2012 MotoGP Championship
When the 2012 MotoGP Championship got underway with the free practice sessions at Losail International Circuit, Qatar, Repsol Honda’s Casey Stoner was began quick.
The Australian posted the quickest times for the first two sessions, but fell back to third in the final session, which was led by his rival, Yamaha Factory Racing’s Jorge Lorenzo.
Lorenzo then repeated this performance in qualifying, placing his Yamaha YZR-M1 1000cc machine on the pole, with Stoner over two-tenths of a second slower in second.
And when the race wrapped up, Stoner and Lorenzo would be the only riders to lead. But although Stoner led the most laps (3 to 19), Lorenzo took the lead with three to go, and took the win. Joining him on the podium was Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa in second, and Stoner in third, the Australian complaining of arm pump.
From the first race of 17, it’s easy to see the Honda/Yamaha rivaliry will be a strong one this year. Once things settled down, Honda Racing Corporation caught up with its Team Principal Shuhei Nakamoto, and discussed the MotoGP season opener at Qatar.
Q. Jorge Lorenzo, your most dangerous rival, did well all through the winter tests, then here at Qatar he led in qualifying to take pole position and beat your two Repsol Honda riders to win the GP. What are your thoughts about this result?
Shuhei Nakamoto says: “Yes, Lorenzo was the rider who caused us the most trouble last year. He’s in even better condition now, and with him riding so well I think we are in for a very tough season. When I saw the superb averages he was getting in Malaysia and Spain, I started to wonder if we even stood a chance. And indeed he beat us fair and square in this opening race with a perfect ride, fast and consistent.
“On the other hand, we’ve been held back by all kinds of problems and weren’t even able to make the same best times as last year. Casey’s bike suffered from chattering, while Dani had problems with balance. Under those conditions, before the race I couldn’t see us winning, and felt the championship was out of the question. Casey is always extremely confident on this circuit, but even so he only managed to come in second in qualifying. Dani had some problems that put him seventh on the grid. So yes, I expected Lorenzo to beat us this time.”
Q. It’s true you didn’t win, but it seemed like a really close race.
Shuhei Nakamoto says: “At the end of qualifying, when we compared the times with last year Dani was 1.6″ and Casey was 0.7″ slower. So our Hondas weren’t managing the same speeds as last season, and at the same time the Yamaha bikes kept doing better and better. We had a huge advantage last year, but that’s all gone now.
“You could see the way it was going all through the winter tests, but it was even more obvious here in Qatar. Lorenzo’s bike was behaving well, with very consistent times. Looking at him I didn’t think we could win this race, and that’s still my feeling. One bright spot was that the actual race went far better for us than I expected. If things stay the way they are at present, I really couldn’t forecast a win for us with any confidence. But if we keep making our best efforts, I now think it’s possible to turn things around and give us a real chance again.”
Q. During warm-up, both Stoner and Pedrosa seemed to have improved beyond recognition. In the race, Casey held the lead much of the time, and Dani also looked like a possible winner. Both riders commented that the condition of their bikes was really good in warm-up. But then….
Shuhei Nakamoto says: “Casey’s bike has been plagued by chattering. We managed to improve this by changes to the set-up, but unfortunately that made cornering worse. That compromise was the best we could manage – we just couldn’t find a perfect solution. Under those conditions, even using soft compound tires didn’t give us much better times.
“It was tough, and Casey reckoned we couldn’t win like that. Then, for the warm-up before the race, we tried tweaking the suspension spring rate. This improved things tremendously and Casey was able to up his pace and take the lead for much of the race, but unfortunately, arm pump struck and he had to drop back to finish third.
“Arm pump has various causes, but this time it was probably due to the way Casey had been controlling the chattering by strenuous use of his brakes. He’d been riding like that for four days, and it finally took its toll on his muscles in the last laps of the race. It seems to me that we haven’t really solved the root of this problem, Casey has just been suppressing it.
“We made big changes to the setting of Dani’s bike for the race. Altering the wheelbase produced a huge improvement. He got off to a good start and was a contender right to the end.
“Both riders stood a chance of winning this one, which was great progress when you think how far behind they still were in qualifying. Of course I’m disappointed we didn’t get a first place, but considering I went into the race thinking we were completely doomed this result makes me very happy – I now feel that if we keep trying, we can win.”
Q. With the change from 800cc to 1000cc, we expected the larger engines would bring faster speeds. It’s true the top speed is up, but lap times haven’t changed much.
Shuhei Nakamoto says: “It wasn’t just the engine displacement that changed, the minimum weight of the bikes is now 7kg more than last year. And the Bridgestone rear tires are new too, so you can’t make a simple comparison.
“Everything that we learned up till last year no longer applies – we had worked out how to respond to most situations, but all that know-how isn’t useful any more. There were no fresh changes for the Qatar GP, but trying the bikes out for the first time in an actual race revealed a lot. Casey and Dani are probably disappointed we didn’t win this opening race, but I think they now have a better idea of what to do next. And that goes for the rest of the team too – we’ll all be working to give them the bikes they need to beat Lorenzo.”
Q. Ex-Moto2 Champion Stefan Bradl really stood out in his first MotoGP race. He got swallowed up by the pack at the end and finished eighth, but it was a fine performance. Alvaro Bautista rode a fast race too, after a hard time in qualifying.
Shuhei Nakamoto says: “Yes, Bradl rode very well. To hold on to sixth place for much of the race is an amazing performance for a rookie. Too bad he made that mistake with the brake adjuster.
“If only he had corrected that immediately, he could well have finished in sixth place. This is definitely a rider to watch. Bautista had struggled with front feel ever since arriving in Qatar, which meant he lacked the confidence to bank after braking. But in the race itself, he had overcome this problem and set a good pace. Both these riders have a lot of potential and I’m looking forward to seeing where they go from here.”
Q. Tell us about your strategy and hopes for the Spain GP.
Shuhei Nakamoto says: “Both Casey and Dani really gave it a lot this time. But we are still not in any condition to take the championship, and I certainly don’t have the confidence yet to predict victory in the next race.
“We’ll just have to press on and clear up all the problems still affecting Casey and Dani, and make sure they have bikes they can win on as soon as possible. The season has just started, so we have a long way to go yet. We’ll be trying our utmost to make it happen, and I hope you’ll all be there supporting us.”