The presence of the HRC VP Shuhei Nakamoto in the Dakar bivouac means only one thing, Honda is committed to success. In the aftermath of the Coma and Despres era, the bike category is open to a new generation, and Honda must take advantage of such an opportunity to try and interrupt KTM’s supremacy of 14 consecutive victories.
We chatted with Nakamoto in the bivoauc after a short rehearsal on how to open and close his tent, as the Japanese boss will sleep in a tent like the rest of the team. Used to the immaculate MotoGP garages and air-conditioning equipped motorhomes, he coped very well with the off-road lifestyle.
Welcome to the off-road world, what is the feeling of living with the team at Dakar?
“I decided to follow the first stages because I wanted to have a full immersion in the Dakar experience, the bivouac and sleeping in the tent. It’s not comfortable but it was worth it. Last time I did camping it was with my wife 20 years ago. It’s not comfortable and it’s also demanding as the clock alarm rings around 3:30 to 4:00 am, but I enjoyed it. These are my holidays. I would have liked to stay till the end but I have to go back to Japan to work on the MotoGP project. I will return for the last stage in Rosario.”
What kind of work did you do on the CRF450 Rally?
“We worked on the bike’s reliability and we reorganized the team structure with two aces, Joan Barreda–a very fast rider, and Paulo Goncalves–a veteran and complete rider–and two experienced and consistent water boys, Paolo Ceci and Michael Metge. We also look ahead with the 24-year old U.S. talent Ricky Brabec.”
How important is the Dakar project for Honda?
“It’s second only to MotoGP. It’s the pinnacle of off-road racing and its extreme conditions allow us to test new technology to transfer on the production bikes. For example, you can find many ideas of the CRF450 Rally in the new Africa Twin. Honda is in the top category of each sport so we wanted to be on the Dakar. In terms of budget it cannot be compared to MotoGP, but it is similar to a MXGP season.”
It was a pity for Barreda who had to withdraw from the race.
“Yes, he is a very fast rider. This time he was unlucky. This year we taught the riders about the mechanics of the bike, which is very important in the marathon stages where no assistance is allowed.”
Switching to road racing, don’t you think that the riders will have even more power with the new rules?
“The rider is already very important, but the performance of the bikes will continue to make the difference. If Honda wins the top riders will want to race with us. Despite the introduction of the single ECU, the engineers will make the difference with the set up. We are working also on the engine because according to Marc it is still too aggressive.”
Did the Marquez and Rossi controversy damage the image of Honda?
“Maybe. Valentino said something and more than 50-percent of the MotoGP fans believed it. If Rossi wants to say something to damage the image of Honda we cannot control this. I’m also a Valentino fan, but my position is different because even if Valentino says something I have my own opinion. Throughout his career, Rossi always needed an enemy like Sete Gibernau, Max Biaggi or Casey Stoner. He is like this, but I also like this aspect from The Doctor. This shows that he is a normal person, he is not god.”
Regarding the Sepang GP, don’t you think that Marquez overreacted?
“Both riders overreacted, both made a mistake because with so many passes they slowed down the rhythm, loosing the possibility to catch Dani (Pedrosa) and Jorge (Lorenzo).”
What scenario shall we expect for the 2016 championship?
“We should all expect a clean battle on track. With Christmas and the holidays Marc has done a complete reset. I hope it will be the same for Valentino.”
Do you think that more severe rules are necessary?
“For sure, and also a neutral and professional Race Direction. After Sepang the members of the Race Direction did some many declarations. Something I never experienced in F1.”
Do you miss F1?
“Not at all, but it was funny this year when Fernando Alonso rode the RC213V MotoGP in occasion of the Honda Thanks Day at Motegi. The first thing he asked me when he entered the pits was: can I see the data?”