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GP Week : Issue 26
5 Minutes with ... Shinya Nakano The Japanese legend seems to have been around for a long time – yet he’s only 30. He spoke wit Shinya Nakano is specially favoured among the second echelon of MotoGP riders. When Honda decided to unleash one more factory bike mid-2008, it went to the Japanese rider, now in his tenth GP season. Nakano immediately finished fourth at Brno, his best result since 2006. He was riding a Kawasaki in ‘06, for a third year, after a premier-class career that began in 2001 on a Yamaha 500 two-stroke. Before that, he was narrowly beaten by team-mate Olivier Jacque in the 250 championship. Now 30 and newly married, he is with the Gresini Honda team. And full of hope for a continued career. GPWEEK: What’s the difference between your production bike and the factory Honda? SN: Motivation. (Laughs.) It is different – mainly the chassis. The production bike was nervous at the front. That’s why I was struggling last year and this year. But with the factory bike I think they changed the weight position. The bike is now more stable. The other point is the engine. Basically the same character, but everywhere more power. This makes it easier to follow the other guys on the other factory bikes. Following other bikes isn’t really the idea, though. Shouldn’t you be overtaking them? I know, but first you have to be close enough. Before I couldn’t follow them. Why do you think Honda chose you? I was also surprised. The first point is I am Japanese so it is easier to communicate with engineers. And I have some experience in the past with Yamaha and Kawasaki. The other point is from last year, I was always asking to have a different frame. So I had many meetings with HRC. Maybe that’s why. Is it also perhaps because HRC wanted to check how a factory bike would go on Bridgestone? 20 Maybe. On the production bike we used to have a special Bridgestone. If we used the same tyre as Ducati and Yamaha, we had big chattering problems. That’s why they made a bit of a softer edge for us. But now I can use the same front tyre as Valentino or Casey. What did you ask for at the riders’ meeting with Dorna at Brno? We talked about how we can reduce cornering speed, specially the entry to the corner. I crashed this year in Mugello in rain conditions, I just lost the front. The bike went right over the barrier, and I went to the crash barrier and hit it quite hard. So we need to know how to reduce this. We think maybe to go back to 990, but this is not a reality. Also mono-tyre, or treaded tyre. But finally they must talk to the engineers, not only the riders. Our opinion was mainly to bring back 990. More fun for us, and more fun for spectators. Surely the 990s would have just the same tyre and electronic advances as the 800s, so the problem would be the same. I agree with you. It could be. We have to think for the future, because in two or three years it will be even faster. I think we need to talk more, get the engineers’ opinion. Is it true that you gave up your studies at Tokyo University to become a professional racer? I studied technical engineering at university, though not at Tokyo, because Tokyo is the best university. I was at a different university. To be honest it was quite difficult. You have to go every day to lessons otherwise you can’t follow. Like racing. You can’t stop and start. At the time I was doing the All-Japan Championship, so I couldn’t go every day. For two years I could stay, but after I came to GP racing, it was over. Regrets? No. Because I learned something and I could see what university was like, and I found some friends. The funny thing is that one of my best friends from university is working for HRC now, and another friend, one year older, is working for Suzuki as a chassis designer. It’s funny to meet them again at the track. Did your family try to persuade you to carry on studying? No problem. I started with motorbikes when I was five, when my parents gave me a pocket bike, and always we travelled together, and my parents were happy when I wanted to come to Europe. Racing was always part of our life. What were you racing when you were 13? Minibikes – 50cc and 80cc. Now we have 13-year-olds in the Red Bull Rookies series. What do you thing about that? One thing – I am jealous, because in my time I had to wait until I was 16 before I could ride this kind of bike on big circuits. They are already riding MotoGP tracks when they are starting. They are lucky. On the other hand, for me it is a strange feeling to see small kids in the paddock. This is a professional series, like Formula One, and then come some small kids playing around. So one side I agree, but other side … maybe too early, in my opinion. I don’t know the European way, but Japanese boys, young riders, are very much in a hurry. They want to race minibikes for one year, and move straight to 125. But this is too early. And I saw some riders crash and get injured, and then stop racing. They need to go step by step. Thirteen is too young. Where are you living now? Here in Misano, and I have a house in Japan. And I got married last year. No children yet – I think when I am racing it is not so easy. Already having to handle one wife is enough. Do you live Japanese or European style over here? Do you sleep on a futon on the