MOTOGP » Hector Barbera
Héctor Barberá hails from the small town of Dos Aguas, located amidst the vast rural outskirts of Valencia. For a town with no traffic lights and just 400 inhabitants, it is no surprise to hear that most of the people there are involved with either motorcycling or mountain activities.
Héctor’s passion for two wheels began early and he rode bicycles before turning his attention to a 50cc Derbi Rabasa, that appeared in his house not for him but for his elder sisters. Whilst the two girls quickly lost their interest, Héctor’s had been spiked forever .
With his parents both in the hostelry business they didn’t have time to take the youngster out on a daily basis so Héctor begged his uncle, a trials rider himself, to take him up the mountains. By the age of six he was already entering regional trials competitions in Valencia, making his debut in Cullera in a race he recalls as good fun but riddled with crashes. At the age of eight he celebrated his first podium on a 50cc geared Mecatecno and by the following year he had progressed so much that the bike’s engine needed to be upgraded to 80cc capacity.
After finishing third in the junior categories for three consecutive years (1995, 96 and 97), Héctor finally became a regional champion in 1998 at the age of eleven on board a 125cc Beta. In 1999 he switched to road racing, initially combining it with trial before realising that his future lay firmly on the asphalt. He finished runner-up that year in the regional trial series despite missing a host of events, making his debut in the regional Fórmula Airtel and national Caja Madrid series’ – both in the 50cc category – and finishing fourth and seventh respectively.
In 2000 he parked up his trials bike for good and concentrated on the regional Fórmula Airtel series, which he won, and the national Caja Madrid series, finishing fourth. By 2001 the teenager was showing signs of turning his hobby into a career as he took overall victory in the 125cc Bancaja Fórmula de Campeones series. He also took part in three rounds of the 125cc Spanish Championship at Valencia, Jerez and Jarama, crashing out of two of them and suffering a mechanical problem in the other.
However, Jorge Martínez “Aspar” had seen enough to offer him a full time ride in both the 125cc Spanish and World Championships in 2002 and Héctor did not let him down. He dominated the national series to clinch the title and finished fourteenth in his debut season of Grand Prix racing. “Aspar” knew he had discovered a gem and he was quick to re-sign the youngster for 2003.
The success continued to come in his second season and, at the age of just 16, Héctor sealed third place in the 125cc World Championship. He took his first podium at Assen and his first victory one race later at Donington Park. A further win followed at Motegi and he signed off from the season with another podium after taking third in his home race at the Ricardo Tormo circuit in Cheste.
In 2004 he continued on a 125cc Aprilia but moved to the Seedorf Racing Team, where he finished runner-up in the championship. The highlight of his season – victory in the final round at Cheste - went down as one of the most famous moments in Valencian racing history as he became the first home rider to win at the legendary circuit.
For 2005 he moved up a category as part of the Fortuna Honda squad, finishing ninth in his debut season in the 250cc World Championship. He remained with the same team for 2006, although they swapped Honda machinery in favour of Aprilia and it quickly proved to be the right decision as Héctor clinched his first win early in the season in China. Further podiums followed but his rise through to prominence hit a setback when he was injured in a mountain bike accident. A broken right wrist ruled him out of the final three races of the season.
2007 was another year of change for Héctor as he switched to Team Toth Aprilia. However, it didn’t turn out to be as successful a move as he had hoped and despite expectations of a title challenge he could ‘only’ manage fifth overall. He continued with the same team in 2008 and looked to be returning to his best form before once again injury wrecked his progress and he missed the last four races of the season after breaking three vertebrae in a sickening crash at Motegi.
Following a long and laborious winter recovery programme he made a fresh start for 2009 by moving from Team Toth to Team Pons. It would prove to be his final season in the quarter-litre category before making the step up to MotoGP as he finally proved himself as one of the fastest and most consistent riders in the category, scoring points in every round and picking up four pole positions and three victories along the way – the last of them coming in the historic final 250cc race of all time at Valencia.
No sooner had the dust settled on the celebrations at his home circuit than he was making his MotoGP debut the following day aboard the Aspar-prepared Ducati Desmosedici, the Spanish team re-signing its former rider ahead of its maiden MotoGP foray. After a three-day test alongside the rest of the elite class riders he ended up as the fastest rookie, impressing the Italian factory’s engineers with his ability and work ethic and marking himself out as a potential star of the future.
Following fellow 250 rivals Marco Simoncelli, Alvaro Bautista and Hiroshi Aoyama into the premier class, Barbera acquitted himself well on the Desmosedici, carrying his consistent form to score in all but one race. Peaking with a best finish of eighth at Le Mans and Valencia, Barbera ended the year12th overall, but ahead of both Bautista on the factory Suzuki and reigning 250 champion Aoyama.
Retained for 2011, Barbera showed steady improvements, lowering his personal best result to sixth at the slippery Jerez on the way to 11th overall. Though only a minor advance, Barbera did have the distinction of beating both Pramac Ducati riders and Cardion AB Ducati man Karel Abraham.
Having developed an affinity with the Desmosedici, Barbera chose not to follow Aspar in pursuing its burgeoning CRT project, instead switching to Pramac, who would run just a single machine for the Spaniard in 2012.
Much like the factory riders, Barbera found the going difficult on the GP12 and struggled to mount a fight to the Yamaha and Honda equipped satellite riders. Flashes of brilliance were in evidence with his front row start at Misano and the odd occasion when he challenged Rossi and Hayden for Ducati supremacy, but generally Barbera spent 2012 as the bridge between the MotoGP riders and the CRT field.
Even so, his experience at this level has not gone unnoticed, so Barbera will embark on a four season in MotoGP, albeit in the CRT class spearheading the Avintia Blusens team alongside series returnee Hiroshi Aoyama.