IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia rider Takaaki Nakagami concluded the 2017 Moto2 World Championship season in 7th place. Before moving to the MotoGP class in 2018, Nakagami recalled his six years in Moto2, and shared his expectations for his new journey into MotoGP.
—First of all, how would you describe your 2017 season?
“After 18 races, my final championship standings is 7th. To be honest, it is not the result I had expected.”
—Of the 18 races, which one was the best for you?
“I would choose Silverstone (Round 12, British Grand Prix). I knew many people were watching me that weekend because it was right after the announcement of my move to the MotoGP class. I felt I was exposed to the media’s curiosity. Also, I thought Lucio Cecchinello, the team principal of LCR Honda and former MotoGP rider and LCR Honda team were looking at my performance to see if I deserved them, which made me nervous, honestly. Winning the race with a huge lead under such heavy pressure is something I can be proud of. And fulfilling their expectations also increased my confidence. Having said that, I wanted to win a few more races and I think I could’ve done it. Actually, since then I couldn’t get any victories or podiums, and couldn’t get many championship points, either. I didn’t think I would have to struggle to secure just a few championship points.”
—Looking back your six years in Moto2, which race is most memorable?
“Last year’s victory in Assen (Round 8, Dutch TT) was my first win in the Moto2 world championship. I will never forget that victory because it was priceless in my racing career.”
—Which race did you feel most disappointed with??
“What makes me feel frustrated is the fact that I could not win the Japanese Grand Prix. Especially this year, I did very good in Qualifying and I felt the victory was almost there. Nevertheless, I couldn’t do a pole-to-win, which made me feel very sad. The Japanese Grand Prix is always very special for me but I could not win the race these six years. I am very disappointed.”
—What did you learn from these six years in the Moto2 championship?
“Six years was very long for me and it is very difficult to say briefly. At first, I rode for an Italian team for two years, then moved to Team Asia. I gained many experiences to improve my riding skills and mental strength. I also think I developed myself as a person. Although knowing that I should have gained better results in these six years, I learned and improved a lot for the future.”
—Who has influenced you most, as a rider and as a person?
“When I was riding for this team, team manager Okada-san taught me a lot about skills, mental aspects, the team, bike and so on. Sometimes he told me gently, and sometimes he instructed me strictly. Okada-san has the most wins as a Japanese rider in the premier class, and was runner-up in the championship. Learning from him as our team manager was a special experience for me. And going further back in my Japanese championship days when I was riding for HARC-PRO., team founder Shigeki Honda taught me everything —from the basics of road racing to the discipline as a professional rider. Mr. Honda is my mentor.”
—What did ‘Asia region’ mean to you when you were riding for IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia?
“To be honest, I didn't always think about Asia when I was racing. But, it was somewhere in my mind that the more I get good results as a Team Asia rider, the more it stimulates the Asia region’s road racing activities. Especially these few years when Asia Talent Cup successfully paved the route to take young Asian riders to the world, I understood my responsibility more as a leading rider of this team and felt they were looking up at me. I strongly realized it when we raced in Japan and Sepang. I never thought such things before, so probably I matured mentally and now I have a little bit more composure than before.”
—Do you feel pressure to move to the premier class?
“Not at all. Now I feel excited that my dream since my childhood came true. I don’t feel any pressure or anxiety. I can’t wait to ride. It is my honest feeling right now. Regarding MotoGP, everything is new for me; tires, electronics, and bike… I don’t know anything about them. So, my priority is just getting used to the bike and understanding how they work. It must be very exciting to share the track with the fastest riders in the world!”