Akira Nishimura Stories

Interview: HRC's Tetsuhiro Kuwata And Takehiro Koyasu On A Mediocre 2020 With Marc Marquez, Fixing The RC213V, And 2021 And Beyond

In the last weeks of December, Japan's leading MotoGP journalist Akira Nishimura spoke to two of the key players in Honda's MotoGP project: Honda Racing Corporation General Manager Tetsuhiro Kuwata, and 2020 RC213V development leader Takehiro Koyasu. As a native Japanese speaker, Nishimura-san got more out of the HRC bosses than an English-speaking journalist would. The conversation covered Honda's MotoGP riders, an analysis of their thoroughly mediocre 2020 season, and their expectations for 2021.

In 2020, Honda had to endure a tough season, in contrast to previous years. Needless to say, one of the biggest reasons for that was the absence of Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). His right humerus fracture at the opening round in Jerez sidelined the eight-time world champion for all the races of the 2020 season, a costly loss for HRC.

Meanwhile, Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IEMITSU) made a significant improvement in both riding skills and race results. Also, MotoGP rookie Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) did a fantastic job with two second-place finishes despite it being his debut year in the premier class. On the other hand, the Brit Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) decided to draw his racing career to a close at the end of the year. With these abundant topics for the review of the 2020 season and the preview for the forthcoming 2021 season, we interviewed Honda Racing Corporation General Manager Tetsuhiro Kuwata and 2020 RC213V development leader Takehiro Koyasu.

First of all, we asked them for a comprehensive review and the preview, then moved on to the detailed Q&A with them.

Kuwata: "It is quite simple. We lost entirely throughout the 2020 season. However, we also learned a lot from these defeats, and we believe these hardships will make us even stronger.

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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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Takaaki Nakagami Interview: On Learning From Marc Marquez, Competing For Podiums, And Honda's Holeshot Device

Takaaki Nakagami with crew chief Giacomo Guidotti at Aragon 2 - 2020

2020 was a transformative year for Takaaki Nakagami. His results in his first two seasons in MotoGP had been rather modest, to put it mildly. The LCR Honda rider had looked very much like the token Japanese representative in MotoGP he was suspected of being, a sop to appease Honda, who have long wanted to field a Japanese rider in the premier class.

That all changed in 2020. Nakagami went from being an also-ran to being a constant podium contender, scoring his first pole and front row starts, and matching or beating his best result on four occasions. He was very fast in practice, both over a single lap and in terms of race pace. His zenith came at Aragon 2, where he grabbed pole and led the race for the first few corners, before crashing out.

What brought about this change? After a mediocre first race in Jerez, Nakagami spent a lot of time studying the data of Marc Márquez, and tried to adapt the six-time MotoGP champion's riding style to his own. That proved to be a huge step forward for the LCR Honda rider, and Nakagami ended the season as a serious threat in every race.

After speaking to journalists throughout the year in English, his second language, Nakagami finally gave an interview in his native Japanese to esteemed Japanese journalist Akira Nishimura. In the interview, Nakagami opens up on how he changed his riding style to be more competitive, on how he learned to handle the Honda RC213V, and what HRC did to improve the performance of the bike, including introducing the holeshot device and a shapeshifter.

So here, with Nishimura-san's excellent translation into English, is Takaaki Nakagami in his own words.

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HRC Bosses Kuwata & Wakabayashi Interview, Part 2: On Swingarm Spoilers, Jorge Lorenzo, And Winning It All

In part two of our exclusive interview with Tetsuhiro Kuwata, HRC general manager of Race Operations Management Division, and Shinya Wakabayashi, general manager of Technology Development Division, address the aerodynamic innovations introduced by Ducati at the Qatar MotoGP race in 2019, and the possible effects that can have. They also talked about the challenges of balancing the performance of Marc Márquez with trying to help Jorge Lorenzo to succeed. The HRC bosses also discussed the input Lorenzo had on the development process, and how it was affected by his decision to retire. That leads on to a discussion of what to expect for 2020, for Alex Márquez, alongside brother Marc in the Repsol Honda squad, and for Cal Crutchlow and Takaaki Nakagami in the LCR Honda team.

Q: At the season opener in Qatar, Ducati introduced a swingarm attachment, the so-called “spoon” or swingarm spoiler, and it caused controversy among the manufacturers. Anyway, the fact is that they are very smart in finding loopholes in the regulations. Does HRC read the rule book meticulously like them in order to find something which hasn't been specifically prohibited?

