Shuhei Nakamoto Track Report

Round 1The season opens with a Honda victory. Ganbare Nippon!

Repsol Honda’s Casey Stoner led from pole to win the opening race of 2011 at Qatar’s Losail International Circuit, with teammate Dani Pedrosa joining him on the podium in third place. On the podium, the two riders sent a message of encouragement from this middle-east country to the people in the disaster-struck part of Japan, holding up a Japanese flag with the slogan “Ganbare Nippon!” (Never give up, Japan!). HRC Team Principal Shuhei Nakamoto tells us about the difficulties the Honda riders had to overcome to achieve their victory.

Casey is very much at home on the Losail course and was already producing great times in practice. His bike was also performing well, so we all thought that with a bit of luck he had a chance of winning this race. Dani, on the other hand, really outdid himself. This is a course he’s never been too happy with, but this time he was completely on top of things and gave Casey a run for his money right from the start. He often looked like the winner, and only dropped back to third place due to pain from his left arm injury that slowed him down in the later part of the race. Great work by the riders of course, but consistent results from testing through to the race also confirm my opinion that we have succeeded in taking the bikes themselves to a new level of performance.

Were you hoping to take all three podium places?

No, I never thought we could do that. Lorenzo was very fast in the test, and maintained an extremely steady pace over the long run. With a rival like that it would have been foolish to think we could keep him out of the top three. On the other hand, I think we really might have taken both first and second if Dani hadn’t been slowed down in mid race by his arm injury.

It seems that Dani wasn’t expecting his arm to be so painful.

He broke his left collarbone in a fall in the Japanese GP last year, but the bone itself was healing very well. In the final race of 2010 in Valencia he had no trouble with the bone, but he had a lot of problems with his arm going numb, losing sensation and then becoming very painful. That was what caused him to lose position in the second half of the race. An intensive medical examination after that race showed that the bone was OK but a screw in the plate had loosened. The doctors retightened the screw and ordered him to stop his rehab training for the arm and have a period of complete rest. In the new year, before the Sepang tests, they allowed him to gradually resume training his left arm. During the two days of tests before the Qatar race he said he was feeling a little pain but it was OK, and to tell the truth, I honestly thought he would be alright in the race.

After a major injury, even though everything seems to have returned to normal, cold weather can bring the pain back. I think something like that happened here. After the race he went back to Spain for tests but even CT scans and MRI didn’t reveal anything. The doctors say there is no problem with the bone that broke. Healing is going well, there’s no pressure on nerves or obstruction of blood flow, so it’s possible that some damage may remain on the inside of the collarbone. They say its OK for him to race at Jerez, so I’m looking forward to more fine racing from him there.

When the two riders mounted the podium, they waved a flag with “Ganbare Nippon!” (Never give up, Japan!) written on it. You had similar stickers on the bikes. How did you arrange that?

We found a local shop to make the stickers for us. For the flag, the original arrangement was for HRC President Tetsuo Suzuki to bring one with him from Japan. Worried that he might not be able to come because of the earthquake, we asked the Japanese Embassy in Qatar to loan us a flag. They were very happy to do that, but in fact we didn’t need it since President Suzuki arrived in time on Sunday with his flag.

You were already in Qatar when the earthquake happened. Tell us about that.

I learned the news watching NHK International in my hotel room. My first priority was to find out whether the families of our staff were safe. It was very difficult to get through on the phone, so that took a few hours. Fortunately, everyone was OK over there and everyone could focus fully on the race again.

How will the earthquake affect HRC?

Several of our parts suppliers were affected, but since we essentially already have all the parts we will need for this season I don’t think there will be any effect on our racing activities. However, we may have to come up with some new arrangements regarding development for next year.

Will that affect development a little, or hardly at all?

Development has to go on throughout the season, but at the moment we still haven’t used up 100% of the large number of test components we prepared. Those will probably be enough to let us try out the ideas we are currently considering. However, in the process of testing various components, we also come up with new ideas, and in that case, the disruption of manufacturing schedules for new components could possibly cause us to take longer to develop those ideas.

The rolling blackouts would probably affect your suppliers.

Right now our suppliers are not operating 100%, but neither are we. As I said before, there shouldn’t be any effect on this season’s races, but it’s having a big impact on our bike development for next year when the regulations will change. However much we want to make circuit tests, that’s not possible while we can’t get parts delivered to us. That’s the current situation in Japan, and all we can do is help them as much as we can to quickly return to normal.

Will you keep using the “Ganbare Nippon!” stickers for the rest of the season?

That’s my plan. I wanted to have them on the riders’ suits as well, but we couldn’t get that done in time for the opening race. I hope you’ll see them wearing stickers throughout the season from now on.

Naturally, we all want to see Japan rebuilt quickly, and this is our way of sending a message of support to the victims of the disaster. Winning the championship would obviously add impact to our message, but we still don’t really know whether that’s a possibility or not. We face some pretty strong competition. Nothing’s sure, but I’m not focused on failing either. All we can do is to go for it 100%. It would be presumptuous to say we were trying to win on their behalf, but I do believe that if we could win it would be big source of encouragement for the people back home. That’s what I hope, anyway. For us, our riders and staff, and our development team and suppliers back in Japan, doing our best to win is the only thing we can do in support of all the people who are still suffering so badly.

What are your goals for the next race?

Obviously the Spanish riders will be most familiar with the course in Spain, and we are expecting a good performance from Dani. However, he’ll have a tough rival to beat in fellow Spaniard Lorenzo, and Spies looks dangerous, too. But I’m also looking forward to seeing how Casey, our winner at Qatar, is going to ride at Jerez. Dani did very well at Qatar, a course that usually defeats him, and I hope things work out just as good for Casey in Spain. The Honda team is by no means in a dominating position, so I have no idea whether we can win or not. All I know is that we are committed 100%, and I hope our fans will give us all their support.

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