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Stoner: "The Honda surprises me on every lap"

Stoner: 'The Honda surprises me on every lap'

The new Repsol Honda rider again proved his ability to go fast on any bike in Malaysia, and analysed in detail his impressions after the Sepang Test.

Casey Stoner achieved some superb results in the first official MotoGP Test of 2011 in Malaysia last week. The Australian, who got on the Honda RC212V for the second time – after his debut last November in Valencia – closed the three days at Sepang with the third best time of the entire Test.

How did these three days go Casey?

“In general we were able to take some good steps forward. We tried many things, alternating between the two chassis, one more rigid and the other more flexible. We tried to find out which one gave the best sensations. We still haven’t made big changes on the set-up, which is really positive. We only tested some different things more to confirm that they work, rather than to really evaluate them. In the end we were able to make the bike work much better on used tyres and with a different traction control which brakes a little faster when they start to spin, and that helped us improve our corner speed.”

What do you think about the two chassis versions you tried?

“For now I prefer the stiff one, the one I tried in Valencia. But there are also some very good things in the flexible one. In fact, I set my best time with it, although it was because I crashed with the rigid one and I could not use it a lot. The stiff chassis seems to find more grip when you lift the bike, but the other allows you to use all the tyre surface better. There are some things we need to understand fully in the next Test, but we already have an idea and what we want to do is to confirm it.”

How is riding the Honda compared to the Ducati?

“The two bikes require totally different approaches. The Honda surprises me in each lap, again and again. When I enter a corner too wide, I don’t know how I am going to take it and suddenly I find myself on the inside white line, which is a great difference and something I still have to get used to – to see where is the best point at which to enter the corner. It is very different from what I was accustomed to. We are getting closer step by step; today we took a good step forward and I started to feel more comfortable.”

What is more demanding, especially in a full race?

“Physically, I think it is easy to know the answer. We rode a lot these three days and my hands are full of blisters, but I feel well. I had a little trouble sleeping on Tuesday and on Wednesday I was a bit tired, but on Thursday I felt better than the day before. Physically I feel fantastic on the bike. Maybe with the more flexible chassis it is a little more difficult in the changes of direction, and we will have to bear it in mind. But overall, I am very happy with this bike.<”

Andrea Dovizioso talked about some chattering problems with the clutch. Does it also happen to you? Is it something very serious?

“Yes, it is one of the most important things we noticed when we arrived here. We dedicated the first two days almost exclusively to working on the clutch, trying to reduce the chattering. We took a step ahead on it and we have been trying to fine-tune it in the last day. It works a little better, but we should improve it even more.”

Do you think the set-up work would be enough, or do the engineers have to change something?

“They have been working on many different areas of the set-up and they have come up with solutions since the last Test, but I think we can improve a little more before the next Test. We are able to improve the situation a little with the configuration and the electronics, but we cannot really solve the problem. So I think that is something that should be done externally and the engineers are the ones who would have to find something.”

What is your main problem with the chattering?

“Basically, it is that when you enter a corner, when you let go of the clutch to downshift, the bike chatters and that makes the whole bike move when entering the corner. That prevents you from bending more and braking harder, because it still chatters and the contact with the tarmac is not perfect. Moreover, if the bike does not follow the track perfectly, the engine braking and the torque do not help the braking. Everything has an effect, one way or the other, so at some point the engine braking interferes too much and blocks the back wheel. That is when you see a Honda rider entering with the bike crossed or doing a wheelie. To achieve a perfect braking performance, you need it to be perfect to avoid the blocking of the wheel and the chattering and it is very difficult to fine-tune it.”

We have seen three different Honda riders lead the classification on each day. What do you think about this?

“Right now I am focused on myself. Naturally, at the end of each day we used a soft tyre to try and set the fastest lap, but we have been more focused on other areas in which we are trying to get the perfect feeling with the bike. Every time is different and I didn’t do enough laps to feel comfortable with everything, because we had so many things to try. But the last day I was able to feel more at home and we took a great step forward. The times came very easily and everything went much better.”

Have you got more confidence with this bike’s front than with the one you had last year?

“Yes, a lot more. The Honda simply requires a different riding style to the Ducati. It is clear that it is not a slow bike and I won more races than anyone in the last four years, but it is just different. For instance, we had many problems with the Ducati's suspension, especially at this track. The drive would also close a lot on long corners, because there are many braking points and we suffered a bit. By contrast, these three days have been really fantastic. On Thursday I had a crash because I lost grip on the front wheel, but it was a one-time thing and it did not happen again. It is very different from the past.”

Did you come across the Yamaha riders on track and can you compare them with the Honda riders?

“I did not meet anyone on track. I saw a Test rider, but I have not been close enough to anyone to have an idea of how they went. We will have to wait until the races start because I don’t want to follow any rider and the majority of them do not want to follow anyone either. It is difficult to find someone on track when you are testing and have an idea of how the other bike goes, especially when you are trying things, because you don’t know if he feels comfortable with what he is trying or not. You cannot reach any conclusions.”

Have you tested the tyres?

“Yes, although there was no significant improvement in performance – it was not the aim of this Test, just a few changes. I prefer the standard compound we’ve had up to now. The harder compound seems a little more predictable. They are trying to gather all data and we will try something more at the next Test.”

Did you try the suspension?

“No, we didn't touch the set-up at all, because for us it was better to concentrate on what we have done. In the next Test we might improve the way to ride the bike and then we will test the suspension.”

How did you find the Honda RC212V? Was it what you expected?

“It was strange. In the first Test in Valencia I expected some things to go better than how they actually went and other things to go much worse. I expected to have many difficulties with the brakes, but in fact the feeling was really good. I thought acceleration would be incredibly powerful from low-revs, but I found that the engine was mild and sweet. There were other things I didn't expect also. I am really happy with what I found, and in fact it was a bit better than what I thought. I am pleased with the package.”

Before you, there was another Australian, Mick Doohan, who wore the Repsol Honda Team colours. How did you feel the first time you saw yourself in the mirror on Repsol livery?

“When Mick (Doohan) was in Repsol livery it was a little different, but for me, being with this team means everything. It is the HRC official team and it is Repsol. It is a great team and to be here with two more riders is amazing. It is interesting that when Mick was here there were three riders and now I arrive here and the situation repeats itself. I am very excited about this season and also about following in the steps of Mick Doohan; this is a huge privilege for me.”

Press release courtesy of Repsol Media Service

MotoGP, 2011, Casey Stoner, Repsol Honda Team

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