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Q&A: Pete Benson (Hayden's chief mechanic)

1 May 2008

Benson's world championship experience began in 1994 as Niall MacKenzie's mechanic at Yamaha, before making the jump to Superbikes with Honda.

The 45-year-old New Zealander spent two years working with Aaron Slight and returned with Honda to grand prix in 1998 as Tady Okada's mechanic at Repsol Honda.

At HRC's factory team Benson had the opportunity of working with Doohan for a few races, and in 2001 became part of Tohru Ukawa's team of mechanics.

In 2002 and 2003 Benson was part of Rossi's MotoGP World Championship winning team, then worked with the Italian's successor, Alex Barros, after Rossi joined Yamaha for 2004.

From 2005 onwards Benson has been chief mechanic for Nicky Hayden, with whom he won the world championship in 2006, before experiencing a tough title defence during 2007...


Q:
Out of all the riders you have worked with, who has impressed you the most and why?

Pete Benson:
Valentino Rossi and Mick Doohan. I didn't work many races with Doohan, but they are both incredible riders. Valentino has a good ability to understand the technical aspects of the bike, and is very focused on what he wants and needs. What's more, their skills when they have to ride really fast set them apart from the competition. They can ride and try things out, but when they need to, they are capable of riding very fast. They are both brilliant.

Q:
How would you describe Nicky Hayden?

Pete Benson:
He's a very focused person and easy to work with, and that has helped a lot over the last four years. That makes the job a lot easier. He never complains at anyone if something won't work.

Q:
What aspect do you think he could improve upon?

Pete Benson:
He maybe needs to be more consistent in the training sessions, which would help. Though he always does better in the races; he's a fighter.

Q:
Last year was a tough season for the 2006 world champion. Three third positions were his best results on the new Honda RC212V. How do you motivate a rider who has won a world title and then the following year suffers with a bike he is not comfortable with?

Pete Benson:
It was complicated. I think Nicky didn't adapt particularly well to the 800cc's. The 990cc's were much better suited to his style and it took him some time to get used to the demands of the new engine capacity. He didn't really need any special motivation. He didn't need anyone to tell him to do this or that, he found his own motivation. He didn't need anyone to do that for him. But of course it was difficult trying to recover after the first four or five races. Or, for example, in Phillip Island, where he was riding very fast and the engine broke down. It's the worst thing that could have happened, because he was in a position to climb back on the podium.

Q:
The pre-season and the start of the new season in Qatar were not easy, but since Jerez the results have started to arrive. What do you think of the 2008 Repsol Honda RC212V?

Pete Benson:
The bike we have now seems to be performing well. We had a lot of problems during the pre-season and did not do a particularly good job during this year's training sessions. I think we missed out on aspects which were very important, and did not get off to a very good start. But now the bike seems to be performing well, and I reckon that if Honda manages to improve the engine a bit more, we'll have a very good bike.

Q:
What would you say is the worst nightmare for a MotoGP team during a grand prix?

Pete Benson:
Not being on the podium every week!

Q:
How has the job of a mechanic changed with all the technological development?

Pete Benson:
The electronic side is what has changed the most, though the job of a mechanic isn't too different to what it has always been. The thing is that electronics now play an important role in the adjustments to the bike, and ten years ago it didn't exist. The mechanical part hasn't changed that much, just the telemetrics, responsible for fuel injection, which have become a very important part of all this.

Q:
You have worked with champions such as Doohan, Rossi, and Hayden. What separates world champions from the rest?

Pete Benson:
The riders who have won a world title on a number of occasions, like Doohan or Rossi, have incredibly strong willpower. I think this is the most important quality. They are very strong, mentally speaking. There is always a degree of luck involved in every championship, but you basically win a championship by being constant and fast every week, finishing on the podium in almost every race. What's more, Valentino and Mick wouldn't worry about what anyone said about them, or about what was happening around them. I think the key quality is mental strength, much more important than physical condition or the bike. Willpower is the main difference and is what sets a rider apart.

Q:
Several new young and talented riders have arrived in MotoGP this year. Is it now easier to adapt to the premier class? Do you think the level of competition in MotoGP has risen this year?

Pete Benson:
It's too soon to say if the level has risen in the category. It's probably easier now for the 250cc riders to adapt due to the greater control they currently have over the power of their bikes, but Dovizioso or Lorenzo are very talented riders. Though I think we should wait two or three races more to see if the level of the category has really changed that much, though in my opinion, as the season progresses we'll probably have the same riders as last year, and maybe a couple more who might have options. It may be tighter, but I don't think the level has risen that much.

Q:
How has the world championship changed since you arrived?

Pete Benson:
There are too many races. When I got here, I think we did 13 races a year, and now we do something like 18, with a lot more training sessions. It has become a 24/7 job, while before it used to be quite more relaxed, with a long break at Christmas. You just have to take a look at the hospitalities and everything surrounding them to see the amount of money that's spent now. I don't know if it's better or not, but these are the main changes.

Q:
500cc, 990cc, or 800cc?

Pete Benson:
It's been a long time since the 500cc bikes. I don't really care as long as the races are good and the technology improves. I mean, the 500cc's were these wild machines which many people were unable to ride. Now the bikes are probably easier to ride and you can see more people riding fast. But they are still grand prix bikes, at the highest level, and riding fast is what it's all about.

Q:
Do you think the electronics or the tyres have a greater influence than the quality of the riders?

Pete Benson:
No, because a rider's talent is still very important. I mean, everything is important as a whole. You can have the best bike, but if the rider is no good, he won't win anything. And on the other hand, you can have the best rider using the worst bike, and he won't win anything either. Everything has to be in place. Last year they said that some riders won because of the Bridgestone tyres, and this year we've seen that it wasn't true. Michelin has done a great job, but it all has to do with how things change in this business. Technological development is happening at a much faster rate than before, so you have to invest much more in technology. But it's legal, so it has to be taken advantage of. Though I don't think this eclipses the riders. It may make some riders seem better than they really are, but at the end of the day, the best riders are always up there at the top.

Q:
It looks like this year there will not be so much talk about tyres...

Pete Benson:
No, no. I think there will be talk. We're only in the third race, and it will be interesting to see what happens when we go to circuits where one brand has done testing and the other hasn't. Then we'll see if there are differences between them. It will continue to be an important aspect, and will remain so while there is more than one brand. But I don't think it's as important as some people wanted us to believe last year.

Q:
There are two riders in the Repsol Honda Team capable of winning races. Do you think that affects the riders' performance and their respective technical teams, or not? Does this competitiveness benefit both?

Pete Benson:
I think it's manageable. At the end of the day, the riders always want the victory for themselves, not for a team or anything else. They want to win the world championship on their own. Everyone here is out to get the same thing: winning races. It's probably more difficult if you don't get any wins or you're not up in the lead, because the other rider receives more attention. In the end, they are all struggling for the same thing: they all want to win.


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