Radio Ocotillo, the podcast from the Cinta Americana website featuring the Spanish-language work of Dennis Noyes, spoke to Ramon Forcada, crew chief to Franco Morbidelli of the Petronas Yamaha team. Veteran journalist Noyes was joined by Teledeporte commentator Judit Florensa and journalist Cristian Ramón Marín Sanchi, and spoke to Forcada for some 90 minutes. Noyes translated that fascinating conversation into English for MotoMatters.com readers, and split it into three parts.
In part one of Radio Ocotillo’s interview with Ramon Forcada, he explained how he and Yamaha had managed almost an entire season on just two engines. In the second part, Forcada talked about all of the bikes he has worked on over the years compare, and what he thinks of MotoGP’s current set of technical rules.
In the final part, Forcada talks about some of the riders he has worked with over the past thirty one years. From Casey Stoner to John Kocinski, from Alex Barros and Carlos Checa to Franco Morbidelli, Forcada explains how each of them were different and how he learned to understand them and collaborate. And he talks at length about what sets Franco Morbidelli apart from the rest.
Radio Ocotillo: After so many years in the paddock, you have worked with so many riders with such different personalities, if you had to choose the three riders whose company and character you must enjoyed, who would they be?
Ramon Forcada: Normally you’d choose the most recent, the ones you are either working with or have just been working with. If we are talking about affinity of character…and affinity of character doesn’t mean that we had the best results together…but I’d say Franky, [Carlos] Checa and [Alex] Barros…they were the riders that I had the best understanding with.
You have good memories of all your riders and the only truly bad memories are from the crashes when the rider is injured. The results are anecdotal, but you remember what went well, what went badly, but from all your riders you learn something, from the fastest and from the slowest.
RO: You worked with a couple of riders that seemed to have great natural talent, one more successful than the other, but both seemed complicated and very talented. John Kocinski and Casey Stoner. Was there a common denominator?
RF: What they most have in common is that I worked with each only one year. Both were riders with innate ability…things came easily, especially to Casey who gave the impression that riding a motorcycle came naturally to him. I’ve got a thousand anecdotes of things Casey said or did. Casey would say, “Yeah, that’s something other guys do but I don’t need to do that.”
I remember the first year we all went to Laguna Seca. It was Dani Pedrosa’s first year too and Carmelo called us together on the first day when there was no practice and said that he’d take the new guys around the track and give them an idea what to expect with the Corkscrew and all that, blind corners, angles, etc.. But Casey said no. He said he’d see the track from the bike the next day. We all said, but maybe it would be useful…and he said, “I’ll see it from the bike. Tomorrow you’ll see.” The next day on lap five he was under the track record. But he pushed himself to show us, me, Carmelo, Lucio, that he didn’t need a ride in a car to go fast.
John, for me, was more complicated. Casey was more open, easier to know as long as you didn’t try and tell him something he didn’t want to hear. To change one of his sacred ideas about how something should be was complicated. John was a thinker. His problem, at least the year he was with me, was that he had come from winning in SBK and the Honda engineer who worked with him told him one day when he was going badly in SBK, “If you win the SBK title next year you will have an NSR500.” As soon as he heard that, he started winning races, because he had a clear objective. He started winning and won the title.
This wasn’t in Honda’s plans. Honda had no room for him. So, they put him on an NSR in Sito’s team in 500cc where I was working. That was a case of a misunderstanding, voluntary or involuntary, you decide, but he decided to understand that he was entitled to a place in HRC and HRC said, “No, we promised you an NSR 500 Honda not a place in Honda HRC.”
When you start out with an underground war where one says you said this and the other says you understood this but I never said it, it gets complicated and this kind of thing affected John. He was a perfectionist and if something got out of his control he was not comfortable. John had to control everything and this business of a Pons Honda or an HRC Honda was completely out of his hands.
