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
‘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.
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