Niccolò Canepa is experiencing a busy 2021. From the role of titular rider in the YART Team that was chasing the EWC title up to the final round at Most, to that of test rider for Yamaha in SBK, to that of rider-coach of the Iwata riders involved in the production-based world championship. It’s a kaleidoscope of commitments that rewards Niccolò's great talent and above all allows him to make his enormous experience on the track available to other riders.
Canepa was our guest in a Bar Sport programme dedicated to SBK on the eve of the Argentine Round, talking to us about a lot of different topics obviously focussing on the duel between Toprak Razgatlioglu and Jonathan Rea, the real leitmotif of this season in SBK.
"For me it is great to work with the Yamaha riders in SBK - explained Niccolò - they are all big talents and I too can learn a lot from them. The current R1 project is now a few years old and we have reached a very high level. For sure the arrival of Toprak helped a lot because he has a very particular style, which gave us the opportunity to try out some setups we had never tried before and you can see the results because all the riders are strong with the Yamaha today.”
You know the characteristics of Toprak perfectly. In what way is he really superior to his rivals?
"Toprak is an incredible braker, we can also often see that in his acrobatic manoeuvres. He is precise even though he brakes after the others, so he can also easily pass his opponents. He has a confidence with the front which is something special, he is very precise in every lap. This allows him to be both very fast in lap time and a very tough nut to crack in a race fight, because he is very difficult to overtake. This is a big advantage when you have to fight against people like Redding and Rea. He manages to get the most out of the bike, he found a set-up that rewards his style and did a great job. He has incredible control of the bike and can be compared to Marquez in this. You can also see it at the end of the race, he takes off his helmet and he is calm, he seems not to have broken sweat too much, it all comes naturally. If I play a game on the Playstation I am more agitated! ".
Canepa: " As for a MotoGP test for Toprak, in Yamaha we are focused on the SBK title, then we'll see"
There is talk of his possible arrival in MotoGP in 2023 and a test at the end of this season. Do you think Toprak can go fast on the prototypes and in case there was a test, would you be with him as a rider coach?
"In my opinion if he goes to MotoGP he will not disappoint expectations. I don't know anything about a MotoGP test for him, in the past when they asked Gerloff to participate at Valencia, I went with him. We haven't discussed this with Toprak yet, I don't know the details of the eventual test. Now at Yamaha we are all focused on trying to win this SBK world championship, this is also the priority for Toprak. Then if all goes well, maybe we will focus on something else ".
What idea did you have of the duel between Toprak and Rea?
"I think the battle between Toprak and Rea is one of the best in recent years and I hope it can go on for many years, they are two incredible talents. They are big rivals but there is also a lot of respect between them. You have to remember that at the beginning of his career, Rea taught a lot to Toprak, who is very grateful and has enormous respect for Jonathan. They might do some fairing bashing on the track, but there is mutual respect. It’s obvious that when you are so close to the limit like they are, you have to come up with something special to stay ahead of the other and the result is the spectacular races we've been seeing in the last few weeks. But it will never lead to misconduct, I haven't seen it so far. They both dish it out, they are both fair and both have incredible control of their bikes. If they touch, they know what they are doing. "
Do you think there is a lot of tension between the two?
"There is no real controversy between the two. I can assure you that Toprak is not a smartass, who says things without thinking. He really has a lot of respect for Rea, he really cares about him and wants to beat him on the track in the most correct way possible. ".
Nozane has just been confirmed for 2022. Do you think he deserved it?
"In my opinion Nozane still has a lot of room to improve, we must remember that here he did not know the tracks and above all the tyres, because in Japan he has always raced with Bridgestone and had to learn to get the best out of the Pirellis. There he won the title, so he certainly has a lot of talent. It is normal that it takes time to adapt for him, but on several occasions he has shown that he is a real fighter. He doesn’t often come into the TV cameras, but as I watch all the sessions from the side of the track I can guarantee you that he does some overtaking and some great fights. He has an excellent technical package, his team is working very well and I think he will always be in the top ten next year. In these cases it is right to give a rider a second year, because in just one year he cannot express himself and not confirming it would have meant throwing away a season ".
What do you think happened to Gerloff instead?
"Garrett is a great guy and incredibly talented. He was unlucky in those accidents, and he took a bit of a blow. He's a really good guy and resented having knocked Toprak down. But now he's getting back into the positions that count, at Portimao he had the pace for the podium and therefore he is regaining confidence. He may have struggled after the accidents, but he is returning along the right path. He has a package to win and an incredible talent. I’m sure we will see him back up the top soon, he has an exceptional style. We see the data, sometimes he goes faster than Toprak so I'm sure he has a good path ahead of him. "