Dani Pedrosa Interview: “Spain believes in motorcycling”
After last year’s MotoGP World Championship, there can be no question that the best road racers in the world are Spanish. For the first time ever, riders from the same country won all three classes in the Road Racing World Championship and that country was Spain. And their performance in 2011 is almost as dominant. Not only are Spaniards one-two in MotoGP and leading the 125cc World Championship, but Carlos Checa is on top of the World Superbike standings.
Spanish world champions are nothing new. Angel Nieto is second all-time with 13 world championships. But those titles came in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s in the smaller displacement classes. It wasn’t until 1999 that Alex Criville became the first Spaniard to win a title in the premier class. And it would be more than a decade before another Spaniard, Jorge Lorenzo, took the first MotoGP World Championship back to Spain. The next one won’t take as long.
No country supports motorcycle racing more than Spain and no rider embodies the Spanish system more than Dani Pedrosa. The triple World Champion from Sabadell, in the rider-rich region of Catalunya, is not only a product of the system that has produced a host of strong riders, but also active in making sure the system prospers.
Last year Pedrosa had his best season ever, winning four times and finishing second twice. This season has started even better. Pedrosa was third in Qatar, second in Jerez, and in Portugal last weekend won a thrilling battle with fellow countryman Lorenzo to take an unexpected 13th MotoGP victory. Pedrosa entered the race unsure if his surgically repaired left shoulder would withstand the rigors of the race. The shoulder and collarbone were painful and uncomfortable, but not debilitating, and Pedrosa made an impressive late race surge to lead the Repsol Honda team to a 1-3-4 finish. Casey Stoner was third, Andrea Dovizioso fourth.
The Spanish government, which finances circuit development, deserves some of the credit; the country has more world class race tracks than any other country. Four rounds of the MotoGP World Championship run in Spain and there are a number of very good facilities that are just below world level. Learning their craft on safe tracks allows riders to concentrate 100% on racing, which prepares them for the world stage. Five of the seven races in the CEV Buckler Spanish national championship are held on grand prix tracks, the other two on a track that once hosted World Superbike.
The CEV Buckler has been run by Dorna, the MotoGP rights holder, since 1998 as a steppingstone to MotoGP. Their aim has been to develop young talent to move to the next level. The class structure mimics MotoGP, with 125cc, Moto2, though not with control engines, and a big bore class.
The day before Pedrosa won at the Estoril Circuit, and between qualifying, debriefing, and physical therapy, we sat down with Dani in Honda’s hospitality unit to find out why he and his fellow countryman are on top of the road racing world.
The Spanish system, explain what it is that makes riders so good.
DP: What makes a rider good or not I think it’s three things. First one, I would say, talent first, determination, second spot, and then work. So some are more talented than others and they push more from the work side. The other ones push more from determination. It’s a sport that by years doing it the same way, sometimes you can reach the top level, because some years you have a lot of level in the class, some years there is no level. And suddenly one day, one guy shows up in the first position, second-first, second-first. So basically I would say we have very good structure in Spain with the tracks, with the Spanish championship, they take a lot of care to bring riders. Many also foreigners they go to race there. We have good weather. This is also important. But the Spanish federation, the Catalan federation, they take a lot of care of these young kids which maybe now they are eight, nine, ten-years-old and maybe in ten years we see them racing here. I think this is the key, basically. Spain believes on motorcycling.
Was it like that when you were coming up or has it gotten more in the last four or five years?
DP: I think already when I start they start with this kind of philosophy to follow the youth area and trying to help people somehow. I was involved in this.
The system produced three world champions last year, all of whom have watched your career. Why do you think that is?
DP: My opinion, you want to know my opinion, is quite strange. I believe the other riders see that if I was able then they can also, because I was small. That’s enough just to see me doing it, I think they thought, and I did in 125 with Honda. So it means that with the Aprilia was much easier, but that’s my impression. That’s how I see it. I think when they see such a small guy can do it and coming from the same area as us, we can do also. And then the next one did and the next one thought if they both did it, I can do it. And then three and then four. I think that’s how it happened.
The interesting thing about the Spanish championship is that it’s similar to MotoGP. They seem to have set it up to make it easier for riders to come to the world championship.
DP: Of course. Not every rider has the same situation, but in my case it was as you said. I was all set to just focus on racing and improve my riding and achieving my goals. Some others, they have a little more trouble because they need more sponsors or something. But maybe other countries believe that their kids are more for another sport, like football or swimming or whatever. But in Spain or Catalunya they follow a lot the motorcycle culture.
When you were coming through, who were your racing heroes?
DP: Basically, I follow the areas in the beginning of the 90’s, all that area was, all of them. They were, I don’t know how they did those things, but they were amazing on the 500’s.
Do you wish you could’ve ridden a 500?
DP: I was able one time almost when I was a 125 rider to make this kind of journalist test, but finally they canceled. I was going to test 250 and then 500.
Why Catalunya more than other parts of Spain?
DP: It’s kind of strange, because also if you check the (Valentino) Rossi area where he’s around, many riders are from that area. In Barcelona, when you go in the taxi and you stop at the light and you see in the front all bikes, it’s like a race. Many, many scooters and bikes. I don’t know, Catalunya is a country strong not only in road, but also trial and enduro. Motocross not so strong, but enduro also. In Catalunya there is a lot of philosophy for motorcycles.
The next rider to come through the system is Mark Marquez. Have you worked with him?
DP: Yes, sometimes we have spoken in the past and really had some exchange, but he’s quite clever and quite talented and especially he’s very brave. And maybe he doesn’t need really advice, he just needs experience more than other things.
Source: Honda Pro Racing