Interview: Suzuki's Ken Kawauchi And Shinichi Sahara On Winning In 2020, Plans For The GSX-RR In 2021, And Satellite Teams

In the last weeks of December, Japan's leading MotoGP journalist Akira Nishimura spoke to the two Japanese leaders of Suzuki Ecstar's championship winning team. In the interview, Team Director Shinichi Sahara and Technical Manager Ken Kawauchi gave their view of what Suzuki did to win the 2020 MotoGP title with Joan Mir, and the MotoGP team title for the Suzuki Ecstar team.

Interviewing Kawauchi-san and Sahara-san in their native language means they are more open and able to express themselves a little more freely than they would when speaking English, a second language for both of them. Thanks to Akira-san's excellent English, he is able to convey much more of what they have to say.

Though the interview was recorded before the shock announcement that Davide Brivio would be leaving Suzuki, Kawauchi-san and Sahara-san lay out how they saw the 2020 season, where the Suzuki GSX-RR was strongest and its rather glaring weakness, and what they will be working on for the 2021 season. And they set out their objectives for the coming season, and how they hope to achieve them.

Q: In the 2020 season, many things were different from the ‘normal’ seasons, including the race calendar, hygiene protocols, and so on. What was the toughest thing for you?

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Extra Qatar MotoGP Test Scheduled To Replace Sepang Test

The cancellation of the MotoGP test at Sepang - a result of the state of emergency imposed by the Malaysian government in response to rising numbers of cases of Covid-19 in the country - threw a spanner in the works for the MotoGP teams preparing for the start of the 2021 season. Losing days of testing meant less time for the MotoGP rookies to acclimatize to the new class, and less track time to gather data for the coming season.

To address this issue, Dorna and IRTA announced that there will be an additional test in Qatar at the beginning of March. In addition to the original test scheduled for March 10th - 12th, there will be three more days of testing a five days earlier. On March 5th, there will be one day of a shakedown test, where the test riders will get to ride the MotoGP machines to ensure they are all working as expected, as well as a chance for the MotoGP rookies - Enea Bastianini, Luca Marini, and Jorge Martin - to get their first taste of a Ducati Desmosedici.

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The Forcada Tapes - Radio Ocotillo Interviews Ramon Forcada - Part 3, On Working With Famous Riders, And What Sets Morbidelli Apart

Radio Ocotillo, the podcast from the Cinta Americana website featuring the Spanish-language work of Dennis Noyes, spoke to Ramon Forcada, crew chief to Franco Morbidelli of the Petronas Yamaha team. Veteran journalist Noyes was joined by Teledeporte commentator Judit Florensa and journalist Cristian Ramón Marín Sanchi, and spoke to Forcada for some 90 minutes. Noyes translated that fascinating conversation into English for MotoMatters.com readers, and split it into three parts.

In part one of Radio Ocotillo's interview with Ramon Forcada, he explained how he and Yamaha had managed almost an entire season on just two engines. In the second part, Forcada talked about all of the bikes he has worked on over the years compare, and what he thinks of MotoGP's current set of technical rules.

In the final part, Forcada talks about some of the riders he has worked with over the past thirty one years. From Casey Stoner to John Kocinski, from Alex Barros and Carlos Checa to Franco Morbidelli, Forcada explains how each of them were different and how he learned to understand them and collaborate. And he talks at length about what sets Franco Morbidelli apart from the rest.

Franco Morbidelli after qualifying for the Portimao MotoGP 2020 Grand Prix

Radio Ocotillo: After so many years in the paddock, you have worked with so many riders with such different personalities, if you had to choose the three riders whose company and character you must enjoyed, who would they be?

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Covid delays Ducati’s next big redesign to 2022

Ducati is working on a major redesign of its Desmosedici MotoGP bike but can’t race the machine this season due to Covid engine-freeze regulations

Everyone knows that turning performance has been Ducati’s biggest concern for years. Whatever factory engineers have done to make the Desmosedici turn better and faster through corners hasn’t worked, so now chief engineer Gigi Dall’Igna has an all-new motorcycle on the way.

Only one problem – the new Desmosedici chassis requires an engine with a new type of mounting. This wouldn’t usually be an issue, but last April MotoGP reacted to the global Covid pandemic by announcing emergency cost-cutting regulations, including restricting manufacturers to 2020 engine specs throughout the coming season.

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The Forcada Tapes - Radio Ocotillo Interviews Ramon Forcada - Part 2, On 2020 vs 2019 M1s, 2-Strokes vs 4-Strokes, And MotoGP's Technical Rules

Radio Ocotillo, the podcast from the Cinta Americana website featuring the Spanish-language work of Dennis Noyes, spoke to Ramon Forcada, crew chief to Franco Morbidelli of the Petronas Yamaha team. Veteran journalist Noyes was joined by Teledeporte commentator Judit Florensa and journalist Cristian Ramón Marín Sanchi, and spoke to Forcada for some 90 minutes. Noyes translated that fascinating conversation into English for MotoMatters.com readers, and split it into three parts.

