Even though the US round of World Superbikes has come and gone, John Gardner, Media Manager over at Miller Motorsports Park continues to organize teleconferences with the top World Superbike riders, to talk about how the season is progressing. Earlier this week, it was the turn of Althea Ducati's Carlos Checa, currently third in the championship and the best of the Ducatis, despite being on what is in essence a privateer bike. During the call, Checa covered a number areas, including the big improvements that Pirelli has made with the spec tire, the need for more power for the Ducatis, and the minimal effect that the weight reduction has had. Here's what Checa had to say:
Miller Motorsports Park
Teleconference with Carlos Checa
June 29, 2010
Moderator: Good morning, everyone. This is John Gardner, the media manager at Miller Motorsports Park. Today we are hosting another in our ongoing series of teleconferences with riders in the HANNspree Superbike World Championship. Today's guest is Carlos Checa, who rides the No. 7 Ducati 1098R for Althea Racing. We're happy to have you here. Welcome, Carlos.
Carlos Checa: Hello.
Moderator: Today you're at Imola doing the first day of a two-day test. Tell us how your test is going, please.
Carlos Checa: Yes. We're testing here in Italy, after Misano and the ride to Imola, we've been testing all today. And positioning at times is not exceptional. We are ninth. But, basically, because we didn't test the tires; Pirelli is just delivering tires for official teams. And maybe tomorrow, if there are some left, maybe we'll test. But, so far, the lap times came very fast because, compared to last year, they improve more than one second. And it's because of the tires. But, for us, it was good because we test electronics in the bottom area of the engine with the by drive-by-wire. We have electronic gas, and always difficult to set up now if you don't have so much time. But today we make a good progress in that area. I like how it's working now. On the chassis side, also we changed something that also I feel some improvement.
Moderator: You're on a privateer Ducati, and you've done very well compared to the factory Ducatis this year. In fact, you've done much better than the factory Ducatis the vast majority of the time. How is it that you're able to do that?
Carlos Checa: Well, basically, the bike is not official, but it's quite close to the official. It looks like the small difference they have is not making the difference in this moment. No. I think we work quite well with the team. The people working with me are very professional, very good understanding. And the bike base is quite good. Then I think just I was able to understand very quick the bike, the team, work very close with the tires, and set up the bike at my style. And I was able just to be more quick and more constant than the others. Now, I don't know if they have some trouble because last year they've been very competitive, and you can see some races they are there. But it looks like very up and down. That's why some difference made to the official team. It's just because they've been more inconsistent than me, and I was able to do very good races this year.
Moderator: Okay. So, where do you think that your bike can be improved to make it better? I mean, what are you working on?
Carlos Checa: Well, now, we work on the connection of the throttle and engine, and this will make some improvement today. Of course, it is obvious that we need more power. We lose a few tenths on the straights. Even here at Miller when I was racing there, compared to March, we lose 3.5 tenths. But I was able in the rest to be even more quick. This can happen maybe one or two times a year. When you lose more than one tenth on the straight, it's a lot.
Then, with the tires were probably we're losing more and is where we can win more as well. No? Now we're going to Brno, and tracks like Nurburgring and even, last one, Magny-Cours is that long straight. And the power makes a big difference.
Then I'm trying to find, but it's not my response to everything-- the engineer and Ducati are probably there working. We'll see if we can find something in that area.
Moderator: This is your first year with Althea Racing, right?
Carlos Checa: Right. Yeah.
Moderator: Are you happy with this team? And how has it gone for you overall? What are your feelings?
Carlos Checa: To be the first year, it is fantastic. For sure we need to improve technical area. We'll see what we can do now. But, to be a first year, honestly, the professionalism and even the manager is managing all the team is a very high level. Actually, it's a first year, but it looks like we already know from long time. I think the chemistry between each other was very quick and very good.
Moderator: Everybody is aware of the heartbreak that you suffered here at Miller Motorsports Park a couple weeks ago, when you led both races easily and failed to finish either one. And in 2008, when we had the first races here, you won both races that year. What is it about Miller Motorsports Park that seems to suit you so well?
