What does the head of the motorcycle racing sector say about the 'blade held to his throat'?
The first official three days testing for the 2023 season starts from February 10 at Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia. Honda will line up four riders: Marc Marquez and Joan Mir for Repsol Honda Team, Alex Rins for LCR Honda Castrol, and Takaaki Nakagami for LCR Honda IDEMITSU.
In the second half of the interview with Tetsuhiro Kuwata, HRC General Manager of Race Operations Management, he discusses HRC’s expectations for Alex and Taka. He also comments on the hopeful young riders in Moto2 and Moto3.
＞This article is the second part of the interview. Click here to read the first part.
Alongside two world champions, Marc Marquez and Joan Mir, who are expected to fight for the championship, Alex Rins is another hugely talented rider. In the Australian GP, he was in a fierce battle with Marc until the end, and won the race. In the final round at the Valencian GP, he pulled away and left all the other riders far behind to celebrate the last victory for Suzuki. What do you expect from him?
“For sure, we have very high expectations from him. For us, it is something like having a knife pointed at our throat because now we have three winning riders: Marc, Joan, and Alex. If we cannot achieve good results, everyone would think it is because of the bike, so this formidable riders’ lineup could put us in the corner.
“That’s all the more reason to have strong riders when you want to develop a strong bike. And if you have more strong riders, two than one, three than two, so much the better. It is needless to say about Marc’s high potential. Joan is a champion rider, too. And, the many results prove Alex is the rider who can win the race. Therefore, we have high expectations for each of them equally.
“In that sense, Taka also has speed and high potential. However, unfortunately he didn’t get a podium so far in the premier class. We sincerely hope he clears this hurdle and gets his maiden podium in MotoGP as soon as possible. We will work hard with Taka and his team and give our best to achieve our goals.”
Expectations from Japanese fans for Taka are very high.
“Indeed. Probably, just a small change will make everything come together, and he will be able to show his speed. Taka turns thirty-one this year, and when you become this age, new generations will come and threaten you. Being cornered will unleash Taka’s talent to demonstrate his real potential, and I believe he can do it. I also think Taka expects our bike’s potential. So, we will do our best to meet his expectations, and prepare for the 2023 season to fight together with him.”
When it comes to the rising younger generation, IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia Moto2 riders did very well in the 2022 season. Somkiat Chantra won Round 2, the Indonesian GP and became the first Thai rider to win a Grand Prix. Since then, he has become one of the leading riders in the Moto2 category. Ai Ogura won three races, in Spain, Austria and Japan. He finished second in the championship, which was a very impressive and productive season for him.
“Both Ai and Chantra will be the Moto2 championship title contenders this season, and I really hope the championship will be contested between these two guys. They have had impressive results in their racing careers, and this year will be crucial for them. It is very important to exploit this opportunity because the competition is always very tight in this sport and whether you can seize the opportunity or not will influence your future racing career. So, they have to be off to the 2023 season with firmer determination, and I believe they can do it.
”Last year, Ai and Chantra fought for victory until the very end of the race in Austria, which was fantastic (Round 13: Ogura 1st, Chantra 2nd). In the Thai GP, many local fans cheered Chantra on, and they were really enthusiastic. It reminds us once again that local heroes’ good results always boost the popularity of the sport.
“Looking around the Asia region, their presence is one of the most critical factors to cultivate popularity. You need heroes for it. In other words, if you don’t have a hero, you cannot boost popularity. So, Honda will develop young talents who will be able to carry on expectations from Asian fans and children on their shoulders. Not every young talented rider can necessarily move up to the premier category. Obviously, we do hope everyone will reach there, and every single step counts. In that sense, we expect Ai and Chantra will show their speed to obtain good results in this year’s Moto2 championship and follow the line that Taka paved as future candidates for MotoGP.”
What do you see for Moto3 class?
“Honda Team Asia rider Mario Aji progressed last year. He is a talented rider, so we hope he keeps learning and developing for his second world championship season. Taiyo Furusato consistently improved his performance in the second half of the season, so we hope he keeps this momentum to get better results this year. Their "big brothers" in Moto2 fight for victory and the championship, so hopefully, it fires up Aji and Taiyo's determination to fight for the Moto3 championship. In Moto3 class there’s always a close and fierce battle, and it’s not easy to join the leading group but I think they can do it if only they try hard to make it happen. Through these experiences, I hope they will grow to be a threat to Ai and Chantra in the future.
“There are many other Honda riders that fight for victory and get podiums in Moto3 class. The competition level is very high, and moving up to the higher category is not an easy thing. However, when you fight for the championship and clinch the title, you will have a view of your future. I wish them the best of luck.”
Last year, European manufacturers showed their presence and dominated MotoGP. Many expect that Honda and other Asian participants will pay back this season.
“Not because we are an Asian company but because Asia is an important region for the motorcycle industry, we would like to establish the popularity of road racing more firmly as our culture. If we can do it, talented people will come and grow in this sport. We are watching Asian riders with a broad perspective. We cooperate and discuss with local subsidiaries in each country/region as a whole about how to find and nurture young shoots of talents.
“These are very important activities for HRC, so we steadily and continuously support young riders and children for the future. Asia Talent Cup is one example. In order to translate these efforts into fruitful outcomes in the future, we need heroes, as I said before.
”When heroes show excellent performance, children admire them as their role models and think one day they would like to do the same. After their heroes retire from the scene, if these children become the next generation riders, this sport will grow and prosper. It will be the case not only in Japan, but also in Thailand, Indonesia, and everywhere. To make it happen, Honda will provide its best products to as many of its customers as possible, and have them understand and spread our activities and achievements. We will continue these activities as our responsibility.
“In the 2023 season, Honda will give its best to regain the championship titles. We really appreciate your generous support.“
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