The Brno MotoGP test gave journalists the rare opportunity to speak at length with two of the driving figures behind MotoGP. As well as Ducati's Filippo Prezioso (the transcript of which you can read here), we also got the chance to question HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto. Nakamoto fielded questions on a number of subjects, sometimes with a healthy dose of humor. He naturally spoke about Honda's new 1000cc RC213V, and the development direction HRC have pursued, but he also talked about the effect that fuel limits have on bike developments, including the opportunities they offer for developing new technologies.
Nakamoto-san spoke about the effect that the earthquake and tsunami has had on Honda's production and consequent budgets, and the knock-on effect that this will have on the level of support being offered. He revealed that HRC expected to supply 6 bikes for next year, but only 2 factory machines, and he also spoke about the possibility of a switch from Motegi to Suzuka. Though he personally liked Suzuka, the track has not been approved by the FIM and would be unlikely to receive FIM approval for MotoGP.
It was a long and interesting conversation, hampered sometimes by Nakamoto-san being forced to deliver it in what is clearly his second language. His words have been rendered a little easier to understand, while trying to remain faithful to the original, and also trying to convey some of the humor behind his words. It is well worth the effort of reading.
Q: Can you say something about the new 1000?
The new 1000? You can see it on track! [Laughs]. Casey and Dani are testing the new 1000 today, Casey has already tested it for two days at Jerez, he has more experience with our new machine. This is the reason for his lap time being not so bad from run one. We have brought here a little bit different chassis to the one at the Jerez test, we are checking whether this direction is better or not. And Dani, it's the first time he rode the new machine, he is trying to feel more about the new machine, he is trying to get a feel for it.
At this moment, both riders gave us the same information. Our data analysts and engineers are checking over all the data. Then we will decide our future at the end of the test.
Dani and Casey are both on the same machine, which is slightly different to the Jerez test.
Q: Dani has two bikes, the Jerez one and the new one, to see the difference, right?
Q: Can you tell us the goal you are fighting for? The goals for the new bike in terms of performance or consumption.
Racing machine the goal is very easy to identify, I want it to be a winning machine! Nothing else! [Laughs]
Q: Apart from the capacity of the engine, which is obvious, what are the biggest problems in having a bigger capacity engine in a machine that looks quite the same?
With the new bike, we are following the 800 machine concept. The only difference is the size of the engine.
Q: You mean for the layout or also for the construction of the engine?
Concept. There are of course differences, because the engine is differences.
Q: In terms of performance, how much more horsepower do you have than the 800 now?
Just a little... [Laughs] This piston bore with 81mm limit, if you make a 1000, you have engine speed limitation, therefore engine revs is much much lower. And also the fuel tank capacity of 21 liters stays exactly the same. The fuel tank capacity means this is the energy, the energy which you can use during the race. This means overall the energy is exactly the same, and this means you cannot make such a big power engine. To make a bigger engine with the same fuel capacity means we need a new technology. Therefore we are trying to make some new techniques to make an engine with good fuel consumption. If this technology is successful, this technology can be used on road machines. MotoGP new regulation forced Honda to make a different engine. If you only use fuel mapping, in this case the engine drivability is very bad. This means you need a completely different approach. Usually racing engine is more revs, more power, this is normal for racing engine development, but with new MotoGP regulation, you have to take a different approach. At this moment, neither rider has complained about engine drivability. Of course, our 800 engine drivability is not so good, and this is a similar level. We couldn't make one which was totally different, but at least this is similar level as 800 engine drivability.
Q: Was it easy to base this 1000 engine on the 800 engine?
Not easy, but it looks OK. We check today and at the Jerez test and today this morning for fuel consumption level is similar to 800.
Q: Ducati previously talked about one way to be as efficient as possible with fuel would be to use a capacity which was below 1000cc. Is this something that Honda considered? Or are you looking more at fuel injection and fuel management technology to cope?
Fuel management and fuel injection technology, only this is not enough to use 1000 engine. You must have something different if you want to use full capacity of the 1000cc.
Q: Is Honda using the full 1000cc?
More than 800 less than 1000. Something in this area. [Laughs]
Q: Is it important to Honda to have the fuel capacity limits, to have the 21 liters.
Yes, because for even 20 liter, we are against, because if we go to 20 liters, engineer has to try something different. If engineer try different, he can find another new technology. Anyway, good fuel consumption is better for worldwide, not only the racing engine.
Q: The Formula 1 experience will give you support in this way?
No. I have less Formula 1 experience, not enough to make motorcycle engine.
Q: As I understand it the limit on fuel pressure makes direct injection either very difficult or impossible …
Fuel pressure limitation is not so important to make direct injection for normal injection system.
Q: Do you really think that racing with control over the fuel consumption is good for the world, because it doesn't look like 21 liters for 100 kilometers is a fantastic fuel consumption, considering that a car like CR-Z from Honda is 7 liters for 100 kilometers.