Carlos Checa: I don't know. I tried to discover that and bring that secret to the other tracks. But I think Miller is a track where you have a high level of grip. I like to flick the bike and just let it roll. Miller I can do it because it's the kind of track where I can flick a lot. I can let the bike go and with high speed. And I don't know. For the rest, it's same as the others. No? It's straight and turns. But it's just with this extra grip maybe I can ride more in my style - more like I like. And, honestly, this year, with the Ducati, I feel really well, even better than with the Honda. The difference I was able to make this year was even more than two years ago.
Moderator: You're third in the championship standings right now. What do you feel like your chances are for the rest of the season?
Carlos Checa: Well, for sure, at Miller, if we can finish the races and take 50 points and rest some points to the others finishing, you can look at the championship a little differently. But now it's still five races. It's a lot of points. But my feeling is that some tracks we'll go now will be honestly difficult to fight for the top positions. And we try to protect as much as possible our situation because position, honestly, I feel will be excellent. And it depends on Max and Haslam if we want to catch them. They should make some mistakes, and we must be excellent in the rest of the races. Now we're working as hard as possible to improve myself, the bike, the setup - all the parts within and improve all these areas and try to approach the last five races in the best performance and the best situation we can get.
My feeling is we're going to fight for the third position, and maybe we can close the gap a little bit. But this will depend on how Haslam and Biaggi are able-- what they will do now. But I believe Max is very consistent; Haslam as well. Then it will be difficult to catch them - even difficult to keep the third position. But it's our target in this moment - try to finish in the top three. If it's possible, third will be an excellent result for us.
Moderator: Okay. At this point, I'd like to go ahead and open this up to the media callers and let them ask some questions.
Operator: The first question comes from Matthew Miles of Cycle News.
Matthew Miles: Hi, Carlos.
Carlos Checa: Yes.
Matthew Miles: In terms of corner entry, what priority do you place on engine braking?
Carlos Checa: If I understand, you mean when I'm braking, how I like the engine brake?
Matthew Miles: Yes. How do you like the engine braking on the Ducati versus the Honda? Is it different? Have you treated it differently?
Carlos Checa: On entry with Honda, we had many problems with the chattering and with the noise coming from the clutch or from the engine brake or maybe the chassis. We've been working on that a lot last year. And, many times, we find the same problem wrong-- it was chattering.
With the Ducati, the problem never exists - the chattering. Basically, the engine brake also has much more chance to work on because we have the drive-by- wire. It's an electrical throttle. And we have much more things to adjust. With Honda, the engine brake system -- the electronic area was much more simple and not many things to play on. But Ducati you can play a lot.
And, basically, what I like is maybe in long gears, I prefer to have more engine brake. And, in short gears, like first and second, much more free. Then we have two areas. No? The first is the braking point, where I prefer to have a lot free -- not so much with engine. And when flicking the bike and going to put the bike on maximum angle to make the turn, the engine brake increase a little bit in that area. And this gives me more feeling on the rear tire. And it looks like helping for turning. Then this is the character I feel now in Ducati and the character that normally I like to use when I'm riding.
Matthew Miles: How is that different with the Honda versus the Ducati?
Carlos Checa: Well, in Honda, it was okay. It was very smooth. I had no problem on that area. Just when -- after maybe 20% or 25% of gas plus the 90% or full, then, when revs are going up, then the torque from Honda arrive and was a little difficult to control.
With Ducati, initial opening always is some problem with ride-by wire, and it's what we are working on here. And we feel some improvement in the bottom area at initial. After the power is arriving but in very nice and smooth area, of course, we have less power. That is negative. The power that we have is very useful. And this is the main difference.
Matthew Miles: Okay. Thank you very much.
Carlos Checa: No problem.
Operator: The next question comes from Laurel Allen of Road Racer X.
Laurel Allen: How close is your bike's performance to the factory Ducatis?
