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Mika Kallio - Q&A

Moto2 title contender and former MotoGP rider Mika Kallio discusses the merits of being Finnish, his title challenge and his future prospects.
Crash.net:
Finland's very famous for car drivers but how about bike racers?

Mika Kallio:
Sure we have got a lot of rally drivers and 3 F1 drivers but we've also had some good bike racers but they were mainly in the 60's, 70's and the beginning of the 80's. At that time we had quite a few competitors riding at world championship level such as Jarno Saarinen or Pentti Korhonen but after that for some reason almost all of them disappeared from the top level.

The popularity of road racing in Finland also followed these riders and for about 20 years we didn't have any riders who could win serious races so less people followed bike racing.

When myself and Ajo motorsports started racing the media started to follow bike racing again and I think we are going in a better direction. We're still not as popular as Rally or F1 but we are getting back to where we used to be. Now with riders like Niklas Ajo we are hoping that the future will be brighter. Remember that the famous saying is, 'If you want to win, get a Finn!'

Crash.net:
Is there much bike racing in Finland?

Mika Kallio:
Oh yes we have our own championship and the level is pretty good, we've also got 5 or 6 tracks we can use for motorcycles so there is more racing than you would think. The technical level is similar to BSB and there're using Superbikes, Supersports and Moto3 bikes. We are definitely trying to get more young guys into bike racing.

Crash.net:
But bike racing must be quite popular in Finland because you were voted Finnish Motorsportsman of the year, beating Kimi Raikkonen?

Mika Kallio:
Yes that's true, I am actually quite famous in Finland, but as I said before, for a while I was the only serious rider on the international scene so I stood out quite a lot. Maybe I wasn't just the most popular rider but the only one!

I'm really so keen that we can bring some other young Finnish riders forward because I'm already starting to get old, I'm 31, so it's important that someone can take my place. I'm keeping my eye on our domestic series and it looks to me as if there are two or three current riders who might be able to get there. But it all depends how they handle the pressure and competition. You can check at kallioracing.com and our Facebook page about the riders we're working with.

Myself, my brother and my Dad are supporting three riders in our series and beyond and they're now racing at European level on 600's.

Crash.net:
So you're running a team to bring on new riders?

Mika Kallio:
We were talking about doing this for many years because we both knew how difficult it was getting into the world championship for Finnish or Nordic riders and how difficult it is to get the budget, mechanics and team so we put together Kallio Racing.

We ran the team in Finland for a while to get enough experience and to find the right riders and we then moved to Europe and this year is our first year at that level. We're not doing too badly because one of our riders was leading the championship and we're currently in third. They're riding Superstock R6's.

Crash.net:
Isn't your brother a racer too?

Mika Kallio:
Yes, he started racing the same year as me, in '97, and was racing for many years. This is the first year he's stepped back from that to run our team, he's decided to concentrate on running the team and working with the young racers in it.

In his day he was good, he won the Finish championship a couple of times, did well in the European championship, did a year in 125 GP's and then continued in Supersports. I really think he had the talent to do well but he never got the breaks or had the opportunity to work with a good team, I don't think he achieved the results he deserved.

As everybody knows, it doesn't matter how much talent you've got, to succeed in racing you need everything to be there; the team, the bike, the confidence and also the luck and I think he never got them all at the same time.

Crash.net:
Can you walk around Helsinki without being recognised?

Mika Kallio:
No, I don't think so, a lot of people recognize me but you've got to remember that they're Finnish and even if a Finn recognises you they are far more reserved so don't really come over to talk. It's quite different to many other countries where they will all come over.

It's got a bit more like that recently because more people have become interested in MotoGP so the media is covering it more and when I have a good race it will be well reported.

Crash.net:
Talking about the Finnish character, would you say you feel calm on the bike?

Mika Kallio:
Yes, I do and I think it may be a Finnish thing, we are quite quiet and serious. It doesn't matter whether it's bikes, race cars or rally cars I think that character goes well with it. When you put the helmet on you are quite alone and it is up to you to get the results.

You may have the crew and team around you in the garage but when the visor comes down it's a one man journey and the Finnish character helps you concentrate in that situation.

