All three MotoGP pre-season tests were dominated by Honda RC212V prototypes, making the Japanese manufacturer the favorite going into this Sunday’s season opener at Losail International Circuit in Qatar.
But due to the Earthquake diaster in Honda’s homeland, the boss of Honda Racing Corporation (HRC) has more on his mind than just the upcoming MotoGP season.
In the following interview supplied by Honda, HRC MotoGP boss Shuhei Nakamoto reflects on the recent tragic events that occurred in Japan, and the upcoming MotoGP Championship.
Q. What happened in Japan is devastating, and we are all hoping that the recovery process will be as fast as possible. What is the situation for HRC – how will this disaster affect the racing activities this coming year?
SN: "For sure the situation is very difficult in Japan, and our thoughts are with all the people directly involved. As HRC, we have been lucky with no big problems, even if now it is difficult to work at our head office – we can work only five hours per day due to the power restrictions put in place.
"Also access to the office is very difficult – the main train cannot reach Asakadai station – the closest to our office, and it is very complicated to reach work with only 50% of trains operating. Because of this situation many people try to come by car, but now the traffic is incredibly heavy and is taking up to three hours to reach HRC, instead of only one and it’s hard to get petrol as petrol stations are closed. Another problem is related to our suppliers. Many of them cannot work at the moment, and this is a potential problem for the racing activities in the coming weeks.
"So far we have all spare parts we need for Qatar and Jerez races, but after that, if the situation does not change, we will have to manage this carefully. Anyway, everybody in Japan is trying their best to fix the situation and we hope all together we will solve all problems as soon as possible."
Q. The Motegi race has been postponed until October. Do you know anything about the situation there?
SN: "This was definitely the correct decision. Motegi has some circuit and grandstand damage. It will take some weeks to repair everything but I believe Motegi Circuit will do a good job soon."
Q. We can imagine that at this time, racing certainly isn’t a priority. However, the Winter MotoGP Testing has been very promising for Honda. With eight days of testing in 2011 there has always been a Honda rider leading the timesheets. What is the secret behind this?
SN: "No secret! We keep the concept from last year’s machine and we improved many small things in many different areas, step-by-step. It is just a mix of good riders and good bike, also the new transmission that we have started to use is an improvement. However, Aoyama on the satellite bike doesn’t have this new transmission and he is still very strong so it means the bike as a whole is simply getting stronger."
Q. The only Honda Rider struggling is Toni Elías, what is HRC doing to assist him?
SN: "Of course we know Toni is a fast rider, he has proved this winning a MotoGP race in 2006 and also claiming the Moto2 title last year – there is no doubt in his talent. He has a particular riding style, and we are trying to help him to get better traction and temperature with the rear tire. In this test in Qatar he used a modified chassis and we hope this will help him find a good feeling soon."
Q. How about the competitors?
SN: "The two Factory Yamaha riders are very strong. They are achieving very fast lap times and seem very consistent, Jorge is able to keep his same low lap time on long runs, both here and in Sepang, and Spies seems to be stronger than last season – so I expect them to be very competitive.
"In Sepang, Ducati weren’t able to make a good lap time but here they are catching us. I again expect them to be competitive. For Suzuki, with only one rider I think it is difficult, bearing this in mind they have done a very good job so far."
Q. In recent seasons, four riders have been able to win races on a regular basis. Do you think this season it is possible to have more riders winning?
SN: "I’m not sure, we will have to see. I think Dovi, Simoncelli and Spies are also very fast at the moment, so perhaps they will be able to win. It’s not easy as the level of the top four is very high but it looks like there is more chance than before to have other winners outside of these."