Tyre boss on 2006 GPs
With six races to go in the 2006 MotoGP world championship, Hiroshi Yamada, Bridgestone Motorsport's Motorcycle Racing Manager, has spoken about the season so far
Mr. Yamada, how would you summarise Bridgestone’s 2006 MotoGP season so far?
“It has been a contrasting season for Bridgestone so far with some excellent results in the initial race weekends followed by some tough races recently in the hectic June and July period. We scored our first race win of the season with Loris Capirossi and Ducati in the opening race at Jerez, which was also our first ever race win on European soil. We have also seen some strong podium finishes from Loris elsewhere in Qatar, Le Mans and Mugello, as well as one from Shinya Nakano and Kawasaki in Assen. Suzuki has also been tantalisingly close to the podium with three pole positions, two fourth-placed finishes from John Hopkins in China and Spain and a near-miss from Chris Vermeulen, who was running in a podium position until the final laps of the last race at Laguna Seca. We have also seen Bridgestone-shod bikes take five pole positions with four different riders and we have seen at least one front row start for a Bridgestone-shod bike in ten out of the eleven races so far.”
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What were the initial aims and targets at the start of this 2006 season?
“We set ourselves quite ambitious targets at the beginning of the season, but quite realistic targets based on the results we achieved in 2005. We scored two wins in 2005 and two in 2004, so we want to double that in 2006. Likewise we scored eight podiums last year, so we want to break into double figures this season with top three results from each of our teams. It is only Bridgestone’s fifth year of participation in MotoGP, so our rivals are able to draw from a far more extensive database of tyre information. We must work on a step-by-step basis, building up our operations and competitiveness year-by-year as our own database expands.”
Did you expect the first race win of the year to come so early in the season?
“I personally did not dream of starting the season in such a successful way, but during the pre-event test at Jerez it was clear that Bridgestone runners held a distinct advantage at that track at that time. In similar conditions this advantage prevailed for race week with an all-Bridgestone front row (the two Ducatis of Loris and Sete Gibernau in first and second with Shinya Nakano’s Kawasaki third). The subsequent victory really proved that our off-season winter tyre development was correct, but the Jerez win certainly did not mean the end of development work. We can never rest because our rivals are always chasing the same target – the top step of the podium.”
Why has it been so difficult to repeat that Jerez win?
“We came close to repeating that win and were able to challenge the frontrunners at numerous races, including Qatar, Le Mans and Mugello where Loris finished on the podium, and more recently at Laguna Seca where a technical problem prevented Chris Vermeulen from battling for a victory. However, our rivals have also worked hard. All the Honda riders have performed consistently well during the season and Valentino is always a threat, which has made it a fascinating and closely-run championship this year. We have to stay on top of our game in every respect of tyre performance, so too do our teams and riders with the bike. The entire package has to work in unison at all times - that means bike, rider and tyre.”
Have you been disappointed with how the season has progressed since that phenomenal start?
“Overall, I am quite pleased with the season up to now, but that victory in the opening race, coupled with the increased level of performance from our Bridgestone tyres in other events has raised our expectations quite a bit for the remaining events of the season. Certain races of the year have been disappointing, for example Donington and Istanbul, but we still showed a marked upturn in our competitiveness at these tracks compared to 2005, from which we derive encouragement for the future. Admittedly, the race results were not as good as we had hoped, but it proves that we are heading in the right direction.”
What is the outlook for the remaining races of the year?
“We head to Czech Republic next week on the back of a frenetic run of five races in six weekends which was especially tough because it contained several tracks which have traditionally not been kind to us. The added challenges of racing at these circuits have left us with only a handful of good results in recent weeks and have left us hungry for a return to podium and race-winning ways. Brno starts a run of four tracks followed by Sepang, Motegi and Philip Island where I believe each of our teams can be among the lead pack. We secured podium finishes at each of these venues in 2005, including victory in Motegi and Malaysia, so we should be optimistic for a similar performance this year.”
Looking ahead to 2007, there has been a lot of talk about the new tyre regulations. Has any decision been made on this issue yet?
“Tyre regulations have been a talking point for most of the season and even before that, but after the Donington GP all three tyre manufacturers jointly submitted a series of proposed regulations to Dorna for further discussion with the GP commission. No finite decision has yet been made, but the fact that the tyre manufacturers, Bridgestone, Michelin and Dunlop, have all signed and agreed on a set of regulations is already a positive step in my opinion.” What is Bridgestone’s opinion on the tyre regulations? “I do not wish to disclose any details of the proposals until such time that the 2007 regulations are confirmed, but the basis of our discussions stems from a common desire to reduce costs in the sport.”
Finally, is Bridgestone still thinking of the 2006 championship title?
“Loris still occupies fifth place in the championship in spite of the after effects of the Catalunya crash which negated his fitness levels for the subsequent races. His determination has kept him in with a mathematical chance of challenging for the championship even though he is now 68 points adrift of the lead. With a run of favoured tracks coming up in August and September, I hope Bridgestone tyres can help each of our teams and riders add a lot of points to their respective tallies.”