In part one of Radio Ocotillo's podcast interview with Ramon Forcada, he explained how he and Yamaha had managed almost an entire season on just two engines. In the second part, Forcada talks about the differences between the bike which Morbidelli raced in 2020 and the 2020-spec Yamaha M1s of Maverick Viñales, Valentino Rossi, and Fabio Quartararo. He talks about how he uses data from previous seasons to understand what to do in a particular season. And he talks about the greater lessons he learned from the past.

Over the thirty one years of his career, Forcada has worked on a lot of different motorcycles and engines. He reviews his experience, and talks about the bikes he loved, and how the job has changed over the years. And he gives a frank opinion on the current state of MotoGP's technical regulations.

Radio Ocotillo: All season long we have been hearing that there were two types of Yamaha. The three 2020 bikes and your 2019 bike. Are the motors identical not just inside but also externally?

Fabio Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli at the 2020 MotoGP Sepang Test

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Sepang MotoGP Test Canceled - Early Part Of 2021 Calendar Still Subject To Coronavirus

The MotoGP Test At Sepang, due to be held from 19th - 21st of February, has been canceled, Dorna announced today. The King of Malaysia, at the request of the Malaysian government, has declared a state of emergency in Malaysia which is due to last until August 1st. The state of emergency has been declared in an attempt to stem the Covid-19 pandemic which continues to spread around the world.

The cancellation comes despite the best efforts of Dorna, IRTA, and the circuit to make the Sepang test as self-contained as possible. Dorna and IRTA had put forward a proposal to house everyone involved in the test at the Sama Sama hotel, located next to Kuala Lumpur International Airport, to the exclusion of other guests. Everyone - riders, teams, officials - would travel between the hotel and the circuit only, with no time outside of the MotoGP bubble. As the Sama Sama hotel is where most teams and riders involved stay during the test anyway, very little would change.

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The Forcada Tapes - Radio Ocotillo Interviews Ramon Forcada - Part 1, On Finishing 2nd Using Just 2 Engines The Whole Season

Ramon Forcada comes from the motorcycle racing heartland of Catalunya. He hails from the small town of Moià, capital of "comarca" of Moianès, located almost equidistant from the homes of two of Spain's best-known roadracers: Spain's first 500cc champion, Alex Crivillé, is from Seva, about 14 miles east of Moià, and Spain's first and only World Superbike Champion, Carlos Checa is from Sant Fruitós de Bages, about the same distance in the other way. Both Crivillé, in 125cc and 250cc, and Checa, in MotoGP, raced and won with machines fettled by Ramon.

In the most recent episode of Radio Ocotillo, a series of Spanish-language podcasts dedicated to MotoGP and WorldSBK from the Cinta Americana website of Dennis Noyes, Forcada, currently crew chief for Franco Morbidelli in the Petronas Yamaha MotoGP team, talked about the 2020 season that saw Morbidelli, on a 2019 Petronas Yamaha, win three GPs and take second to Joan Mir in the championship.

Morbidelli's break-out season is the most recent success in Forcada's 31-year career in GP racing that began when he ran the test bed program during Crivillé's championship-winning season on a Rotax-powered 125cc JJ-Cobas in 1989. Over the years, Forcada was crew chief for five riders who have won premier class Grands Prix (Alex Barros, Carlos Checa, Jorge Lorenzo, Maverick Viñales and Franco Morbidelli) and, more famously, he headed the technical crew the took Jorge Lorenzo to Yamaha's last three MotoGP titles.

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Davide Brivio Leaves Suzuki For F1 Role

Less than two months after winning Suzuki's first MotoGP championship in 20 years, Davide Brivio has decided to leave his role as manager of the Suzuki Ecstar MotoGP team and move to lead the Alpine F1 team in four-wheel racing's premier class. The move was reported last night by Autosport and confirmed by a press release from Suzuki this morning.

The move comes as a massive shock to Suzuki and the MotoGP world. It is also a serious blow to Suzuki's MotoGP project. Brivio was instrumental in putting the team together to run Suzuki's return to MotoGP in 2015. Brivio joined Suzuki in 2013, at the very beginning of the project which launched the GSX-RR upon the world, and has overseen the team's steady success.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Will Espargaró be able to ride the Honda?

Pol Espargaró joins Repsol Honda from KTM, where he was the strongest rider on the factory’s V4. Does that mean he will be fast on the RC213V V4? And what do HRC need to do to make the bike better?

You won’t find many MotoGP riders that prefer a fire-breathing V4 to an easy-going inline-four, but Pol Espargaró is one of them.

Espargaró contested his first three seasons in MotoGP with Yamaha, but he didn’t enjoy the YZR-M1 and failed to score a single podium on the bike. In 2017 he joined KTM’s all-new MotoGP project and last year he was KTM’s top points scorer on the RC16, with five podiums

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2020 – The Year Of The Satellite

Miguel Oliveira on the Tech3 KTM at Portimao 2020

The final podium of the Covid-19 compressed 2020 MotoGP season neatly encapsulated so many parts of this strange and fascinating year. On the top step stood Miguel Oliveira, his second victory in a breakthrough year for both him and KTM. Beside him stood Jack Miller, the Ducati rider taking his second podium in a row. And on the third step stood Franco Morbidelli, arguably the strongest rider of 2020, outperforming the 2020 Yamahas on a 2019 M1.

