Round 14 at Aragon, the third GP of the series held in Spain, takes us into the end zone of the 2011 season. MotorLand Aragon circuit, surrounded by sandy countryside, was only added to the MotoGP calendar last year. Repsol Honda's Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa have both always done well on this circuit, but this year Stoner excelled himself with a perfect pole-to-finish ride for his eight win of the season. Pedrosa came second, the third race in a row that he has occupied this podium position. HRC Team Principal Shuhei Nakamoto talks to us about a race where his team had to cope with challenging and quickly changing conditions, and lets us in on his thoughts for the upcoming Japanese GP.
Casey won, of course, but both from his standpoint and from ours there are still a number of improvements we want to make to this bike. That said, we got together a pretty good total package for this race. Even though Casey was overtaken right at the start on turn one, before the end of the first lap he had recovered his lead and stayed there, controlling the race, right to the end. No reservations from me – this was a perfect win for Casey.
To counter the strong wind, Casey used the small spec cowling. Right through qualifying he had been using the larger cowling to protect his neck better on the straight, but the strong wind today sent him back to the small one. Air and ground temperatures are always low in the morning on this track. That allowed us to check the tire durability, and we decided to go for the harder option. After that it was just a question of managing the tires to keep them good till the finish. We managed to test one set of tires for the whole race distance, doing 20 laps on Friday morning and five more under cold conditions on Saturday morning. Those 25 laps confirmed for us that these tires would last, so Casey went into the race feeling very confident about his tire choice.
Dani is the kind of rider who can get outstanding speed as long as he has enough grip. But if there isn't enough grip, then his relatively small size makes it hard for him to compensate, so circuits with poor grip are always tough for him. So when you see that he was one second faster than last year in qualifying, and was still faster this year in the race despite the windy conditions, I think he did an amazing job. It just so happened that this time he was up against a Casey riding at the top of his form.
Yes, we weren't getting the grip we wanted, so we kept trying different setups for the bike. Bit by bit, we improved things and we were thinking Dani had a chance of beating Casey. But of course, Casey being Casey, as his setup got better he started really pushing his speed higher and higher. From that angle, yes it was hard for Dani.
Casey is able to ride faster, but he was adjusting his speed to maintain his lead. He did have one very slow lap, though. What happened was that he sneezed, and it fogged up his visor. He couldn't see what was ahead and for a moment was afraid of leaving the course. Casey's time was about one second slower than when he won here last year, but that's because he was controlling this race by checking the gap with the rider behind. Last year he had Dani chasing him closely right to the end, with the result that Casey had to go flat out. This year he was more successful at quickly building up a margin and riding his own race while watching that gap.
We're looking into the reasons for that right now. This morning, Andrea was the only rider who started on used tires. They had already been ridden for about 10 laps, but he couldn't get any grip out of them and his times suffered. He went back to the pit with severely worn tires. The data shows he was getting no grip during acceleration or during deceleration. We fitted new tires for the race, but the result was unfortunate.
Just as he was going into the second corner, Nicky Hayden cut inside him. That made Andrea lose his line and he went onto a dirty part of the track. The rear end slid, suddenly putting all the weight on the front. His tires were still cold, so there wasn't enough grip and over he went. For Andrea, this was a really unlucky race.
Yes, and by coincidence we had planned from the beginning to run this race in special colors. We actually had the 100-win T-shirts all made up for San Marino, which of course didn't happen, but that meant we had them ready here. For Repsol YPF*, it was the best possible timing as a Spanish company – they got their 100th win on a Spanish circuit, and with the bikes and riders decked out in special livery too.
(* Repsol YPF is the company that sponsors Repsol Honda)
Motegi and Brno in the Czech Republic are the only two circuits where we haven't won since 2004. That makes me all the keener to try for a win.
Yes, and not just for us at Honda. I'm sure the Yamaha and Suzuki people feel the same. The only non-Japanese maker competing is Ducati, and for all the rest of us this race has special significance. For us at Honda, it would really mean a lot to break our pattern of losing here and get our first win since 2004.
Ito and Akiyoshi are both very experienced riders, and I'm looking forward to seeing them race on their home turf in front of a Japanese crowd. All the riders, and all of us on the team, hope as many fans as possible will turn out and show that Japan has recovered its spirit after the disaster.
I don't take anything for granted. All we can do is try our hardest to win each race as it comes. Sure we have a chance, but in MotoGP racing winning can turn into losing in a fraction of a second. We have a great team, and everyone is going flat out to try and get that win. Keep that support coming – we need everything we get.