As an Englishman living in Holland, I've been following the fortunes of Danny Webb in the 125cc class very closely. The young Briton has shown a lot of talent in his three seasons in MotoGP, getting close to a podium a number of times. Webb is a product of Alberto Puig's MotoGP Academy, a project which has brought forth a whole host of young talent.
We caught up with Webb at the 2009 Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix, where he spoke to us about his experience of working with Puig and the MotoGP Academy, how he got into Grand Prix racing and his experience with the De Graaf 125cc team, as well as his training regime and why he doesn't allow his father to cook.
MotoMatters: Can you tell us about how you got into Grand Prix?
Danny Webb: Basically, we went to the last round of the Grand Prix at Valencia in 2004 with my brother and my dad, because my brother had a meeting lined up with Alberto Puig. Halfway through the meeting, he turned round to my brother and said he was going to be too big for a 125, and then he asked me what my name was and what I was doing and that kind of stuff. So I told him, and there and then he offered me a ride on the plate and basically said "Do you want to ride for me next year in the Spanish Championship?" So I kind of said yes, but we'd been let down by a lot of people before with a lot of things, so I wasn't really planning on anything, I just signed with a team in England to do the British Championship and then he came up with the goods. In January, he got back in contact with us, flew over and signed the contract, so we did, and it was a fantastic couple of years I spent with him.
MM: Because you did a year in the Spanish Championship and a year in the MotoGP Academy.
DW: That was at the same time, because the MotoGP Academy at the time was racing in the Spanish Championship, it was like a team. It was fantastic to work with those guys, they've got a lot of experience and that kind of stuff. They taught me all about the training part of it as well, the fitness training with Raul Jara.
It was just good to get to know them and they helped out in my career massively by giving me that opportunity to ride completely free and everything paid for. It really helped me out because my family is not a rich family. We couldn't go out and spend god knows how much money on a ride. So it really did help us out. And from then on, the De Graaf team came up to me in the last four rounds of the Spanish Championship and offered me a ride in the World Championship. For me, it's a fantastic opportunity, for someone to come up and offer me that, it makes me feel like they've got faith in me.
And you know, we had a really tough first year [on a Honda RS125, MM], we just weren't on the pace at all. But I'm grateful that they still believed in me, and we hopped on the Aprilia last year and had some good results and were riding really well. Me and the team get on really well, we're like a mini-family, and we're really quite close. For me, it's good because I can talk to them about anything, and I'm just really happy that they had faith in me and signed me up for the 2009 season. This year has been really really hard again, we've been struggling a bit with the new bike, getting it dialed in and that kind of stuff. But I think when we get there, we're definitely going to be a top 5 runner for sure.
MM: What's the problem been with the Aprilia RSA? The team has been saying the difficulty has been particularly with the suspension and the front forks.
DW: Yeah, the engine is the best engine out there, [former 125cc GP winner and De Graaf's engine tuner] Hans Spaan has done a fantastic job, it's just the fastest thing out there. Of course, if it's the fastest thing out there and it doesn't go round corners, there's no gain in it. But we're getting somewhere, we took quite a big step this weekend on the bike chassis-wise, changing a few bits on that. Hopefully from now on we'll start making bigger steps with the chassis, and if it works it works, and if it doesn't, we've not lost anything. But hopefully we can start getting it sorted out towards the end of the year, and get a few good results.
MM: Before you came to De Graaf, there were a couple of Dutch riders who rode for the team, who worked with Hans Spaan and some of them found him very difficult to work with, because he has very clear ideas about what he wants to do with the engine, and then gives you the bike and tells you get on with it. What's your experience been of working with Hans Spaan?
DW: It's been fantastic. Hans is a guy that, he does what he's got to do and then you get on and ride it, and if it shows better, it shows better. I get along with Hans really well and I've worked with him really closely.
MM: But if you have ideas about the bike and the setup, he's prepared to listen and it's a real two-way street communication-wise?
DW: Yeah, sure. With the Dutch riders in the past, I'm not too sure, but for me, if I don't have a problem with the engine then I don't say anything. And if I'm not riding well and the engine's OK, then I just face facts and say it's me, it's nothing to do with the engine. I think perhaps some people in the past have tried blaming the engine when it wasn't the engine, and I think that just takes a little bit of faith in the other riders out of Hans Spaan. If there's something wrong with the engine when I'm on it, then he can see it on the data. It feels like he's got a lot of faith in me, and when I say that there's a problem he knows that there's a problem. I'm not one to moan really, I just get on and ride it, and if there's a problem I'll tell him. But you know I get on with Hans really well, and he puts a fantastic engine together and we work really closely together and I hope to keep working with him in the future.
MM: Without wishing to sound condescending, you're 18 now, you've basically been taken away from home when you were 14 to go and race. How important is it to have a team like De Graaf, a real family team, still surrounding you and supporting you?
DW: I think it's really important. You know, sadly earlier this week my Gran died, and I've come here and the team have been so good to me. They've been really supporting and that sort of thing. I mean, at the end of the day, if that sort of thing happens and you come to a race meeting and the team's not very supportive about it and you get a bad feeling, and it all goes downhill from there. I'm happy for the way they've handled it, and I'm really happy that they've been supportive over that. And you know, we can tell each other everything, you know, talk about girls to the TT to, anything from the stupid stuff to the really serious stuff, absolutely anything. Yeah, we have fun together and everything, but when it really comes down to time to work, we get our head down and work.
MM: You said you worked with Alberto Puig. Puig gets a bad rap, especially in the US because of the whole Hayden-Pedrosa thing in 2006. You have direct experience of working with him, so how involved was he with you when you were in the Spanish Championship and in the MotoGP Academy?
DW: Well, with Hans, people didn't work with him very well, but I worked really well with him. It's the same with Alberto, people really struggle to work with him, but me and Alberto got on like a house of fire, you know we were pretty close. When he told me, "it's time for you to leave the Academy," I said it's not a problem. And he said "I'll help you get a ride," and he did. So, me and Alberto are still pretty close, we still talk and that kind of stuff, he'll help me out when he can. But I also know that he's really busy with Dani and with those kind of guys. But I think Alberto's a really good kind of guy, and all he wants to do is look out for the riders. Whenever we've been away from the track he's been a really fun guy, and also Pedrosa's a really fun guy when he's away from the track.
MM: That's something I've noticed as well, if you walk around here on a Thursday, before the whole circus starts, you see Dani and Alberto walking around and chatting. But come Friday and practice, it's all gone, they have their race face on.
DW: Yeah, you know I think that when it's time to work, they just get their head down. I haven't got a bad word to say about Alberto, because you know at the end of the day, if it hadn't been for him I wouldn't be here. He gave me a free couple of years and I'm really grateful for what he's done for me.
MM: He seems to be very good at spotting talent.
DW: Yeah, of course Bradley [Smith] came up through the Academy and look how he's doing, and also Scott Redding, he only spent one year in the Academy but Alberto was the first one to spot him and look what Scott's doing now. You know there's a lot of MotoGP Academy riders that are in this paddock now, like Efren Vazquez, Nakagami, Folger, there's a lot of young talent, and people like Cluzel, Olive, and they've all been through the Academy. You look at the majority of the paddock and they've all come up through the tracks of Alberto. For sure he's got an eye for talent, and hopefully I can stay in the paddock to show that he has.
The interview continues tomorrow. In part 2, Danny Webb talks about how he sees the 2010 championship, and how he prepares and trains for racing.