The 2010 season opener at Qatar also witnessed the birth of a brand new class. The Moto2 bikes - a prototype chassis housing a standardized Honda engine - had generated a lot of interest during the off season, not least because the class threw up a number of new and unknown names in the tests. One of the favorites to emerge from the preseason was American rider Kenny Noyes, riding a PromoHarris Moto2 bike for the Jack&Jones Banderas Racing team.
After finishing consistently in the top three during testing, Noyes had a difficult qualifying session, ending up just 30th on the grid. A tactical error, and being caught off guard by the adrenaline-fueled chaos of the last 10 minutes of qualifying saw Noyes 1.8 seconds off polesitter Toni Elias, at a track he had only seen before testing road bikes for a Spanish magazine. We caught up with Noyes a couple of hours before the Moto2 race was due to start at Qatar.
MotoMatters.com: Nervous yet?
Kenny Noyes: Not now! [Laughs] I was real nervous before the first session, especially the first free session, going out there the first time in the World Championship, and learning the track. It's a lot to take in at once. But I kinda settled down as the weekend has gone on, and now I'm starting pretty far back, but we can only really go forward from here.
MM: How's the transition been coming to the World Championship? The Spanish CEV is a big championship, but it's just not the same, is it?
KN: No! The main difference I've seen here is in qualifying, the last 10 minutes, 5 minutes. We played our cards completely wrong. I went out with a new tire first, and then put a worn tire on, but put it on halfway through the session, and we didn't have another one to use. So at the end of the qualifying session, I was out there on used rubber, and I did my fastest lap with a tire that had 14 laps on it.
Just the way these guys have those last minutes down is something I have to learn in a hurry. They're able to push it a bit past where they're comfortable, and still make an effective lap. They also wait for each other real well, the way they get wheels for drafting. I was more worried in the Spanish Championship about not having people bothering me on a hot lap, because I was able to do it on my own. But in this category, with these engines, it really helps if you have someone to pull you along.
MM: It seemed more like 125s in that respect.
KN: Yeah, especially at this track.
MM: Because you've got such a long straight and such fast sections?
KN: Yeah, the whole track is so quick, you're wide open a long time. The bike, the way you ride here is like nothing I've ever ridden. There's only really two corners where you stop and square it off, everything else just flows one into the other. It's definitely a momentum track.
MM: Because you spent so long on Superbikes, are you having to go back and relearn how you rode on little bikes?
KN: Yeah! In the preseason, at the tracks I know, it was easier to make the change, because you have a better understanding of the corners and of what makes a lap time at that track. Here, there a lot of places that I'm not comfortable at yet, and when I'm not comfortable, I kind of revert back to what I'm used to. So some places, my corner speed's down a lot, compared to even my teammate [Spanish rider Joan Olive], who's going a little slower, but some of the sections, he flows much better through them. He spent a lot of years in 125s, and it helps.
MM: So you're really being forced to learn, because in testing, you were right at the sharp end throughout the preseason.
KN: Yeah, we knew it was going to be tough. Like, I knew that if we did preseason testing at my home tracks, I knew when we went to a new track it would be a challenge, but I figured a challenge would be around 15th or 20th, not 30th, so it just shows how tight everything is. I think I'm 1.8 seconds off which is a lot, but still, 30th? [Noyes shakes his head, stunned.]
MM: I know, there's about 0.6 between 1st and 6th, but between there and about 31st, there's only a second difference.
KN: It's a really amazing class! It's a really amazing class, but basically, we're kind of new at it, and you can see that mistake in qualifying as far as our strategy, that right there cost us maybe half a second.
MM: Which is the difference between 30th and 15th or something.
KN: That's the thing with these guys... I think maybe during the preseason, after the first tests, some of the journalists were asking me "how do you see everybody else?" And I said I don't trust any of them! Because you look at a guy like [Sergio] Gadea, he was pretty far back and looked like he was struggling, but he gets here and he's on it! Even a guy like [Claudio] Corti who's more in my situation [Corti came from the FIM Superstock 1000 Cup class], he had the fastest time at the last IRTA test, and now he's 26th or something, he's back with me. You can see there the guys who have the experience, and that's what we have to analyze and learn quickly because we don't have much time.
MM: Is the difference in the tracks or in the class? Is it a question of not knowing the tracks, or is it about being around people who know how the class works?
