“I could feel I had a special attraction for motorcycles.” There is no one in the sport quite like Lucio. Meet the man behind LCR Honda
“I saw all the big trucks, the caravans, the riders. There was Loris Reggiani, Luca Cadalora, Wayne Rainey, John Kocinski, and Kenny Roberts, a manager at the time. I was listening to the mechanics warming up all the two-stroke engines. I had goosebumps everywhere. In that moment, I decided that’s the place where I wanted to be for the rest of my life.”
Most will know Lucio Cecchinello quite simply as team boss of the self-named LCR (Lucio Cecchinello Racing) Honda squad in MotoGP. But there is no one in the sport quite like Lucio, with his background in building and racing bikes. His path through the sport would be impossible in a 2022 world.
It was almost thirty years ago since Lucio took his first steps into the World Championship paddock as a full-time rider. He spent ten years racing in the 125cc World Championship racing and running his own team for the most part, amassing nineteen podiums with seven victories and while he never quite made the top three in the overall championship, he was certainly one of the greats of the late-125 era.
“I could feel that I had a special attraction for motorcycles.”
Some of Lucio’s earliest memories were sitting on the front of his father’s scooter. Occasionally giving the throttle a blip was enough to send that passion coursing through him, like the wind in his hair.
“The biggest inspiration in my life was my father. He explained to me how to use tools and how to fix things. I asked him to buy me a new moped but instead, he bought one from the scrap yard – it was completely destroyed.” Restoring the bike was Lucio’s first experience of, as he puts it, ‘giving life to things’.
From then, his love for motorcycling only grew. The only point of conflict between him and his father is his parents would not allow him to race as a young boy. He would only be able to fuel his passion through modifying his friends’ motorcycles until he was old enough to find his way onto the racetrack on his own, a story that you’d never hear from professional racers today:
“The story of my racing career was quite different from the other riders. I had a Honda NS125. I was with my girlfriend in the industrial area of Bologna, making a circuit, using a stopwatch. I always wanted to beat my time. I really wanted to go racing but I didn’t have the money, even though I had the bike that eventually after some modifications, I could go racing with. So, I had an idea: my girlfriend was very interested in buying a motorcycle, so I sold the motorcycle to her… and I asked her if I could borrow it back, modify it and go racing! That’s how I started!”
The cheeky glint in his eye suggests perhaps this wasn’t the kind of deal his girlfriend quite anticipated.
Perhaps it was his entirely self-sufficient start to life in racing that fuels his desire to ‘give an opportunity to a rider who deserves to be helped’, such as one particular 14-year-old, Casey Stoner:
“It's very motivating. It’s like Casey, we brought him at 14 years old to the World Championship, we ended up finishing 2nd in the Championship (2005 250cc World Championship), we took him to MotoGP and got that first pole position and first podium. It’s really a nice feeling. Without LCR, he probably wouldn’t have followed the same path during his career!”
Lucio and his LCR Team reached the pinnacle of the sport with Casey and the same brand that really started his love of motorcycling: Honda.
“In my mind and those from my era, everyone who had a Honda was a ‘cool person’. Honda was and I believe still is the leader in technology. I was always passionate for the Honda brand and have huge respect for what Soichiro Honda has done. I would love to have met him.
"The first bike that I bought when I was sixteen was an NS125. It was a street bike but with racing shapes and a powerful engine. Unfortunately, I don’t have it here (in his collection) but I’m looking for it!”
It was Honda at the beginning, and Honda that brought the highest of highs in his managerial career, too.
“It's a much stronger feeling when you win a race as a rider, of course… but it was also very special when we won our first race in MotoGP. I still remember the TV commentator as he crossed the finish line: ‘Cal Crutchlow has rewritten the history books! Crutchlow wins after 35 years… Barry Sheene was the last British winner!’ WOW!”
But like everyone who has seemingly done it all, there’s one thing that keeps Lucio clocking in and out on a daily basis: “It’s all my passion. For the technology, the speed, running fast against the clock, the way how you can celebrate victories and podiums. It’s a mix of emotions that are part of my life that I cannot imagine being without them.”
Perhaps that’s why he’s not even allowed anyone at the table to even discuss the possibility of selling his team – something he’s been offered three times during his managerial career. Above his desk where such meetings would take place in the team’s HQ is a huge canvas, a photo of him pressing the team winner’s trophy against his forehead from that 2016 summer’s day in the Czech Republic. It’s not about the money. Money can’t buy the highs & lows that motorcycle racing brings.