No home computer or laptop here; Gresini handles all of his company business on his iPad.
The 250cc Grand Prix World Championship-winning Honda NSR250 of Daijiro Kato sits in the lobby of the Gresini Racing offices. Kato — who was tragically killed in a crash at the season-opening MotoGP race at Suzuka in 2003 — is a guiding spirit at Gresini, with his number 74 a part of the company logo.
Scale models of various bikes belonging to the riders Gresini has had in his team sit inside a display case in his office.
Helmets from various riders Gresini has had in his team adorn the walls of the Gresini Racing offices.
Gresini is a double 125cc World Grand Prix champion (1985, 1987) himself, and his title-winning Garelli is displayed proudly in his offices.
Kato’s 2003 RC211V sits in the lobby of the Gresini Racing offices, along with other memorabilia such as the fairing from his 2002 bike in the background.
Marco Melandri was another one of Gresini’s star pupils, with the former 250cc Grand Prix World Champion finishing second in the 2005 MotoGP championship with two victories.
Colin Edwards (left) and Sete Gibernau (right) hoist team owner Gresini on the podium of the 2004 Qatar Grand Prix, where Gibernau and Edwards finished 1-2.
Fausto Gresini bounds into his office, offers a firm handshake and an apology: “My English is not so good,” he says with a smile.
English is one of the few things he hasn’t mastered in his 51 years. The Italian won 21 125cc GPs and two World Championships as a rider. For a decade he held the record for most 125 wins in a GP season before a fellow Italian named Valentino Rossi broke the record, by one. Three years after retiring as a rider at the end of 1994, Gresini jumped into the world of team ownership by fielding Brazilian Alex Barros in the 500cc class. Barros earned a podium his first year and two in his second. Then Gresini stepped back to the 250cc class, finishing third for three years.
The 2001 season would be transformative. With the ascendant Japanese star Daijiro Kato riding the team’s Telefonica MoviStar Honda NSR250 to 11 wins, Gresini Racing claimed its first world championship. That earned Kato a promotion to the MotoGP class where he finished second twice in his rookie year, heightening expectations for 2003. But the 2003 season would be one of heartbreak; Kato crashed heavily in the opening Japanese Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit, and succumbed to head injuries two weeks later.
Kato’s death had a significant effect not only on Gresini, but MotoGP racing as a whole. Out of his death came the Rider Safety Committee, which meets every MotoGP weekend and has had a profound impact on rider and track safety. Such was Kato’s influence that later that same year, he was honored as one of 16 MotoGP legends, joining the likes of Agostini, Hailwood, Roberts, Rainey, and Schwantz.
Kato remains a guiding spirit at Gresini Racing. His title-winning 250 and his MotoGP machine sit in the lobby of the team’s workshop in San Clemente, a village just inland from the Adriatic Sea not far from the Misano Circuit. Tributes to him are everywhere; his number 74 is part of the logo that greets visitors to the team’s offices.
For a team to lose one rider in today’s world of racing is rare. To lose two is unthinkable. Yet eight years after the loss of Kato, Gresini and his tight-knit team suffered an even more unimaginable blow; the death of Marco Simoncelli on the second lap of the 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang.
Gresini sees tributes everywhere, but he prefers to honor Simoncelli quietly. “I always try to keep a little distance from all the signs showing the ‘58 we love you,’” he said. “I prefer to keep it to myself. I don’t really like to show off that he was my rider. I don’t really like all these things going on. It’s a little bit too much for the way I am. I wouldn’t have done it, but still I appreciate other guys doing it.”
Gresini Racing, like many satellite teams, has the feel of a very close family, which made Simoncelli’s death that much more devastating. Some team owners and team managers make a point of keeping a distance from their riders. Not Gresini.
“Yes, it’s a mentality for my team, it’s necessary,” Gresini said. “It’s family, for sure. It’s family and it’s an important relationship and we’re working day by day talking to the riders. And Marco was a very special man. And this is the other important point. Very, very sensible and very easy to work with.”
Gresini’s bright and airy third-floor corner office in an office park in Faenza is filled with models of nearly every motorcycle the team has raced, racing photos, books, helmets, and other memorabilia, but no traditional computer; Gresini runs his racing team from an iPad.
The team setup is unconventional in that the office and workshop are in separate cities. The workshop is in San Clemente, an hour south of the Faenza office, and is somewhat unimpressive, which is not to denigrate it. The workshop has no dyno because it has very little need for one. The San Carlo Honda RC212Vs only visit the shop twice, for parties around the Mugello and Misano weekends, and when they do they aren’t runners. Michele Masini, the team’s spare parts manager, pointed out that Honda removes the transmissions after the race, and the team isn’t allowed to work on the engine. The Moto2 Moriwakis have their engines removed. During my visit the shop was especially empty because the Moto2 and Moto3 teams were testing in Jerez. And the CRT machine was still being built; it wasn’t delivered until the middle of March. There was a Moto2 show bike, with Marco Simoncelli’s number 58, and a naked Moto2 frame. Much of the work at the shop is in support of the team, building engine stands and pit boards and making stickers and shipping cases.
When Gresini first prepared a team it was with help from Honda Brazil and Brazilian Alex Barros. Challenging the factories in the 500c class was an audacious move, but Gresini saw no other choice.
“It’s very difficult,” he said, “but it’s clear for me everything is new. It’s completely different compared to riding. And it is a new way to work. There are many people working with me. It was like I was building a company. It was completely different. It was difficult. It’s necessary to take time to understand this new system of working; this is important.” He said that “as a rider, physical preparation and a good mental approach are important. As a team owner, everyone’s problems are your problems."