I think that when a Finn chooses a sport they usually choose something which they can do solo, you don't get a lot of us going into football but motorsport allows that kind mental attitude to shine. You could say that a race is like a mental challenge.

You may be nervous on the grid but once the race starts you stay relaxed and calm. I think it really helps in critical moments where you have to make snap decisions because you will have good concentration and a clear mind.

Crash.net:
Kimi Raikonen can be calm and philosophical in the car and in interviews but can be pretty hard drinking and wild in the bar afterwards, do you have those 2 sides to your character?

Mika Kallio:
Could be, could be (laughs). I'm a bit like a lot of people here, we're all quite serious and quiet but sometimes the other side comes out. I think it's like that with a lot of the characters in racing where it's all a bit crazy around the track but when you need to focus you focus but maybe away from the track you still need some action.

I do drink and for me that's fine because it's a good way to relax after all the pressure and it helps me relax

Crash.net:
Do you have 'sisu'?

Mika Kallio:
Yes, for sure. I think I have it. It's hard to explain but maybe it comes back to the moment where you're going for the pass and you need to be strong on the mental side and it's then that you need the sisu in order to keep pushing on the limit and get everything out of your talent that there is. It's sisu that means that you don't settle for places and sisu to go for victory regardless. It's a kind of Finnish bravery mixed with never giving up.

Crash.net:
As a smaller rider, what would you say is the ideal weight for a MotoGP rider?

Mika Kallio:
That's actually pretty complicated to answer. Both Rossi and Pedrosa could win races and Marquez is somewhere between them and can win races too. For me it's a racer who is a little bit taller, let's say 175cms, but is still light. Then you can use your body to move the bike.

Having a slightly bigger frame means that you can use it like ballast around the bike and put the weight where it's needed. If you're small you often keep your body in the same place all the time and can't play with the weight transfer so much.

The problem is that usually if you're a bit taller then you're also a bit heavier so that takes that advantage away. The riding style will also affect whether your build is right for racing. It's a complicated equation.

In MotoGP you can be taller and get away with the weight more because what you lose on the straights you can make up for in the corners because you can use your bigger body. You can use your weight to turn the bike and get out of the corner faster because of the grip.

In Moto2 it's actually quite similar because the size and weight of the bike isn't too far from the MotoGP one so the same applies. In the 250 days weight and size made a far bigger difference.

Crash.net:
Also I guess the weight doesn't make such a difference in Moto2 because of the minimum weight rule?

Mika Kallio:
Yes, I have to carry 7 or 7 ½ kilos of ballast. But at least you can put the weight more or less where you want to put it. In general though it's quite a disadvantage because even though the weight is where you want it you've still got 7 Kilos more weight and when you're flipping from side to side quickly you can really feel it. I may be smaller than many other riders but I need to change direction with a heavier bike.

I don't think I gain anything from my weight in fact it may be a disadvantage because I have more difficulty maneuvering the bike. Over winter I tried to train to put more muscle on my body because having the weight there is probably the best place it can be.

Crash.net:
If it's a good thing to have the weight on the body, wouldn't it be a good idea to somehow put it into your leathers?

Mika Kallio:
That was exactly what we did last winter, we asked for the heaviest materials possible to be used in my suit and boots. So my suit is thicker and gives better protection so at least that weight is doing something.

Crash.net:
With all your experience in bike racing, which series did you enjoy riding in most?

Mika Kallio:
I think the only bikes I haven't tried are the old 500 two strokes, but I think the ones I enjoyed most were the 250's. They were a nice powerful bike but were also light. They were good and fast in the corners and you could brake really late. After that I'd put the MotoGP bikes purely because it's so great to have so much power. I think that all riders like that feeling of flying when you open the throttle.

With the Moto2 somehow the feeling on the bike isn't the best for me. With the Moto2 I just can't use the style I want to use, I'll like the bike well enough if I win the championship though. I think the GP or even WSBK would be better for my style and that's why I've always said that I want to go back to GP's.

Crash.net:
Did you feel happy with your move to MotoGP?

Mika Kallio:
I certainly don't think it was too soon, I'd been in 125's and 250's for plenty of time so think it was at the right time but perhaps not to the right place.

