After competing on the factory Ducati for four years, which included winning the 2007 MotoGP Championship, Casey Stoner joined the Repsol Honda team for 2011.
The Australian struggled with front-end and chassis problems aboard the Ducati throughout 2010, but during his very first outing on the Honda at Valencia this past November, he appeared comfortable.
This comfort translated into speed for Stoner, and he continued this quick progress aboard the Honda RC212V at the first official test of the 2011 MotoGP season at Sepang last week.
The 25-year-old Stoner was fastest on the final day of testing, and took third overall quickest behind fellow teammate Dani Pedrosa and yet another Honda rider, Marco Simoncelli on the San Carlo Gresini RC212V.
In this official interview from Repsol Honda, Stoner, who is expected to be a top contender this year, talked about his satisfaction with the Repsol Honda.
He then discussed the differences between the Honda and the Ducati, his teammates and of course fellow Australian Mick Doohan, who also raced for Repsol Honda in the past.
Q. How did these three days (Sepang MotoGP Test) go Casey?
Casey Stoner says: "In general we were able to take some good steps ahead. We tried many things, alternating between the two chassis, one more rigid and the other more flexible. We tried to find out which one gave the best sensations. We still haven’t made big changes on the set-up, which is really positive.
"We only tested some different things more to confirm they work, than to really evaluate them. In the end we were able to make the bike work much better on used tires and with a different traction control, that brakes a little faster when they start to spin, which helped us improve our corner speed."
Q. What do you think about the two chassis versions you tried?
Casey Stoner says: "For now I prefer the stiff one, the one I tried in Valencia. But there are also some very good things in the flexible one. In fact, I set my best time with it, although it was because I crashed with the rigid one and I could not use it a lot. The stiff chassis seems to find more grip when you lift the bike, but the other allows you to use all the tire surface better. There are some things we need to understand fully in the next tests, but we already have an idea and what we want to do is to confirm it."
Q. How is it to ride the Honda compared with the Ducati?
Casey Stoner says: "The two MotoGP bikes require to set totally different lines. The Honda surprises me in each lap, again and again. When I enter a corner too wide, I don’t know how I am going to take it and suddenly I find myself in the inside white line, which is a great difference and something I still have to get used to see which is the best point to enter the corner. It is very different from what I was accustomed to. We are getting closer step by step; today we took a good step forward and I started to feel more comfortable."
Q. Which is more demanding, specially in a complete MotoGP race?
Casey Stoner says: "Physically, I think it is easy to know the answer. We trained a lot this three days and my hands are full of blisters, but I feel well. I had a little trouble to sleep on Tuesday and on Wednesday I was a bit tired, but on Thursday I felt better than the day before. Physically I feel fantastic on the bike. Maybe with the more flexible chassis it is a little more difficult in the changes of direction, and we will have to bear it in mind. But overall, I am very happy with this bike."
Q. Andrea Dovizioso talked about some chattering problems with the clutch. Does it also happen to you? Is it something very serious?
Casey Stoner says: "Yes, it is one of the most important things we noticed when we arrived here. We dedicated the two first days nearly exclusively to work on the clutch, trying to reduce the chattering. We took a step ahead on it and we have been trying to fine-tune it in the last day. It works a little better, but we should improve it even more."
Q. Do you think the set-up work would be enough or the engineers should change something?
Casey Stoner says: "They have been working on many different areas of the set-up and they have come up with solutions since the last test, but I think we can improve a little more before the next test session. We are able to improve the situation a little with the configuration and the electronics, but we cannot really solve the problem. So I think that is something that should be done externally and the engineers are the ones who would have to find something."
Q. Which is your main problem with the chattering?
Casey Stoner says: "Basically, it is that when you enter a corner, when you let go of the clutch to downshift, the bike does not go uniformly, but rebounds and that makes the whole bike move when entering the corner. That prevents you from bending more and brake harder, because it still chatters and the contact with the tarmac is not perfect.
"Moreover, if the bike does not follow the track perfectly, the engine brake and the torque do not help the braking. Everything has an effect, one way or the other, so at some point, the engine brake interferes too much and blocks the back wheel. Then is when you see an Honda rider entering with the bike crossed or doing a wheelie. To achieve a perfect braking performance, you need it to be perfect to avoid the blocking of the wheel and the chattering and it is very difficult to fine-tune it."
Q. We have seen three different Honda riders lead the classification in each day. What do you think about this situation?
Casey Stoner says: "Right now I am focused on myself. Naturally, at the end of each day we used a soft tire to try and set the fastest register, but we have been more focused on other areas in which we are trying to get the perfect feeling with the bike. Every time is different and I did not enough laps to feel comfortable with everything, because we had so many things to try. But the last day I was able to feel more at home and we took a great step ahead. The times arrived very easily and everything went much better."
Q. Have you more confidence with this bike’s front than with the one you had last year?
Casey Stoner says: "Yes, a lot more. The Honda simply requires a different rider style than the Ducati. It is clear that it is not a slow bike and I won more races than anyone in the last four years, but it is just different.
"For instance, we had many problems with the Ducati’s suspensions, especially in this track. The drive would also close a lot on long corners, because there are many braking points and we suffered a bit. By contrast, these three days have been really fantastic. On Thursday I had a crash because I lost grip on the front wheel, but it was a one-time thing and it did not happen again. It is very different from the past."
Q. Have you come across with the Yamaha riders on track and can you compare them with the Honda riders?
Casey Stoner says: "I did not meet anyone on track. I saw a test rider, but I have not been close enough to anyone to have an idea of how they went. We will have to wait until the races start because I don’t want to follow any rider and the majority of them do not want to follow anyone either.
"It is difficult to find someone on track when you are testing and have an idea of how the other bike goes, especially when you are trying things, because you don’t know if he feels comfortable with what he is trying or not. You cannot reach any conclusions."
Q. Have you tested the tires?
Casey Stoner says: "Yes, although there was no significant improvement in its performance, – it was not the aim of these tests-, just a few changes. I prefer the standard compound we had up to now. The harder compound seems a little more predictable. They are trying to gather all data and we will try something more in the next tests."
Q. Did you tried the suspensions?
Casey Stoner says: "No, we didn’t touch the set-ups at all, because for us it was better to concentrate in what we have done. In the next test we might improve the way to ride the bike and then we will test the suspensions."
Q. How did you found the Honda RC212V? Was it what you expected?
Casey Stoner says: "It was strange. In the first test in Valencia I expected some things to go better than how they actually went and other things to go much worse. I expected to have many difficulties with the brakes, but in fact the feeling was really good. I thought acceleration to be incredibly powerful from low-revs, but I found that the engine was mild and sweet. There were other things I didn’t expect also. I am really happy with what I found, and in fact it was a bit better than what I thought. I am pleased with the package."
Q. Before you, there was another Australian, Mick Doohan, who wore the Repsol Honda Team colors. How did you feel the first time you saw yourself in the mirror on Repsol livery?
Casey Stoner says: "When Mick (Doohan) used Repsol livery it was a little different, but for me, being with this team means everything. It is the HRC official team and it is Repsol. It is a great team and to be here with two more riders is amazing. It is curious than when Mick was here there were three riders and now I arrive here and the situation repeats itself. I am very excited about this season and also about following in the steps of Mick Doohan; this is a huge privilege for me."