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“I’ve always tried to help Taka and I always will, he’s a really good kid,” is how Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) begins his assessment of his teammate, Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu). But he’s quick to correct himself in one way. “No disrespect to him, I’m not really calling him a kid! But he was a rookie this year and I was impressed with what he did. I think the motorcycle he was on this year was difficult to ride, as we know it was down on top speed, now he’s got the bike that we had this year and he’s obviously showing his potential. He’s always fast in Jerez, we can’t take that away from him, but even in Valencia he was good. So we know he’s maturing as a rider, and I’m impressed as much as the team are.”
So what impressed Crutchlow? Before going fastest in the Jerez Test on Thursday, Nakagami scored 33 points over the season, finishing all but two of the races. He was the first rookie into Q2 – in Catalunya – before doing it again in Aragon and at his home Grand Prix at Motegi in Japan. He took some solid points finishes throughout 2018, and topped the year off with an impressive P6 in the wet in Valencia. That’s what the Brit says he should be targeting in 2019.
Takaaki Nakagami sets the pace for 2019
“I think he did a good job, he finished a lot of the races last year which isn’t easy in MotoGP in your rookie season. I think he’s on for a good year next year and we’ll try and help him – me as a rider and the team as a team – to be towards the front end. He needs to aim for top sixes and I think he can get them.”
The fastest lap on Thursday in Jerez is certainly a good start. Nakagami was also the fastest Honda on Day 1 of action in Andalucia, and the Japanese rider is a big fan of the 2018 Honda – Crutchlow’s former bike – and the improvements from the version he rode this season. Crutchlow says he’s been in touch with the crew, absent as he is through injury, and underlined his faith that the number 30 will prove a force to be reckoned with next season.
“I’ve been speaking with ‘Beefy’ who is there at the test, he’s my crew chief and we know Taka is a good rider. Some of the times…me and Marc used to look at the data last year and laugh because his corner speed was way faster than us, in some of the fast corners he doesn’t mind hanging it on the line! I think next year, the key will be to get him to race better because in some of the races last year, we expected him to have a better result than what he did.”
So step 1: settle into new machinery in testing – tick. Step 2: come back in 2019 ready to fight a little higher up the field and bring it home on race day. Will Crutchlow’s predictions prove true? Thursday at the Jerez Test says yes; now we wait for Sepang and the return of track action in February.
After the Flag: 2019 Jerez Test Day 2 breakdown