The podium was emblematic in another way, too. All three riders were racing for satellite teams: Oliveira for the Red Bull KTM Tech3 team, Miller for Pramac Ducati, and Morbidelli for the Petronas Yamaha SRT squad. Furthermore, Morbidelli's third place finish wrapped up second spot in the MotoGP team championship for Petronas Yamaha, behind the factory Suzuki Ecstar squad and ahead of the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team.

It was the first time since Qatar in 2004 that the podium had consisted solely of riders in satellite teams. The 2004 race was won by Sete Gibernau, who finished ahead of his Gresini Honda teammate Colin Edwards. Ruben Xaus was third across the line, nearly 24 seconds back, riding a D'Antin Ducati. Xaus finished ahead of the two factory Repsol Hondas, Alex Barros crossing the line 6 seconds before Nicky Hayden.

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Paddock Pass Podcast Episode 179: Joan Mir Interview And Season Review

The final episode of the Paddock Pass Podcast sees the year reach a fitting conclusion: with a look back and exclusive interview with the surprise 2020 MotoGP champion, Joan Mir. Steve English, Adam Wheeler, and Neil Morrison examine the season Mir had, Joan Mir talks about the championship, and his manager, Paco Sanchez, explains how Mir got to be in a position to win the title.

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Paddock Pass Podcast Episode 178: 2020 MotoGP Factory Review - KTM And Aprilia

With the holiday season almost upon us, the Paddock Pass Podcast wraps up its manufacturer review of the 2020 MotoGP season. Neil Morrison and Adam Wheeler finish up their look back at this strange year in MotoGP with an analysis of how KTM and Aprilia have fared.

They start with KTM. It has truly been a revolutionary year for the Austrian factory, the season they went from fighting for top ten positions to regularly winning races and finishing on the podium. They discuss the remarkable progress of rookie Brad Binder, the hard work done by Pol Espargaro, and the test team. They draw parallels between KTM's previous experience in the offroad sector to the MotoGP project, and talk in depth about how Dani Pedrosa and the test team helped KTM make that huge leap forward. And they evaluate all of KTM's riders, including the exceptional Miguel Oliveira and the raw talent of Iker Lecuona.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley’s 2020 MotoGP Top Ten

Joan Mir won the 2020 MotoGP World Championship, but was he the strongest rider last season?

What’s the point of a journalist conjuring up his own MotoGP top ten when the championship does exactly that?

Not much really, but looking beyond race wins, podiums and points allows us to take into account other factors, like the quality of a rider’s machinery, the strength of his back-up crew and the depth of his experience.

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What Will The 2021 WorldSBK Grid Look Like?

Same old, same old in WorldSBK season. Jonathan Rea walking away with his sixth consecutive title. Kawasaki doing the same with the manufacturers title. No matter what happens Rea and Kawasaki have all the answers and the title all sewn up.

That’s the narrative spun by many about WorldSBK but the reality is very different. Rea and Kawasaki might have won the titles, but this was a challenging season for both that ended with the ZX10-RR clearly outmatched at two of the last three rounds. Ducati had the bike to beat in 2020 but too many riders fighting with one another.

Yamaha are close, very close, and have a hungry rider line-up. The return of a full-blooded factory effort from Honda showed lots of encouraging signs. BMW were a write off this year but still claimed two pole positions and have an all-new bike coming for next season. The future is brighter for WorldSBK than it has been for many years.

New era?

The season began with a classic in Phillip Island. Three great races and a tenth of second the combined victory margin. It was a terrific blend of strategy and different bikes. It encapsulated why WorldSBK is looking forward rather than to the past. We don’t have to look at the “golden age of Superbikes” any longer. We’re living one. Seven different riders won races. Ten riders stood on the rostrum.

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Opinion: It Isn't Kawasaki Who Should Be In MotoGP

Jonathan Rea on the WorldSBK Kawasaki ZX10-RR

Why don’t Kawasaki race in MotoGP? It’s a question asked almost as frequently as why doesn’t Jonathan Rea switch to MotoGP? The simple answer is money. For a fraction of the money Kawasaki spent to finish at the back of a MotoGP field they’ve been able to dominate the Superbike World Championship for the best part of ten years.

Six titles in a row and 123 victories since 2011 versus five podiums in six years. The cost of investment in their Superbike project is a fraction of what they spent in MotoGP but their results are enough for them to sell the ZX10-RR as the all conquering Superbike on the planet. It’s a marketing dream compared to the nightmare of trying to sell being a MotoGP backmarker.

Since Rea signed for Kawasaki in 2015 he has won 81 races and six titles as a Kawasaki rider. Aprilia started their MotoGP programme the same year. Who’s had better value for money? There’s only one winner in that discussion.

Teamwork makes the dream work

For a generation Kawasaki has found a partner team. At one point Paul Bird’s squad ran the Kawasaki programme in WorldSBK, with limited success, but since 2012 it has been the Provec Racing operation run by Guim Roda, and the results speak for themselves. First Tom Sykes and presently Rea have dominated to such a degree that the role of Provec is undervalued.

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