Pol Espargaro Interview: “With hard work, blood and sweat, I can develop the Honda”

Whatever your impressions of Pol Espargaro, you can’t doubt his courage. It’s now over a year since the rider from Granollers, Catalonia chose to sign for Repsol Honda, leaving KTM’s factory team, which he helped build from the ground up. The seat has been something of a poisoned chalice in recent times. There, Dani Pedrosa’s racing career sizzled out in disappointment. Jorge Lorenzo’s sole year in orange turned into a personal ordeal. And Alex Márquez was informed he would be leaving the squad at the end of his first season before he had even raced. It turns out being team-mate to this generation’s greatest talent is no walk in the park.

Yet Espargaro jumped at the chance to measure himself against Marc Márquez He had long harboured that goal, telling me in 2019 without hesitation he’d choose racing his old Moto2 nemesis on the same bike over any other rider in history. While he was more than a match for his countryman in the junior categories – Pol narrowly lost out to Marc in fiery championship battles in 125s in 2010 and Moto2 in 2012 – their fortunes in the premier class diverged. As Márquez racked up records and titles at a dizzying race, Espargaro forged his reputation aiding KTM’s rise from class rookies to multiple race winners.

Some felt the move was foolish. Not least when KTM started the 2020 season all guns blazing, taking first and second MotoGP wins in races three and five. By then Espargaro had communicated his plans to leave for Honda’s factory team, a squad in the midst of its worst premier class campaign since HRC came into existence at the beginning of 1982. But the lure of joining the team that turned Alex Crivillé, Pedrosa and Márquez into national and international icons, not to mention won 16 of the past 27 premier class titles, was too much to turn down.

National pride

“The best Spanish riders in history have been in this team, have grown in this team, have taken victories and world championships in this team,” Espargaro explained over a Zoom call on the eve of the French Grand Prix. “For a Spaniard, to be in Repsol Honda is something super special. Also, historically to be a Repsol Honda rider means you are a top rider. Sure, in the past (years) Honda hasn’t been amazingly successful apart from Marc. But inside every rider, you think you can be as fast as the top guys. It’s what I’m trying to do. I want to be world champion and to be in this team, it means you raise your level, you raise your image. Hopefully I can reach my dreams here in Repsol Honda.”

It speaks of Espargaro’s grit that he turned a potentially difficult 2020 into his best season yet. There were many hurdles to overcome. A figure with a lesser focus would have fixated on the contrasting fortunes of the factory he was going to leave, and the one he was about join. He then watched on as Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira took KTM’s first wins in races he himself was capable of winning. And staying in a team that is aware of your desire to leave can often turn the atmosphere sour.

But after a shaky start, Espargaro’s results were steadily impressive. He ended the year with five podium finishes, and a run of seven top fours in ten races – an astonishing improvement for a man (and factory) that broke into the top six just one season before. Not only that; he left amid a flood of tributes from the factory’s top brass.

Regarding KTM’s stunning jump forward, surely there was a time during 2020 when a tinge of regret entered his mind. Espargaro is forthright. “At the end, I was enjoying so much the moment, I was not thinking about the future,” he said. “After four years of suffering blood and sweat in KTM to try and get the results, to finally get them almost every single weekend, I was really enjoying the situation.

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Comments

Only Honda could produce such machines as the NR500.

Why make it easy when you can go on a long, convoluted way of solving issues?

When working on motorcycles, it's the way I feel about Honda's engeenering and, from Neil's excellent interview with Pol, it sounds it's how they go about it at HRC.

The riders inputs don't seems to account for much, the magic is happening (or not!) on computer scrrens and in the engeenering commitee...

If work ethic alone won world championships, the Espargaro bothers would dominate the top step. 

Cloverleaf...Miller 90, Bagnaia 88, Quartararo 115 = 293 (think you can hold it Cloverleaf? Are you getting shown a wheel?)

TZnRDracer... Quartararo 115, Zarco 101, Vinales 75 = 291 (on the rise? Has #1 and #2 in order!! Shows shortcoming in this points total only method...way to go 2Stroker!)

