The third round of 2011 was originally planned for the Twin Ring Motegi circuit, but the earthquake and tsunami disaster that struck Japan on March 11 caused this to be rescheduled. The Japanese Grand Prix will now be in fall, and Round Three was held in Portugal, four weeks after the Spanish Grand Prix.
The Estoril circuit is known for its uncertain weather, but this year conditions were dry. Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa won his first victory of the season, starting from third on the grid. His team mates also did well: Casey Stoner finishing third and Andrea Dovizioso snatching a surprise fourth place at the last moment. HRC Team Principal Shuhei Nakamoto tells us why he thinks this race shows Honda is firmly on track to retake the championship.
A number of issues came up in free practice, but we solved them all one by one, and by race day I was fairly confident in the set-up of the bikes. Dani put in an excellent performance to win, all the more impressive when you think that he hadn't had time to train properly since the shoulder operation he underwent directly after the Spanish Grand Prix. His muscles were still pretty sore, but he made it through the week with the aid of his physiotherapist.
Dani told me that he felt some muscle pain during the race, but there was no numbness this time due to lack of blood flow, and he had no problem finishing. This was a great relief, because he hadn't ridden a full race distance since the operation and wasn't sure if he could do it. He took things easy, staying behind Lorenzo for most of the race even though he knew he had the edge in speed, and it was only near the end that he raced past to win. A number of times I could see him deliberately throttle back to stay behind Lorenzo as he followed him down the straight. He had a plan, got his timing just right, and when he finally opened up at the end it paid off for him.
Yes. It was the right decision to have the operation, and he seems to be fixed up now. Saturday's qualifying was the first time after the op that he'd ridden the full race distance, so he didn't know how it would turn out. We were all nervous, but he rode well and deserved his win. I think we'll see his performance getting even better as his physical condition continues to improve. Of course, he has some pretty stiff competition to beat, and I'm sure there will be losses as well as wins as the season goes on. That said, I'm confident that we are on course to win the championship.
He certainly did. Right after the start, he seemed about to highside at the second corner, and he twisted his back keeping the bike under control. A few laps later he did it again at corner seven, and he says the pain was so intense he was seriously thinking about heading back to the pit and retiring. He stuck it out, though, and maintained his place ahead of the pack to the end of the race. His third place finish was a little disappointing, but considering the conditions under which he was riding, I think he did very well indeed.
Yes, it's a recurring problem. It's not actually an injury anywhere serious like a joint, it's more like muscle pain. Now the race is over he's very stiff, but the physiotherapist will straighten him out and he should be OK to ride again.
Not bad at all. Even in the wet conditions we had this morning, he was quickly making good times. I thought he was going to do really well in the race, but after that corner on the first lap threw his back out, he never managed to catch up with the two front-runners. I was originally hoping for a first or second place finish from Casey, but under these conditions, he did very well to come third.
At the second corner of the opening lap, Andrea was overtaken by Valentino Rossi and stayed stuck behind him for most of the race. But then at the very last moment, he managed to slip past him. He seized his chance pretty well, I thought.
He'd been held back until then. Being forced to match the speed of the rider in front blocking him all that way was probably what drove him to let rip at the end.
Hiroshi is coming along well. He had various problems up until qualifying, but we were able to give him some advice that helped. I think he had such a good race because he listened carefully to our suggestions and did his best to follow them. I'm looking forward to watching his future progress.
No, even if he had avoided that fall, I think he probably couldn't have won because he was still struggling to get his tire management right in the second half. I suppose building up a 3 to 4 second advantage in the first half could have put him in sight of a win, but then again, the other riders would have been trying to prevent that. No question about it, he's a very fine rider, but I think he needs to improve just a little more to bring him to the level of a potential winner.
For me, the best result would be a Honda rider in every place on the podium, so no, I wouldn't go that far. But however big my ambitions are, I have to say that I was very happy with this result. It's great that Dani could overcome his injury and win. And Casey came third, despite a twisted back that meant he could barely walk. If we can manage to avoid accidents in future, I think we'll see great things from this pair. Andrea did well too, hanging in there right to the end. And if Marco hadn't fallen, he would likely have been battling it out with the front-runners. I'm very pleased overall with the state of the Honda riders. If they keep this up, I think we'll be seeing some very exciting action at Le Mans. Keep watching!