Nakagami: 80% new, but 'big chance'

November MotoGP test leader Takaaki Nakagami feels he has 'big chance' to fight with the front group on his Jerez return, but major resurfacing means track surface '80% new'.
Nakagami: 80% new, but 'big chance'

Fastest in November's Jerez MotoGP test, Takaaki Nakagami might be expected to pick up where he left off in terms of bike set-up at this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix.

But major changes to the Spanish asphalt mean the LCR Honda rider, like his rivals, is not sure what to expect when free practice begins on Friday morning.

"Let's say 80% of the track is the new asphalt so it means it's going to change the feeling of the bike, less bumps and I hear the new tarmac has more grip but tyre life a little bit worse," Nakagami said.

"That's why Michelin have brought four different tyres, front and rear. It's going to be a busy weekend, but it looks like the weather will be quite stable. So maybe the soft on the front we will forget and, especially for the Honda bike, maybe we have to use the hardest.

"Then maybe the hardest [rear] tyre is just for safety. So maybe we are focussed only on the soft, medium, hard which look similar to November. But of course there is a big change in the conditions from then to now, temperature and tarmac."

Nakagami will start practice with one machine in November's test configuration and the other using a more contemporary set-up.

"One bike is from November. We will keep the exact same set-up because the lap time was quite good. Then bike two we modify a little, like a set-up mix, Argentina and America. We will see which has the best feeling on the new tarmac. This is the first thing. Because we cannot plan."

The only rider using the 2018 Honda, Nakagami isn't benefitting from the more powerful 2019 RC213V engine, but is exceptionally strong on the brakes.

"I cannot say nothing because I never test the 2019 bike. But in all the races I compare with Cal, Marc and Jorge's data… It looks like chassis side is not really different, but from my side the strongest point is the hard braking.

"But this track does not have so much hard braking. The back straight, last corner are the only two overtaking points [on the brakes]. So it means we have to focus on that area. Of course there are some high speed corners as well so it's a mix. But we are confident."

And that confidence began last November, when Nakagami finished his rookie year with a season-high of sixth in the Valencia rain, then soon looked at home on the 2018 RC213V.

"Last season, my first year, of course was not easy. Always our target was the top ten but unfortunately only one race, the last race in Valencia, we did it. But after that we are quite consistent in the top 10, top 6-7. It means more motivation and more confidence on the bike. Also my riding is much better than last year," said Nakagami, who is currently seventh in the world championship, with a best race result of seventh in Argentina.

"Everything is working well – the team, bike, me. It feels like if we do the best we can fight for the top group. Last year I didn't have this feeling. I cannot imagine fighting for the top. But now, especially at this track, a small track with not so much difference with top speed, it means a big chance.

"It will be a good opportunity to fight for the top."