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Erv Kanemoto: HRC's prodigal son returns

Erv Kanemoto: HRC's prodigal son returns

Erv Kanemoto: HRC's prodigal son returns

Seventeen years after parting company with Honda Racing to start his own team, revered engineer Erv Kanemoto has been hired by the Japanese factory this season in a bid to revive their flagging fortunes in the MotoGP World Championship.

The HRC supported Repsol Honda squad endured one of their toughest campaigns ever in 2004, failing to win a single race after the departure of Valentino Rossi to Yamaha.

However, the arrival of Max Biaggi and his former mentor Kanemoto, who helped the Italian to the 250cc title in 1997 and guided him to the runner-up spot in his debut 500cc season, has given the team fresh impetus ahead of the new season.

Q: The 2004 season was one of the worst ever for HRC… how are you planning to turn that around?

Erv Kanemoto: I know that I have a big challenge to face but I'm really passionate about racing, as most of us here are, and we all know that Honda has enough potential to create a winning bike and a winning team. Working with them, riders and team, will be without doubt a very interesting experience for me. Right now I'm in a learning phase; I'm getting to know the team, where almost everything is new to me, although I already worked some time ago with Pete Benson and Hideki Iwano, both chief mechanics. I'm also getting to know the bike's behaviour, which is completely new to me. We started with the two test sessions planned in Malaysia and then three days in Australia with the 2005 bikes. Now my main objective is getting to know the new bike, understand it and help them with the evolution.

Q: The team has undergone important changes on all levels: mechanics, technicians, management... How do you think this will affect the team as a whole?

EK: New teams usually need a period of adaptation; when you put together people who haven't worked together as a team, you need some time to let them know each other and get used to it. But fortunately, we'll have enough test sessions before the first round of the World Championship to let this team, the Repsol Honda Team, become a compact and close team.

Q: After the tests at Sepang and Phillip Island, is it possible to develop the 2005 version RC211V much more or is it already close to its limit?

EK: I don't know the bike 100% yet, as I said, but what I can tell you is that the factories competing in the World Championship, fighting for the title, work very hard, constantly developing and evolving new components, so the bike will keep on evolving during the preseason and even at certain points during the season.

Q: How does the current MotoGOP class compare to the golden ages you experienced with the likes of Gardner, Spencer, Lawson, Rainey and Schwantz?

EK: I think that especially the MotoGP class is enjoying a great era. It's good for this sport and for the class in particular, to see how the factories are getting more and more involved, contributing to their projects with engineers, new ideas and advanced technologies. We shouldn't forget that MotoGP is a recent creation, so it's moving forward and growing year after year, giving new factories the opportunity to enter the highest world competition of motorbikes. As regards the riders, I think that nothing has changed if you want to become a champion: quality, effort and consistency were and are still necessary to be the best. It's difficult to define any changes in these aspects right now, because the quality of a winner is still the same. But the bikes have changed and that has raised the level of the class. However, I think the riders keep the same, very high level.

Q: You were away from races for a couple of years, then came back to action last year with Suzuki, and this season you're back in the official Honda garage. Exactly how did the move to Repsol Honda come about?

EK: I was contacted by people from Honda, they ask me whether I was available to join the Repsol Honda Team in 2005. The truth is that I was very surprised when they asked me. I started working with HRC, at that time called Honda Racing, in 1982, and my last year with them was 1988. From that moment on I began working with my own company; in 1989 I worked with Eddie Lawson and we took the 500cc World Championship. Since then, HRC's history in this last decade and a half has been filled with great success and achievements, so I'm really surprised that they remembered me. So when they asked me, the first thing I thought was that this could be a great chance to work in the best team, with the best bike and with top level riders. When I accepted the challenge I obviously knew as well that it wouldn't be easy and that achieving the set objectives is going to be a very big challenge. If everything works out well, we should be fighting for the title, but that's exactly what the rest of the teams are thinking too, so it won't be easy.

Q: Let's talk about the Repsol Honda riders… How do you think Max has evolved as a rider since you took different paths at the end of 1998?

EK: I know Max very well; 1993 was the first year we worked together, in 1997 we took the 250cc title with Honda and the following year, in 1998 we were runner-up in 500cc, with Honda as well. I haven't been following him much on the track during these years because I've been away from races but from what I know, Max is a rider who focuses and concentrates completely on racing, as any other rider who wants to fight for the title. If he's got the bike and the team he needs, Max will be very competitive, undoubtedly one of the best and I'm sure that he'll be fighting for the title.

Q: Why do you think Max hasn't managed to become MotoGP World Champion yet?

EK: It's difficult to say... Maybe due to a series of circumstances that allow you to get a title and didn't come together at the same time: bike, team, luck, important differences between rider's style and the bike's behaviour... I don't know, I wasn't with him in the past, so I can only talk about the present, and I hope to be able to give him everything necessary to let him clinch the title, to give him a bike that will allow him to exploit his potential.

Q: Do you think this is his biggest chance to win the title?

EK: Yes. It's possible and I hope that this time it's going to work out. The coming weeks before the start of the World Championship are going to be critical, very important for us, because we have to give Max the bike he needs to fight for the title. I'm sure that if we manage to do so, Max will have his chance to get the World Championship.

Q: How are things developing with Nicky Hayden and his team?

EK: It's true that I've spent a lot of time with Max and little with Nicky so far, but there's a reason for that. I'm trying to get to know the bike and what way to follow to evolve it correctly, I mean, we have to choose the right path to follow for its development. And I think that Max is well prepared to help me with this, due to his experience. Once I have all the information I need and once we've chosen the right direction, I'll start working with both of them, although each one of them has his own riding style. I'm obviously here to work with both, with the whole team, but right now I needed to understand the bike, and quickly, and that's why I've been so close to Max.

Q: Do you think that Nicky can be fighting for victory and even for the title this season?

EK: Well, it's not easy for any rider to be fighting for victories, especially because all of them want the same thing and there are many of them, very good ones. The fight for the title is obviously much more complicated, but what I can tell you is that there are many factors playing a role in this sport, many of them determining ones, that will allow or hinder a rider from being a winner, and I think that Nicky has the potential to win, if not right now, soon.

Q: How much have you seen of Valentino Rossi and Yamaha during the preseason?

EK: The truth is that I haven't seen much, because we've been very busy trying to understand what we have, so I haven't had much time to watch our rivals. We know general things about our rivals, but nothing specific, only that they're going to be very competitive. We know that Valentino and his bike make up a great tandem and that his team is strong; they know how to give their rider what he needs. Everybody knows Valentino's potential.

Q: Who else do you think will be fighting for the title this year?

EK: Valentino Rossi is obviously the favourite and I think that Gibernau, Capirossi, Barros and obviously Max and Nicky can be fighting for the title as well. These are more or less the riders who will be fighting weekend after weekend for the victory.

Q: And finally, who do you think will be the surprise?

EK: Tamada. I think that if he and his team are capable of adapting to the new tyres they're going to use this season, they can do a really good job and, who knows, maybe give us a surprise... Another rider who I think may give us a surprise this year is John Hopkins. Suzuki have made a big step forward and if his team does a good job, Hopkins and his bike will be competitive.

MotoGP, 2005

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