Alberto Puig has a knack for discovering and nurturing talent. From the point he was forced to retire from racing due to injury, the former 500cc rider has been involved in finding and bringing on new young riders. He has been involved in one way or another with many of the current riders in MotoGP, and more than one world champion. Though he is best known for being the man behind Dani Pedrosa, Puig has also discovered and supported Casey Stoner, Toni Elias, Bradley Smith, Leon Camier, Chaz Davies, Julian Simon, Joan Lascorz, Efren Vazquez and many more. Puig was one of the key figures behind the MotoGP Academy and the Red Bull Rookies, which continues to fill the ranks of MotoGP's three classes.
So it was a natural choice for Dorna to turn to Puig when they needed help to run the Asia Talent Cup, a series set up to bring on talent from Japan and other parts of Southeast Asia. Dorna and Honda have set up the series together, and Puig's strong ties to both organizations made him the best man for the job. The fact that he is no longer so closely involved with Dani Pedrosa meant he had more free time on his hands to get involved in the Asia Talent Cup.
With Asia being an absolutely vital market for both Dorna and the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers, we were keen to learn more. Scott Jones spoke to Alberto Puig at Austin, where he gave us a fascinating insight into the series, his role in it, and how it came about.
While much of the media attention at Qatar was focused on his brother Aleix, Pol Espargaro made a quietly impressive debut in the premier class. The 22-year-old Spaniard posted competitive times all weekend, but was forced to pull out of the race with a technical problem. Before the weekend started, MotoMatter.com's Scott Jones sat down with the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider to talk to him about how he viewed the season. The conversation ranged over Espargaro's broken collarbone, injured at the test just 10 days before the weekend started, adapting to a MotoGP machine after years in Moto2, and racing against his brother Aleix. A fascinating conversation with a rising star.
Q: First of all, let's talk about the collarbone. How does it feel?
Pol Espargaro: The collarbone feels better. Sure doesn't feel perfect, but for sure I have to be happy, because ten days ago I had the collarbone fixed, the pain is not big. So for sure I have to be happy because we are good.
Q: Pushing on the handlebars, it's OK?
The news that Honda would be building a production racer to compete in MotoGP aroused much excitement among fans. There was quickly much speculation over just how quick it would be, and whether it would be possible for a talented rider to beat the satellite bikes on some tracks. Expectations received a boost when former world champion Casey Stoner tested the RCV1000R, praising its performance. Speculation reached fever pitch when HRC vice president Shuhei Nakamoto told the press at the launch of the bike that the RCV1000R was just 0.3 seconds a lap slower than the factory RC213V in the hands of a test rider. Was that in the hands of Casey Stoner, the press asked? Nakamoto was deliberately vague. 'Casey Stoner is a Honda test rider,' he said cryptically.
Once the bike hit the track in the hands of active MotoGP riders Nicky Hayden, Hiroshi Aoyama and Scott Redding at the Valencia test, it became apparent that the bike was a long way off the pace. At Sepang in February, the situation was the same. Nakamoto clarified his earlier statements: no, the times originally quoted were not set by Casey Stoner, who had only done a handful of laps in tricky conditions on the bike. They had been set by one of Honda's test riders. And yes, the biggest problem was the straights, as times at Sepang demonstrated. Test riders were losing around half a second along the two long straights at Sepang, Nakamoto said.
In the hands of active MotoGP riders, the gap was around 2 seconds at the Sepang tests. Nicky Hayden - of whom much had been expected, not least by himself - had made significant improvements, especially on corner entry. Turning in and braking was much improved, something which did not come as a surprise after the American's time on the Ducati. Once the bikes arrived at Qatar, the Honda made another step forward, Hayden cutting the deficit to 1.4 seconds from the fastest man Aleix Espargaro.
Gresini Press Release: Tech Debrief - Bautista Pleased With Showa Progress, Redding Benefits From Modified Geometry
The Go&Fun Gresini Honda team is issuing a technical debrief with its race engineers after every MotoGP round this season. Below appears the thoughts of Antonio Jimenez and Diego Gubellini, crew chiefs to Alvaro Bautista and Scott Redding respectively, on the first race of the season at Qatar:
QATAR MOTOGP DEBRIEF WITH ANTONIO JIMENEZ AND DIEGO GUBELLINI
The first Grand Prix of the season, at the floodlit Losail International Circuit, didn’t finish in the best way for Alvaro Bautista, who crashed on lap 21 whilst challenging for a podium position aboard the Team GO&FUN Honda Gresini Honda RC213V. Nevertheless, the Spaniard has been an absolute protagonist of the race weekend from the first free practice session, missing the pole position in qualifying by just 57 thousandths of a second and setting the fastest lap of the race in 1’55”575.