Rholcomb...Vinales 75, Zarco 101, Quartararo 115 = 291

Iannis_Z...Mir 78, Morbidelli 40, Quartararo 115 = 233

Lilyvani... M.Marquez 16, Quartararo 115, Miller 90 = 221

D999...M.Marquez 16, Miller 90, Quartararo 115 = 221

St Stephen... Quartararo 115, Rins 23, Vinales 75 = 213

Motoshrink... M.Marquez 16, Quartararo 115, Mir 78 = 209

SP_won...Zarco 101, M.Marquez 16, Miller 90 = 207

Richtea...Zarco 101, M.Marquez 16, Mir 78 = 195

Buccatini...Zarco 101, Bagnaia 88, Morbidelli 40 = 193 ouch!

Mr.X...Zarco 101, Vinales 75, Marquez 16 = 192

Pool Pirate...Zarco 101, Morbidelli 40, Martin 19 = 160

Daddyrat...Zarco 101, M.Marquez 16, Rins 23 = 140

Apical...M.Marquez 16, Rins 23, Zarco 101 = 140

Brian...M.Marquez 16, Rins 23, Zarco 101 = 140

Stumo...M.Marquez 16, Rins 23, Zarco 101 = 140

Peterday... Morbidelli 40, Mir 78, M.Marquez 16 = 134

WaveyD1974...M.Marquez 16, Bagnaia 88, Martin 19 = 124

Ivanhoe...Rins 23, M.Marquez 16, Morbidelli 40 = 79 (hope you have a well stocked spares bin! And some Advil)

I will definetely dediacate a line or two to your fanastic record keeping initiative,  in my winning speech at the end of the season :))

( I would share the champagne as well but you are too far away to reach you with the bottle...)

I genuinely thought Marquez would have been stronger, it just shows how far teams, and that includes the rider, will go when they know they're not race fit.

Rins just needs to pull his finger out but i guess he knows that. No comment about the dumbass crashing  into a van.

Anyway, the results are fixed, otherwise i'd be at the top.

 

P.S...stumo is spelt with a small "s", thanks laugh

Agreed stumo--thanks 'shrink for keeping up with this, now you're the appointed motomatters scorekeeper until Thanksgiving, like it or not!

I don't do fantasy leagues in other sports, but am enjoying this despite choosing the two self-destruct experts for my 2nd & 3rd. 

Ditto that stumo and St. Stephen. Thanks again 'shrink!

Let me just state on the record that I am against any midseason swaps in case we jinx more riders laugh.

Isn't it just great how there is still so much that is unpredictable in MotoGP!

PS: very happy that we don't have to foot the bill of our riders & crashes!

(You're welcome, enjoying it)

We have our breakaway front pack. But not yet at half distance. It is getting interesting and may start showing how it can be fun. Up front, there is Miller/Bagnaia Red vs Zarco/Vinales. 

Quick clarification, if you didn't notice point ties like TZnRD and Rholcomb are ranked by who has the correct order. On the other hand, Apical Brian and stumo are all crossing the line together. Listed alphabetically but tied for 15th.

That #2 and #1 are not reversed when #2 has nailed the top two is unfortunate. Nothing is perfect. Go ahead and blame Race Direction. It is like Cloverleaf has concessions perhaps? TZnRD is the "spiritual winner" here. 

Champagne for everyone all the way back to last! Now, about that Marc fitness, and KTM on a soft but chilly assymetrical compound...

:)

It’s great fun, but my pit board doesn’t make good reading at all. Marquez backers aren’t the problem as far as I’m concerned. While 78 laps under no pressure, the fastest over half a second off the pace, suggest he’s getting fitter, the bike is still the bike. Not only do I not see a win, I’m expecting Vinales or Rins to come good and beat him. Possibly both. No, Quateraro is the man to beat, but while he’s leading the championship without breaking sweat, I think it’s a KTM track, the bike is far faster and way better than I thought, and I’m taking Binder for the win plus one other KTM on the rostrum and reckon there are more victories to come for the orange team as the season unfolds. Things may temporarily get a little tough for Ducati - at least at the sharpest part of the sharp end, but I’ll take points now in the expectation of a maximum on more friendly tracks. For me, it’s still Jack for the championship. A resurgent Marquez will bring out the best in him. 

No data sharing? I've always assumed that in such a small workspace, every rider knows all they need to know about other teams, to be pretty well informed before making a move. Sounds like that's not at all the case.

(The league.... looking good!).