Pecco Bagnaia goes into the 2018 season as one of the major favorites for the Moto2 championship. The Italian is rated very highly among team managers and factory bosses. So highly rated, in fact, that Ducati have already signed Bagnaia to a two-year deal to race in the Pramac Ducati squad for 2019 and 2020.
He proved his pace at the final Moto2 test ahead of the 2018 season at Jerez. Bagnaia was fastest on the first day, and tied for third quickest on the second and best day of the test. When asking around among his Moto2 rivals, the Sky VR46 Racing Team rider's name is the first to be mentioned as a candidate for the title.
On Wednesday evening, Bagnaia spoke to a small group of journalists about how testing had gone so far, about the changes to the 2018 Kalex chassis, and about the pressure he feels ahead of the 2018 Moto2 season. But first, Bagnaia wanted to address some of the rumors floating around about his leg, injured in a crash at the Valencia Moto2 test.
Q: How is your leg?
PB: I don't know why, but on Social Media, so many people have said something about my leg, but I don't have anything wrong with my leg. Just I have a bit of pain after the crash in Valencia, but nothing that can compromise my riding style here in Jerez.
We have worked very well in this test. Every time that I ride, I was improving with the suspension, with the setting, with the bike. This is the very important thing. With old tires, we were very fast, and we are very fast today. Maybe last test with other conditions we were faster than the others, but here, Lowes and Márquez made a good pace. But we are in the top three and we are very fast.
Q: How different is the Kalex with the Ohlins suspension compared to last year's bike?
PB: The biggest change for me is the new suspension, because we have changed to Ohlins from WP. But the biggest thing that has changed is the chassis, because it's a little bit different from last year. I prefer this one because I can turn more. It's easier for me to close the line on the exit, and that was the most important thing that I asked to Kalex last year.
We are working to have more grip on the rear with tires that have 15 laps, but we are arriving at the top, and we are happy.
Q: Chassis design is about compromise, so what did you lose to get more turning?
PB: The braking is OK, corner entry with the brakes is OK, it's just in the point with no brake and no gas, it's a little bit worse, but almost nothing, just a little bit.
Q: But you definitely gained more than you lost?
PB: Yes, we lost almost nothing. We gained so much more and this is the important thing.
Q: Do you feel less pressure on you because you have already signed with Ducati for next year?
PB: For sure after last year I have more pressure, because people want more from me. But this thing that I already signed with Ducati for next year is better, because I have my mind completely clear, and it's easier to ride. I only have to be thinking about the 2018 season with Moto2. This year is very important for me, because this is the first year that I can try to win something important, and for me it will be very important to not lose concentration in every session, push my best and try to fix every problem, and every race weekend try to make my best.
Q: The KTM looks a lot like being very competitive this year, will that make it more difficult in 2018?
PB: KTM this year has three very fast riders. Because Oliveira and Binder are very fast, and Lowes also. But we have closed the gap with KTM I think, or we have overtaken them, and for me, now there's not a gap to KTM. But we have to see in the race, because every condition is different and every time something else is different from the tests. We have to see in Qatar.
Q: Last year, the KTMs managed the rear tire a bit better than Kalex did at the end of the race. Is that still the same now?
PB: For me it's not a problem, because last year in the last ten laps I was faster than in the first ten laps. But I'm not a rider who uses the tires too much, and I can ride with less tire consumption. This I think is not a problem for me. But maybe for Márquez last year, he was losing time in the last ten laps, or maybe for other guys. For me it's not a problem.
Q: With the start of the season just a week away, are you thinking about the risk of injury? Especially with a wet track?
PB: No, you don't think about it, because you have too much work to do. Because in Valencia it was impossible to try anything on the second day, we have made two very important days for us at this test, and it was not possible to think about if you get injured, you can't ride in Qatar. But one thing that we know, tomorrow [Thursday] if it's wet – and for sure it will be wet – I don't know if it's a good idea to ride. But for making 20 laps, it will be OK, because you can understand something on the setting. And it will be a positive idea.
Q: You would push in the dry, but not in the wet?
PB: I push too much, I think! But the conditions weren't good here, and it was very difficult to make the same lap times as the last test, because the last test was completely perfect. The grip and the wind was all OK, but today and yesterday it was very difficult, because the grip wasn't too much, but also the wind was worse than last test, and it was impossible to make the same lap time.
Q: Has your training and preparation for the season been the same as last year?
PB: For me, yes. I don't know. Maybe one thing that for sure has changed is I have more feeling with the bike, with the team, and everything comes to me more easily, and for sure the preparation has been different from 2016, but it was the same as last year. Just the thing that has changed is that I already know the bike and I don't have to learn anything more, just ride the bike. And with the feeling that I have with the team and with my bike, it's easier and I can ride without pushing too much physically and I feel comfortable.