EXCLUSIVE Sandro Cortese - Q&A
1 April 2014
Hi Sandro, you must be feeling more confident after your strong showing in the first race?
After the great stress of the long journey and settling down after the really hard weekend I do feel a lot better. Also I've worked a lot on the physical side of the leg and the swelling has gone down and it almost looks like a normal leg.
In the race there was a lot of pain but in the end it was a very important 7th place. I didn't really expect so much pain from a fairly normal injury but the problem was the swelling. The Dainese boot is very small and it was a real problem to get my leg in there, it probably took me 15 minutes to cram my leg in. Once it was in though it was almost a help because of the support it gave my leg. Once I was on the bike it felt OK and that was helped by the fact that there were a lot of right hand corners.
Gear shifting was a problem but the first few laps spurred me on. After that the pain came through and I really had to fight against it. Being in the group of fast riders always focuses the mind. I'm confident that I wouldn't have been able to do any more than I did.
You came 7th, but could you have done better without the leg injury?
I'm 100 per cent sure I could have. I was in the top three all weekend and my times were good throughout. If I extrapolated my lap times to the race I would have been top four at least.
Tell us about the leg injury.
At first we thought it was some kind of strain but when we got home the German doctors found there was a break in the heel and that's a problem because you can't stand or walk. At the moment I just have to wait until the swelling goes down so that I can get on with training and cycling.
I'm pretty certain I'll be 100 per cent at Austin and I'm just lucky we've got a 3 week break for me to get things together. If I can race 1 day after the injury then I reckon I'll be fine after 3 weeks.
During the race I only took one Ibuprofen 600 and that just took the edge off the pain. The problem was that I had no feeling in the leg so when I shifted back I couldn't feel which gear I was in and always had to look down. I had to rely on my display, normally you would be able to feel what gear you're in but I always had to check. It was the upshift that was the problem, my foot felt like a Wellington boot.
As a rider with an injury, do you ever ride to protect the injury?
Honestly the best pain killer is adrenaline. Immediately after finishing the race it all came crashing down though. In the out lap I could feel the pain building and when I came in I could barely get off the bike. If you have to do it and really want it, it's your head that's in control but when that's over, all the pain that you've been holding back comes to get you.
I think my worst injury was last season in Brno where I broke my right wrist and that taught me a lot. The week after that was Silverstone and after having a plate inserted I was able to race. Comparing that injury with this, there was more pain then because it was an open injury so I was a bit prepared for this one.
In the race I never think about the injury and I don't try to protect it. At the beginning I decide if I can somehow do the race and if I think I can then I go for it. If there's some doubt, like going 3 seconds a lap slower than everybody else and I'm fighting for last place then I'll come into the box and save the leg, it's a calculation.
Before the race we had a long meeting and despite the injury I felt that I could make it work somehow so I went out. If you think about the potential to injure yourself more then all the work will come to nothing so you just put it out of your mind and go. Those thought are never there in the race.
Did you expect that result after a difficult 2013?
If we consider the end of last year I came from there injured because of the operation to remove the plate so mentally I just decided that it was like a reset. I'd had a hard season, I'd learned a lot, I'd managed to get through the pain so I decided to put that all behind me. After having the plate removed I had 2 weeks holiday, analysed what had gone wrong and hit a mental reset.
I knew that in 2013 at the end of races I'd been flagging a little. It's like a vicious circle, if you're not fit you ride less relaxed, that makes you more stressed and that again makes you more tired. So I started at the beginning and put together a strong schedule of fitness training with my trainer. When I got to the first test I was strong physically but also mentally which meant I could ride in a more relaxed way. That was the important point.
We also had great winter testing results. In the last test in Jerez I finished second but I hadn't tested against the top 4 guys so I didn't know what my absolute pace was. During the weekend in Doha though it did look as if we were strong enough. Make no mistake though, if you'd asked me before Qatar if I'd have been happy with a 7th then I would have said yes but after my qualifying result my mind changed quite quickly and I was hoping for more. 7th is my best result in Moto2 so at some stage you've got to be happy, my problem is I'm a racer and nothing's ever enough.