Seventh placed and first among the riders riding an Open class Honda RCV1000R, Scott Redding made an impressive MotoGP debut in Qatar, delivering a determined ride thanks to a different chassis geometry that allowed him to improve his feeling with the front end. After an aggressive start, the British rookie adopted a prudent strategy to preserve the tyres, following the most experienced Nicky Hayden, then beaten on the finish line.
Waiting to get back in action at the Circuit of the Americas, in Texas, for the next Grand Prix, let’s see in detail with our crew chiefs, Antonio Jimenez and Diego Gubellini, what kind of work they did on their machines.
MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
MotoGP’s young guns and old dogs
That Qatar race was pretty special and not only because it was hugely entertaining, but because one of the riders battling for victory was almost old enough to be the other’s dad.
Valentino Rossi turned 35 in February, just a few days before Marc Márquez hit 21. That’s an age difference of 14 years, which isn’t something that happens very often in professional sport; in fact, has it ever happened before in motorcycle Grand Prix racing?
The question prompted me to trawl through my history books for evidence of a similar generation gap at the sharp end of premier-class GPs.
The Idemistu Honda Team Asia today issued a press release with a clarification on Takaaki Nakagami's disqualification after the Moto2 race at Losail. Nakagami's Kalex was found to be fitted with an illegal air filter during a technical inspection, as Race Director Mike Webb explained to the MotoGP.com website. Webb acknowledged that the error was entirely unintentional, and was a result of misinterpreting the technical rules.
Tady Okada, the former 500GP racer winner who now runs Idemitsu Team Asia, explained in the press release that they had failed to interpret the rules correctly. At the time the team took part in the first test, at the end of 2012, the foam air filter which is part of the HRC race kit was legal. The team fitted this part for testing, and continued to use the part throughout the 2013 season and the first race of 2014. However, for the 2013 season, the use of a standard paper filter was made compulsory, and the use of the foam filter was banned.
The first race of the year means also the first Bridgestone post-race press release. In this debrief, Shinji Aoki discusses the effect the Qatar circuit has on tires, the use of the softer rear tire by the Honda production racers, and Marc Marquez gambling on the harder rear tire. The press release appears below:
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after the thrilling first race of the season at Qatar:
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after the first race of the season at Qatar:
2014 Qatar MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Of Deserving Winners, Old Champions, And The Correct Way To Celebrate Victory
There's an old racing adage: when the flag drops, the talking stops, though the word 'talking' is rarely used. It's a cliche, but like all cliches, it is a cliche because it reflects such a basic truth. Without bikes circulating on track in anger, fans and press have nothing to do but engage in idle speculation, and pick over the minutiae of rules, rumors and races long past. As soon as the racing starts again, all is forgotten, and we all lose ourselves in the now. It is the zen which all racing fans aspire to.
So after spending months going round in circles over the 2014 regulations, speculating about who they favor, and expressing outrage at either the perceived injustice of the rules, or the supposed incompetence of those involved in drawing them up at the last minute, the talk stopped at Qatar on Sunday night. The fans filled their bellies on three outstanding races, all of which went down to the wire. With something once again at stake, all talk of rules was forgotten.
And to be honest, the 2014 rules had none of the negative effects which so many people had feared. The best riders on the day still ended up on the podium, while the gap between the winner and the rest of the pack was much reduced. The gap from the winner to the first Ducati was cut from 22 seconds in 2013 to 12 seconds this year. The gap from the winner to Aleix Espargaro – first CRT in 2013, first Open class rider in 2014 – was cut from 49 seconds to just 11 seconds. And even ignoring Espargaro's Yamaha M1, the gap to the first Honda production racer – an outstanding performance by Scott Redding on the Gresini RCV1000R – was slashed to 32 seconds.
Penalties Galore: Takaaki Nakagami Disqualified For Illegal Air Filter, Penalty Points For Cortese And Simeon
Race Direction were busy at Qatar. Penalties were handed out for one incident during Moto2 qualifying practice on Saturday and two incidents during the Moto2 race on Sunday. Sandro Cortese and Xavier Simeon were handed one penalty point a piece, while Takaaki Nakagami was disqualified for using an illegal air filter in his Idemitsu Honda Moto2 machine.
The disqualification of Nakagami was the most far-reaching of the punishments. During the standard technical inspection after the race, Takaaki Nakagami's Kalex Honda was found to be using an illegal air filter. Under Moto2 regulations, only the standard filter supplied with the spec Moto2 engine may be used. Though the error by Nakagami's crew was believed to have been an honest mistake, the rule book is very clear. The Idemitsu Honda team appealed against the penalty, but their appeal was rejected.