Kuwata: Maybe you can take an approach to check if your good idea infringes on the regulations. And you can also take another approach from the opposite direction, but it makes no sense if you don’t have any objective with that loophole. If you have ten ideas and read the rule book carefully to check how many of them are legal, it will be a persuasive approach. I am guessing maybe Ducati is taking this type of approach. Probably, loopholes don’t come first, but I don’t know.

Q: Does the attachment have an aerodynamic effect?

Kuwata: I guess so, that’s why everyone uses it.

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HRC Bosses Kuwata & Wakabayashi Interview, Part 1: How Honda Gave Marquez More Horsepower Without Running Out Of Fuel

The 2019 season was a good one for Honda. Marc Márquez won twelve times and finished second six times out of nineteen races. He clinched his sixth title in the premier class and eighth overall in his world championship career. Honda also won the team and manufacturers title, which saw them celebrate their third successive triple crown.

The Honda RC213V is an invincible weapon, helping to achieve such an overwhelming victory. During the technical debrief for the 2019 spec RC213V for the Japanese media that HRC held at the end of December, they said they have made a “normal improvement” with the engine. However, in terms of chassis, HRC faced quite a “big challenge” for modification of the air intake system. The airflow that comes from the front air duct used to be split into the left and right side to take it into the airbox. Now the air intake literally goes straight from the front of the bike through the headstock and into the airbox.

In this exclusive interview with Tetsuhiro Kuwata, HRC general manager of Race Operations Management Division, and Shinya Wakabayashi, general manager of Technology Development Division, we started asking firstly about their “normal improvement” and “big challenge”, then moved on to the review of the 2019 season and the prospect for the forthcoming 2020 season.

Tetsuhiro Kuwata and Takeo Yokoyama of HRC, with Marc Marquez, after winning the 2019 MotoGP title at Buriram

Q: You made a “normal improvement” with the engine while trying a “big challenge” with chassis side. Does this mean you modified chassis stiffness quite a lot from 2018 to 2019?

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Interview: Suzuki's Kawauchi And Sahara On The 2019 GSX-RR, Alex Rins And Joan Mir, And Power vs Control

In the 2019 season, Team SUZUKI ECSTAR made a huge step forward. Alex Rins won two races, at COTA and Silverstone, and concluded the season fourth in the championship. Meanwhile, their rookie rider Joan Mir finished in the top ten on nine occasions and finished twelfth in the riders’ standings, despite an injury and an absence of two races over the summer.

At the end of December, we drove four hours from Tokyo to Suzuki’s hometown Hamamatsu to conduct an exclusive interview with Team SUZUKI ECSTAR project leader Shinichi Sahara and the technical manager Ken Kawauchi.

Alex Rins at Silverstone in 2019

Q: The 2019 GSX-RR doesn’t seem to have a big difference from the previous year’s spec, especially in terms of the chassis …

Kawauchi: Although there was a very subtle difference here and there, the main frame with carbon wrapping is almost the same as the 2018 final version.

Q: Does the ‘spoon’ (the spoiler attachment underneath the swingarm) have some aerodynamic effect?

Kawauchi: There is no big difference, to be honest. Maybe it is just a bit better if you have it on your bike. It is such a very small difference.

Q: Do you improve your lap time with this material?

Sahara: I’d love to believe that it has some positive effect for the lap time….

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Yamaha MotoGP Project Leader Takahiro Sumi On Where Yamaha Struggled In 2019, And How They Will Fix It In 2020

In 2019, Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP rider Maverick Viñales won two MotoGP races - the Dutch TT at Assen and the Malaysian GP at Sepang - to finish third in the championship. His teammate, Valentino Rossi was seventh in the championship, with two second-place finishes: at the season opener at Qatar, and at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Meanwhile, Fabio Quartararo from the newly-formed team Petronas Yamaha SRT team put on an amazing rookie performance, with six pole positions and seven podiums, ending the season in fifth place in the championship. Teammate Franco Morbidelli crossed the finish line inside the top six on seven occasions and finished the season in tenth overall.

On Christmas day, we visited Iwata in Shizuoka prefecture to ask Yamaha Motor Company’s MotoGP Group GL (Group Leader) Takahiro Sumi about how their 2019 season had gone, what the objective for 2020 would be. First of all, Sumi-san gave Yamaha's perspective on the disappointing first half and the hopeful latter half of the season, before moving on to an exclusive interview.

