Phillip Island, the circuit for Round 16 in Australia, is in an area known for its wildlife and magnificent scenery. But it's also known for high winds and weather that can switch from fine to nasty in moments, making it one of the world's more challenging courses for MotoGP riders. Race week started with a Friday that was unusually mild, but from then on the weather kept getting trickier. The race was won by Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda Team). For the Australian rider, this was his fourth year running to win pole-to-finish at his home circuit, and the points gained in his ninth win of the season confirmed him as 2011 champion with two races left on the calendar. Honda took all four top places, with Marco Simoncelli (Team San Carlo Honda Gresini), Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda Team) and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) following Stoner past the flag. HRC Team Principal Shuhei Nakamoto talks to us about the track conditions that made Round 16 so tricky, and about his team's plans for remaining two races, now that the Riders Championship has been won.
Today's race was very tricky, fine at the start but with random rain showers blowing in later. So much of this race was touch and go, with the tension never letting up. But our Honda riders didn't let us down, sticking in there and battling it through to the end. Only Hiroshi Aoyama unfortunately had the bad luck to fall because of the rain.This win on his home circuit gives Casey the Championship. As well as congratulating him on his new title, I want to thank Casey from the bottom of my heart for the huge contribution he made to giving Honda our first Constructors' Championship since 2006.
I think I would have been pretty calm about this race if the rain had kept off. My feeling was that we were sure to win as long as the race weather conditions were settled – rain would be OK, fine would be OK, just so long as we could choose either wet or dry tires and stick with them. This year at Phillip Island the track surface was very unfavorable, with the temperature and weather conditions getting worse each day that passed. However, we're used to doing this job in hard conditions now, and everyone stayed calm and focused to the end.
I wouldn't say go that far. To my mind, Casey is one of our more highly-strung riders. And by that, I certainly don't mean he's at all timid. I mean he's always sensitive, very aware and able to take extreme care over the smallest details. In fact, this causes a huge amount of work for us, responding to every little thing he points out. But every time we do, the result is clear – he gets better times from the bike. It's all worth it – this is the kind of rider we like.
When Casey really established his lead he left Marco way behind, but then the rain allowed Andrea to catch up with Marco and a new fight was on for second. The two of them were going back and forth, but Marco really showed some guts in that final move that gave him second place at the last moment – his best result this season. Marco looked very mature this time. He himself admits there's a lot that's rough about his riding style, but in this race I thought he really controlled himself well, saving himself and going on the attack at exactly the right moment. I believe he's headed in the right direction, and developing well as a rider. In future, I hope to see him combine more of such intelligent riding with his undoubted courage.
Dani's small-framed, and that makes riding in strong winds harder for him than the bigger, heavier guys. On fast corners, for example, he gets knocked around more by the wind and can't avoid losing quite a bit of time. Even in his 125 and 250 cc days, on this course Dani would always lose about 0.3 sec over sector 1. Taking that into consideration, I'd say Dani did extremely well this week.
Honda has taken the title back, but it's been a long five years since we last held it in 2006. Two feelings are battling it out inside me: I'm proud we've done it at last, and a bit ashamed it took us so long. I want to say how very grateful I am to all our fans who never gave up on us, and to our sponsors who kept supporting us through the long dry spell. Speaking personally, I have to say I feel rather relieved and I think at last I'll be able to get a good night's sleep again.
Oh, we'll be trying our hardest to win them both, wanting to keep our momentum going for next year. The regulations change next year, and we'll face a new and different kind of battle on the 1,000 cc bikes. I really want us to win these two races because then everyone at Honda will head into Christmas and New Year with their spirits high. And of course the Team Championship isn't won yet, so we have to keep on going for that. We've aimed to win every race this season, and that determination hasn't changed in the slightest. So, I say thanks to our fans for the support that has seen us through to taking the championship, and I hope you'll be cheering us on as we tackle Malaysia next week.