Interview: HRC's Tetsuhiro Kuwata And Takehiro Koyasu On A Mediocre 2020 With Marc Marquez, Fixing The RC213V, And 2021 And Beyond

In the last weeks of December, Japan's leading MotoGP journalist Akira Nishimura spoke to two of the key players in Honda's MotoGP project: Honda Racing Corporation General Manager Tetsuhiro Kuwata, and 2020 RC213V development leader Takehiro Koyasu. As a native Japanese speaker, Nishimura-san got more out of the HRC bosses than an English-speaking journalist would. The conversation covered Honda's MotoGP riders, an analysis of their thoroughly mediocre 2020 season, and their expectations for 2021.

In 2020, Honda had to endure a tough season, in contrast to previous years. Needless to say, one of the biggest reasons for that was the absence of Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). His right humerus fracture at the opening round in Jerez sidelined the eight-time world champion for all the races of the 2020 season, a costly loss for HRC.

Meanwhile, Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IEMITSU) made a significant improvement in both riding skills and race results. Also, MotoGP rookie Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) did a fantastic job with two second-place finishes despite it being his debut year in the premier class. On the other hand, the Brit Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) decided to draw his racing career to a close at the end of the year. With these abundant topics for the review of the 2020 season and the preview for the forthcoming 2021 season, we interviewed Honda Racing Corporation General Manager Tetsuhiro Kuwata and 2020 RC213V development leader Takehiro Koyasu.

First of all, we asked them for a comprehensive review and the preview, then moved on to the detailed Q&A with them.

Kuwata: "It is quite simple. We lost entirely throughout the 2020 season. However, we also learned a lot from these defeats, and we believe these hardships will make us even stronger.

After we had finished the preseason tests, we were still struggling to find an optimal setup for Michelin’s 2020 rear tire. Then, the first race was canceled and postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Although it was a very tough situation for us, we didn’t give up and continued development. When the season resumed at Jerez for the Spanish GP in July, Marc demonstrated very strong riding from the start of the weekend. Unfortunately, he suffered from an injury in Sunday’s race. After that, we always tried to find the best way to have our riders exploit the bike's potential until the end of the season.

It is true that we had to change our plan more or less due to Marc’s injury. Nevertheless, Taka did very good races to fight for the podium, so we supported him as much as we could and provided updated parts to get good results. In the meantime, Alex finished second in the French GP and the Aragon GP. In terms of the tire issues that we had had to struggle with at the beginning, we started understanding how to adjust in the second half of the season, and when the season finished, we had confidence that we were at a new starting point for the 2021 season."

About the difference between the 2020 RC213V and the 2019 spec, Koyasu-san explained it as follows.

Koyasu: "As always, we reviewed everything about the engine and chassis. Specifically, we focused on the improvement of power and driveability. In the chassis area, our main focus was the stability in acceleration/deceleration, cornering, and traction. We reviewed not only large components such as the frame and swingarm but also tiny parts and their placement. Also, regarding the electronics, we think we made a good step forward in terms of deceleration stability."

As Kuwata mentioned above, the setup adjustment for the 2020 Michelin tire required a huge effort for Honda. Koyasu reviewed the process of their searching and finding a good compromise.

Koyasu: "The question was how to understand the 2020 tire and how to exploit its ‘feel.’ We repeated a process of trial and error many times, then started close observation for the rear suspension stroke to deal with the issue we had. It worked well to some extent, which brought Nakagami’s good results and Alex’s podium in the second half of the season, I suppose."

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ignorant on my part, but the "holeshot/shapeshifter" device could be used on street bikes to lower the rear for shorter riders? Make it easier during stops and such? Then while riding the bike is returned to standard to make use of the correct geometry and ride height?