In 2001, the fifth year of the team’s existence, Gresini joined a small group of former world champions turned team owners — Giacomo Agostini, Kenny Roberts, Jorge “Aspar” Martinez, Angel Nieto are the others — to win a world championship when Kato won the 250cc World Championship. The following year, Kato’s first in MotoGP, he teamed with Colin Edwards to win the Suzuka 8-Hours for Honda. It was Kato’s second 8-Hours win.
The week following Kato’s death would be pivotal. Spaniard Sete Gibernau, starting from pole position, held off a furious rush by Rossi to give the team its first MotoGP win in the South African Grand Prix in Welkom. Gibernau would add three more wins, finishing second overall to Rossi. In 2004 Gibernau again won four races and again finished second to Rossi. Marco Melandri joined the team in 2005, winning twice and finishing second to Rossi, the third year in a row Gresini Racing was runner-up.
Melandri’s MotoGP wins drove the team’s total to 13, where it stood until Toni Elias’ epic win over Rossi in the 2006 Portuguese GP at Estoril. Gresini Racing’s 14 MotoGP wins are by far the most of any satellite team in the MotoGP class. No other satellite team has finished second in the championship — Gresini Racing has done it three times.
When the 250cc class was converted to Moto2 in 2010, Gresini jumped in, despite a lack of sponsorship. His reward was the first ever Moto2 World Championship with Elias. The team continued the Moto2 project in 2011 and will field two riders again in 2012, along with a rider in the new Moto3 class.
“For me it’s an important strategy to have every category,” Gresini said. And, though he doesn’t believe CRT machines will be competitive, he understands why the sub-category was invented.
“We need a big change and the reason is to decrease the cost and invest in new and young riders. This is a process. Now we are working in five or six years with the same riders with no change at all. And the manufacturers have to pay the riders and satellite teams pay a lot of money to bring this rider, but they don’t have the possibility to invest in the young rider. The cost of the bike is too much. And the risk is that we don’t have a sponsor to finance this project for young riders because the cost is very, very expensive. And this is the reason it’s clear: it’s necessary to change the system. The manufacturers, for me, don’t have a good focus on the problem. It’s not a problem for the manufacturers but for Dorna.”
He continued by pointing out that each of the manufacturers will field two prototypes in 2012 and 2013, at least, with the option of producing two prototypes to lease for €1 million ($1.3 million), plus more for crash damage. The €1 million lease bike will certainly be lower spec than his current machine, but the lease price is a few million euros less than he’s spending now. He would rather have two prototypes, but, he said, “I don’t have a way and so I changed my way.
“My team always had two riders in MotoGP. Now I have one CRT or I have only one rider. But it’s a difficult strategy for the team to have only one rider to sell the project for the sponsor. My sponsor (San Carlo) puts in a lot of money.” San Carlo, the leading snack and chips company in Italy, could use that same money for a quicker return or for television advertising, he pointed out. “For this reason for one rider only it’s no good. Good teams have two riders in MotoGP. It’s different than other categories. MotoGP represents the top. For me there’s no way to continue this same system.”
The Gresini Racing team is something of a farm team for HRC. Gresini enjoys working with young riders and riders new to Honda. When Marco Melandri joined the team in 2005, after two years in MotoGP on a Yamaha, he was prevented from seeing his lap times at the first test. Said Gresini, “It’s important to ride, to think about the bike and changing parts and giving his feeling to the team. This is a project that’s too important. Normally it’s a minimum of one year to have a good relationship, to understand the rider and staff.” Melandri, who won the 250cc title in 2002, finished second his first year with the team. It remains his best MotoGP finish.
“Sure, it’s an advantage” to have young riders, Gresini said. “Normally his mentality is much more open compared to the (veteran) rider. You can still teach them everything. This is the key to access to their mind.”
With Simoncelli’s death, Gresini made the decision to replace him with a non-Italian rider. Part of it was circumstantial; Andrea Dovizioso, the highest ranked Italian in the 2011 MotoGP World Championship, had already signed with Monster Yamaha Tech 3. None of the Italians in Moto2 were considered fast enough to graduate to the MotoGP class and many had already signed to stay put. In a strange twist, Gresini was saved from putting a journeyman or worse on the bike by the indecision of Suzuki, which dithered for most of the season about committing to 2012. A little more than a week before Suzuki announced its decision to suspend the team, rider Alvaro Bautista signed with Gresini.
Gresini didn’t attend the first test in Sepang, which was both Bautista’s first on the RC213V and the first for Showa since being replaced by Öhlins on all Honda machinery at the start of the 2010 season. Gresini wasn’t the only team Showa approached — LCR Honda had an offer, but didn’t want to burden MotoGP rookie Bradl with developing the suspension — but it was the only team to bite. Gresini Racing will use Showa across all platforms. The upside is that Gresini Racing is Showa’s only MotoGP team, the downside is that Bautista has to do all the development. “Alvaro isn’t in a hurry,” Gresini said. “Alvaro is a very intelligent rider. He stays calm. He wants to improve slowly.”
Bautista has an outgoing personality, as did Simoncelli. His nature and willingness to learn makes it easy for the team to make the transition, to concentrate on the task at hand. But for Gresini, it will be some time, if ever, before he gets over Simoncelli’s death.
“All the time I’m working with bikes there’s much love for (motorcycles). Now it’s difficult, it’s different,” he said. “Marco’s death, it changed many things. Now, in that moment, for me it’s no good now. It’s not a big love anymore. The work, I still love it, but to go to the circuit I don’t really feel like it. This is my feeling at the moment. I think it will be necessarily a long process.” SR