One of the characteristics of riders is that they are more attached to their track engineer than… to their girlfriend, and it is something understandable. The ability to understand, at times, with a single glance or with a few words is linked to the success of qualifying or the race itself.
For this reason, Alvaro Bautista has moved from MotoGP to Superbike, from Aprilia to Ducati to Honda, with Giulio Nava always by his side.
Nava, fresh from Honda's first podium at Aragon, is therefore the ideal person to comment on Bautista's result last Sunday.
“The positive point from which we can restart is the performance in the race, because getting on the podium with a 2.5 second gap from first place is not the same as doing it with a gap of 20 because some riders crashed out in front of you or in the rain. It was a 'real' race, with no crashes, so we earned everything we took home. It was the first step after all the work done, in the pits and especially in Japan ”.
Testing the road-going CBR-RRR all the testers were impressed by the very long ratios, was this a choice made for SBK, where the gearbox cannot be modified?
"A longer gear ratio helps the road user in managing the power, and it helps us on the track on the straight. For sure the engine is one of our strengths, it can also be seen by looking at the races, as is the chassis. It is clear that, being the first year, it takes some time to combine everything. For sure Covid did not help us and therefore we will need more time than we expected but getting a podium in the fourth race demonstrates the validity of the project ".
Nava: "In SBK you can't make big changes like in MotoGP, only small steps"
Compared to the first time the CBR took to the track, how much has the bike changed, also considering the limits imposed by the SBK regulations?
"The frame must remain standard, although additional parts can be welded to slightly modify the stiffness, while the swingarm can be replaced, we use a different one than the stock one. Then there are a lot of little things to work on, like the triple clamps or the bearings. We constantly get many small things, because big changes are not allowed in SBK like in MotoGP. Then we continue to work on those components where it is possible to intervene by taking more or less large steps following the indications of the rider. Honda's effort is consistent, but it takes time and kilometres on the track, because riders like Leon and Alvaro are needed to squeeze the bike and understand if the changes work ”.
However, there is a test team in Japan…
“Our riders make certain requests, in HRC they analyse the data, propose solutions that they try with their testers and then send them to us. It is the same style they use in MotoGP; the difference is that in SBK we are more limited in what we can intervene on”.
Nava: "The podium is a small step in the right direction"
Does a podium after four races make you believe that you are where you expected to be?
“In my opinion we have taken a small step in the right direction and received a small reward for the work done both in Japan and on the track. Clearly, we have not reached our final goal, but a podium after four races makes us quite satisfied with the work done, of course we should not and cannot stop here ”.
You and Bautista arrived in Honda as a duo from Ducati, what are Alvaro's strengths and what are those of you as a team?
“A relationship of empathy is created between crew chief and rider. There are situations in which, just looking at Alvaro, I understand if it is time to force something or instead to not do anything, it is not a question of technique but of trust. Because many times it is not only the technical side that makes the difference, but also the conviction that the rider places in that particular modification ”.
Nava: "Alvaro is a technician, he understands the bike, but he doesn't want to be an engineer"
What kind of person and rider is Bautista?
"He is a technical rider, in the sense that he understands what happens on the bike, but he doesn't want to be an engineer. He never tells me what to do specifically but explains how the bike behaves very precisely and then we engineers have to find a solution to the problem. I worked with Alvaro in Aprilia, then in Ducati and finally in Honda this year, he has a great sensitivity so he can tell you what he needs to go faster. This is an advantage, because he doesn't need a teammate or a test rider or the engineers to point out solutions for his problems, he knows what he needs to go faster and this is the most positive point of working with him. Moreover, thanks to his experience and his character, he is a very quiet person, so even in the most critical moments he manages to remain calm and transmit this tranquillity to others. Having a rider with such qualities inside the garage, even when unexpected events happen, helps everyone. If I have to sum him all up in one word, I say intelligence because he can understand what he must do to help himself and others ”.
Nava: "The V4 and the four in-line are used differently: an intelligent rider adapts"
How would you describe the difference between the Honda and the Ducati? Apart from the fact that technically the V4 is chosen in MotoGP because it allows a series of solutions that can be taken to extremes in racing, such as the external flywheel, which however is not allowed in SBK.
“The biggest difference is in the engine. One is an inline 4, so it requires a different set-up and riding than a V4. A certain bike requires certain things from you, because the two engines behave differently, then there is the rider. He may have a style that fits well and the result is positive, it may not fit and it is negative, or there is the intelligent rider who takes half a step towards the characteristics of that bike and in the meantime the company works to meet him half-way".
Nava: "The Honda CBR 1000 RR-R is already a good bike out of the dealership"
The CBR is going strong in BSB and also in Endurance, for a debut bike the potential seems to be high…
“If you take the bike from the dealer and take it to the track the basic level is very good. Not all the modifications granted in SBK are allowed in BSB. We are building on this good foundation, but our opponents have years of experience, while we have six months. In Japan, they continued to work even during the months off for Covid, despite the problems that were also there for this situation, but until Alvaro and Leon try the track, you don't have the litmus test ”.
As for the engines, are there any reliability issues?
"For now, the situation is normal, we have not removed any revs".
In which circuits do you think the CBR will be able to adapt better?
“It's a bike that can go well on all tracks. Logically we started better at Aragon because we had done some tests before, but the result on Sunday was the fruit of the small improvements made at Phillip Island, Jerez and Portimao. There is no circuit like Phillip Island was for Stoner, for example, where he could win with any bike. We are taking one step forward and this produces the final result ”.