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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Many fans rated last season as the most entertaining in years. But who should they thank for the apparent unpredictability and super-close lap times?
There were two things that got MotoGP commentators and fans particularly excited last season: the unpredictability of the racing and the incredibly close lap times, with the fastest 15 riders often separated by less than a second.
But was the racing really any more unpredictable than it’s been in recent years?
MotoGP 2020 certainly seemed unusually unpredictable because none of the title challengers managed to score consistent results over the 14 rounds. Even world champion Joan Mir stood on the podium at only half the races, while 2020 runner-up Franco Morbidelli only made the top three at five races.
After two episodes looking back at MotoGP, it's time for the WorldSBK arm of the Paddock Pass Podcast to take a long look at the year in World Superbikes. Steve English and Gordo Ritchie discuss everything that happened in what turned out to be a fascinating and wild year in the premier production series.
They start off with a look at what happened to Ducati. Scott Redding made a huge impact on arrival in the class, but his challenge waxed and waned as the year went on. Steve and Gordo examine what the strengths of the Ducati and Redding were, and where they fell short. They discuss how the season played out for Chaz Davies and Michael Ruben Rinaldi, and what it all means for 2021.
Dani Pedrosa and Mika Kallio are to continue as test riders for KTM's MotoGP project throughout 2021. The two test riders, who have played a fundamental role in the success of the Austrian factory's MotoGP project, will carry on in their respective roles for another season.
The two riders have had a huge impact on the development of the KTM RC16, and their division of labor has been key in fast-tracking the project through 2020. Kallio continues his role as workhorse, doing preliminary testing of parts and testing durability, while Pedrosa works on preselecting packages of parts which work together to produce the best performance. Those packages are then passed to the factory riders for final approval before being used in a race.
Up until 2017, the Suzuki MotoGP team did not even have a European test team. They relied on their Japanese test team. But like all the other manufacturers, they were looking at the work done by Ducati and were pushing for a second test team. The opportunity came for Suzuki and for Davide Brivio to campaign for it after Sylvain Guintoli was brought in to replace Alex Rins, their rookie who fractured his ankle in training, and then two races later, broke his left wrist during a practice crash.
Guintoli, the WSBK 2014 champion (on an Aprilia), a former MotoGP, 250cc and BSB rider, rode for almost every manufacturer during his career, including Suzuki, both in BSB and WSBK in 2009/10. He returned to BSB to ride for Suzuki in 2017, but had to miss rounds to replace Alex Rins. The Hamamatsu factory remembered him fondly. "They made changes in Japan and Sahara-san (Shinichi Sahara, project leader) came back to the MotoGP project from the Barcelona 2017 round and I arrived just a little bit before that,” he shares from his home in the UK a few days before that historic championship-winning race for Joan Mir. "When I first tried the bike, I gave the team some comments and told them what I thought about it,” the French rider recalls his experience during three rounds. "Our collaboration started there and we are in its third year now."