CR-Z has electric power assist, so if we have electric power assist our fuel consumption we can make much, much less.
Q: And don't you think that electric is the way to go?
I don't think so. We know that if you want to use electric assist system in racing like in Formula 1, the costs are huge. My experience in Formula 1 where Honda also tried to make a KERS system, that time everything was so expensive. For road use, for production engine is OK, because big or small doesn't matter for road use, battery size doesn't matter, you have a lot of space. But for racing machine, you have to make a small special battery and small and high performance motor. This means costs are huge. I saw the electric racing machine at Laguna. But I have to say that technology is far away for use on racing machines.
Q: Did you start from the 800 project for this bike?
Development group is different, because 800 is 800, and 1000 is 1000, but both teams are using exactly the same concept.
Q: How has the different capacity changed the direction you have to develop in? How are these bikes different in your view to the 800?
The 800 and 1000s are similar. As you can see!
Q: During the 800cc era, there have been a lot of complaints about a lack of overtaking with this style of bike. Do you think there will be more overtaking, closer racing with the 1000s, or will it stay the same?
I don't know. I don't think size of engine can make a difference. Because everyone has a similar engine.
Q: In your opinion, this kind of formula will be successful in the near future, because we see that every factory is reducing the numbers of bikes. Don't you think that a different formula, maybe all CRT or something else could be better?
If my understanding is correct, all manufacturers not trying to reducing prototype machines. Honda we can make 6 riders machines next year, if people want to have them. If people have enough budget, we can supply them.
Q: And next season, these 6 bikes, will be apart from the supported works riders will be exactly the same.
Yes, because with this regulation, we can only make one specification, we cannot make two or three specification. Therefore we change philosophy two or three years ago. Satellite teams also have same specification. This year's machine, works specification and satellite specification, the difference is only the transmission. Transmission is different. The gearbox.
Q: But if they want, they can also buy the gearbox?
Yes. Next year, yes. But not so cheap! Much more expensive than my house!
Q: Is the gearbox, the transmission technology, is that something that could come to road bikes one day.
I don't think so. Because racing machine transmission, usually shift up is at maximum revs. If you short shift, in this case a big shock happen with the new transmission system. But a road bike usually short shifts, and never uses maximum revs. But on the road, is very very few times.
Q: So the transmission works better in the peak of the power.
Yes. Our transmission is targeted in this area.
Q: To come back to the question about whether the 1000s will bring more exciting racing, to me it comes down to one question: Is MotoGP about technology or is it more about entertainment?
Ask Dorna! [Laughs]
Q: Do you think this new regulations should be fixed for a few years? So do you think in the near future, you or another manufacturer with this technology and these rules can make a cheaper engine to sell only the engine to chassis manufacturers, or is this more difficult than in the past? The 1000 engine.
Prototype engine? No chance. No chance to sell.
Q: How do you expect the bikes to be distributed next year? We hear two bikes in the Repsol team, maybe one or two bikes in Gresini, maybe one or two bikes at LCR.
We are talking, not decided yet. We have many requests, but just talking, nothing decided. Dani and Casey are both under contract, for two riders we have decided. But we are talking to Marco and Andrea. And also some of the new teams want to use Honda's machine, we are talking. For the level next year, you know that in Japan we had a big earthquake and tsunami, so we in Honda Motor Company, usually in next year's budget we already know in August, sometimes the end of July, but this year, everything delayed. The situation is that we are still talking in this year's budget and also we have just started to talk about next year's budget. Very difficult position to make an answer to the riders. I am very happy with Marco and Andrea, both riders are growing a lot and yesterday they showed a very good performance, I'm very happy, I wanted to keep both of them, but I can say nothing here because I am waiting and I am trying to find budget for them.
Q: Is Honda's plan to have 4 factory bikes and 2 satellite bikes for 2012, or something different?
From HRC we are asking for the same budget as this year, but the company clearly said no. Because of the tsunami and earthquake, the parts supplier couldn't supply several parts, therefore we couldn't make the cars. Overall Honda business, car sales are about 70% [of normal] and we could only produce 30% fewer cars if you compare to last year. This means that only 70% we could make. This number is a big damage to Honda's overall budget. The first request from Honda Motor Corp to HRC is we must cut 30% of the budget, but it's impossible! I tried to convince them that this can't be done, this was my biggest job. Fortunately I recover a little bit, but 30% is impossible, I think.
Q: Is Honda the motor manufacturer who had the biggest problem in Japan?
For motorcycles, it's not such a big problem, of course we have some problems, but most of the Honda motorcycles are made in each country, so in India, last year we sold 4.5 million motorcycles, all of them were made in India. In Indonesia, we sold maybe 2 million and something, they are all made in India.
Of course we are making bikes in Japan, but Japan make big capacity models, like the CBR 1000. Anyway, this machine sales number is not so big, unfortunately, therefore damage is not so big for the motorcycle.
Q: I mean, does Toyota have more trouble than Honda?