Franco Morbidelli and Valentino Rossi at the 2019 Misano MotoGP round

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Joan Mir Interview, Part 2: "This Sport Is 50% Rider, 50% Bike"

Joan Mir in the garage at Phillip Island, 2019

In part one of Akira Nishimura's interview with Joan Mir, the Ecstar Suzuki rider spoke about adapting to MotoGP, what he learned from his teammate Alex Rins, and where they need to improve for 2020. In the second half of the interview, Mir goes on to talk about his path into MotoGP, how much easier or harder it is to be a rookie on a Suzuki, compared to a Ducati or a Yamaha, and how long he will need to adapt.

Q: Looking back at your racing career, it is just your fourth year in the world championship. So, when you started your world championship career in 2016, did you imagine you would be a MotoGP rider in four years?

Joan Mir: In four years, no. This is impossible. I think that this is a record or something. We have to find this, because it’s so, so fast. One year in Moto3. Win first race in Moto3, podiums. Then second year in Moto3 world champion. Then first year in Moto2 podiums. Then first year in MotoGP. It’s unbelievable. It’s so fast, but in all my career, I was always competitive, always. Also in MotoGP. So, I’m happy to be here.

Obviously, I would like to do one year more in Moto2 and fight for the title, because it’s something that we were able to do, to have a title in Moto2. I didn’t have it, but because everything came like this, everything fell into place so I had the contract with Suzuki. Otherwise I needed to wait two more years if I wanted to go up to MotoGP. I said, the moment is now. I went up. At the end I’m happy to be here.

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Joan Mir Interview, Part 1: "The Most Difficult Thing Is The Electronics"

Joan Mir on the Ecstar Suzuki GSX-RR at Sepang 2019

It was hard being a MotoGP rookie in 2019. It was probably the strongest rookie class we have seen in many years: Pecco Bagnaia and Joan Mir, two world champions; Miguel Oliveira, who has runner up in both Moto2 and Moto3; and Fabio Quartararo, the young man they changed the Moto3 entry rules for. Yet even these exceptionally talented youngsters faced probably the most talented MotoGP field in history.

Quartararo's meteoric success dominated the headlines, but it overshadowed some strong debuts by the other three. Ecstar Suzuki's Joan Mir, for example, crossed the line in eighth in his first ever MotoGP race, and went on to become a regular top eight rider. By the end of the season, he was challenging his more experienced teammate Alex Rins, and scoring his best result of the season at Phillip Island, finishing fifth in the group battling for the podium.

Before the Japanese round of MotoGP at Motegi, top Japanese journalist Akira Nishimura talked to Joan Mir about his first thirteen races – Mir was forced to miss two races due to the lung injury he suffered in the huge crash at the Brno test. The Suzuki rider spoke at length about his rookie season, about his rapid progression through the Grand Prix ranks, and about what he learned. He also talked to Nishimura-san about racing against his teammate, and how making your debut on a Suzuki compares to the Ducati and the Yamaha.

It was an insightful and long conversation, and so it has been split into two parts. Part two will be published tomorrow, but here is part one:

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Interviewing Honda's Bosses: On The Triple Crown, Spec IMUs, Signing Lorenzo, Moto3, And WorldSBK

The following is an interview which leading Japanese MotoGP journalist and friend of MotoMatters.com Akira Nishimura conducted with the heads of Honda's racing program Tetsuhiro Kuwata, and Shinya Wakabayashi. Nishimura conducted the interviews in Japanese, and translated them into impeccable English. I then edited them in English for style. Any inaccuracies or errors are therefore mine. - David Emmett

In 2018, Honda secured the triple crown, with Repsol Honda's Marc Marquez winning his third consecutive MotoGP title, bringing his total to five, Honda winning the constructors title, and the Repsol Honda team wrapping up the team championship. Everybody thought it was a perfect season for Honda, but what was the reality for them? At the beginning of January, we visited the HRC laboratory in Asaka, Saitama Prefecture and spoke to Tetsuhiro Kuwata, General Manager of Racing Operations Management Division and Shinya Wakabayashi, the boss of Technology Development Division for 90 minutes on how they saw Honda's 2018 season, and what they expect for 2019.

Q: In 2018, you won the triple crown again. Do you think it was a perfect season for Honda?

Kuwata: Not at all! Because the battle between manufacturers was very intense, like always. In 2017, we fought for the championship until Valencia, so when you compare this year to that, maybe you think 2018 was perfect for us. But it was not the case because our competitors were always very strong. We tried to pull away from them, but it was just impossible. To be honest, it was a very tough season, like in 2017.

Wakabayashi: After the middle of the season, we had an advantage in some points, but we also had a disadvantage in other points. We tried to improve our weak points to catch up with our competitors, but it was difficult to reduce the gap.

Q: What was the advantage and disadvantage you had?

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