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After a positive two tests in Sepang, motogp.com caught up with Yamaha Motor Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis to hear his thoughts on Yamaha´s 2012 challenge and their expectations for all four riders contesting the year on-board the YZR-M1.
How is the feeling at Yamaha following the two Sepang tests?
“We’re feeling pretty optimistic and buoyant I would say, because though we are not leading at the moment, we are right there. The four Yamaha riders have been performing well, riding consistently and fast at the first two tests, so we think we’re in fairly good shape. What’s important is that we’re competitive, we’re close to the Hondas.”
How far away from the Hondas do you think you still are?
“Compared to last year, we’ve closed the gap. This year everybody is starting with new machinery and the new 1000cc regulations and the fact everybody has had to start from scratch has pretty much annihilated the advantage that Honda had at the end of last year and allowed us to start from zero again. In terms of what more we need to close in, frankly, we think we need just about a tenth of a second everywhere, whether it be on the braking, on acceleration or on grip. We just need to fine-tune the whole package. We’re not really out of the zone in any particular area, we just need to get everything perfect and then we should be with them. We did a race simulation in Sepang which was pretty good, we were one of the only ones to do more or less a full race simulation and that proved that we could maintain those fast times for almost race distance, so that gives us a little bit of optimism as well.”
Do you think Stoner is catchable this year? Can Jorge and Ben mount a decent challenge?
“Yes without doubt. I think clearly Jorge and Casey have been the lead riders the last two years and I think that will be exactly the same this season. The difference between them is negligible; it depends entirely on the track and on many circumstances. Casey had a storming year last year, he didn’t make any mistakes at all, but Jorge did the same the year before. So in my opinion, it will most likely be a head to head battle between Jorge and Casey starting from the beginning of the season. This will be Ben’s third year in MotoGP with Yamaha. Last year he had a bit of a torrid time with some things that were not perfect in his preparation and his health and so forth, but he showed what he can do by winning a race last year. We’ve just had both riders in our offices here at Monza for the last two days and I should say they’re in great shape, physically, mentally, they’re uninjured... Ben had a bit of a tumble on the last day at Sepang 2 but he’s fully recovered and feeling much more positive about the new season. The bike, as they say in Italian, is “a posto”, the riders are in good shape, ready to go and the team is working well. Actually we can’t wait for the first race. We know we have to do another test but I’d be happy to go racing tomorrow.”
You’re predicting a title challenge from Jorge this year, what are you expecting from Ben?
“Well his expectation personally is also to challenge for the title and it’s the same for us. We have two riders that are definitely capable of challenging for the title. The difference I would say is that Jorge has proved in the last three seasons that he’s already there, because he’s finished second, first and second in the last three years. Ben stepped up to fifth position last year so he has the potential to win. Whether he can put that together in a whole season-there is no reason why not. I’m definitely looking for a top three position at the end of the year for Ben, that’s what I think he’s capable of.”
Which areas of the bike have Yamaha improved on in particular with the 1000cc machine?
“It’s difficult to say what we’ve improved on because it’s a new engine and a new capacity. What I would say is we’ve kept a lot of our positive points that we are famous for, in particular the chassis. I think the bike is extremely well balanced- the chassis is good. Perhaps in the past we lacked a little bit of grunt from the engine and some of our competitors maybe had engines that had stronger acceleration than we did. With the 1000cc there is more than enough power on tap, so basically that problem of not having enough power has gone away. Now it’s more about management: Engine management, power management and having a great chassis to use all the power.”
Another positive point from the test were the results from Crutchlow and Dovizioso. How do you see their seasons panning out?
“Cal has also gained a lot of experience with us and I think he can put that into good use this year. The bike and the general package is quite competitive so I’m expecting Cal to have a better year than last year. The important thing for Cal is to maintain consistency. He clearly has a lot of speed and he finished the last test in good shape as well. He just needs to be able to do that everywhere.”
“I would say Andrea is perhaps a little bit the opposite; consistency is his strongest point. Obviously, making the switch from the Honda he still has to adjust himself a bit to the style of the Yamaha, but we were impressed in the second test. In the first test, it looked as though he was perhaps going to have a lot of work to do to get used to the different way to ride the Yamaha, but of course he also had that motocross injury that gave him a lot of trouble with the shoulder. He’s not 100% yet, but finishing the last test in third place, again he showed that he’s adapted to the bike and I think that the high corner speeds, the 250 style—the Yamaha is a bike that generally has higher corner speeds than the Honda—should suit him. So I think that Andrea will have an extremely good season and Cal also can make a step forward from where he was last year. Tech 3 in my opinion is in pretty good shape as a satellite team.”
We saw that Ben was able to achieve podiums on the satellite bike at Tech 3. Given that all four riders will start the season on more or less equal machinery, do you expect that Cal and Andrea can do the same?
“Absolutely! I think the bike has the potential to be there on the podium. I have no doubt. It depends how the racing pans out, so many things can happen. But at the same time we can’t underestimate the sheer speed of Casey, Jorge, Ben and Dani, four really fast established riders. It’s not easy to beat them, but then again Andrea is somebody that can definitely do that, he’s proven that last year, he’s finished third in the championship, so why not? Podiums are definitely up for grabs and I think even race wins are possible, certainly for Andrea.”
With all the factory riders’ contracts up this year, what are Yamaha’s intentions for 2013? Will you want to retain the riders that you have?
“Somebody asked me yesterday ‘which riders are you looking at for this year?’ and frankly speaking, primarily I’m looking at the two we already have. I think the Ben/Jorge combination is an excellent combination for us to work with: They’re both extremely talented and extremely fast. In my opinion, to have the best shot at the title you need Jorge or Casey in your team. We already have Jorge in our team now so my first priority is to retain him and hopefully Ben will have a good year and then we can move forward with Ben as well. So my priority is to get great results this year with our two riders and hopefully extend them both into the future.”
Are you worried that if the Yamaha proves not to be as competitive as the Honda this year it might be hard to hold on to Lorenzo?
“There’s never any sense worrying over something you can’t influence or control, so we’ll see what happens. If Honda chooses to go after our riders aggressively that may present a problem. But I’m not worried about it-but I hope that that won´t be the case.”
Is there a possibility that Dovizioso could step up to the factory team if he has a good year?
“Absolutely I think so. Basically, whilst we have some ideas in mind, 2013 is still a white sheet of paper, so anything is possible. If Andrea adapts really well to the bike and has a fabulous season, then he’s the third rider in my sights at the moment. I think anything is possible so let’s see how the beginning of the season unfolds and see who makes the first move.”
The last test in Jerez is coming up. Will we see any big changes there?
“There won’t be big changes. We’ll be fine tuning, trying out a few new things, a couple of last minute adjustments to basically get ready for the first race. We’ve only tested twice in Sepang so far, so it will be interesting to try out things we need to get right for the Jerez race later in the year and also just to try things on a different track. As an example, Honda had some chattering problems in Sepang and I’m sure they would be extremely curious to see whether they still suffer from the same problems in Jerez. Different tracks give you an opportunity to get a different perspective on problems, on the strong and weak points that you have, but there won’t be any major changes.”
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