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Montiron looks to bright future for Konica Minolta Honda

Montiron looks to bright future for Konica Minolta Honda

Montiron looks to bright future for Konica Minolta Honda

The MotoGP World Championship will have a fresh injection of colour in 2005 thanks to the arrival of a major new sponsor in the shape of photography giants Konica Minolta.

The Japanese company are backing a new team structure known as JiR (Japan Italy Racing), created by Tetsuo Iida, the former President of Honda Europe NV, and Luca Montiron, formerly Team Manager for Makoto Tamada's half of the Camel Honda garage and, previously, the Pramac Honda outfit which gave Tamada his MotoGP debut in 2003.

In this exclusive interview, Montiron discusses the details of the Konica Minolta Honda project and outlines the team's objectives for their first season, when they will also link up with Michelin tyres for the first time. How happy are you to be embarking on this new project?

Luca Montiron: We're all very satisfied because we have an important sponsor in Konica Minolta and we have started an ambitious project with a structure which is dedicated to just one rider, Makoto Tamada. Thanks to the support of Konica Minolta and Honda we have the privilege of competing in MotoGP, which is a great starting point for our project. Also, Makoto will be a test rider for HRC and that represents a significant level of support from the factory, which is fundamental if we want to enjoy the level success we have set ourselves.

Q: It seems Makoto is a key part of that plan...

LM: Definitely. I think Makoto demonstrated his talent last season – he won two races, set pole position three times, finished second a couple of times… basically he showed that he is a strong challenger and is capable of carrying the fight to the regular frontrunners in the MotoGP World Championship. I think he is one of the few Honda riders who have proved that they have the ability to win the title. He did wonderful things last year that weren't only down to the technical material we had but also his abilities as a rider.

Q: Just how important is it to have the support of Konica Minolta?

LM: I think the arrival of new sponsors is interesting for motorcycling because the main current sponsors are tobacco companies, so I think it is very relevant that a company like Konica Minolta has come in. I'm very satisfied to have brought such an important sponsor here for the first time. Now it's down to us to keep working and keep growing so that other sponsors, who are watching our progress ‘through the window', will also get involved. Especially because, for us, it was difficult to attract sponsors in Europe because we have a Japanese rider. So even though our references are still in the Japanese market, we are still on the lookout for multinational companies with a global interest.

Q: Tell us more about the change from Bridgestone tyres to Michelin…

LM: I think it will prove to be a fundamental change because if we were to continue with Bridgestone we weren't going to get the same level of support that we have had for the past two seasons. I think that the fact they are working with Suzuki, Kawasaki and Ducati means that Bridgestone wouldn't be able to give us the sort of attention they did when we were the only team. So I think we were obliged to make the change and once we looked at it that way we decided to go ahead with it. We think that we can use the experience we have gathered during two years working with Bridgestone to contribute to the work done by Michelin.

Q: But it did seem that Bridgestone were starting to gain an advantage at some circuits...

LM: Yes, you could see that last season and I'm sure they will have the same advantage this season, but only at a few circuits. In any case, Bridgestone are very strong and I think that they will do well over the course of the season but in my opinion the difference will be in the bike. The Honda guarantees you a high level of competitiveness in all seventeen rounds of the season but the other bikes cannot guarantee that level of performance at every circuit. That is the key point for me. Maybe at some circuits the tyres will be more important than the bikes but I think it will be very finely balanced.

Q: What are the team's objectives for the season?

LM: Mainly to do better than last year! By that I mean our target is to be at the front in every round. We aspire to success; we know it is difficult but that is the way we are approaching it.

Q: Where will the team be based this season?

LM: The logistical base will be in Verona, where we will have our racing department, whilst all of the marketing and commercial side of things will be done from our European head office, which is in Monaco.

Q: How was the first test out in Sepang?

LM: Makoto consistently lapped half a second quicker than last season at Sepang, so we're very confident. We are taking things steady because Makoto needs two or three tests to properly evaluate the new tyres. So we decided to take things very calmly, even if that means being two or three tenths off the fastest guys at the moment, because the important thing is to be ready for the 10th April, when the season starts for real at Jerez.

MotoGP, 2005

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