Many people had been struggling with the Ducati so I felt very pleased to be rookie of the year in 2009. We normally finished between 7th and 10th and that was pretty good that year because all the bikes were still MotoGP bikes and there were some pretty good riders in the championship.

Now finishing in that place would be different because there are so few real MotoGP bikes with all the rest being at a different level. So yes, we felt we were doing well often finishing as the top satellite bike.

The problem was that in 2010 they changed the bike and made it totally different and for me I just couldn't get any feeling with it. I couldn't trust the bike. Then at Le Mans I crashed quite badly and damaged my left shoulder pretty badly.

Unfortunately there was no time for an operation so I had to ride for the rest of the year like that. I found it pretty difficult to handle the pain and started to feel down because of the injury and also because I still couldn't feel any trust in the bike. A lot of motivation went and I also lost a lot of confidence that year.

It was really heart breaking because when I went there I felt in my prime had so may expectations and was doing well but the second year destroyed that. I still believe that I could do a good job in MotoGP because a lot of the guys who are there now I've raced against and beaten, I still feel that if given a chance I could get a good result.

Crash.net:
Is MotoGP in a good state to get into at the moment?

Mika Kallio:
I have to say that at the moment because of all the rule changes it's not so good. You can only really go on a proper MotoGP bike. I've had some offers from some teams I already know but if I went there I could only finish in 13th or 14th and I had to say no thank you. The gap is too big between the real MotoGP bikes and the others.

I don't think that the championship can last too long as it is now and they have to find some way to get more prototypes under more riders. I also think that it's bad for the audience when only so few riders have the chance to win the race. I really think a solution has to be found.

Crash.net:
Do you have any idea what that solution could be?

Mika Kallio:
I think that if someone had had that answer we wouldn't be in the situation we are now. I do think that the move to standard electronics is the most important thing because it's also the most expensive.

That was also one of the weakest points in the Ducati when I was riding there so standard electronics would have been good for competition then too. That will also mean that the bikes are a bit cheaper and easier for the newcomers to get used to. Any new factory coming into MotoGP then wouldn't need to develop their own electronics.

I am looking forward to 2016 when those kind of rules are implemented and I think that time might be better for getting into the formula. It could be a good time to change because the new electronic rules and tyres mean that everybody will be at the same level of learning so newcomers will have a better chance.

But even though I'm really happy with MarcVDS and how they work I'm still keeping my eyes open for possibilities next year. At the moment I'm in negotiations with MarcVDS though.

Crash.net:
Is there any talk of MarcVDS going to MotoGP?

Mika Kallio:
Yes, of course there are plenty of rumours but MarcVDS have had some plans for the past 2 years to go into MotoGP but then for some reason have decided to stay in Moto2. At the moment I'm not quite sure what they will do but they're a great team and it would be a great situation for me to go back there. I'd love to go there with them.

With how the mechanics and team are working and with the general level of the team I would say they are ready to go right now but of course the final decision has to be Marc's. Let's see, Let's see. For the time being though we need to look towards the Moto2 title.

Crash.net:
Do you think that Dorna might want to get a Finnish rider into MotoGP?

Mika Kallio:
Yeah, that's the big question whether it's good or bad for me to be Finnish. I'm not really sure how interested Dorna are in riders coming from small countries. Also I know that for bike manufacturers it's a business and I've heard from manufacturers a number of times that they're interested in me as a rider but they just don't sell many bikes in Finland. It's not really useful marketing for them.

You can often be fast enough to be there but then there's also the business and that often goes against Nordic riders. I'm just hoping that the answer from Dorna will be different. On the whole I would say that being Finnish is a disadvantage.

Crash.net:
Did you feel OK about how you exited from MotoGP?

Mika Kallio:
When I think about that feeling after 2010 coming back to Moto2, it's quite hard. That whole year was hard for me, I'd lost motivation because of the injury, bike team and everything. Nothing really worked out that year and when it sunk in that all my high expectations of going there weren't going to be fulfilled and I really couldn't make it there it was a sad moment.

From that moment it was really a matter of digging deep and trying to get back to the level I was before. I think it may have taken me 3 years to get back to that level but I believe that we are finally back to where I was. I'm finally winning races again and feeling in a fighting mood. I hope that everybody can see that.

