Shuhei Nakamoto Track Report

Round 5Riding skill beats tricky conditions

Resuming the series after a three week gap, Round Four at Catalunya presented number of difficulties for the riders, including unseasonal rain that gave an extra edge to the race. Despite this, Casey Stoner of Repsol Honda turned in a brilliant performance every day of the race weekend, successfully overcoming the hard conditions to take his third win of the series. Andrea Dovizioso also rode consistently well, and his fourth place finish moves him up the ranking to number three. HRC Team Principal Shuhei Nakamoto fills in the background details on a Catalan GP that posed some tough challenges for the teams.

Casey had been achieving superlative average times all through the practice sessions, so barring accidents we were pretty confident that he would win this one. It did worry us a bit when it started to rain as he entered the final section on his 13th lap. This is a very tricky situation for the leading rider. Everyone else can judge the condition of the track by watching the rider in front, but the man in the lead has to play it by ear and is constantly making split second decisions. Casey really did a great job of controlling his pace to stay in front without taking too many risks on the wet track.

If he had taken pole position too, Casey would have had a perfect week.

Yes, it was too bad that he failed to register the top time in qualifying with his final attack. Just as he was getting the best out of his tires he had the bad luck to get stuck in the pack and couldn't keep up his pace. Still, this win puts him within seven points of Lorenzo with a good chance at the championship. I hope he will soon take the overall lead.

In the race, only three riders decided to use hard compound tires for front and rear, including both Repsol Honda riders. Would you say that Casey Stoner made the best choice in his tire selection and tactics?

Those are the hardest decisions to make. Just before the race, the track surface was 32 to 33°C, so the choice was hard tires for better endurance. However, during the race the temperature gradually fell, eventually reaching as low as 25°C. Taking that into account, maybe the better choice would have been the softer medium compound. It was a tough race to get right.

Andrea Dovizioso had some difficulty riding on the hard tires, I hear.

We decided on the hard compound for safety reasons, since we hadn't confirmed the endurance of the softer medium compound. In hindsight, I think the medium compound would have been a better match for the surface conditions in that race.

In any case, this was a race that called for a lot of tough choices.

That's very true. Still, looking at the performance Casey put in riding on the hard compound tires, I was hoping that Andrea would have finished one or two positions higher. When I teased him a bit about this after the race, he admitted that he was disappointed with his riding this time. If only he had been able to bring off a slightly better start, the result could have been very different.

Speaking of the start, Simoncelli really threw away his pole position advantage.

Yes, that was a huge mistake he made there. He had fallen back to eighth place by the first corner, and never really managed to recover. After the race, he told me he had been having a hard time because he wasn't getting enough edge grip with the tires. In situations like this one, the essential skill is to be able to judge exactly what you can and cannot do, and adjust your pace with an overall strategy in mind. Marco has mostly mastered the art of getting the best speed out of his bike, but what he needs to do next is to hone these other strengths.

You mean things like tire management, race strategy and pace control?

Exactly. You need to be able to adapt various techniques to suit each situation. For example, when you find you're getting less grip than you expected, you can make time by bringing the bike upright faster and accelerating sooner. Look at Casey, and the way he handled this race. If Marco buckles down and masters these skills too, I'm sure we'll be seeing him on the winner's podium. He definitely has champion potential.

Dani Pedrosa missed this race due to the injury he got at Le Mans. How is he doing?

On Saturday night, when Dani ate dinner with the rest of the team he was still too weak to use a steak knife and had to ask someone to cut his meat for him. We were hoping for a speedy recovery, but so far it hasn't come up to either our or Dani's expectations. That's not to say the operation was a failure, though. We have great faith in this surgeon and he did a superb job this time. The trouble is Dani was just operated on a month ago to remove the plate in his left collarbone, and then before his body had time to recover completely we had this fresh surgery for a broken right collarbone. A full recovery is bound to take time.

What about the next race at Silverstone?

Not an easy one. The doctors give him a 50:50 chance of being able to ride. We plan on waiting until the last moment before making that decision.

There are rumors that, if Pedrosa can't compete at Silverstone, Hiroshi Aoyama will ride in his place.

We're certainly studying all the possible courses we can take if Dani hasn't recovered, and using Hiroshi is one of them. However, Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO of Dorna, the company that operates these races, has announced that there is no special requirement to replace him, so we're not making any rush decisions. At the moment, for Silverstone we are thinking that Hiroshi should continue to ride for Team San Carlo Honda Gresini, and the Repsol Honda Team will compete with two riders as we just did this time. I hope that Dani will make a quick recovery and soon be riding for us again, but to tell the truth, that's out of our hands.

The more races he misses, the bigger his gap in points, though.

True. Our hope is that Andrea and Marco can keep getting better results - the more points they can grab, the more we can cut back on Lorenzo's lead. With luck, when Dani returns, the gap will still be small enough to give him a chance at the championship. After all, we've only had five races so far and there are 13 left in the season. The next five races can eliminate any points gap gained in the races so far.

Last year at Silverstone circuit, Lorenzo won with a six second lead over the Honda riders. Honda looks very different this season. How do you think it will go?

Well, last year we had to contend with a series of falls and crashes prior to qualifying and in the warm-up, and we made a defensive choice of hard compound tires. That's the background to the time lead you mention. If we'd been able to give it our best shot, I think we stood a chance last year too. It was a pretty bitter experience for us, but it's driving us to get revenge this time. That's why we are all so very keen to see Dani get back in the saddle. Our aim is to see nothing but Honda colors on the podium, and we'll be fighting hard at Silverstone. Be sure to watch.

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