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2013 allowed all of the staff at LCR Honda MotoGP to experience a range of emotions, none more memorable than when Stefan Bradl clinched a first MotoGP™ podium finish from pole position at Laguna Seca. In the latest Post-season Catch-up, we hear the latest from team CEO and former racer Lucio Cecchinello.
Lucio, please share with us your best and worst moments of 2014…
Very easy! The good moment - actually…a fantastic, fantastic moment - was Laguna Seca. An unbelievably nice feeling! The bad one was Malaysia, when we realised that our rider was injured and was going to need surgery, so Stefan couldn’t race. Also, because of that we could no longer catch Cal Crutchlow in the championship.
Stefan crashed on several occasions during the early part of the season; how did yourself and the rest of the team attempt to avoid more incidents?
Well, in reality, we realised that when he was crashing he was always losing the front, especially in corner exit and not so much in entry; that means he was crashing once he had already released the brakes. We clearly understood we had a front suspension issue and that is why we decided to work very hard with Ohlins and the whole of HRC to try and fix our weakest point - the front-end feeling.
So, I would say the fact he crashed a lot at the start of year was not just his fault but also some technical reason, with the suspension settings not perfect for his riding style. Of course we tried to explain to him to avoid crashing [laughs], but we worked on both sides: for him to be more careful and to adjust parts to resolve negative areas.
How did the post-Valencia test go? A significant one?
Yes, definitely. We had a fantastic experience testing the new bike. The new bike is very, very similar to the previous bike, but Honda changed some of the chassis design and Stefan said that he felt much better feedback from front tyre – the bike is stiffer and more stable. It’s amazing because Honda has been able to improve what was nearly perfection already! We are very happy with the new bike. Also, we made some small adjustments with the rear suspension and were able to gain traction, which allowed us to improve our best time quite a lot; our best time in race practice was a 31.5 and then in the test we did a 30.8. Very good results.
In 2014, Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha Tech3) hopes to be challenging Stefan and Alvaro Bautista (GO&FUN Honda Gresini) for honours. Do you see it being an even more challenging year for LCR?
Absolutely [laughs]! It will be tough. A very challenging, tough season for us, but that is why we are here and why until yesterday Stefan has been here in our San Marino workshop to talk, work and plan with us to try and fix things together - to fix the targets for next year. I would say it will be an exciting season and I can’t wait to start. Honestly…I can’t wait!
Talking of different riders, how close did you come to signing Nicky Hayden?
Well, this year we have been talking with Nicky and with Honda - not directly with American Honda though, because they started to talk with HRC and we therefore spoke with American Honda through HRC. Of course, it would be a dream to be able to finalise that programme, but the reality is that in the end - to make a proper plan - we needed a budget.
We were able to find more or less 50% of that budget through HRC and American Honda. As for the other 50%, we were talking with both potential and existing sponsors, but unfortunately they didn’t accept our proposal. So, for now we have had to postpone - and I say postpone, as opposed to give up on - our next target, which would be to have a two-rider team.
Is a two-rider team on the cards for 2015, though?
The target is certainly 2015, but of course it still comes down to finding sponsors to pay for it and the reality is that the sponsorship industry is still affected by the economy continuing to be facing some tough moments. We just have to feel lucky and happy to have one rider with a Factory bike in the MotoGP™ premier class, aiming to get on the podium. We will continue to work on making a second rider possible, but I will not become preoccupied or sad if we ultimately cannot do it.
Based on the good and bad of 2013, will the LCR approach change next year?
As we have been discussing with our team, our Crew Chief (Christophe Bourguignon), Honda, HRC and our rider, there are always points to improve – and that is the same in every aspect of life. There is one particular point for us, but for sure we have many small improvement areas we have to take care of for the future. We have already pointed out a list of hose small improvement areas and I must say that we know what to do.
It will not be a change as such, but just more dedicated work on certain areas. That includes starting with the preparation of the rider to give more support to Stefan during the winter time, such as providing him with Honda off-road motorbikes, supporting him if he wants to go testing anywhere and spending more time with him to analyse things, improve his body strength and also his ability to be fast - especially with a used tyre.
Can Stefan Bradl improve on anything in particular?
He does have a small weakness, which is needing to slightly improve the lean angle in left-handed corners; we will do some more exercises with him to improve the balance of the left area of the body. It is all very small things to do, though.
If you have an incredible, amazingly talented rider, you really don’t have to be worried. If you have a super-talented rider but not quite with that last amazing aspect, you have to keep working, working, working. Stefan is very, very talented and focused and wants to be going as fast as Marc Marquez, who is one of those really rare and extreme talents. Stefan knows that, to cover that small gap of a few tenths, he (and other riders) just need to work, work, work.
Times are changing in MotoGP™, with ‘Open’ bikes coming in for 2014 and ‘CRT’ no longer existing. Also, for the first time ever, the entire field will be using spec-ECU hardware. In comparison with the last few years, how do you gauge the future of the World Championship?
Definitely positive. First and foremost, MotoGP™ must provide to our consumers, viewers and the whole fan community the best possible spectacle. We needed to reduce as much as possible the gap between Factory and CRT bikes and the changes for 2014 are a very good compromise; and, for sure, a good step forward for those with ‘Open’ bikes as they have a technical advance - not really with the electronics, but the fuel for the race.
At the same time Factory teams will have the possibility to use their own software, which is a very good opportunity, but we do believe that - with the Factories being limited to only 20 litres instead of 24 - there will be a good advantage to ‘Open’ teams and riders, who could also be able to use a softer rear tyre (although that remains to be confirmed). So…it will be challenging for us!
What is the Lucio Cecchinello plan for the off-season? Any holidays booked?
[Laughing] Everybody is telling me, ‘The championship is finished now!’ and I say, ‘Thank you! But, listen guys, we are now starting another championship!’ First it’s all about collecting the points and now, for me, it’s like another championship has just started in which I must collect the money, so I can’t start thinking about holidays!
For Christmas and New Year, I haven’t planned anything for the moment. I think I will stay with my family. I have an invitation to go a few days to a Caribbean island at beginning of January, so I will see; if I have time, I think I will join my friends for just four or five days there, and that would be enough for me. The problem is, I love my job and what I’m doing so much and I have the motivation to do a very good season, so I won’t be able to get off more than a week - including the travel!
This morning I went to visit my mum and she said, ‘Oh, you are looking tired!’ and ‘You should rest a bit!’. I just told her that I am loving my job so much that I don’t mind. [Laughing] This morning, for example, I opened my eyes at six o’clock, immediately went to have a shower and then got myself to the office because I had plenty of things to do, plenty of ideas. I consider myself a very lucky man!
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