Jerez marked the start of a new era for Moto2 as a whole, but it also marked a reset in the career of Tom Lüthi. The Swiss rider moved up to MotoGP with the Marc VDS team for 2018, but suffered through a miserable season vying for the last few places in every race. It was, he told us, the most instructive year of his career.
For 2019, Lüthi returns to Moto2, racing a Kalex for the Dynavolt Intact GP team. On Saturday evening, a group of journalists spoke to Lüthi at length about adapting back to Moto2, and how the class has changed with the advent of the Triumph engines and the introduction of Magneti Marelli electronics. It proved to be an extremely enlightening insight into the differences between the old Honda-powered 600cc Moto2 bikes, and the new, 765cc Triumph-powered triples.
Q: How are you adapting back to Moto2?
TL: It was actually a good day for us. A little bit disappointed, it was a pity it was shortened a little bit by the rain and the conditions. I've got to the point already where I have really had enough of this rain, after Valencia, and now again! It's tiring...
But we could work quite well, it was an interesting day, but still a lot of work to do. I have still quite a lot of focus on the seat position, still not absolutely happy with that. We could improve some steps, but still there is some more to do, for sure. Also in the bike in general we could improve, electronics side, engine brake side, we could make steps forward, but there are still many things to try to understand what's the right thing and what's the wrong thing. It's still a new bike.
But I'm really impressed, first of all by the lap times from the top guys, I think [Luca] Marini was the fastest, it was a very fast lap time. I heard he did it with the new tire which will come after the season starts, after Jerez. And it looks good that this tire works very well. So very impressed by this new project overall, it's quite a high level already. You know, I'm, what, twelfth again, 0.8 behind or something, I don't know exactly, but it's quite competitive. It's impressive, you can see that really, many teams are working in a very professional way.
Q: Moto2 changed when you were up in MotoGP, you've come back to a class which is a little closer to MotoGP. Does it make it easier, understanding the electronics?
TL: As much as you can understand electronics! Sometimes it's difficult to understand the electronics... The question is, how much is it closer to MotoGP or not? This is the basic question we have to ask, I think. Because OK, it was presented what the new thing will be, with the Triumph, with more electronics, and so on, and everybody was thinking, 'Ah! It's closer to MotoGP.' But it's still Moto2. Now I'm coming back, and I was also thinking, OK, now you can change the line, it will be more close to the MotoGP line, but still you need to carry corner speed compared to the big bikes.
It's interesting, the electronics are interesting, but for sure we don't have the possibilities like we have in the MotoGP class. On one point I'm happy that we don't have this opportunity, because it's getting so complicated, and with that, also expensive, it's a normal thing. But it's nice to have something more to play with. I expect, or I hope a little bit, that we will get from the rules side, more and more open and more for the teams to play, and also more room to show also the potential of the teams. Now at the moment, they are quite strictly limited still.
But it's a very interesting class. It's nice for me, I think it's the right moment to get back into this class, I think it's the right moment because, sure, it's still Moto2, but it's not the 600 engine any more. It's quite a lot of torque out of the turns. I was actually impressed by this engine.
Q: From a psychological point of view, you left the class as runner up in the world championship, and you had a really tough year in MotoGP. Do you feel that your confidence is coming back, because you are coming back to more known territory?
TL: Yes. It feels like that. It was a tough year, but I learned so much out of this year, out of the 2018 season, and this will just make me stronger for the future, for sure.
Q: What was the big lesson you learned?
TL: The big lessons? Not only on the bike. On the bike, but also organization, and how to do things, and how work, working style, and so on. It was really, really interesting. But also working with the bike, setup work, analyzing, stuff like that. I really learned a lot, because it was so complicated in the MotoGP class with that bike, you had to hang in there, and you had to study everything very deep and clear, and this was really a good school to learn to make a better and more precise analysis here in the Moto2 class.
Q: Your aim is to challenge for the title again?
TL: Yes. Yes. That's the goal. We want to play in front. The Moto2 class is new, but still Moto2. We can see already that it's very tight, very close together, the lap times. So it's really important to have the details fixed, and to work really professionally with the team. But we just started, you know, and I really want to take the time, also with the crew, and start to work and learn step by step and be ready in Qatar for the first race. And then we want to play in front, that's for sure, yes. But now it's still important to learn step by step, and not jump over any steps and try to be the fastest on a test already, and whatever. I think we can have the self confidence to take Qatar as a goal, to be ready in Qatar for the first race.
Q: Can you feel where the strengths and weaknesses of this bike are? Where does it need improvement, what does it do really well? Not from the engine side, but from the chassis side, because the engine is the same for everyone?
TL: Yes, but still, there are points which are nice. I was also talking with Sam Lowes just before, and he was talking about the same thing, like my feeling is. It's quite hard to control actually, there's quite a lot of torque on the bottom. But also the control on the apex, it's very difficult, because you have to be so smooth and so careful, I think that's also why we also saw some highsides already. [Jorge] Martin I think had a highside when he got injured, and also another rider out of Turn 6, I don't know who it was, that was also a highside. It's because of this, it's very hard and very difficult to control. You need to be calm and very smooth with the throttle.
Q: So it's not that easy of an engine, even if it has more torque?
TL: Not yet. Not yet. You can set the torque more, but it's quite difficult. That's what we've been working on. It's just new, and we have to find a way to set it properly to get it more under control, and also more safe, on the other side.
On the chassis side? I cannot compare to the chassis I rode, the Moto2 chassis. It's too far away, simply, and I don't want to compare it. But what we clearly see is that Kalex has already made a great job until now, and I'm really happy to be on a Kalex bike. This will be the winning bike in my eyes, and we are just trying to find a little bit more perfect setup than the other Kalex riders to be a small step better.
Q: What does the bike do well?
TL: [Laughs] Ha! A rider will find every time and everywhere a point which is not good on the bike, every time! But let's say like this, I'm quite happy and it's quite good on the entry of the corners, and I'm struggling on the exit quite a lot. I don't get any stability yet, and we are really working on that. Is that chassis or electronics, or is it just the fact it's new electronics?
Many, many times, many issues are connected together. But on the electronics side, we got a little bit better under control, but we didn't solve the problem completely. So it's also connected to the chassis or chassis setup. We need to find also the center of gravity, place it in a different place, and just find the setup. That's the work, you know? That's why we should have some more dry laps to work on that. But OK, we could make big steps already, and I was actually really impressed how the guys work, the crew is completely new here. We just worked together for the second day, and we're making huge steps forward, it's really professional. I'm really happy to be here.
Q: Looking back at last year, would you change your decision to go to MotoGP, or was it a worthwhile learning experience?
TL: No, I would keep it. It was really tough, but sometimes tough times bring you even further. Sure, it was a very disappointing season, and it was also hard sometimes to find the motivation, really really tough for sure. But now when I look back, it's not far yet. Even already now at this point, I can see that I really learned a lot out of it. And the further we will go next season, when I look back I will see that I can get ever more out of it, I think. I hope.
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