Masao Furusawa Interview: On Visiting Italy, Filippo Preziosi's Samurai Spirit, And Valentino Rossi At Yamaha
Editor's note: The news that the former head of Yamaha's MotoGP program Masao Furusawa had visited Italy to talk to Ducati Corse boss Filippo Preziosi spread like wildfire through the racing world. After initial sightings in Italy of Furusawa, rumors quickly began to spread that the legendary Japanese engineer had been contacted by Ducati to help them fix their troubled Desmosedici, in a bid to keep Valentino Rossi at the factory. The rumors turned out to be true, and so veteran Japanese journalist Akira Nishimura visited Furusawa at his Kyoto home to ask him about the visit. Furusawa explained how he visited Italy at Filippo Preziosi's request, talked of his motorcycle design philosophy, and explains why he decided to turn down Ducati's request for help. Furusawa goes on to talk about visiting Valentino Rossi in Tavullia to discuss his future, and gives his vision of Rossi's chances at Yamaha.
The interview gives a fascinating insight into a key point in motorcycle racing history. It highlights the lengths to which Ducati is willing to go to change their fortunes, and it also highlights interesting aspects of Japanese culture, and the effect they can have on the direction of racing and the individuals involved.
Akira Nishimura: First of all, how long did you go to Italy for?
Masao Furusawa: Almost one week. I returned to Japan on (July) 25th. When I arrived in Italy on the evening of the 19th, I received an e-mail from Yamaha Motor Racing - they seemed to find an article on newspaper about my trip - asking me the purpose, so I replied them that 'I will go sightseeing tomorrow, then see Filippo Preziosi the following day'. Valentino also called me on my cellphone and said he needed to talk, so, I visited his home in Tavullia. I met with Filippo twice and with Vale once during the trip.
Q: Let me clarify. Exactly, on which day did you meet with each of them?
MF: I left Japan on 19th in the morning and arrived Italy in the evening on the same day. Next day I went to sightseeing, so…it was on the 21st that I met Filippo. The second meeting was on the 23rd. We talked for 3 or 4 hours for each day. And I visited Valentino on the 24th then left Italy on the 25th.
Q: Was the trip by invitation from Preziosi?
MF: Something like that. We have exchanged e-mail every now and then. In his company, the situation seems to be complicated because Audi joined the management while Valentino looked very reluctant to remain in their team. Filippo wanted to speak with me and said he would come to Japan, however, I thought it requires him a lot of effort to come down here between races. So, I replied to him that I would go there.
Q: How long have they be asking you for help?
MF: Since the middle of the season last year. At first it was just a kind of joke, but this time it looked very serious, with them saying that 'if possible, we would like you to help Ducati.'
Q: Did you meet with Filippo Preziosi at their office?
MF: No. We met in his home because the rumor has already spread and we wanted to avoid public attention. In his home, I gave him a talk about very fundamental things, such as how the motorcycle should be designed. He looked very impressed and wanted me to lecture his colleagues about it. Two days later, Filippo took his chassis engineer with him and we spoke with once again in his home.
Q: It sounds like you had already reached an agreement before the trip to discuss technical solutions for their bikes.
MF: The reason I moved to Kyoto after the retirement is to spend a quiet life, however, some of my old friends asked me to join their business and gradually I started to imagine that it could be interesting to launch a small consulting company for myself in a few years. Expected customers will be production vehicles and airplane industries. When Filippo contacted me, I joked to him that he could be my first client. Then he showed great interest in it, so I told him if you pay my expenses I will go there. For sure, I didn't hesitate because I can go sightseeing in Italy free of charge!
Q: Does that mean you are already involved in the development and modification of their Desmosedici?
MF: No. I cannot disclose the information related to the Yamaha, and we didn’t discuss anything in the details. I have just explained them about my approach and the way of thinking, especially what I had done in 2004. For example, ‘centroid triangle’ - which is a triangle made from front and rear contact point with the ground and the center of the gravity of the bike - shouldn’t be shaped like this or that (gestures with his fingers to show the vertex goes too far to the front or rear side). Or, when they refer to the suspension, they always measure and express with the ‘stiffness’. But, my approach is different. I would take a look at a ’frequency’ of suspensions and try to make the front and rear frequencies as close to the same as possible. It makes the weight-transfer of the bike smoother. Although they are just generalities, I could manage with our bikes in those scientific approaches. What I explained to Filippo was those kinds of ideas of mine and the way of thinking.
