Interview: Mika Kallio On The Moto2 Title, Lighter Riders, And Dani Pedrosa
Mika Kallio is quietly intense, focused, and often overlooked in Moto2. The Finn is in his fourth season with the Marc VDS Racing team, where he once again forms a serious challenge in the Moto2 championship with his teammate. Last year, it was with Scott Redding, this year, teammate Tito Rabat is the main obstacle between Kallio and the Moto2 title.
MotoMatters.com friend and contributor Mick Fialkowski caught up with Mika Kallio at Barcelona, and spoke to him about a range of subjects. Kallio talked about his approach to trying to win a Moto2 title and how the Kalex Moto2 machine has changed over the years. Kallio also talked about the problems the combined rider weight rules cause for lighter riders, and how he sees the comparison with Dani Pedrosa.
Mick Fialkowski: It's been a pretty solid start to the season. You must be pretty pleased?
Mika Kallio: Yes, of course it's not bad. I'm second in the Championship which is a quite good position. I'm happy with how the season had gone so far. Just maybe the last weekend at Mugello wasn't the best, not perfect as I was struggling a little bit to find the feeling with the track. but the other races were good. I won the two previous ones at Jerez and Le Mans, so everything is good. We're ready to fight for the championship.
MF: So how much are your focusing on the title and now much is it race by race?
MK: Before the season my goal was to win the title, absolutely. Now we're second in the championship so we're going in the right direction, but we need to go into it race by race and don't think too much about the standings. There's a lot of races left, so you need to go step by step and try to repeat the same good feeling with the bike. If you start to think too much about the championship, it's not good for your head. It's better to keep the pressure as little as possible and focus on the right things.
MF: You're one of the most consistent riders in Moto2. What's the key to that?
MK: For some reason each year in Moto2 we can see the same story; one rider can be really fast and win a race and then in the next race he's nowhere. It has something to do with these bikes. They're so sensitive to find the right settings, that if you miss the feeling a little bit, like I did at Mugello, immediately do drop a bit. It's complicated to keep the same level every week, also because of the rules, because all the bikes are so close. That's the main reason. If you don't have the confidence you drop a lot. However me and Tito are the most consistent ones and I think that in the long term, to win the championship, that's the main key. You need to win the race and be on the podium of course but it's also very important that when a bad day is coming – and it will come anyway in such a long season – then you need to still be somewhere and score points. Consistency is the key.
MF: Has the Kalex bike changed a lot comparing to last year?
MK: From the outside it looks almost the same but there are always some differences. The frame we have now from the outside looks the same but the stiffness is a bit different and it's better with the front feeling. It's good for me because with my riding style I need and I like to have the right front feeling. If I don't have it, it's hard to be aggressive with the bike. We improved a bit in that aspect this year. But it never stops. We're testing and changing stuff during the season as well. Normally the bike you end the year with is quite a bit different to the one you've started the season on.
MF: How does it work with the base settings. Are you changing the setup much between races?
MK: Usually in Moto2 the best thing is that when you can find a good confidence with the bike, you need to keep the base setting more or less the same. It doesn't matter what track are you on. You need to be around this one area. Of course you need to fine tune it for every track, but if you change too much and the bike starts to feel different every weekend, you can't build your confidence with it. The most important thing is to find the base in the winter and then stay in that area. I believe that in this class rider is still the most important aspect. Even if the settings aren't perfect, you can fix it with your riding if you have the confidence to do it. To build the confidence it's important to keep the bike settings similar.
MF: So when have do you started using the base you have now? In the winter? Last year?
MK: Already last year we found the way. We saw which direction we had to go and we followed it step by step. We found something interesting for the rear part of the bike in the winter and improved the rear grip. Then I saw I could make the last step and beat the guys at the front. Since then we're pretty much staying in the same area with the settings and it seems that it works. Of course we need to see how the season goes from here but so far so good.
MF: How different is your rivalry with Tito Rabat this year comparing to Scott Redding in the last few years?
MK: For me it doesn't really change a lot. Of course with Scott maybe we had a special feeling together. I like him a lot and I think he likes me as well. So it was a very good feeling in the team and everything worked well. Now we have Tito and for me he's a nice guy anyway. I can talk to him about anything and it's not a problem. Mainly the way during the race weekends is like that; you have your own crew and you work with them and then your teammate has his side, so it's a bit like two separate sides of the garage. We don't really spent a lot of time together but everything is fine and the atmosphere in the team is the same as last year.
MF: There's no number one and number two in the team, right?
MK: Both riders have the same support and same bikes and parts. We can both win and there are no team orders, so it's all good. I think that's the fair way for everybody.
MF: With the minimum weight limit of bike and rider at 215kg, you have to race with a ballast. How much of an issue is that?
MK: After they changed the rules for last year we needed to put the extra weight on the bike, usually it's around seven kilos. We had to find the way to put it on the bike. For me it's not really fair to have these rules, because nobody really thinks about it from the other side. Ok, they think the heavy riders have some disadvantage because of the weight, because they have more weight to stop and accelerate, of course they're losing there but nobody thinks about how we ride with our body. A heavy and tall rider can put the weight where he wants and move on the bike. When I'd compare with Scott he was much faster in direction changes because he could move his body on the bike, so what he lost on the straights, he gained elsewhere. In the end the balance was the same. Now, with the extra weight on my bike, the balance went too much in the wrong way and the heavy riders have more of an advantage comparing to the light ones as they have a lighter bike to ride on and us we have more weight on the bike. It's not fair but we have to live with it.
MF: Can you play around with that ballast?
MK: Normally we keep the ballast in the same place. We have a bit of the weight everywhere and we keep it that way. Like I said, it's important to have the same feeling with the bike, so if you start to play with the weight, you can lose that feeling.
MF: What's next for you? Could you come back to MotoGP?
MK: I hope that I can still race here. That's my goal of course. I don't know about how many years I have ahead of me but I feel good and have a lot of motivation to push hard and win. I believe that I'm here as long as I have the feeling to be fast and the motivation to do it. As for MotoGP, every year I say that I'd like to go there but it's difficult to find a competitive bike. I don't want to go there if I couldn't get a good result but if I could be competitive, then for sure I'd love to try again.
MF: Sometimes people say you're a bit like Dani Pedrosa; always there but never the number one in the end. Is that a fair assessment?
MK: I think that his riding style and the mental side of him, which you can see on the bike, is similar to me, so yeah, maybe you can say we have a similar style. He's got the same goal and that's the most important thing. I don't really think about the others and I hope that's the key to be the best.
For those who read Polish, you can read more of Mick's insights into MotoGP on the Polish website Motormania.com.pl.