Gordon Hatch, MotoGP correspondent
Repsol Honda team upbeat about defending its MotoGP Triple Crown
Repsol Honda go into this week’s first MotoGP test of 2012 with their new 1000cc RC213V bike and the whole team, including riders Dani Pedrosa and reigning MotoGP World Champion Casey Stoner are ready to get moving with their campaign on the upcoming season.
The 2011 Triple Crown Champions (2011 Team, Manufacturer and Rider titles) hosted the media at a presentation in the Pan Pacific Hotel in Kuala Lumpur with a press conference and welcome party. Present at the briefing were Stoner and Pedrosa alongside HRC team bosses, Shuhei Nakamoto (HRC Executive Vice President), Hideki Iwano (Director, Assistant to Team Principal), Shinichi Kokubu (Technical Director) and Livio Suppo (Communications and Marketing Director).
I am sure Honda have done a fantastic job with the new 1000cc machine.
This was also the media’s first opportunity to see the new RC213V bike complete with 2011 World Champion, Casey Stoner's number '1' emblazoned on the front. The team returns, as with the whole MotoGP paddock, to the Sepang circuit with some emotion as it will be their first time back on the Sepang circuit where Marco Simoncelli lost his life less than five months ago following a tragic racing incident. As a mark of respect, the whole Repsol Honda team visited the corner where Marco lost his life, laid a wreath of flowers and held a minute’s silence.
Speaking at the press conference, Stoner, who will become a father for the first time later in February, said he was happy to be back following the winter break. "The off season has been really good, we got to go back home and spend some time with family and friends in Australia over Christmas which was great,” said the two time MotoGP champion while continuing, “Then we came back to Switzerland to get everything in order for the baby's arrival, Adriana's due in just a few weeks and so we've been preparing, as best possible! After such a strong season in 2011, we remain focused and don't expect to be in top form immediately.
“I am sure Honda have done a fantastic job with the new 1000cc machine over the winter break and I'm really looking forward to getting back on the bike and seeing what we can do, hoping to start strong again. We know there will be a lot of serious competition out there, Ducati have been putting a lot of effort in as have Yamaha so it will be interesting to get out on track and see what everyone's got. However, it's early days and I think we'll have to wait until the race in Qatar before we really know our competitors true pace and the package they have for 2012, but we're ready for it,” Stoner said.
Likewise, Pedrosa is looking forward to getting on the new RC2123V that he first tested at the team’s first shakedown at Valencia last November. “It's nice to be back with the team for the first Sepang test. I'm really excited to get on the bike again after the test we did in Valencia in November. Sepang is a good track for testing and we have still many things to discover out about the new bike. It's been a long time since we were last riding and at the first test it's always important to get the feeling back, the first sensations.”
Pedrosa added, “We will have three long days here to work with the team and HRC and it's necessary to be very focused in order to get good information to move forward for the second test. I guess the main target in this test will be to know the bike and the new Bridgestone tyres.”
Mr Nakamoto sent an early warning shot to its rivals and said that the Japanese manufacturer is ready to defend its 2011 titles. "We start this new 2012 season with a clear target: to work stronger than ever to defend our MotoGP World titles in this new 1000cc category. We finished the 800cc era winning the Triple Crown and we will fight to win this again in 2012. We fully trust in our riders Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa to deliver this big challenge and we will give them all our technical and human support. The RC213V is an evolution of the last version of the RC212V based on the same concept.”
While paying tribute to Simoncelli, Mr Nakamoto also revealed that the bikes to be used over the next three days are not that different to that of the Valencia test models, “The machines we have brought here to Sepang are basically the same machines we tested in Valencia back in November with only a few differences. In fact, Casey and Dani will have one machine the same as Valencia, and the other one with a slightly different chassis, based on their own requests. This is the first time back to Sepang since we lost Marco Simoncelli last October, on Sunday we visited the scene of his accident and laid some flowers and said a final 'Ciao' to him. I believe by starting this season strong will be a fitting tribute to Marco,” he added.