And I asked him why he had called me. If I joined them and got good results, it would prove his previous developments had been wrong. Or, if I joined them and couldn’t do any good, it would also prove his decision was wrong. I asked him ‘Either way, it will be inevitable that you have to take responsibility. How come you have to take such a big risk?’ Filippo immediately answered with composure. ‘It doesn’t matter if I lose my position. I don’t care at all. All that I care is one thing; to make our bike better.’ When I heard his remarks I thought in my mind ‘Filippo, you have a real Samurai spirit…’
Q: Anyway, it is very odd - especially in Japanese society - that someone should help and give some ideas to his rival companies.
MF: Basically, I am a retired and independent person. So, there is no obstacle to help them. However, as you point out, I understand that in Japanese society it would be inappropriate to help your competitors. On the other hand, I would have liked to lend a hand to Filippo as a friend because he is an excellent engineer. Furthermore, if Valentino returns to Yamaha next year, I thought that helping him the rest of the season wouldn’t be a bad thing. Filippo showed me various proposals to help them. I told him to answer within a week and left Italy. As soon as returned to Japan, I went to Iwata headquarters and explained to them about the proposals from Filippo.
Q: How was their reaction?
MF: It was a typical Japanese one. They said ‘We cannot prevent you from doing what you will, but we expect you will do the right thing.’ It does not make sense to create friction between them, so I said ‘’OK, let’s forget it.’
Q: So, you won’t help them after the summer break?
MF: No. In conclusion, I will not help Ducati.
Q: You also visited Tavullia on 24th. What did you speak with Valentino?
MF: When I went to Italy, Valentino had already made up his mind 99% to leave the team. But magazines and newspapers were saying that I would join Ducati. He said to me that if it is true and this missing-in-crossing happens, it would be embarrassing.
Q: After all, he wanted to know your real intentions of the trip?
MF: I think so. During my stay in Italy, he called to my cell phone every day. We decided it would be better to see face-to-face, then he invited me to his home in Tavullia. After explaining my purpose of the trip, I told him that when I return to Japan I would ask Yamaha headquarters immediately if I could help Ducati then I would let him know the conclusion. The next day of the meeting in Iwata, I sent him an e-mail to tell him I cannot help them.
Q: Did you think to persuade him to go back to Yamaha during your visit?
MF: No. I didn’t have to.
Q: Now he comes back to Yamaha next year. Is there any possibility that you help him as a consulting company?
MF: It is very unlikely. Because I believe the Yamaha has enough potential to win for next two years. After that - I mean, in 2015 or later - , I may possibly be able to do some consulting, however, Valentino will already have retired from MotoGP by then. This consulting company will be specialized in vehicle dynamics and creating solutions for noise and vibration, that is to say, it is an activity for both pleasure and profit to fulfill my retirement life. That is the reason why I don’t want to get involved in the MotoGP paddock. And as I told you, I have moved to Kyoto to enjoy my retirement life. I hope I won’t be back there!
Q: From your point of view, how competitive will he be next year?
MF: Well…there will be various opinions, but personally I believe he still has very high potential. However, Jorge became more consistent and faster than ever. It is not easy to beat him even for Valentino. Should be a good fight between them. Let’s see.
Q: There used to be quite a lot of tension in the Yamaha garage from 2008 to 2010 because of the rivalry between Jorge and Valentino. How will it be next year?
MF: I presume the tension between them will rise again. I wouldn’t be surprised if Valentino thinks to beat Jorge before his retirement. He is such a determined rider. I feel sorry for the boys in their garage because they have stomach ache once again!
Apart from that, I think YZR-M1 could be more stable. This competitive bike had been developed with the help of Valentino by taking a lot of time. With his coming back to Yamaha, a course of its development will be even clearer.
This interview also appeared in Spanish in the print edition of the magazine Solo Moto.