Carlos Checa: Well, in, for example, chassis, suspensions, brakes, electronics, very similar. We have in electronics some steps. They have some steps, especially in engine brake, that we don't have. Maybe we will have not next race but maybe the other. And, in terms of power, I don't know. There is always some three or four horsepower difference. But, honestly, I don't know. We need to work still with the exhaust because we have different exhaust -- different manufacturer. And small things that maybe can make that difference. But it's not that they have complete different bike than me. It's just everything is quite the same. Just the small things in electronics and maybe small thing in power that -- for the continuation of working for many years, they find something else. Like I told you, we have different exhausts. Probably putting together all this is still not perfect and is what in this moment I can feel biggest difference compared to the others.
Laurel Allen: You’re outperforming the factory Ducati riders right now. Do you think you could get that ride for next year?
Carlos Checa: Well, the relation with Ducati is very good. What I want is to have a better bike performance. And, if this means going to official thing, for me it will be a pleasure. No? But, in this moment, I'm feeling very well with the team I'm riding. My engineer is a guy that's working for Ducati. He's not a guy from the Althea team. This guy arrived with the bikes from Ducati. The mechanic is a guy from Ducati also. I choose-- I mean, it's quite a mix. No? And, for sure, the best thing is to have better performance by this area. We can have next year a bike -- official bike and staying with these people, I think, probably I will be very happy with that. I don't know the plans of Ducati yet. But probably after Brno, this next race in two weeks, we will start talking for that. And we'll see what is the best plan for next year. But, for sure, I believe that we will have the best Ducati bike.
Laurel Allen: Okay. Thanks very much.
Carlos Checa: You're welcome.
Operator: The next question comes from David Emmett of MotoMatters.com.
David Emmett: Hi, Carlos. I'd like to go back to the question of power, because it's quite obvious that the Ducatis are down on power compared to the four-cylinders. Recently, they were allowed to drop the three kilograms. They're three kilograms lighter. Is your bike now three kilograms lighter?
Carlos Checa: Yes. Our bike is now three kilo less because, when they started the rules, they decide to have-- Okay, Ducati will be 1200 but with this extra weight, and so far it was working well the first year and last year. But, now, it seems like our bike is heavier and slower. It's a little bit unbalanced compared to the four-cylinders. Four-cylinders make a big step in front with the power, with the electronics, and, especially, Pirelli bringing new tires with more grip, they are able now to use this extra power with the grip and, especially, with the electronics as well then. It's now for Ducati a hard time because they're struggling. And then we'll see what we can do. We have also three kilo less. If next race in Brno is not to Ducati in the podium, we have a reduction of weight but only three already. We are close to the limit now. To take three kilo from the bike will be very difficult for us.
David Emmett: Do you think that what Ducati really needs to be competitive again is to have the engine inlet restrictors removed?
Carlos Checa: Yeah. We have air restrictors that this will be also next step in six races probably for next year already. But, from my information, air restrictor is making smaller and smaller difference in the power. Now maybe we need talking a little bit-- maybe 15 or 18 or 20 horsepower to be close to the others. And maybe air restrictors can give you 1.5 or 2, maximum. Then we need to find the power in other area.
David Emmett: You also mentioned the four-cylinders -- the improvement in the electronics. And, certainly, that was something I noticed at Assen. You could hear the electronics a lot more than, say, a couple of years ago. Is electronics becoming increasingly important in World Superbikes the same as in MotoGP?
Carlos Checa: Yes. Electronics become very important when you have power you cannot control. Superbikes increased the power a lot the last four or five years. Now they are in very high level in terms of power. And you can control it with two things - with the grip from the tires and with electronics. And that's why electronics becomes more and more important the last three or four years.
Now this extra power -- probably they couldn't use. They are not able to use maybe two years ago or three years ago. Now they can use completely well, and they can put in the asphalt and usually now that's my feeling now because of the difference with the four-cylinders and two-cylinders this year and not the previous years, like two years ago or even last year.