RO: We have one question for you that Kevin Cameron sent. The question is basically…When will the factories realize that there are basically two types of riders… hard-braking, point-and-shoot, rough riders and corner-speed, long-trajectory smooth riders and whether the manufacturers consult the crew chiefs before they sign a rider?
RF: Fortunately, the selection of riders and all the politics and commercial considerations are not the concern of the technical staff. Maybe they mention a name and listen to our comments. The problem is that within the factories and within the teams everything is so separated. There are the managers, directors, sponsors and above all the sponsors have opinions.
If you, a sponsor, are paying so much to the team and the team wants to sign someone you don’t like…for any reason, for his performance, for something in the past, for any reason…then there is a mess. In the factory teams no, but in the satellite teams the sponsors have to approve the signings. The sponsor is going to dress a rider in the colors of the product so the sponsor looks at the image of the rider and decides if he is suitable.
But the factories are completely independent, too independent to my way of thinking, and there are times they will sign a rider that makes no sense to the team, but sometimes they win, but there are times when the team looks at a signing and wonders why…was it because of the last race of the last season or for some other reason? But, as I said, fortunately, they don’t consult us, the technical team. That would be all I needed…to be in the middle of all that!
I agree with Cameron that there are riders who are, let’s say, corner-speed riders, but that is usually because they are coming from teams with bikes that need that style. If you are in Yamaha and you sign a rider from Suzuki, you know that he will not have trouble adapting, but if he comes from another kind of bike then there is doubt whether he will be able to make the change.
What is happening now is that with the riders coming up from Moto2, you don’t have that kind of information. In Moto2 the bikes are more homogenous…so when a rider comes from Moto2 he is a bit of an unknown.
The two most famous failures of riders who could not adapt to a change of machine are Valentino [Rossi] in Ducati and Troy Bayliss in Honda. I worked in that Honda team and Troy was a great guy, easy to work with. He said, “I’d never say this bike is bad but I am completely incapable of riding it.” And the truth is he went back to Ducati and SBK and then came to Valencia and won in MotoGP with the Ducati, but with the Honda V5 he was a disaster.
We got to such a point of desperation within the team…it was Troy and Alex Barros…that we did things you just don’t do. We all didn’t know what to do, Troy, Santi [Mulero], Sito [Pons], me, the Honda engineers…there was this rider who was so good on a Ducati and he was just so bad on the Honda that we changed bikes, we put him on Barros’ bike. We thought maybe Troy’s team was missing the setup and maybe he’d go well with Alex’s bike…because Alex was winning races…but, no, he said, “The bike goes well but I am incapable of riding it”. But when you sign a rider, even a rider as good as Troy, you can’t know that. There are riders who adapt and riders who don’t.
Now we have riders coming from Moto2 that we have no data on. Look at Fabio. This is the classic rider who surprised everyone. With the years I have in the paddock, if someone comes to me and says “I knew it,” I just wouldn’t believe that. Fabio didn’t come up a winner from Moto2. He was a very good rider, but with very modest results, a rider who surprised everybody, starting with himself in MotoGP. And the opposite can happen. You have a rider like Valentino who is winning, who was winning championships, and you put him on the bike that Casey was winning races with and it just doesn’t work, absolutely not at all.
RO: How does next year look? The engine problem, the plans to solve this year’s problems.
RF: To the questions you just asked, I haven’t got the slightest idea about any of it. The problem is that the motors are frozen. We can only work outside the engine.
You’ll remember Yamaha brought a long exhaust pipe. The philosophy of Yamaha has always been the same and it will continue to the same. Yamaha will look for power but not at the cost of rideability. It is important for the factory that the bike continues to be a smooth motorcycle, a “sweet” and comfortable bike, not too aggressive…that is the DNA of Yamaha and that is what they want to conserve. They will not sacrifice handling and rideability for power.
Circuits are generally a long straight and about fifteen corners. You can take a lot in the straight or in the fifteen turns. You have to choose. If you are fast on the straight but you are losing out in fifteen corners, you end up losing. That is different from Ducati and Honda…fast bikes on the straight but they must work to get them to turn. The Yamaha is a rider-friendly bike, not a bike that you have to fight with.
