CormacGP

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?

Back to top

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?

Back to top

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.

Back to top

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.

Back to top

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.

Back to top

Valencia MotoGP Subscriber Notes, Part 2: Battles On A Tight Track, And Comparing The 2019 And 2020 Yamahas

The Valencia round of MotoGP is going to be remembered primarily as the race where Joan Mir make history, becoming the sixth Suzuki rider to win the premier class title, following in the footsteps of Kenny Roberts Jr, Kevin Schwantz, Franco Uncini, Marco Lucchinelli, and Barry Sheene. Rightly so, given the significance of that title, and Mir's path to winning the title. You can read more about that in part one of my Valencia round up.

But there was more to Valencia than just Joan Mir clinching the championship. The Circuit Ricardo Tormo is supposed to be a hard track to pass at, yet in all three classes we saw last-lap battles where the lead and podium places changed hands multiple times. We saw the 2019 Yamaha triumph where the 2020 model came up a long way short. We saw KTM take three of the top six positions, and we saw Andrea Dovizioso surprise himself with an eighth place.

So here are some notes from an intriguing and exciting race weekend.

Back to top

Valencia MotoGP Subscriber Notes, Part 1: The Meaning Of Joan Mir's Championship

So it turns out somebody does want to win this thing after all. After a wild, wild ride through the 2020 MotoGP season – scratch that, through all of 2020 – Joan Mir has finally been crowned champion. And he did it in the most Joan Mir way possible: not with an extravagant flourish, or with all-out aggression risking everything, but by understanding what was needed, riding to the limits on the day, and seizing the prize when it was offered. This was a title won with the head, with generous measure of guts and heart thrown into the mix.

There's an old cliche about swans, gliding gracefully and calmly across the water while paddling like fury below it. That was how the Suzuki rider came into the second weekend at Valencia, the race where he had the title within reach. Outwardly projecting calm, he had the turmoil of nerves to deal with underneath. Try as he might, Mir could not prevent that tension from breaking through to the surface.

Back to top

Pages

Subscribe to CormacGP