In the end I was happy to come away in one piece and safe because when Jordi Torres hit me from behind it was really dangerous and without my Dainese leathers and boots I would have been badly injured.
I was on a fast lap and there were so many riders looking for a slipstream. The lap before Jordi was waiting for me and then followed me. I made a small mistake going into the corner and had a bad exit and he was so enthusiastic to get a fast lap that he wasn't really concentrating and hit me full gas in the side.
At first I thought 'That's it' because I had so much pain and watching the video here at home I'm just grateful to be in one piece. I've still got plenty of races and the points I got at Qatar can be vital. In 2012 when I won my title I always made sure that even if I crashed I did my best to get back on and get as many points as possible. Somehow I think that we're ready to have far better places this year and that makes you strong mentally.
Is there any difference in the bike, the team or strategy from last year that accounts for the better performance?
No, everything's exactly the same. Of course we have the 2014 Kalex chassis but everyone who's riding the Kalex has the same. It's the same team with 1 year more experience of set up.
The 2014 Kalex differs slightly from the 2013 one in some stiffness points so the bike is more prepared for the exit. It gives more grip on the rear wheel so it doesn't move as much when you accelerate.
Because we've found a bit more speed the set up from last year didn't work anymore so we've had to find a new one. We almost started from 0 again.
You often seem to talk about the mental side of preparation, is that important to you?
The mental side of things is so important, for example I always keep in mind that a lot of the riders who beat me last year are the same ones I beat when I was riding a 125, like Scott Redding, Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith. I'd fought and beat them all in 125's so I just said to myself 'OK, just stay calm' because if you get nervous and lose perspective you make mistakes.
So the first season in Moto2 was to learn the bike and to understand where I didn't know how to ride the bike fast, I wasn't too hard on myself. It was a learning experience and I just tried to be analytical, work on it and to never give up. You could never even allow the thought that you'd failed to enter your mind.
If thoughts like 'This class is too hard for me' or 'Other riders are better than me.' enter your head then you're in trouble. Your belief in yourself has to be total to survive in Moto2.
Did the competition in Moto2 come as a bit of a shock to you when you first joined?
Honestly, yes . I think everyone has a bit of a shock when arriving there and there are only one or 2 riders who arrive and are immediately fast. If you look at Nico Terrol for example you can see a more normal progression.
If you're not fast in qualifying then the race is already gone. A decent qualifying position, a good start and a good first 4 laps are vital, if you don't get those then you're nowhere.
In Moto2 a huge number of riders are going within 0.2 and 0.5 seconds of each other so the competition is truly frightening. If you lose 5 seconds in the first 4 laps then you'll probably never get that back. You can say that but it's something that you've really got to learn by experience.
Also the fights in Moto2 tend to be hard, touching and barging are pretty normal. In Moto3 in 2012, the top 5 guys were pretty hard but from 6th place to 12ththey're not so fast so if you have a bad day in Moto3, you're 5th. If you have a bad day in Moto2 though, you're 21st and that's only from going 3 tenths slower. There are 25 people within a second.
So there was the heavy competition but we were also coming to everything fresh, you just have to believe that you need 2 years to get up to speed in Moto2.
Also my team was a new one built around me so when we approached the task we had a 2 or 3 year plan to get the job done. We were expecting the first year to be tough but you have to experience it to understand it. The team, my sponsors and me, we all had to stay calm and it has to be said that at the moment it seems to be working and all the sponsors I had last year I've still got.
I've been really lucky because I've got a long term sponsor, Intact Batteries, and they started with me in 2007. They are based quite close to where I live and they've become more and more involved with me. I've also got other long term sponsors such as Kuhn who have stuck with me since the beginning. Without long term sponsors like that nothing would have been possible and that meant that we could already plan in 2012 to build this team around me.
The idea was to have a bike team from my area (Schwabenland) with just German sponsors. Everybody comes from within 30 kilometers and the team base is actually within the Intact Batteries building. Furthermore we're only 15 minutes from Kalex so working together is easy. It's very handy for spare parts.
There are so many teams where you always have to bring money and sometimes savings are made on technical aspects but we are lucky with how our team is arranged. We can concentrate fully on the racing.
