The Repsol Honda Team took their first one-two finish of the season in the Dutch TT at Assen, when Casey Stoner went from pole to first past the flag, followed by Dani Pedrosa from second place on the grid to second over the finish line. This was Stoner's third pole of 2012, and Repsol Honda's third time to secure the two top places on the starting grid, so it was a perfect weekend for Honda in both qualifying and race. Stoner's third win now puts him level in points with Lorenzo at the top of the championship table, while Pedrosa narrows his gap with the leaders from 39 to just 19 points behind. These three weeks from the Netherlands to Germany then Italy are the crucial section of the season first half, and the Repsol Honda Team is off to a fine start. Alvaro Bautista (Team San Carlo Honda Gresini) had a great race at Silverstone, going from his first pole to finish fourth, his best ever MotoGP result, but that all turned to tragedy at Assen when he lost it on the first corner and took Jorge Lorenzo with him into the dirt. As a penalty for dangerous riding, Bautista must start from last position on the grid at the next GP. Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda MotoGP) made a good start from fourth position (his best ever MotoGP grid) but unfortunately crashed out on the second lap. It was a tumultuous weekend, but the Repsol Honda Team riders pulled out all the stops and achieved a superb result. HRC Team Principal Shuhei Nakamoto answered our questions after the race.
If I had to pick one thing, I'd say it was our choice of tires. We didn't get it right at Catalunya and Silverstone, and our performance in practice and qualifying wasn't reflected in those races. This time, the weather was unstable on day two and that caused Casey to fall, but he came back and pulled off a magnificent time in qualifying. The weather turned fine again on race day which made choosing tires difficult, but both Casey and Dani rode very well indeed. Putting soft tires on the rear turned out to be correct – they lasted well and helped us win.
Dani tried out both the old and the new spec chassis and decided he liked the new better, so he rode that bike for the second and third days. We started using the new spec front tires at Silverstone. These are a bit less rigid than the old ones and weren't such a good match for our previous chassis. This made braking rather soft and mushy, which is something Dani hates and it gave him a lot of trouble at Silverstone. We changed the specs on the new chassis to match this new tire and it has really improved the feeling on the front. However, there aren't many hard braking points here at Assen, so we can't tell for certain yet whether we've completely solved this one. During Dani's attack in qualifying, the soft feeling did appear, and this made it hard for him when the bike began twisting after the tires had worn in during the later part of the race. That's why Dani ran out of stamina and Casey was able to leave him behind at the end.
One of the reasons Casey stayed with the old chassis is that he wasn't able to test the new one as much as he wanted due to his accident in practice. Also, since we're still mid season, we didn't actually make any major modifications on the new chassis so he felt that nothing much had changed. So we decided to set up the old chassis that he already had experience with. At Silverstone, our changes to the setting in response to the new front tire affected his ride, so for this race we carefully analyzed that data, and used a different method to set up the bike. After we fixed Casey's problem with rear chatter, he had a bike that was trouble free. But then the new tire specs came in and we had to retune the bike to handle the changed balance. If we were still able to use the old front tire, we'd have no problems at all and we'd be looking at a winning machine like we had last year. As it is, we still have a lot of work to do to match the bike to the new front tire.
No, this race played out exactly according to our calculations. Both Casey and Dani chose soft rear tires, and Dani set a fast pace from the start. Casey's pace was good too, but Dani was faster and he had to just follow and wait until a chance presented itself. Casey was still not in best physical condition after his crash in practice, and I've already mentioned how Dani became tired out controlling his bike after the tires wore down. Casey eventually took the lead not because he increased his pace but rather because Dani's pace fell off. If Jorge had been in there too.... Well, you can never tell, but I still think our guys would have won this one. The only Yamaha rider who chose the soft tire this time was Ben Spies, but I think we made the right choice.
This was a troubled and eventful race, but a win is a win, and I have to say I am very happy with our one-two result. And now we're really back in the running again in the points table. Still, there's nothing definite about it – Jorge is going to come back and put the pressure on again for sure, and every race will be a tough one. For a start, we mustn't let Jorge establish a big lead again. As I always say, it's our job to provide bikes that Casey and Dani will be happy with, to give them the best chance to win. With three races in three weeks, it will be extremely difficult to introduce any new parts on the bikes like we did this time. We'll be analyzing the data from this race and doing our best to ensure the bikes we have right now can win in Germany and Italy. And of course, we're still working flat out to give our riders machines that are perfectly set up for the new Bridgestone tires. Finally, thanks again to all our fans for their support.