Toyota, Honda, Nissan, some of GM and Ford, they are using the same CPU for their engine control unit. We can make a car, but we cannot make an engine control unit, and this is a problem.
Q: Speaking about India and Indonesia, the sport is growing enormously throughout that region, it is very popular throughout Southeast Asia. How important do you think it is that MotoGP goes and races in that region?
I can't say how, but I want us to go, because India and Indonesia are both very big markets. If we can show them MotoGP performance, maybe they are happy. You know that on the bottom of your machine, we put Satu Hati, which means One Heart in Indonesian. This for Honda Indonesia, who wanted to do something. I hope this works.
Q: Talking about the races, yesterday Valentino suggested to move the Japanese GP from Motegi to Suzuka? If the riders accept this suggestion, do you think it is possible to race there, or is the track in the same condition as in 2003 when happened the accident with Dajiro Katoh?
The track is different. Maybe two or three of the walls they renewed, and paddock area is now fantastic. Press room is also very good! This is very important for you, yes? [Laughs] Original layout remains but after the hairpin, the very high speed turn, that corner now has a chicane, the chicane is only used for motorcycle races, Formula 1 never used it. Some areas have also been modified, and access roads is now 100% vehicle access, before this was not so. West and south was a different access road, but now you can go all the way round.
FIM checked new Suzuka circuit, and FIM is not happy. For several things. Hairpin corner run off zone is not enough, or something. I forget the exact details. Now course license, before Suzuka was 2nd, now they give us 3rd rank license. Regulation is clearly showing we can race only on grade A, A1 and B. Now, Suzuka is 3rd.
Q: From the political point of view of Honda, is it possible to move the race to Suzuka?
Good question. But I'm not politician, I'm a comedian as you know! I think - and this is my personal feeling - we can race in Suzuka, because this year like every year we do the Suzuka 8 hour races and there were no big accidents, of course many crashes happen. But no big injuries.
Q: At the moment the race will take place at Motegi. Do you expect your factory contracted riders to race at Motegi? And if any of them decide not to go to Motegi, have you decided what potential penalties or action you would take against them?
I believe that all of the Honda riders will come to Motegi. I explained to them what is the penalty based on the contract. I'm not saying we should go a different way to the contract. Contract shows that if you don't go to Motegi, the penalty will be this, this, this, this. Therefore I don't know if final decision will be this or this or this. I explained this. The worst scenario is to terminate the contract, but this is something already written into the contract. This I just explained to the riders. Honda has not decided that if the rider does not come, the contract will be terminated. We have not decided. I have just explained this. Maybe people are misunderstanding.
Q: Speaking about Motegi and Suzuka, we've got a big discussion about whether riders will go to Motegi this year, but this is a subject that may come up year after year for some people. So would Honda support moving the Japanese Grand Prix from Motegi to Suzuka or somewhere else not this year but maybe next year or in the future?
But anyway, Suzuka doesn't have a license, class B license. So if FIM make a lot of requests for changes, we can't do everything. A good example is the hairpin, the run off zone is too close, but there is already a road around there, we cannot make it any further back. So some requests from the FIM would be impossible. If FIM give us B grade or 2nd grade, we can start to consider. At this moment, no. Honda has never pushed the FIM to give us a 2nd grade, we never did.
Q: Would you like to see racing at Motegi in 2012, 2013, 2014, or racing somewhere else?
I think racing in Motegi. Personally, I like Suzuka, because the circuit layout, with high speed corners and low speed corners, it's a very good course for riders, a demanding and challenging course. Motegi is a little bit stop and go, so overall I like Suzuka, but this is my personal opinion.
Q: Did you test this bike at Suzuka?
Yes, we tested this bike at Suzuka, Motegi and also Sugo. You remember, Yamaha circuit. Very close to Fukushima we are testing! [Laughs]
Q: With the 1000, what do you think the performance potential of these bikes are compared to the 800? How much faster are they than in the lap times?
If chassis potential is exactly the same, at this track, the engine give us maybe two tenths. Because engine couldn't give us cornering performance and braking performance. This engine only give us acceleration and top speed. With acceleration, we are using traction control, even with the 800, which means the biggest difference is not top, but middle and bottom torque. Even with the 800, we reduce the torque, with 1000 machine cannot give us any gain, because with 1000, we reduce more compared to the 800. After that, with this new machine on the straight, the big torque makes the bike want to wheelie. And again, the rider has to close the throttle or the electronics control this with anti-wheelie system, so again, couldn't make a gain. In the middle of the straight you can start to have a gain, to the end, but when top speed is higher because of a little bit more power, it means you have to brake a little bit earlier. Overall, around this kind of circuit, gain is one-and-a-half to two tenths maximum from the engine side. But at different circuits, the engine will give us a lot more, it depends on the circuit characteristics. Probably Laguna or Jerez the gain is very small.
Q: You are already testing here in race configuration for the fuel consumption? For the 21 liters fuel consumption?
Yes. We are testing in the race configuration.