different things like that.
SR: How different are the Honda and the Ducati as far as their reaction to the tire temperature?
Stoner: The Honda sometimes seems to put more temperature into the tires more easily than the Ducati. The Ducati really struggled to get enough tire temperature. In some instances, that was really a difficult thing to deal with, we just couldn’t get any temperature in it which was very upsetting. At any circuit we’ve only got two (tire compound) options and if the conditions are going to be very hot, the Ducati’s sort of in its element because it doesn’t put as much temperature into the tire. Then normally at the end of the race it’s going to be a lot better whereas the Honda can sometimes make too much temperature. So we have to balance the chassis setting out to try and compensate for that. But overall it’s a lot at least better to have consistent tire temperatures rather than barely being enough or not enough at all, so it’s a lot better for me to ride the Honda and just reduce temperatures rather than the opposite.
SR: There’s been talk of reigning in the electronic rider aids from Dorna…
Stoner: I’d really enjoy it if there were none. But you know it’s never going to happen; there’s too many people upstairs who feel it’s better for street bike development for everybody to have these electronics on. And the development that comes from MotoGP goes directly into the streetbikes, so it’s going to be very hard to get rid of that. Especially with 800s I can see why the electronics are quite important; we can’t really get the engines smooth enough to get the power out of them that we are. They’re a little bit aggressive, but I think the 1000, the engine in general is more smooth and little bit easier to control, so that would be a good time to definitely reduce them, but I can’t really see that happening. And all the people that sit there and complain about me and electronics are the ones that use them the most.
SR: Will the move to 1000s change the face of MotoGP?
Stoner: Honestly it’s not going to change a lot. The guys that can run at the front, that are fast on these bikes are going to be exactly the same on a 1000. I made the transition back down; you know, the 800s still have too much power, and the 1000s have too much power, so you’ve still got to learn how to control the bike, how to have throttle control, and get the bike picked up out of the corners. There’s not going to be a big enough difference, you’ve got to ride them pretty much the same. You might see a bit more of people squaring them up out of corners and picking it up, but in general I don’t think there’s going to be too much difference between the 800s and 1000s, just a lot more torque, a lot more fun in my opinion.
SR: So you’ve obviously been looking forward to the 1000cc MotoGP bikes?
Stoner: Yeah, been looking forward to it for a while. It’s just nice to have that sort of engine power, you’ve got to short-shift gears more because it wants to wheelie. The 800s can sort of spin up in third gear, but they struggle unless you’re banked right over. But the 1000s can spin up in fourth and fifth gear; I was coming out of corners at the first test in fifth gear and it’s still spinning all the way to the next corner. It’s a lot more fun. Hopefully it’ll bring a slightly different form of racing, but I just can’t see it happening; I can see people not learning how to control the engines well enough and dulling them down anyway because they’ve got too much grunt.
SR: Speaking of grunt, we’ve been told by other teams that the Honda’s main strength is its traction off the corners.
Stoner: Yeah, I’d say that’s Honda’s main strength. We were using it very well at the start of the year, but at the last two rounds we’ve struggled with that. We’ve been trying to balance the bike out a little bit, and we’ve lost quite a lot of that rear grip. So we’re trying to get back to that sort of basics where we were, at the same time try to keep that bike balanced a little more. One of the weaknesses is on the brakes, braking stability or engine braking is probably the biggest weakness. But that’s something we’re working on, I believe when you know exactly what it is, it’s easy to solve. But one thing the Honda does have is very good engine character off the bottom for me, and the way you can pick up and get drive out of the turn. You know it’s very, very important with these 800s.
SR: When you say engine braking is the biggest weakness, you’re talking about how the electronics control it, correct?
Stoner: There’s several different levels and several different sections of it, but yeah, it’s everything as you’re going into the corner. Whether it’s the first part, whether it’s how much engine brake you have, which is slight back torque but it’s not really; it can be clutch control, it can be all sorts of different things all in one. It’s one thing we’ve been trying to work on during the year, but it’s hard to develop an 800 that’s basically going to be rid of at the end of the year. They’re not going to spend too much time developing things that are going to be gone next year, so hopefully we’ll sort that out soon.
SR: Speaking of next year, you’re going to be a father soon, congratulations! Will that affect any part of your outlook on racing?
Stoner: In my racing, I doubt it’ll have any effect whatsoever; in the rest of my life, it’s definitely has a big effect. I finally feel like I’ve got an important role in my life, that I have a direction, a real purpose beyond just racing. But with my racing, there’s a time for thinking about things like that, and a time not to. In my racing I’ve always been good at separating my racing from my personal life, and it’s not going to be any different. It’s going to be easy for me to separate the two, but yeah, we shouldn’t have any problems.