With respect to next year’s bikes, we have the engines frozen and I don’t know if they have consulted with IRTA or Dorna, the FIM or the MSMA. I don’t know if changing an engine mount or any external piece without altering the aerodynamics is considered evolution or not, and then there is the political-economic question in Yamaha of deciding that if one bikes costs more, someone has to decide who gets which bike.
RO: Remembering the wall that stood in the garage between Jorge and Valentino and the tension between those two riders, it would seem the Petronas team next year would be a team made in heaven with two riders, Valentino and Franky who are the best of friend, To what extent is the Petronas garage one single team…will there be direct interchange of information? We remember that in the days of the wall the atmosphere was more like the KGB and the CIA.
RF: When there was the wall there was a passing of information, but it was all in one direction because the status of the riders was different. Yamaha had no problem telling Jorge and I that we weren’t getting any data from Valentino and that we should figure it out by ourselves, but Yamaha had a harder time saying that to Jerry and Valentino. The first year of the wall was logical because of the difference in tires and with different tires the data wouldn’t have meant much anyway.
For me the fact we have two friends in the team….well, for me that’s well and good, but when they get on the bikes and go out on the track they need to forget about being friends. We will have shared information, sharing of data, consultation…I’ve already been talking to David [Muñoz, Rossi’s crew chief, also Spanish] about how he solved problems that he and Valentino had, but they are different riders…if David tells me Valentino had a problem that was solved with a 10 Newton spring, but that might not work at all for Franky.
And I’d like to add something about Franky that is very important. He always wants to understand why things were done, why he got the results that he did, and that’s why he doesn’t panic. He is the rider who is the most sure of himself that I have ever worked with until now, in thirty years. You know there are aluminum and carbon swingarms that come and go. Now we try this one and then the other one. Franky is the only one who said, after trying them both in a couple of circuits, “put the aluminum one in the crusher, in the trash. I don’t ever want to see it again.” This, for a technician, is wonderful.
Talking about the Yamaha 2019 and the 2020…yes, we run a different swing warm, but it is because he chose to. They can have the one we have and we can have the one they have, but the good thing about Franky is that when things weren’t working he never had the temptation to say that because we were using a different swingarm, the problem must be the swingarm, He just said, this is my swingarm, the one I like, the one I chose, and he forgot completely about the other swingarm. He erased it from his mind.
This is wonderful because I have worked with lots of riders who are happy with everything and then when they have a problem they want to go back to a component that they were using before they had the problem. That is when you have problems, when you get lost.
There was also the matter of the new Ohlins shock this year. We didn’t have it at first because of a decision by Yamaha. We asked for it because we understood how it was made, and we thought it could work for us. We tried it. It didn’t work because it was a new component…not an adjustment to an old component.
We knew we had to work with it. It had good and bad qualities at first. We saw it had this and this and this that was good and this and this and this that was bad, so we said we’d work hard with it and if we found, on the whole, that the bad outweighed the good, we would forget it. But we found that its good points exceeded the bad, so we made the decision to throw away the old shock and work only with the new one and Franky never used the other again. Even in the rain, when we were short of extra shocks and we could have mounted the old shock on the rain bike, he said that the new shock was his shock, for dry, for rain, for snow, and he didn’t want to see the old one.
This mentality for me, for the technician, makes things so much better. Maybe the day he makes a mistake he will stick to his mistake, but, up until now, he hasn’t made any mistakes. Yes, our bike is different, but many of the parts that are different from the other Yamahas are only on our bike because we chose them.
RO: We could go on for at least another half hour but the Barcelona game is about to start…
RF: A half hour only? We jumped from 1990 to 2002 all in one go, and there must be at least two hours in those twelve years. But it has been a real pleasure to talk about bikes with you. A pleasure. Hasta pronto!
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