For us the small details are important, you could say we're working German style. It's the German eye for detail and 'Genauigkeit'. There may be other Kalexes in the paddock but ours will be the best prepared, we concentrate on every screw and fixing and that gives a good atmosphere.
So are you German first or Schwabisch?
I'm proud to be Schwabisch. Strictly speaking I live on the border between Bavaria and Baden Wutenburg and 10 km's more we'd be Bavarian. We're a beer team rather than a wine team!
I don't drink though, I'm not really a partying kind of guy. I just like meeting my friends, going to the cinema or playing poker. I don't need all the drinking and partying because I've probably got the best job in the world.
You always have to take care of your fitness, in all three classes of the world championship nowadays it's considered a bare minimum to turn up well prepared physically and mentally. You've got to remember that if you turn up at a hot race like Malaysia and can't finish the race because of fitness then you're letting people down. We're all athletes and spend many hours in the gym Summer and Winter.
How many people do you have working on the electronics?
I've got 1 crew chief, 1 electronics guy and 2 mechanics.
The electronics are very standard in Moto2 in fact I would say that there are more electronics in Moto3 than Moto2. In Moto2 I don't have traction control but in 2012 I had that function if I needed it. We had more possibilities than now, we really have nothing, we have the shifter and some small things like working with the mixture and exhaust but in the end it's a standard system.
When developing the bike we don't spend so much time on the electronics, we concentrate more on getting a good base set up with the suspension. In Moto3 for example we could change the gearbox but in Moto2 we can only change the sprocket.
From the rider's point of view that can be really good because you know that everybody's got the same materials, the rider can make the difference and you result does you credit. It's you that beats the other rider.
From the another point of view though it would be nice if the team could develop the bike more and have a bit more technical freedom because it would be good from the point of view of motivating the technical people around you.
Which riders do you respect and enjoy racing against and which are a little more unpredictable?
To be honest there are none I enjoy racing against, I just want to beat everyone who's in front of me though if you're near the back it can get a little overexciting because there are more crazy people there. The closer you get to the front the more respectful the racing becomes. If you're in 15th place it can feel more as if you're fighting for the victory. That's something I learned last season and it's experience that I see as a positive but it was a really hard school.
As regards less predicable riders, De Angelis and Corsi certainly do things their way. You never know what'll happen when you race against them. There's a difference between racing hard and being unpredictable.
Is it really true that you got your first bike when you were 2 1/2 years old?
Yes that's true, a Yamaha PW50. I couldn't ride a bicycle but I could ride a motorbike.
When looking at your career, it seems like it's one of steady progress rather than spectacular arrivals, would you say that's true?
To explain a little, I'd only ridden in the German championship for a couple of years when I moved up and nobody had prepared me for the world scene. Coming to the MotoGP paddock from a national championship is quite a change, it's a different world and I was 15 at the time and didn't really know what to think.
Nowadays the riders are so much better prepared and there are also series like the Red Bull Rookies which put you into the right frame of mind. My sponsors guaranteed me a year in 125's in 2005 and I just had to jump in at the deep end. You had to get used to the racing and the situation and I learned year by year by trial and error. I think it's that learning that accounts for the time it took me to win my first race. I remember it well, I was fighting with Zarco at the time and I thought it's now or never.
I'd had plenty of podiums and I always knew I could win but when the win comes you really start to believe in yourself and everything becomes easier and it means that you ride in a more relaxed way.
All those years though I never even had a thought of giving up.
If you look at the time after that though, say since 2011, then I would say that my progress has been good. Maybe a little more systematic than most but perhaps that's the German way, but now I'm where I want to be.
I think the way Marc Marquez came through the system made other people look slow but I don't like to compare my career with his because he's the kind of talent which only arrives every 10 or 15 years so he's quite unusual. I raced with him in 2010 and what he does on the bike is pretty special.
At what point did you make a living financially from your racing?
Probably in 2011 but it's not as if I could retire and now I make a good living from it. What I earn is certainly good for a 24 year old guy, but I was able to survive before because of the support of my family and also because I could live at home
Sandro Cortese doesn't sound very German though?
My parents are Italian, I was born in Germany but my heritage is Italian. I'm German with Italian blood, a perfect mix for motorcycle racing I think.