James Ellison on his return to MotoGP

Thursday, 26 January 2012

James Ellison is set to make a return to MotoGP™ for the 2012 season, aboard a CRT bike on the Paul Bird Motorsport team. motogp.com caught up with the British rider to talk about his reappearance in the premier class this time around.

Much has changed since James Ellison’s first stint in MotoGP, a two year affair that saw the Brit aboard a WCM in 2005 and then a Tech 3 Yamaha the following year. Since then, Ellison spent a year in the American AMA Superbike series followed by four successful years in British Superbike where he claimed 17 podiums. He supplemented his British Superbike racing with wildcard appearances in World Superbike in 2008 and 2009, and in 2011 ran a full season of World Supersport along side his full time British Superbike ride.

Ellison now makes his return to the MotoGP paddock after signing with the Paul Bird Motorsport team for 2012 and 2013. The team will run a CRT bike and will make their first test with the bike on February 20th at Jerez, with further plans to test at Aragon and at the 3-day Official Test at Jerez in March.

Tell me about the team set up, you’ve got Mick Shanley (from the Swan Yamaha British Superbike team) as your crew chief.
"I’ve managed to get Mick back again, I’ve worked with him for a couple of years now but we’ve been mates for about 4 years. Phil Borley will be the team leader in charge of the bike’s technical preparations and I’ve got my number one mechanic from the 2009 GSE Racing team, Dave Parkes. I’ve got a crew behind me that I actually know really well, so that makes things easier. There’s still a lot of development work to be done, but one of the key risks—when the mechanic doesn’t know the rider and doesn’t understand him— is out of the way."

What do you know about the bike so far, we know it’s an Aprilia engine but what about the chassis?
"The bike itself is going to be called an ART, the chassis is something they built specifically for MotoGP. As far as I’m aware, it’s something that they’ve developed for this engine, for CRT, and for the Bridgestone tyres.

So it’s the same bike that Team Aspar are running?
"I don’t know, the original plan was to use the Aprilia engine and build a chassis around it, but for Paul there wasn’t time. I think in the future he’d like to build his own chassis around the engine, but certainly for now, it’s probably best just to use what they’ve done."

You’re not testing until 20th February, are you worried about the relative lack of testing time compared to MotoGP and some of the other CRTs?
"Not really. I don’t think any amount of testing this early on will make a difference anyway. The MotoGP factory bikes are pretty much developed, now they’re just fine tuning. It’s going to take years to get to where they are. As for the other CRTs, I’m assuming we’re going to share information if we are using the same bike. I would imagine it would be in Aprilia’s best interest to share a bit of information from the first test in Valencia [Team Aspar’s private test 30-31st January] when everybody else is in Sepang. With what they learn there, we might be able to take some of that information onboard for the next meeting."

"So I’m not overly worried. We’re just going to have to accept the situation we’re in and do the best we can. I have to say we’ve got a good crew behind us, so I hope that everything normally learned at the first test with a new rider, a new team and new mechanics is all out of the way. We’ll just get on with tuning the bike to make it work."

Obviously you’re not new to MotoGP, though much has changed since you were last here.
"Yeah a lot has changed. The first years I was in MotoGP I wasn’t actually riding a MotoGP bike, my R1 in BSB the same year was quicker, so my first experience wasn’t great to be honest. It should have been my best year, obviously you’ve got a lot of pressure being in a big team like that, but I was in way over my head. We were running Dunlop tyres and we were having problems with that chassis chattering, a problem that Rossi struggled with as well. I had the same chassis all year so we never really developed anything and I had the same problem every weekend. So it’s nice to have a second chance in MotoGP now, with a team that I know, mechanics that I know, the same tyres as everyone else and what looks to be quite an exciting GP bike."

"I’m relishing the challenge to be honest, it’s a dream come true. I know it isn’t going to be easy, but all we can do is go out there and try to be a top CRT, that’s got to be our first goal and then see what happens from there."

A few people have voiced concerns over the performance gap between CRT and factory bikes, what are your views?
"I imagine that the lap times from the factory bikes back in the day, when they first came out on track, weren’t that good either. It has taken years of development to get where they are now. I think the Bridgestone tyres making everything equal will help a lot. I don’t think they’re going to be as far off as everybody thinks, though I hope I’m not going to eat my words in a few months time. Certainly for the first few races, yes we’ll be off the pace but I think we’ll soon pick it up."

It seems that this will be a transitional year.
"Definitely. I don’t think you can change the rules to put everyone on complete CRT bikes, that’s too big a move and for guys like Pedrosa, Stoner and the boys used to riding at the front, it would seem like a step backwards. But the way the economy is now, if you can’t afford to run the Championship fairly, then what’s the point in running it. So if the organisers can find a cheap way to get the same results and maybe even make it a little bit more exciting for the fans, then I’m all for it."

"If we have a good season, as long as we don’t get lapped every 10 laps and as long as it looks like the bikes aren’t that far off, I think the other guys will come around a bit and realise that this is just the way that it has to be done, this is making it cheaper."

The fact that we have 21 bikes on the grid and people like you are able to find a way back in MotoGP, that’s already a positive step.
"It’s an elite championship; it’s the best motorcycle championship in the world. There’s never going to be massive numbers but it’s starting to get a bit small and the standards are getting a little too high, because the factory boys up at the front are streets ahead of the guys at the back and that gap needs to close a bit. I don’t think the riders at the front have that much more talent than the riders at the back. Yes they are better, but I don’t think the gap is that huge. It has a lot to do with the machinery available. If that gap can be closed with machinery then I think there will be many more riders coming up that haven’t been able to prove their talent yet and it will make it more interesting."

We’ve got Colin Edwards and Randy De Puniet coming from MotoGP, people like you who have been in MotoGP, some Moto2 riders and some from outside. What do you think of this mix that you will be competing against, at least at the beginning stages?
"I don’t know too much about the other riders. Yes you’ve got the likes of Colin and Randy on CRTs and I think that’s where the bar is going to be set. If we can run with those guys then we know we’re doing well. Everyone deserves a chance at the end of the day, if you work hard enough and the team has given them an opportunity to race in MotoGP, then why not?"

It could be an exciting new era.
"If it’s anything like Moto2, that’s what they’ve got to look at. I was pretty sure Moto2 was going to work out because of the (spec) engines and the prototype chassis, because there are a lot of good engineers out there. I was thinking ‘this is going to be good’ but then it was much better than I expected and it surprised a lot of people. I think CRT just needs to be proven first before people accept it. I think Dorna have definitely done the right thing. It might take some time for some of the riders and even some of the fans to accept it, but we just need to get a few races under our belt and prove that it was the right decision."

Are you worried about how the technology of the bikes you’ll be competing against has changed in the time you’ve been away, or does coming in as CRT even that out a bit?
"I’m not worried as such. I’ve done a lot of development work in the past and I love it and that’s why I’m excited about working with Mick again, because we would spend hours at night in front of the computer and that’s how these bikes are run now, with electronics. I thrive on stuff like that so I’m excited about that side of it. I know that having Mick, Phil and the technical team there will be a big advantage because the bikes are fairly advanced at the front, so we need to do the best we can to get the best out of the machinery we’ve got. And having a good team around me will help."

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