Moto Media

with ... Lorenzo Resta

Evgeny Bobryshev and Lorenzo Resta

A new CRF450R prototype, the ongoing and thrilling development of star rider Evgeny Bobryshev in MX1, the premier class of the FIM Motocross World Championship, and the busy hive of activity that is the factory Honda World Motocross team based in Padova, Italy. The Italian has held the role of Team Manager for the last three years and has worked up through the impressive squad (assembled by Paolo Martin over two decades ago and ever-present Honda flag-bearers) since joining from the MotoGP World in 2003.

Resta’s people-skills have helped the team become one of the most welcoming and hospitable in the sport and his man-management assisted the likes of Bobryshev and team-mate Rui Goncalves to podium results in their first season together on the works CRF450R in 2011. Now he has the Russian and Portuguese settled into the framework of the crew for the next two years it is full speed ahead both on and off the track for Honda’s motocross vision…

The winter period and the plan of preparation for Honda World Motocross must have been busier than usual with a brand new CRF450R to get to grips with…

Yes, exactly, with the prototype coming we knew that the build-up to 2012 would be busy and of course very important. When we went to Japan last October for the test and the race in Sugo Honda presented a bike that was already very close to what we wanted for the 2012 FIM World Championship.

The boys tested well out there and then the next version arrived at the end of December, which is much earlier than usual, certainly the past two seasons. It meant we could begin work in Italy straightaway and learn about the CRF and find out anything else that we wanted to do before the first races came around.

We tested in Mantova after the Starcross in February with the Japanese technicians and we also put in a lot of work in Sardinia in the weeks before with people from Showa and their new air suspension. Honestly I’m really happy with the work the team is constantly doing with the Japanese and they are making a big effort for us. We were very efficient with our time during the winter and the riders also. Every day there has been something to do and between Italy, Sardinia and some races planned for Holland before the first grand prix there has been a lot to try.

Do you think the ’12 bike ranks as one of those Honda ‘specials’?

For sure. I think even the Bolley four-stroke [former 250cc World Champion Fred Bolley unveiled the original CRF450R in 2001] we had more than ten years ago wasn’t as special as this. Our bike now is a prototype and isn’t pre-production. The 2013 production bike is ready and the components on that machine are not the ones on ours. The machines that Bobby and Rui have in their hands are made for racing only and we are really excited.

Honda, Dunlop, Showa…all big companies making a big push through the team. This has to be a good thing for the sport doesn’t it?

It is great to see big factories like that involved in racing and committed to winning. We had almost twenty people working around one bike at the Mantova test…everyone is doing their best for this project and I love seeing the interest it is generating.

Is it hard to deal with a brand new motorcycle? Especially because the 2011 bike and its performance was already very good…

What you say is true because we had a very capable bike but looking towards the future – and because our programme is based on three years – the 2011 race bike was an awesome thing, maybe the best we ever had but it was at the peak of its development cycle. To be able to make another big forward step would not have been easy so the decision was made to start something new; to create a symmetric bike, a different concept. It means we have to work much more now, but over three years we will be able to do some good stuff and have more possibilities. The base of the bike – what we tested in Japan - is already brilliant and means we don’t have to change so many things. Rather the process is about looking and finding small improvements. This new CRF 450R is right at the beginning of a journey and every day we discover something. I am eager to see what it can bring us.

What is your opinion of Showa’s new SFF Air suspension?

It is great. The riders gave positive feedback straightaway, which was incredible. Normally if you change an aspect of a bike that big then it can take time to find the right direction, adapt and reach a high level of satisfaction. In this case the first tests pointed towards an immediate improvement. The system is more progressive in every sense.

Last summer, after Evgeny’s accident at a Belgian Championship meeting, you spoke quite strongly against non-GP races. With the same rider now committed to Dutch and Russian events why the change of tact for 2012?

Basically because Bobby needs to race. It is the best way for him to get the job done and do his training. I spent a couple of days with him before the Starcross and Mantova and we were driving away from a fitness test in Italy and he was looking out of the window, a millions miles away. I asked him what he was thinking about and he said ‘racing’. He is a guy who needs action and can only go round and round an empty track for so long. Our plan this year is to be a bit more aggressive towards the World championship and really attack each race.

Is the scenario a little bit like Bobby is ‘the racer’ and Rui the more ‘technical rider’ for feedback on the machine?

It is a little bit like that because Rui’s technical skills are improving even more and Bobby really is the racing guy. It means we can have two slightly different strategies in the team. Both riders have exactly the same material and both have the same goal, but Rui can approach the championship with perhaps a bit more of a wider, long-term view while Bobby can go for it every race. We will see what happens, this can all change of course.

In the past you’ve had proven riders on the team like Mickael Pichon, Marc De Reuver and Kevin Strijbos. How do you feel about 2012 and way these riders are growing into MX1 Grand Prix winners?

Very good because the two guys are really integrated into the team and we have only really had this feeling before with Marc. It is more exciting now. In the last few years we perhaps didn’t expect so much and anything we gained was really nice, but with the two riders we have everything is geared towards good results so we are full of hope.

The FIM World Championship is now sixteen races long and both of your riders are the number one picks for their countries for the Motocross of Nations. That’s seventeen major events. It’s not getting any easier to run a team is it?

Fortunately Honda has improved the budget for our racing this year, in addition to all the other support. We have great backing from this on this side and for a company like Honda if we do 15, 16 or 17 races it doesn’t really change the outlook for them so much. For a private team for sure it can be difficult to manage extra races. We are here to race as much as we can but it is important that we look at the sport as a whole to make sure that as many teams as possible can complete a whole season and tackle the World championship year after year.

Your team has the same staff year after year and is one of the most presentable, and often with the presence of some good outside sponsors…

We try so much to get sponsors mostly from outside of the sport and at this moment it is really difficult. I’m not saying it is easy to get someone like Red Bull or Monster involved, but going outside of motorsport is even tougher. We are working very hard to make this happen, but what is encouraging for me also is that everyone who has been with us in the past has improved their efforts for 2012, dramatically. People like Dunlop, Nils and One Industries and many of our technical partners have really stepped up. Getting extra sponsors is an ongoing project and it means we have to work together as a group; teams, manufacturers, promoters and Federation. It will make our sport stronger and easier to expand coverage.

After all the big effort and positive signs in the last two years by Japan how do you think Honda see motocross now?

Maybe we haven’t had an investment like this in the FIM World Championship by Honda for nearly twenty years. Before the priority lay with the U.S. and a big investment was made in the All Japan national series where the development of the production bikes was centred. I think the biggest difference compared to the past is the commitment of Japan to make a winning bike. The investment to do this has grown and I think they believe in motocross just as much as other motorsports.

Will the team take on any other projects in 2012? Such as assisting the MX2 Gariboldi team?

For 2012 our team will be working only with the MX1 guys and the bike. Martin Racing Technology, run by Paolo’s brother, will work and give development to the engines for the Gariboldi team while we will provide knowledge and parts to Honda Brazil and their staff because we have a project there with Pascal Leuret riding in the Brazilian series. Our relationship with the Brazilians has never been better and our goal is to give them a good machine so they can have a strong season there.

Copy and photos courtesy of the Honda World Motocross Team.