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Ramón Forcada: The brains behind Barros

Ramón Forcada: The brains behind Barros

Ramón Forcada: The brains behind Barros

The fight for the 2004 MotoGP World Championship promises to be as much of a battle behind the scenes as it will be on the racetrack, particularly for the six factory Honda riders who will fight for supremacy aboard virtually identical RC211V machines. A key factor this season more than any other will lie in riders maximizing performance from their machines to give them even the slightest advantage and, for Brazilian rider Alex Barros, this means once again turning to his most trusted tuner, Ramón Forcada, who has ended a long association with the team run by Sito Pons to join him at Repsol Honda.

The 46 year old is famed for his knack for solving problems and for forging close relationships with a long list of riders which also includes John Kocinski, Alberto Puig, Juan Borja, Alex Crivillé, Carlos Checa and Tohru Ukawa. Forcada admits that a previous three year stint with Barros will help them adapt swiftly to the demands of a title challenge in 2004.

"This will be my fourth season working with Barros and that is an advantage," explains the Spaniard, who also worked alongside Barros from 2000 to 2002. "You have to understand a rider and sometimes words are only a minor factor in that relationship – after a certain amount of time you know what the rider wants to say with just a simple gesture.

"Alex has been recovering from injury during the preseason so the set-up of the bike has been conditioned by that but we believe that with the work we have done he will be 100% ready for the start of the season – if not in South Africa then definitely in Jerez."

The Barros-Forcada partnership enjoyed a fruitful relationship with the RC211V during the final four races of 2002, taking victory at the first attempt before repeating at the last. Forcada admits their track record gives reason for cautious optimism.

"It will be impossible to match our achievement in those four races but we want to at least match it. Like everybody our objective is to win the title, but there is a lot of hard work to be done because the standard is extremely high and it is impossible to make any predictions. In MotoGP a guy can qualify tenth and it looks like a bad result, but he may have only lapped a couple of tenths slower than the guy on pole."

After almost ten seasons working as a satellite Honda technician, Forcada was trusted by HRC to oversee development of the RC211V last year with Tohru Ukawa and now starts his second season with full factory backing. "The main difference between working for a satellite team and working for a factory team is that, as well as building a bike to race, you also have the job of developing new parts and components.

"In general, though, this is an advantage because they usually only bring things that have already been checked out by the test riders, and when Honda bring along a new part you are almost guaranteed it will work.

"As a technician, you have more information in a factory team. Honda don't like to experiment during a Grand Prix weekend so, if they do bring something, you know it is going to be good. In a satellite team you are constantly working with material that has already been tested and integrated by the factory team so you have to play with other elements to try and make up the advantage – the set-up, the carburetion… little tricks here and there.

"The arrival of four-strokes has changed this way of working a little bit because things that used to have to be done manually are now done electronically and the range of variables is wider. But the job remains the same – optimising the bike so that the rider feels as comfortable as possible on it.

"What doesn't change is the way in which you must adapt to suit your rider – work on the aspects which cause him most concern and prevent him from riding as he wants to. Maybe you think you could improve on the brakes but he isn't worried by that - you have to focus on what really matters to him. Sometimes you can watch a rider and see that he has a chattering problem, thinking that he'll come in complaining, but he actually doesn't notice it and is happy because he set a fast time."

Forcada believes that Barros can live up to the important development role played by Ukawa last season but also has the mentality to win races and challenge for the title. "Ukawa had that mentality of being a factory rider – he's prepared to go out there and lap all day to test new parts – it's a special mentality. Alex has also assumed this role with Honda and he knows it will be down to him to test developments in the engine and other new parts, but he will also be looking for results in the race. I don't think Ukawa was really aggressive enough – he's too much of a nice guy to be a racer, if you know what I mean."

With just one week to go before the first race of another long season, Forcada insists that he still has the same energy and capacity for work as he had when he first started. "If you like what you do it's not like work – I don't even think about the possibility of a different job. It's true that by the end of the season you are sick of travelling and have had enough of bikes but then, after a bit of a rest, you start to miss it again and before long you can't wait for it all to start."

MotoGP, 2004, Alex Barros

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