KN: It's a little of both, it's a little of both. I mean for sure, if this was a track I felt comfortable on, probably from day 1, instead of running a 2'05, I'd be running a 2'04 or 2'03, and then it's a smaller step to get nearer the front. Because every time I've been out on the track, I've improved a second. It's just that that's not good enough! So our starting point has to be closer on the first day.
But then it's also what you say, the class. I mean, the level of the guys out here, you can't even cough! You make a small mistake on a lap and … Like, I had a good lap going, even though my tire was used, and I was following [Scott] Redding, and he ran off the track, and that was it, but it still ended up being my best lap, even though I almost ran off the track. So with everything being so tight, we just have to learn everything we can from this one, and try to not make the same mistakes again.
MM: Your Dad [veteran journalist Dennis Noyes] told me that you'd been trying to line up track days to try and learn the tracks you've never ridden at, but how's that been coming along?
KN: Well, we're going to try and get and some laps in at as many tracks as we can, even if it's only on a streetbike or something. Because just being on track, seeing the corners, mentally it's going to help a lot. You can do the Playstation and it helps a little bit, but it's such a different thing.
Like, when I got here I was just blown away, also there's the lights and everything is different. But just the size of the track, it's just so much bigger. And the amount of time you're full throttle - if you look at my first laps in the first session, it's all really cautious until I realize how aggressive you can be at this place because you have so much track. The cool thing is that from the preseason, I know we can be there. So it's not like we show up and think "Man, we're gonna be last!" you know?
MM: If you'd been 30th in the preseason and 30th here, it would have been different?
KN: Yeah, then it's harder to take. But now we know the bike's good, we have the speed. We've just got to put it all together much better than we did this time, and then instead of 30th, we can be 5th. And that's what's so awesome about this class.
MM: Do you think you'll have it together in time for Jerez, for your first 'home' race?
KN: I think Jerez will be good. I mean, we've got Japan to go, and with what we've learnt here, hopefully we can be more competitive in Japan. And we still have the race to go! I think my pace is good, that's the best thing we have. It's just really tough, you know, starting 30th, you're putting on the line, you're definitely starting uphill.
MM: Have you got a strategy for the race?
KN: Pass as many guys as I can and don't let anybody by! [Laughs] I mean, starting 30th it's hard to predict much of what's going to happen.
MM: What's the bike like? Has it progressed in the time you've had it? I understand you've had some new parts, are you seeing some real improvements?
KN: There's still a few little things they need to do. I mean, the basic package is pretty similar to what we had at the first IRTA tests. We've had a couple of little things that have been improvements, but I think we're real close to a good setup. I think aerodynamically maybe we've got to work a little bit more, but the bike's really good. I think it's more the team and the team strategy and my riding to be able to have the speed at the tracks I don't know.
MM: All of the Moto2 bikes seem to have chatter. Is that down to the tires, or chassis or what?
KN: I don't know, we have a little bit also. I think it's a little bit of tire, a little bit of clutch. Because that thing is coming from the rear, and when we make some clutch changes in the setting, that affects the chatter, so that gives you an indication it's starting a bit from there. And then when we change tires, it changes also, so... Chatter is one of those things that's hard, but if everyone's having it, that means either it's the tires or the engine, or the tires or the clutch. Because all the chassis are different.
Noyes had and excellent first half of the race, battling his way through the field to make it up to 10th at one point, before his tires started going off, and he dropped back down to 18th, finishing just out of the points. After the race, I spoke again briefly to Noyes, and he said it had again been a question of getting the strategy wrong, a consequence of the entire team being brand new. The team had gone with the hard tire, because that was the tire that seemed to work best, discarding the softer tires during practice. But the harder tires didn't have the endurance that the softer tires did, something Noyes said the team would have learned if they had stuck with the softer tires for more of practice. The team's lack of experience of racing at this level was the biggest problem at a track none of them knew, Noyes explained. Things should be different at Jerez.
The first ever Moto2 race did throw up the surprises that many people had been expecting, however. The race was eventually won by Shoya Tomizawa, riding a Suter MMX for the Technomag CIP team. Tomizawa had been a mid-pack privateer in the 250cc class last year, but a more level playing field offered an opportunity which the Japanese rider seized with both hands.