Dovizioso: From 'not fast enough' to factory Honda
26 May 2009
Andrea Dovizioso will reach a proud moment in his professional career this weekend at Mugello, when he takes part in his first home event as a factory MotoGP rider.
Dovizioso joined Repsol Honda at the end of last season after completing his rookie MotoGP campaign with Scot Honda. The intelligent Italian finished the 2008 season fifth in the championship, as the top satellite rider, and took his first podium at the penultimate round in Malaysia.
That third place remains the high point in his short MotoGP career to date, but if Dovizioso's past performances are anything to go by it is unlikely to last long.
Dovizioso followed the same template used by most current MotoGP stars - from pocketbike (or minimoto) racing at an early age to sport production to 125 GP bikes to 250 GPs and finally to MotoGP - and has met with success every step of the way.
Only once did the youngster try to run before he could walk, when he graduated from pocketbike to real motorcycles in 2000, on the eve of his 14th birthday.
“My first full-size motorcycle was a 125 grand prix bike, and it was a very traumatic experience,” said Dovizioso. “I was asked to race the bike in 2000 by Fiorenzo Caponera's team because I was the fastest kid in pocketbike. But a GP bike is too big a jump from pocketbike because it isn't easy to ride; it's so difficult to use the engine because the rpm range is so narrow. I tested this Aprilia GP bike three times at Maggiore during the winter before the 2000 season, and each time I went very slow. In the end the team said I wasn't fast enough to race.”
At that stage of his life Dovizioso had already decided that he wanted to be a grand prix racer, putting to one side his other passions, motocross and football.
“Every weekend I played football, ride motocross and ride pocketbike, but Caponera told me I need to stop football and focus on roadracing. I'd already had a couple of try-outs with local football teams.”
But the enthusiastic teenager wasn't worried when he was told he wasn't fast enough to race the 125 GP bike.
“When you are young you don't think like that, you don't think it's all over,” he says with a wry smile. “Within a week another team near my home gave me a bike to ride in the Aprilia Challenge, for 125 streetbikes. I won my first race on the bike and then I won the championship!”
Dovizioso's main rival that year was Michele Fabrizio, currently a factory Ducati World Superbike rider. His biggest rival in pocketbike had been Marco Simoncelli, currently 250 world champion.
Apart from those traumatic first outings on a 125 GP bike, Dovizioso has always excelled at extracting the maximum from his machine without exceeding the limit, a product of his thoughtful approach to racing.
“This has always been my style, ever since I raced in pocketbike. It's my character, that's all. Of course, my father Antonio [a keen club motocross rider, even now at the age of 55] helped me think like this. When you start racing in pocketbike your father is everything. He is your mechanic, your driver, your teacher, everything. Thinking hard is important in every sport, of course, not just in bike racing. Whatever you are doing it's important to understand everything and to think about everything so you can improve.”
Dovizioso was not a great fan of school - “the only subject I liked was gym, I love all sports” - but he is definitely a thinker and has always thought hard about his racing. Not surprisingly, he finds MotoGP much more mentally demanding than any other racing class, and thus more challenging and rewarding.
“My race weekends are very different now compared to what they used to be in 250s and 125s. From eight in the morning to eight or nine at night you are always working on something, especially the electronic controls systems. However much time you spend thinking, it's never enough, because you can always do more. In 250s and 125s it's not like this.”
Dovizioso's race preparations begin immediately after the previous race.
“When I get home I watch the race on TV and study every practice session which can help me learn something new before the next race. At every race I give myself a target because it is always important to keep improving. At the moment I am working with a new team, so we are working very hard to improve my feeling with the bike and to improve the set-up. Of course, I don't consider this to be real work, because it's what I've always wanted to do with my life!”
In between races Dovizioso keeps himself fit in the gym and on the motocross track.
“When I am at home I ride motocross as often as I can. For me it's the most fun. I love everything about it, from leaving home to go to the track to the actual process of riding. When I am riding my MotoGP bike you have to think very hard, you can't just ride, with motocross you can just ride and have fun with the bike.”
When he does motocross, Dovizioso rides a Honda CRF250 and CRF450, in fact he's spent pretty much the last nine years of his life on Honda machinery. He won the 2001 125 European Championship and the 2004 125 World Championship on Honda RS125Rs, then twice finished second in the 250 World Championship aboard an RS250RW.
During his time in 250s he turned down an offer from the Aprilia factory to ride its 250, which has dominated the series in recent years.
“At the beginning it was coincidence that I rode Hondas, but then it was my plan because I believe in Honda. When I was riding 250s I had the possibility to go to Aprilia but I wanted to stay with Honda because I believed in them for MotoGP.”
Dovizioso lost out on a first podium finish of the season by just 0.562sec to team-mate Dani Pedrosa last time out at Le Mans and finished eighth at last year's Italian Grand Prix.
"I really look forward to the GP of Italy. Mugello is a unique place in terms of atmosphere and, although it's part of the world championship, for me it's an event that stands alone,” he said. “It's like a kind of ritual with so many memories from previous years: Tuscany, the colours and smell, the people, the food and the passion of the fans.
“Although I'm Italian I don't actually ride much at this track because we don't test here, so we come back after a full year away. We know the key places where we have to get the set-up right but it always takes a while to master the track again. There are a lot of fast changes of direction and that means riding here requires a lot of physical energy. It's bumpy too which complicates things further.
“As an Italian rider, the support of the fans gives me an extra drive, and the hour before the race is really special. It's important to use that boost to lift your performance and that's what I'll be aiming to do on Sunday."
The #4 will start his home event joint fifth in the championship with Marco Melandri and 14 points behind the top Honda of Pedrosa.