Cecchinello on Nakagami
Japanese rider Takaaki Nakagami joined the LCR Honda Idemitsu Team in 2018 and has been riding the RC213V alongside Cal Crutchlow ever since. Nakagami ended his 3rd season in the premier class with 116 points overall in the final standings. He has also achieved his career best result and obtained his first ever MotoGP pole position in 2020.
Did you ever expect such a great season for Taka despite the difficulty of the 2020 calendar?
“I did expect an improvement from Taka this year because he had already shown in the previous season very good potential. Especially considering that in 2019 he was riding the 2018 bike, and it was not as competitive as the 2019 model. We clearly see that on the data and also around the track.
“There were some key points to work on this year, and I did expect an improvement but no such a significant one, as displayed in the second part of the season when he showed to be one of the strongest MotoGP riders.”
In which aspects has Taka improved and in which ones does he still have to take a step forward?
“Taka improved in a couple of important aspects. At first, he understood that there is a new riding technique to be applied if you want to be fast on a MotoGP bike specially with the Honda. Basically, to start to incline the bike earlier while going into the corner and this allows the rider to use a bigger tire contact patch and therefore being more performing in the deceleration phase. Another important step he made was increasing the maximum lean angle which allowed him to turn tighter and gain time.
“Regarding the improvements we have to make for next year, looking back on the missed opportunities of the 2020 season, I believe he needs to better manage the pressure. He has already understood this and mentioned it in a couple of interviews. I am confident, this will come with time, with more experience.”
You competed for many years alongside Nobby Ueda (one of the most competitive Japanese riders ever).
How are Japanese riders different from Western riders?
“Yes, I had Nobby Ueda as a team-mate. He was a fantastic team-mate and a great rider. Nobby, I believe, together with the other Honda Japanese riders of the 90s or early 2000s, was a very aggressive rider. All of them were, very strong. Never afraid. They had a kind of Samurai or Kamikaze mentality. I think the strongest point of Japanese riders compared to Western riders is that when Asian riders, especially the Japanese, are focused on a target, they are very committed. They approached their goals with a very strong mentality, and they were even almost prepared to kill themselves to reach that target. It was good learning for me.
“I can see that Taka is a bit more calmed compared to the Japanese riders of the 90s, he is more pragmatic but definitely very committed, very focused and determined. His determination is key.”
What is Taka’s working approach like? Is he different from other riders in the paddock today?
“I would say that we’ve worked with many riders in our 25 years of team history and we understood that every rider has his own personality and his own style. Definitely, Nakagami is one of the most committed riders, spending time in our pit garage working closely with the team engineers discussing every single aspect that can be improved: his riding position, aerodynamics, gear box ratios and many other small details. So apart from riding the bike, he does spend a lot of time working in the garage and I believe this is very positive because with the tiny differences in lap time in MotoGP nowadays, only working like a maniac you can make the difference.”