With Casey Stoner now out of the MotoGP World Championship while recovering from surgery on his injured ankle back in Australia, the focus is now entirely on Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa and Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo for the title. Last weekend’s race at Brno in the Czech Republic had a barnburner of a last lap, as the two old rivals put on a show of determination down to the final corner. In this interview from Honda, HRC vice president Shuhei Nakamoto talks about the race, some interesting insights into his views on Pedrosa, including his surprise at Pedrosa’s mettle, respect for Lorenzo, some changes to the latest RC213V, and prospects for the rest of the season.
This was a race that had us on the edge of our seats right to the end. With Lorenzo leading for the first half then Pedrosa for the second, we were all expecting a tight finish. And that's what we got, an awesome battle right to the line by two very strong riders. What did you think of Pedrosa's performance?
Nakamoto: When Lorenzo took him in the last lap, to tell the truth I thought we had lost. But then Dani drew level on the final bend and blasted through to win. It's the first time I've seen Dani race like this and it makes me very happy indeed. He did very well. With Casey out of this race because of his operation, we expected it would be a fight between these two. Casey won here last year, but Brno has often been a lucky circuit for Yamaha and I reckoned this would be the toughest race we'd face in the second half of the season, so I'm very pleased with this result. Jorge set a fast pace in the first half, but he couldn't open a gap. Dani realized he would need a faster pace than Jorge once he took the lead, but he couldn't manage to get away from his pursuer either. It all came down to the final lap. Dani commented that Jorge was quicker in the middle section, but he had the advantage on the rest of the circuit. He used this insight to plan his winning strategy. In this race Dani has revealed strengths we've never seen in him before.
A fall during qualifying kept Pedrosa back in third place on the grid, and a weak point of Dani's is that he is very slow to recover his pace after a fall. This weekend, he was incredibly fast in practice, but never recovered in qualifying after that fall. We were all worried that he wouldn't get his speed back for the race.
Nakamoto: When Dani has his bike set up exactly as he wants, no one can beat him for speed. In contrast, if he feels at all insecure he finds it hard to up his pace. His fall was on a slow corner so I thought it wouldn't affect him too much, but he never managed to reproduce his best time in practice. Why? Dani told us he couldn't make good time on the replacement bike because of chatter, although we thought we had got both bikes set up exactly the same. There wasn't much difference, but apparently it was enough. Dani has been riding our new machines since Round 10 at Laguna Seca. The weather at that race was very unstable and we made a mistake in our setup, and Dani only managed third place. Learning from that, we revised the setting for Indianapolis, and Dani came first. After three races we've accumulated a lot of experience in getting the new bike set up right. I still think we have a lot of details still to work out, though.
Pedrosa liked the chassis you tried out in the Netherlands. The new machine is based on that one, and Pedrosa seems to be right at home on it from the start. Third place at Laguna Seca despite not having enough time to do a proper setup, and now two straight victories. What are the main improvements you made to this bike?
Nakamoto: What parts have changed? Well, we don't have a magic wand that can make dramatic improvements. It's really just an accumulation of many small modifications. The engine is now very easy to ride with, and both Dani and Casey rate it very highly. They have different preferences regarding the chassis, though. Dani loves it, and I think that's one reason for today's result. Mainly, the improved flex is letting him use more of the performance this engine is capable of. Casey stayed with the same combination of old chassis and new engine he used at Laguna. Until he fell in qualifying at Indianapolis, Casey was looking confident, talking of taking pole and the race. I'm sure we'd have seen a close-fought race at Indianapolis between him and Dani if only he hadn't got injured.
There have been lots of problems with chatter this year, but the new chassis seems to be a big improvement. What is your analysis of the chattering that occurred on Dani's replacement bike in qualifying?
Nakamoto: We adjusted that bike throughout the remaining part of the session and got rid of virtually all problems. Of course you can never get rid of all problems, and the Brno circuit is certainly the worst of the season for chatter. Looking at Dani's riding up to that point, including a win over Jorge, I had a lot of confidence he would do well. So far, he's only ridden three races since we introduced the new machine. I'm sure new problems will crop up, but we have the base set up right and I think we can cope with them using some fine tuning.
After twelve rounds, Repsol Honda Team leads in points for the constructors and team titles. In the rider's championship, Lorenzo is ahead with 245 points to Pedrosa's 232, followed by Stoner with 186. Stoner missing this race leaves only Lorenzo and Pedrosa to fight for top honor. After sweeping the last three rounds, Repsol Honda and Dani Pedrosa seem to be on a roll.
Nakamoto: Jorge is a very strong rider, and beating him is never going to be a simple matter. Dani has been champion in both 125 and 250, but this is the first time he's been in a serious fight for the MotoGP title. Until now, he's always been behind, chasing the leaders, and I don't think he's really felt the pressure yet. To become champion, you have to first catch up and then get in front. So for Dani, the real fight is just about to start. In the rounds to come, many of the circuits are favorites of Dani's but I'm sure Jorge is determined to win. If Dani keeps racing the way he did today, I think we can look forward to some close fights.
It was unfortunate that Casey Stoner had to go back to Australia for an operation.
Nakamoto: It was only on Thursday morning, the day before the start of the Czech GP, that Casey announced he needed this operation. After Indianapolis he sent the results of his MRI scans to his specialist in Australia, and his doctor's judgment was that this injury was so severe that without emergency surgery Casey might lose the use of his foot. I told him to go do it immediately. Of course we can't tell how long he will need to recover until we see the results of the operation, but I hope he comes back to us soon. Just in case he doesn't recover in time, we have Superbike rider Jonathan Rea taking part in the tests to be ready as substitute if needed. I hope to see Casey back and well soon, though.
Laguna Seca, Indianapolis, Brno – three very different and distinctive circuits. Winning all three must make your development team feel very confident now.
Nakamoto: True. It's too bad about Casey's injury, but otherwise results up to now have been good for us. There are six races left. It won't be easy defeating Jorge, but Repsol Honda Team is going to try to win all six.