Due to the Covid travel restrictions enforced by Western Australia, where Bryan hails from and currently resides, he has yet to ride the DesmoSport Ducati, yet we are only about five weeks out from season start. That must put the pressure on for this coming test.
Ben Henry: “It definitely does, I’m trying to stay off social media, every time I look at something, someone is riding somewhere and I’m starting to get a little bit edgy, because Bryan’s not. But look, we’ve got seven days of riding before the first race, we’ve got five days in a row at Phillip Island, then a couple of days at Queensland, then down to the race, so if we need more than that we’ll squeeze something in somewhere. But the bikes aren’t bad, it’s not really like he has to turn up and set a heap of stuff up, or come up with some magic. The bikes are pretty good so, we’ve just got to get him comfortable on them and then off he goes. So yeah look, it does bug me a bit, but it is what it is really, I can’t change it, I know he’s training pretty hard and riding a lot of motocross, so that’s all I can ask for – that he turns up fit. And Bryan’s level of fit is equal to anyone else, equal to the best of the guys there. I know he can do it, and I kind of think if he can ride a bike, he can ride a bike, that’s really the bottom line.”
Trev: Do you envisage that Bryan living in WA might post some particular challenges this season?
Ben: “Yeah, I do, I definitely do. It’s definitely not ideal, but I can’t change that either, he has a good job over there. It’s just been so random for the last two years with Covid, that I’ve just got over the whole trying to plan over something that I can’t plan. All you can do is make a plan and just march on with it. If it can’t happen it can’t, but if it can you just have to keep going. He will test bikes, he will come over as soon as the border opens basically. He works for a national company so he can work from Melbourne for a while and by the sounds of it, his job has been accommodating so far, for what we need to do. So we’ve just got to march on until it gets to the point where it becomes a problem and then we’ll go from there.”
Trev: Apart from Oli’s breakthrough victory in Darwin, 2021 could be described as a challenging year for the team perhaps? After his time on the big twin Mike didn’t seem to really gel with the high-revving nature of the V4? I think the torque of the Yamaha might suit Mike down to the ground and I expect him to be back in the title hunt this year, how would you rate your 2021 and how your riders went?
Ben: “It wasn’t real special to be honest, I guess all I can really do is apologise to Jonesy, I just didn’t put the team around him that he needed to support him to win. Like I don’t have a problem with Jonesy, and I think he can win, I think he is good enough, but unfortunately I couldn’t create the environment that he needed and that was just the way it was. I can’t really change it and that’s about all I can really say there. I think the bike is good enough, I think he is good enough, I just didn’t quite give him the tools he needed, and that said, I know that I can give them to Bryan and he’ll be fine.”
Trev: DesmoSport Ducati has the official backing of Ducati Australia, whereas the Boost Mobile Ducati squad is essentially a well organised and prepared privateer outfit, without wanting to have this come across as some sort of put-down or insult, that they dominated so comprehensively must have grated a little?
Ben: “Yeah for sure, no one likes being beaten and I don’t really like being beaten by people on the same bike, but it just is what it is, I can’t change it. Wayne was good, their team was good. With a competitive mind and competitive background you have to almost take the negatives out of what they have achieved.
“You know where you’re at before you get there, and before you get there you pump your own tyres up, and think something is going to happen, because that’s just the way all of us people are wired up. And so when you talk about Wayne and how dominating he was, yeah he did good, but he also had things pan out really well for him, from a competitors point of view.
“Right now I’m not the only person who races against him that feels that way, and I’m not taking credit away from them, it was just the way you have to think, when you’re in the game. You turn up and you tell yourself that someone did so good because they just are so good and you’re buggered before you start.
“You have to be able to go in there and meet the champion in their armour and figure out what the chink in their armour is, and sort of look at yourself and what we could do to be better. I really look forward to seeing them go a full season distance, and I’ll be interested to see how that pans out, because you know in two years we’ve really only raced almost one full season.”
Trev: I certainly get that psychology aspect and it’s always something interesting, and interesting to hear your viewpoint, as despite you no longer being a rider, that running the team you still sort of having that mindset.
Have you been hard at work at your Cube Performance Centre working to find improvements to the V4 R this coming season? The Boost Mobile Ducati Team told me that they run essentially unopened engines in their V4 R machines, as in completely standard. Do you take the same approach or do you do your own engine blueprinting and optimisation in house, to the very limited extent permitted in ASBK of course?
Ben: “I haven’t been working on the engines, I’ve just been refining a lot of the small stuff around the bike to make it easier to work on and just a bit more streamlined really. There’s nothing too special about that engine.”
Trev: So you’ve basically got a standard Panigale V4 engine un-opened from factory?
Ben: “Basically yes”
Trev: The bike was certainly not short of power last season, Oli was nudging towards 310 km/h at The Bend. Interestingly I was talking to Josh Brookes about his struggles on the Ducati in BSB last season, and he said it basically came down to the team ordering new spec’ engines with more power at the beginning of the season, committing to that engine package and paying for it, only to find that no matter what the team tried they could not get the bike to hook up. And of course in BSB they don’t have any traction control, whereas here you do have that available to you, along with various other changeable electronic parameters not available to riders in BSB. Traction control systems are so advanced now that what was once really easy to pick by ear from trackside, is now pretty much imperceptible to onlookers. How much traction control were Oli and Mike using last season? And just how much did each rider ‘lean’ on it, so to speak.
Ben: “They use a lot, they have a lot of support those guys, and I think they must get really used to it, like I haven’t ridden a motorbike in a real long time, but I rode that bike the day after The Bend, and the electronics support – jeez it was good, and it was very very supportive, so I would say they are using it a lot. They’re leaning on it a fair bit, I reckon they don’t even realise it any more, as it’s that bloody smooth. I reckon that they might say, ‘Uh nah,’ but I think it is actually quite a lot.”
Trev: Do you not download the data and see who is using more or where?
Ben: “They’ve got different maps and we can see it all, but the rider is still always still speaking about the same shit, if they have traction control or not, it’s still just talking about grip, it’ll never stop. You know, I reckon if we could give it to them with no traction control I reckon it wouldn’t last too many laps. It’d just about spit the tyre off I reckon. But anyway, I think they use a bit, quite a lot and I think there’s a lot more to come yet from the package yet that we’re using. I think Bryan is a bit old school, but I hope he can get his head around it really swiftly. I kind of expect he would have used something pretty good in MotoGP, so I dunno, and on the Kawasaki. But we’ll soon work it out.”
Trev: Thanks Ben, see you at Phillip Island next week where we can also, of course, catch up with Bryan, and get his thoughts about the bike after he gets down to business on it.
Ben: “I’m really looking forward to it, I’m also really nervous, so the anticipation is definitely building.”
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