David Emmett: Everybody's talking about the Aprilia. I mean, it's clearly an incredible bike. But a lot of people have complained that it's not a proper production motorcycle; it's more like a prototype. How do you feel when you see Max just blasting past everyone on that vehicle?
Carlos Checa: Well, Aprilia did a great job. They produce a bike for race, not for selling, probably. The approach was more for racing. But they are able to sell that bike. No? I don't know exactly the rules. I'm not in that area. But we can see clearly that it's the fastest bike. And Aprilia make a very big effort to bring that bike on the track and make it competitive. Then I think it's all the program; not only the bike - the team, the people behind it. They started with very new and aggressive project. And, for sure, it's the kind of bike that more approach to the race compared to the other bikes in this moment. But Max also is doing a great job with that bike. Leon Camier is on the same bike, and he's trying a lot to be in front. And it's a combination where, of course, start with very strong and good project is that bike.
It's just the Aprilia now will have the level. Now the other manufacturers, if they want to be at that level, I suppose they must work in that direction. And we'll see if they can arrive or not.
But, with this, clearly, is that the rules are for everyone, and I believe that many people following and watching that bike. And, for sure, if that bike is not in the rules, they cannot race with that bike because they were better and now they have that little advantage.
David Emmett: Okay. Thanks very much, Carlos.
Carlos Checa: You're welcome.
Operator: The next question comes from Paul Nielsen of TheMotoWorld.com.
Paul Nielsen: Good morning, Carlos. How are you, sir?
Carlos Checa: Very well. Thank you.
Paul Nielsen: We did a wonderful interview at Miller Motorsports Park with you two years ago, and I thank you for that. The other callers have answered a lot of the technical questions that I had, so I want to ask a couple of different questions.
Now, a lot of racers I speak with at times do not or rarely ride on the road - street bikes. What about you?
Carlos Checa: Yes? Well, I like to ride. Honestly, last week, I receive a new Multistrada, Ducati, of course. And I've been riding already 450 Ks. I really like it. The weather, it was perfect. And we ride with some friends. Even next week we will do the same. And, for mobility for me, if the weather is okay, I really like it. If raining and cold, I prefer the car. But, if I go a short distance, I really like the bike.
Paul Nielsen: When you say you're going to go riding next week, where?
Carlos Checa: Well, back to Spain because maybe I will go Saturday to watch MotoGP in Barcelona. And then Sunday we will-- with some friends, we will leave, maybe eight or nine bikes. And we'll do a road in the south of France, and come back and go to swimming pool and make paella. You know paella-- rice? It's a typical plate in Spain.
Paul Nielsen: I make a great paella dish. At the Spanish Grand Prix, a group of friends-- we all get together and make big paella.
Carlos Checa: Okay. Then one of the riders has a restaurant. He makes very good paella. We have the swimming pool. And then, at 2:00, we will watch the races, and that's the plan for Sunday. It looks, so far, quite good - quite exciting to make it. And probably we do -- I don't know -- maybe 250 or 260 kilometers with the bikes.
Paul Nielsen: That will be a lot of fun. Now, Carlos, what are your favorite off-track activities? When you're not working, what do you do?
Carlos Checa: Well, I like to do sports activities. After Miller, I didn't want to be pissed off because I was leaving for a holiday. And I said, “Okay. This is what happened.” I forget. We try to fix it. That's all. We went to Moab -- Moab in Utah.
Paul Nielsen: Yes.
Carlos Checa: And we did some mountain biking and some climbing. We've been in Indian Creek. Finally, we arrive in Las Vegas. And we went to climb in Red Rocks, but it was so hot. It was 106 or 108 Fahrenheit. This takes maybe nine days. It was nine or 10 days more in America doing these activities. And, in winter, I love skiing.
Paul Nielsen: And, in Utah, you have the greatest snow in the world.
Carlos Checa: Yeah. I know. I know that. But it's not the right time for skiing. Maybe next year.
Paul Nielsen: When you are not working and traveling through countries, what is your favorite country to go and visit, just when you've got time?
