MotoGPMatters.com's Scott Jones had spoken to Guy Coulon at the MotoGP season opener at Qatar, and the conversation had left us with some questions unanswered. Colin Edwards' crew chief had told us that he wanted to reserve judgment on issues such as tires and the practice restrictions until a few races into the season. At the halfway mark of the season, we felt it was a good time to catch up with Coulon again and get his opinion, as well as ask about the Tech 3 team's plans for the fledgling Moto2 series due to launch next year. Scott Jones spoke to Guy Coulon
MGPM: When we spoke in Qatar, you said we would need to go to several races where there had been no winter testing to know how the shortened practice schedule and new tire rules would affect race preparation. What can you tell us seven races into the season?
Coulon: But already we have another change [in the practice schedule] from Le Mans. We started the beginning of the season with only three sessions of 45 minutes each. From Le Mans, we still have three sessions but each is one hour now. So the main thing we have learned this year is that the Yamaha is not difficult to set up, and I think we have an advantage with fewer [practice] sessions.
But of course we have to use the time we have differently from before when we had more practice sessions. Before we had four hours and now we have three, so we must be very focused on what changes we want to make. We must decide after each change if we will keep those settings or not. When we had more time we could compare settings, and if the rider was unsure which was better, we could compare the two settings again before moving forward. But now when we compare different settings, we must decide right away if we keep those settings or not; we follow this way or we follow that way. So that is different from before. But also this year we have only one tire manufacturer, and that means we have many fewer types of tires to combine with our tests of different chassis settings.
Mainly I think it’s a positive thing to have only three one-hour sessions, partly because on Friday morning the public and the riders can now see each other [during the pit lane access period]. Also, as you know the economic situation is quite severe, so we can save money from the reduced engine mileage every race weekend. For the engine makers this is a significant savings.
MGPM: Is the latest scheme of three one-hour sessions a good balance between cost savings and race preparation, or should it be changed again?
Coulon: I think it’s a good balance, because finally everyone is ready in time for the race. Maybe everyone is one tenth slower—if we had another hour to test, maybe we could go one tenth or two tenths faster. But in fact the show and the fighting for positions during the race is very similar to before, and the three hours of practice are the same for everyone. And at the same time we save a lot of money, that’s clear. Not just on mileage, but also when we are in Europe at races that are not too far from team headquarters, most team members can arrive one day later, so we have one night less at hotels. So this helps financially. We used to test for one or two days after the races, which meant that the entire team should stay at the hotel for one or two more nights. There is no more of that, so this is another good point for saving money, and in fact we have very similar [race] performance.
MGPM: You mentioned tires earlier. How is it working with the Bridgestones after seven races?
Coulon: So at the first race we said the big question was what would happen on tracks were there had been no winter testing with the new tires. We’d tested in Qatar, Malaysia, Jerez, so we already new before the race weekend which tire to use there. But when we started racing at tracks where we hadn’t tested, we found the Bridgestone allocation was good. We had no problem with the tires and everybody got normal life out of the race tires; I believe nobody is complaining about that.
MGPM: Do you miss the additional competition of one tire maker against another? Or is that better left out of the race weekend?
Coulon: With the current economic situation, having only one tire manufacturer is clearly positive. And also, before when some teams used Michelin and other teams used Bridgestone, and sometimes when you had lack of performance, the rider could say, “Well, maybe it’s because of the tire.” But now this point disappears. Everybody has the same tire, so if we have a lack of performance, it’s because of our settings or because of rider performance and we can concentrate on these points.
MGPM: Speaking of riders, Colin has had a great season so far; do you think that he’s adapting to the Bridgestones more easily than others?
Coulon: I believe that Colin adapted well to the feel of the Bridgestone tires from the first test. And he understood very quickly that he needed to change his style a bit to get the most out of the new tires. Maybe some other riders need some more time to understand that. This aspect of changing tires is very difficult for the team because it’s hard to teach the rider what to do differently; it’s mainly rider feel that makes the difference. And only the rider can say, “Ah, I have a different feeling in this situation and I need to change my style because with this new tire I must be quicker in this area and safer in this area.” So only the rider can decide if he needs to change his style or not.
I remember that at the beginning of the season Colin said he needed to change his riding style and race after race he would comment that he was not yet at 100% because he needed to take this line instead of that line. But because he used Michelins so long, still in his mind he had Michelin lines. But by now I think everything is clear for him, what he has to do to get the most of the Bridgestone tires.
MGPM: Assen was Colin’s second 4th place of the season, but how difficult is it going to be to get onto the podium with Rossi, Stoner, and Lorenzo being so fast every race?
Coulon: [Laughs.] Yes, you know, Colin is always, I think, the best satellite team rider. But even to place fourth is really, really difficult. In fact, fifth or better is really difficult. Because the two Yamaha works bikes are one step better than our bike. We have a really good bike, but they are the factory, they have the best bike, and this is 100% normal. Then Casey is really, really strong. So to be on the podium you need to beat one of these three. Plus you have Pedrosa and Dovizioso on the works Hondas. And you can’t forget the works Suzukis and some other factory bikes. So our normal good position is fifth, sixth, seventh. Better than five is…
MGPM: Like a victory?
Coulon: Yes, yes. And worse than seventh is not so good. And it’s really hard fighting to be in this area. From the beginning of the season Colin did a really good job, so our target now is to keep this level all season.
MGPM: What do you think of the Rookie Rule? Should rookies be able to go to factory teams?
Coulon: I think it is better for 250 riders to go to satellite teams with good bikes because they will have less pressure their first season. So concerning for example, Pedrosa or Lorenzo, maybe they were able to go straight to factory teams, but not so many others [could do so], I think. I don’t know if the current 250 riders could. Of course, the riders’ managers want to have them straight into factory teams, but it’s only a business matter. For example, even Lorenzo last year, I believe he had a lot of pressure and a lot of crashes, mainly because he was on a factory team. If he had the same bike on a satellite team, maybe he could’ve learned [more slowly] and with less pressure, and it would’ve been better for him. So I am mainly positive about this rule.
MGPM: What can you tell us about Tech 3’s plans for Moto2?
Coulon: We have a chassis design underway. In the beginning we started with a design to fit the Yamaha engine, and when the rule changed, we had to reconsider the direction we were going. Next week we should start to assemble the first parts that are still in production. I hope to have a bike up, not running, but a chassis with engine and suspension assembled by the first week in September. If everything is going well. [Smiles.]
MGPM: Which class interests you more right now, MotoGP or Moto2?
Coulon: For our team members, Moto2 is more interesting right now because he have to prepare many things ourselves. Especially in our team because we’re building our own chassis, and we need to produce all the parts and everything. So we can control everything from the beginning to having the bike on the track. And this is really interesting. If it’s working! [Laughs.] If it’s not working, it’s more difficult, of course.
MGPM: So would you participate in two classes at the same time?
Coulon: No. For sure we will have a Moto2 team, but it will be completely separate from the MotoGP team. Now I am working on the Moto2 chassis concept, but if I keep working on the MotoGP team when the season starts, I will do only MotoGP. If Moto2, then I will do nothing on MotoGP. Each team should be able to work completely independent of the other.