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Behind the scenes with Mike Leitner

Behind the scenes with Mike Leitner

When Dani Pedrosa made the move up to the 250cc category in 2004 as the reigning 125cc World Champion, his path met with that of Mike Leitner, and the pair have worked together ever since.

Austrian former 125cc rider Mike Leitner has become one of the most important figures in Dani Pedrosa´s career, having worked alongside as him as his Chief Mechanic for the last five years.

Leitner has in-depth technical experience having also worked as a mechanic for the likes of Jeremy McWilliams, Ralf Waldman and Stefano Perugini - and since joining Pedrosa´s team he has overseen campaigns in which the young Catalan star has won two 250cc World titles and finished runner-up in the MotoGP class.

With Pedrosa currently leading the World Championship, alongside fellow Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo, Leitner´s aim in 2008 is to keep him on top…

Q. As Pedrosa´s Chief Mechanic, what are your specific duties within the Repsol Honda Team?
A. `My main duty is to supervise every decision taken regarding the bike, which could be the engine, gearbox, suspension or tyres and so on. I have the last word. We are a great team, with many specialists, and everyone works hard, but in the end, when someone has to decide on what direction to take, that´s me. It´s an enormous responsibility, and that means there´s a lot of pressure.´

Q. How would you define Pedrosa?
A. `This is my fifth season working with him and I can tell you he´s a very special rider. When you win a World Championship in 125cc and two in 250cc, you win races during your first MotoGP season, and by the second year you´re the MotoGP runner-up, it´s quite clear that you´re a special rider, different to the rest.´

Q. Is he easy to work with?
A. `As I said, he´s a special person, but he is easy to work with. He doesn´t see himself as a star or a prima donna. He´s an easygoing, down-to-earth guy. I think Alberto Puig always helped out a lot with that. He´s been well trained to understand what life´s about. He understands the positive and negative aspects of motorcycle racing, and has always been serious about his work.´

Q. What is the most difficult part of your job?
A. `There´s nothing particularly difficult. We always try to adjust everything as best we can, in order to get the best possible result. It is a motivation that lasts from the first winter training session until the very last race. It requires a lot of energy, but if you have a rider like Dani, who gives back so much in return, it´s very motivating for all the team members.´

Q. What is your favourite memory from the years you have been working with Pedrosa?
A. `We´ve had so many good moments that I can´t pick just one. At times when things are not going too well, they way he takes on difficult situations surprises me. And at the same time, when we´re successful, he surprises me again with his serene approach. There have been many special moments, like the last victory at Jerez, when it was the second race of the year, bearing in mind all the problems we had during the winter training sessions.´

Q. And your worst memory?
A. `The worst moments are definitely when the rider falls and hurts himself. We´ve had a few such moments in the past, and for any team, any mechanic, it´s a very hard time.´

Q. When does the tension reach its peak during a Grand Prix weekend?
A. `There can be many tense moments, starting with when you´re trying out something important and hoping all goes well, or even before the training sessions, when on Thursday we decide on the tyres we´re going to use throughout the Grand Prix. Also, for anyone who is competing, the hardest moment is just before the start of the race.´

Q. Does a Chief Mechanic need specific psychological skills when working with a rider?
A. `Definitely. In our case, Alberto Puig takes care of those things, and I concentrate mainly on the technical aspects. Though after so many years, we´ve become Dani´s friends and he trusts me much more than when we started out; in the same way that I understand him much better and know when to pick the moment to tell him something, calm him down, or motivate him. I think that right now we have a good relationship. You get closer as time goes by.´

How many hours do you spend at a circuit on a race weekend?
A. `A lot! I´ve stopped counting, because this job demands a lot of energy from everyone. Every mechanic works hard, because this is a crazy world we´re in and there´s a lot of pressure. You´re always under pressure, and the hours just slip by while we´re on the track.´

Q. And a last question. Can you tell us what a race day is like for Pedrosa´s Chief Mechanic?
A. `It starts at 7am sharp at the hotel, we come to the circuit, and prepare the bike for the warm-up, which is at 9.40 am. The adjustments are already made the night before. Then we have the warm-up, which gives us the rider´s latest information, and we get the bike ready for the race, making the last few changes if necessary, like with the tyres, for example.´

`We check the weather, the wind, and everything that can affect the bike´s performance. Most of the adjustments have been decided upon the previous afternoon, and we always try not to change too many things at the last minute. Once the race has started, Sunday is usually the easiest day for a Chief Mechanic, as all the work has already been done, and the stressful days are Friday and Saturday. Sunday, if everything goes as expected, is our easiest day. Though it's the toughest day for the rider.´

Interview courtesy of Repsol Honda.

MotoGP, 2008, Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda Team

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