Crash.net:
Was the MarcVDS team a breath of fresh air after Pramac Ducati?

Mika Kallio:
Immediately when I arrived at MarcVDS I liked the atmosphere there and got on with the people I was working with straight away. It was great to have a good feeling again.

Unfortunately we didn't get the results in the first 2 years but the feeling was always there. Then we got a couple of new mechanics and a new crew chief and I have really built a good group of people around me. One of the biggest things about that team is that everyone from mechanics to crew chiefs and riders are pushing for the same target and you really notice that. I've been with a number of teams and you can really feel that strong motivation there.

Crash.net:
You're quite a rare rider in that you've ridden the Suter and the Kalex, how would you compare them?

Mika Kallio:
I'm not sure if the Suter is still similar to the one we were using then but when I first got on the Kalex I found it suited my style more, you could use more corner speed because of the greater confidence the feeling of the chassis, front end and tyre gave.

For me I always need a strong feeling from the front of any bike and the Kalex seemed to give that more than the Suter. You could brake later and enter the corner faster. The minute we changed to the Kalex my results improved.

You could say that the Kalex was a bit more balanced. You felt that every aspect of it was at a good level and it all balanced out, nothing stood out as exceptional but at the same time nothing was lacking. The Suter felt a bit more edgy with some aspects standing out but others perhaps needing work, it was maybe a less complete package.

The good thing about the balanced Kalex was that it was therefore easier to set up and more settings could be used between tracks, even very different ones. The Suter seemed to be more affected by the track it was on.

Crash.net:
Looking at the results, this year may be your best ever.

Mika Kallio:
Yes, I feel as if I'm riding at my best. I've won 2 races this season and Germany was very close. As I said I think that I have finally fought my way back to the level that I was racing at in the 250's and before. The confidence and feeling on the bike is finally coming back.

In the past I've been quite close to winning a title and I don't see any reason why I shouldn't get it this year. I think that's how you have to think to succeed and confidence gives you that. I believe that this could be my year, I'm not too relaxed but I know that even if everything isn't perfect I can still fight at the front. If I can't win I've still got consistency and that means I don't have to worry and it's so good to be back there.

For me the big thing that has changed now is that every time I get on the bike I enjoy it and when you enjoy it you go fast. This year is definitely the year we can do it.

Crash.net:
You keep referring to getting back to your level in the 250's, your time in between must have been quite hard.

Mika Kallio:
Yes, they were hard years, I very often asked myself why I was even in racing and sometimes thought of retiring. The problem is that when things go down it's a vicious circle and to break that takes so much mental strength. The upward spiral really started last year with the first win, you noticed some parts were missing but you could feel that there was a brighter future.

Crash.net:
But between you and the title there's the small matter of Tito Rabat.

Mika Kallio:
I've heard that he spends endless time circulating the track to fine tune his style and he might even be doing it now. That may be good for him but it's not good for me, I don't really do a lot of practice on the bike, I need to stay fresh. The only time I ride the race bike is at the track and that's been the same for my whole career, I do other sports because if I do the same thing too much I get bored. I also do quite a lot of ice racing, it's good practice.

I can't work the same as Tito but as you saw in Germany, I'm still fast enough to beat him in the dry. Also don't forget Maverick Vinales he will also have some say in the final rounds.

Crash.net:
Who is a harder teammate, Scott Redding or Tito?

Mika Kallio:
The problem is that they're really different people with different styles. Personality-wise I like both team mates but I spent more time with Scott socially, Tito is more quiet and self-contained so we don't spent so much time together.

They're both very fast but when you race people it almost doesn't matter who it is they're just a rider in front of you who needs to be behind you, I can't say one is faster than the other because they're both fast enough to win the title.

Crash.net:
Lastly, have you ever tried the game 'Mika Kallio MotoGP' on your mobile phone?

Mika Kallio:
Yes, I tried it, but I'm not so good at video games, I think I'm a bit better on the real bike!

Crash.net:
Thanks Mika

Mika Kallio:
OK, thanks.


Tagged as: Mika Kallio , moto2 , marc vds

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