Exclusive: HRC MotoGP boss Nakamoto reflects on eight years at the top

11/15/2016 |

Image: Bonnie Lane

HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto was following his last race in charge of the MotoGP races at the Valencia plant when he will retire after eight years at the helm of the sport.

Three directors will be appointed as successors, each specializing in one area: Naoki Hattori, General Manager for Marketing and Sales, Tetsuhiro Kuwata, Race Director and responsible for driver contracts, and Technical Director Shinichi Kokubu. This gives an idea of ​​what Shuhei Nakamoto has represented in MotoGP since joining the Repsol Honda team in 2009 after seven years as technical director in Formula 1.

Sunday was his last race in MotoGP. He will hold his position until April 2017, but he will be involved in other projects such as motocross, Dakar rally and tests. Then – with 60 years of experience – he will retire and follow the Honda rules.

We met a man who said he was very pleased with the results achieved over these years, but as an atypical Japanese he showed that he was sorry to have left the MotoGP paddock. Since arriving, Nakamoto has been the reference for drivers, engineers and the media. Under Nakamoto, Honda won the championship in 2011 with Casey Stoner and three titles with Marc Marquez. In the 2016 season, Honda’s performance was shown by winning the drivers and manufacturers titles after a difficult start to the season. In addition, Honda was the only manufacturer to win with four different drivers this season.

What were your expectations when you left F1 and came to MotoGP?
“Honda always had long wins in the first class, but when I got there it was a time when Honda wasn’t that strong. Nicky Hayden had won the championship in 2006, then it was Ducati (2007) and Yamaha turn. My mission was to make the Honda HRC team competitive again. To win a race you need three key factors: the driver, who is the most important element, the machine and the team, both on the track and in Japan. We had to improve all three areas to come back strong. I started working on the machine and the organization of the team. In terms of the rider, we had Dani Pedrosa back then who is a fast rider while the machine had a strong engine but cornering and braking weren’t as good as Yamaha. “

Can we say mission accomplished?
“Yes, in these eight years we have won four championships and this year we have crowned the season with driver and manufacturer titles.”

What did the MotoGP paddock give you?
“MotoGP is a small village compared to F1, which I define as a big city. It’s too big for me. I really enjoyed those years in MotoGP. It’s a very pleasant environment. “

Is there a driver or an F1 driver who has a special place in your heart?
“I was lucky because I worked with very strong drivers. I love them all, they are like my sons. “

Have you ever dreamed of seeing Casey Stoner race against Marc Marquez, maybe once?
“This is what every MotoGP fan dreams of and I am one of them.”

What inquiries did Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa ask for 2017?
“Marc and Dani have two different driving styles, but they still made similar requests. Both complained about acceleration, which means edge grip. This area is critical to consuming more engine power and is also related to the ease with which the machine is picked up and accelerated. Ducati is faster than us in this area. “

Have you thought about the possibility of a big bang engine?
“The big bang engine gives a different feel, but we don’t know if this is the solution or a problem. Of course we tried different solutions, but we still don’t know which one is better. Big bang engine is an idea, but here in Valencia we’re going to be testing an engine with a different specification.

Honda was the only manufacturer to win with four different drivers. Can we say the RC213V is the best bike on the grid?
“This year four different manufacturers have won. That means that the level is very high and we are all very close. There are some tracks where Honda was the strongest motorcycle, such as the Sachsenring. But Ducati was faster in Austria. This year, the single controller and the introduction of Michelin tires were two factors to work on and make the difference. To win next season we have to improve all areas: Accelerating cornering performance. Everything.”

What about the electronics?
“We struggled a lot at the beginning, but we improved a lot during the season. We are now using 80 percent of the software’s potential so that there is still room for improvement. ”

Do you think that with all these restrictions and rules, the manufacturer can lose interest because he cannot develop the technology?
“If there are no rules, you can work more freely on electronics, but the research is not unlimited. The budget gives you a limit anyway. Honda can’t do everything either. Yes, now we have some limitations, but there is still room to test new technology. ”

Crutchlow has had a great season with two wins. Will he get additional support next year?
“At the beginning of the season, Cal has the same machine as Dani (Pedrosa). Then Dani tested another chassis in Barcelona that had some positive points and some negative ones. He finally decided to go back to the old one while Cal requested various points and he uses a chassis that is one of our factory chassis. So we support Cal and our satellite drivers. You get the material a race or two later. “