293 GP RACES 22 BRO­KEN BONES WHAT WAS IT LIKE BE­ING THE WORLD’S SMALL­EST RACER?

Dani Pe­drosa re­tires with one big thing miss­ing from his rac­ing re­sume

MCN - - INTERVIEW - By Mat Ox­ley MCN CON­TRIB­U­TOR

‘I have a lit­tle hand­i­cap, but there’s noth­ing I can do about it’

Dani Pe­drosa has had it all: top teams pre­par­ing the Honda RS125 and RS250 that he rode to three world ti­tles, fol­lowed by 13 years with the Rep­sol Honda Mo­toGP team. But hav­ing it all doesn’t mean you’ve got it all. Pe­drosa is the size and weight of a 12-year-old boy. That worked in his favour when he was rid­ing lit­tle two-strokes, but it has worked against him ever since he grad­u­ated to big four-strokes in 2006.

When the 15-year-old for­mer min­i­moto prodigy made his Grand Prix de­but at Suzuka in 2001 he stood less than five feet tall. Now the 32-year-old Pe­drosa stands five feet two inches tall and weighs eight stone. He fit­ted his RS125 per­fectly; he won his first GP at Assen in 2002 and took the 125cc ti­tle the fol­low­ing year. In 2004 he grad­u­ated to 250s and his new RS250 fit­ted him just as well; a 50 kilo rider on a 100 kilo bike with about 100 horse­power. Pe­drosa was im­me­di­ately suc­cess­ful on the big­ger bike, win­ning his first 250 GP and se­cur­ing the cham­pi­onship at his first at­tempt. The next year he re­tained the crown.

Night­mare

In 2006 Pe­drosa got the golden ticket: a full-fac­tory five-cylin­der RC211V. It took him four races to get his first Mo­toGP win, when he beat team-mate Nicky Hay­den in China.

In the­ory, 2007 should’ve been his break­through year. This was the in­au­gu­ral sea­son of Mo­toGP’s 800cc ma­chines and HRC threw its weight be­hind the young­ster. How­ever, the fac­tory’s all-new RC212V was a dis­as­ter: slow and ill-han­dling. Dur­ing the first three sea­sons of the 800s the V4 won seven races, com­pared to the V5’s 36 vic­to­ries dur­ing the first three sea­sons of the 990s. “Even the be­gin­ning of 2010 was a night­mare,” says Pe­drosa. “The bike wouldn’t even go straight on the straights!”

He gets hurt eas­ily

Per­son­nel changes at HRC trans­formed the RC212V dur­ing 2010, al­low­ing Pe­drosa to make his first se­ri­ous chal­lenge for the Mo­toGP ti­tle. But this is when the in­juries re­ally kicked in. He was haul­ing in ti­tle­leader Jorge Lorenzo when a jammed throt­tle caused him to crash and break a col­lar­bone. The next year his ti­tle chal­lenge was ru­ined when Marco Si­mon­celli took him out, break­ing an­other col­lar­bone. In 2012 it was Hec­tor Bar­bera who knocked him down, once again end­ing his ti­tle chal­lenge. In 2013 he was lead­ing the cham­pi­onship when he high­sided at 45mph and again broke a col­lar­bone. And so it went on…

This has been the story of Pe­drosa’s ca­reer: in­jury af­ter in­jury, al­ways com­ing back for more. Ri­vals say he gets hurt eas­ily be­cause he’s so light that when the bike flicks him he flies higher and fur­ther than any­one else. And what goes up must come down. With a mighty thump.

His size also works against him when he’s on the bike. Yes, he’s faster in a straight line, but races are won by cor­ner­ing per­for­mance, not by straight-line per­for­mance. Pe­drosa’s life be­came dif­fi­cult when he stepped up to Mo­toGP and his woes were com­pounded fur­ther by the ar­rival of one-size-fits-all tech­ni­cal reg­u­la­tions: con­trol tyres from 2009 and uni­fied elec­tron­ics from 2016.

Hands of a child

When Bridge­stone, Miche­lin and Mag­neti Marelli cre­ate tyres and soft­ware for the en­tire Mo­toGP grid they must aim to please the av­er­a­ge­sized rider. In­evitably, this left Pe­drosa with an­other ob­sta­cle to over­come.

While most Mo­toGP rid­ers use a rear spring of around 90 New­tons, Pe­drosa must use a 77 New­ton spring. This soft sus­pen­sion set-up makes it dif­fi­cult for him to get enough load into his tyres to gen­er­ate heat and grip. Even at the re­cent Thai GP, where track tem­per­a­ture nudged 50 de­grees, it took him sev­eral laps to get his tyres up to op­ti­mum tem­per­a­ture. “You need to have a cer­tain load to get tem­per­a­ture into the tyres and this isn’t easy for Dani,” says Mats Lars­son, boss of bike rac­ing at Öh­lins. “Also, he can’t mus­cle the bike around and he can’t move around the bike. His big chal­lenge has al­ways been to have a set-up that al­lows him to get some pos­i­tive weight trans­fer be­tween the front and rear, be­cause he can’t do this him­self.

“Also, his hands are like a child’s hands, so things like han­dle­bar po­si­tion are very crit­i­cal for him. And the uni­fied elec­tron­ics were an­other bad thing for Dani, be­cause the bikes be­came more wild and more snappy.”

Pe­drosa will re­flect on an in­cred­i­ble ca­reer when he re­tires in two weeks’ time, but the Mo­toGP ti­tle eluded him

On his day Pe­drosa was the best in the world Eight-stone Pe­drosa rarely walked away from a crash without break­ing some­thing

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