Carlos Checa: Well, I've been around the world, and I like, of course, America. Before the race, I visit in Monterey, California. I was also with Doug Chandler. Always when I'm in America, I try to spend time. It's a place I really like it. Then Italy I like as well. And I did also in South America - Argentina, Chile. These countries I like. Europe -- pretty busy, Europe. I prefer to more landscape places where less people.
But, in terms of living, probably where I am now - Barcelona or Italy. I probably feel more familiar in Europe.
Paul Nielsen: Well, Carlos, thank you so much for your time this morning. And I wish you the very, very best. I always enjoy talking to you. Thank you so much.
Carlos Checa: Thank you very much.
Operator: Our next question comes from Matthew Miles.
Matthew Miles: Carlos, could you describe how the spec Pirellis have changed from last season to this season?
Carlos Checa: Yes. Basically, it's two things. Now, with one tire, the grip, the stability, and the consistency. And, basically, in these areas, Pirelli make a tire -- It's the tire we've been using this year almost all races. And this tire is at least seven-tenths or eight-tenths quicker than last year’s tires. This means that it's a big improvement. And, already now, we are testing the tires that improve this tire, and probably we will use at the end of this year or probably next year. This means that, in two years, Pirelli make big improvement and improve at least one second or one and a half seconds -- by lap, is a lot. And it looks like it's going to happen next year. Now even we will make a big jump. And, already, we are very close. For example, in Holland we had times very close to the MotoGP, considering the bikes, the weight, and the performance of Bridgestone tires. I believe the new Pirelli is getting close to the very high level.
And, in front, as well, with this new front tire with more grip and even more stability, I'm quite happy with the improvements Pirelli make last two years. Honestly, I was quite impressed.
Matthew Miles: It's been said that a rider has only 10 years at the top of his game. But, yet, you and Troy Corser and Max Biaggi, just to name three, continue to demonstrate that this is no longer true. Is there something in particular that has changed, whether it's with the motorcycles or the facilities -- the safety with the tracks -- that has allowed riders such as yourself to extend their careers?
Carlos Checa: Well, you know, when you speak with the manager or the guy from the factory, always they think - Oh, young rider. No? But, you know, now Superbikes are becoming more technical, and young riders probably have high motivation but not experience, no understanding. They cannot compare with other bikes because they never ride other bikes. Troy, Max, me, kind of riders like that, we have long experience. We ride two-strokes. We start with electronics in MotoGP. Now arriving in Superbike three years ago, I see a high evolution in this time. And probably Troy because his new bike, his new project, and Max Biaggi with the Aprilia, same thing, they are able to manage to understand and to give probably very good directions to the engineers. And the engineers are able to set up the bike or to work in the right direction to make the bike more competitive. Probably in these areas, an experienced rider is good. And, of course, a young rider because is the future, you can have that rider for many years. This is a little bit what I feel.
Now I'm in Misano, feeling I was the youngest. Now, on the podium, I think this is not going to happen again with 37 years old. Not many people telling me - Oh, you're still racing. You're still racing. But I, of course, am still racing because I really like it. I will enjoy. And it's not a kind of a sport that is extremely physical. It's more mental. And you know more-- I am more strong, I feel, in mental area - more experience I have. And I think that's why I'm succeeding -- able to success in this moment.
Matthew Miles: Thank you very much.
Carlos Checa: You're welcome.
Moderator: Well, I guess we'll wrap it up there. Carlos, we'd like to thank you very much for taking the time to talk with us today. And we wish you the best of luck for the rest of this championship season. And we look forward to seeing you back here at Miller Motorsports Park next year. And hopefully the track will be kinder to you next year and make up for the heartache it caused you this year.
Carlos Checa: Okay. No problem. It's a pleasure to talk with all of you. And, for sure, next year I will be back at Miller and I believe with a better ending.
Moderator: Well, we hope so. Thanks very much.
Carlos Checa: You're welcome. Bye-bye.