Casey Stoner's former Ducati and Honda crew chief Cristian Gabarrini is now heavily involved in HRC's new Open class MotoGP machine.
“My role involves basically two activities,” said Gabbarini, pictured with Fausto Gresini. “First, I'm the link between the work we do on track and the HRC engineers who work at home.
“Second, I'm available to support the teams with regard to the set-up: during the race weekend I can provide assistance to the crew chiefs to compare the data in order to understand more quickly the right direction to take”.
The Production Honda project has received something of a mixed reception. On the one hand HRC has been praised for offering a toned-down version of its world title winning RC213V for sale to privateer teams.
On the other hand the new RCV1000R has a sizable lack of engine performance relative to the Factory class and - despite the Open class perks such as extra race fuel, engine changes and a softer rear tyre in return for using the standard ECU - breaking into the race top ten has only been possible with retirements ahead.
During the interview, conducted by the Gresini team, which runs rookie Scott Redding on an RCV1000R, Gabbarini notably skipped any mention of the engine performance (or fuel tank capacity).
Instead the Italian offered the following evaluation of the new customer machine after four races - in which the top rider has finished seventh (Redding, +32s), eleventh (Hayden, +60s), tenth (Aoyama, +43s) and eleventh (Hayden, +35s).
“I would say that the assessment so far is quite positive: the first most critical phase, in which a completely new bike is brought on track for a race weekend and in which often emerge reliability issues that can hardly be verified during testing, has been overcome quite easily,” said Gabbarini.
“Then we had the opportunity to begin to focus our efforts on performance improvements and on finding the best way to take for the bike set-up, with all four riders. Some upgrades have also been made to the electronic calibrations, as allowed by regulation.
“Now we are carrying on a more specific work, rider by rider, with the aim of assessing their common needs. If a complaint or a request comes from all the riders, it's clear that it's a characteristic of the motorcycle which still needs to be improved or adapted.”
Asked what similar requests have been received from the riders, Gabbarini replied: “With regard to the electronics: we therefore worked in that direction, giving to our teams some upgrades that have been appreciated by all our riders.
“From the set-up point of view there is still not a meeting point, but this is due to the fact that the riders have a different riding style and completely different characteristics.
“Redding, for example, is forced to stay on the bike in a different position being much taller and heavier than Hayden or Aoyama. I suppose, however, that in a few races also the needs regarding chassis set-up adjustments will converge.”
Gabbarini confirmed that all manufacturers are invited to participate in ongoing development of the Open class ECU software, but that HRC had not made any unique requests for the RCV1000R.
“The software available for the Open Class bikes offers a certain number of adjustments for each area - e.g., traction control, engine braking, torque curves, etc.. - If a request is made by a team for a further 'extra' adjustment and Dorna believes that's reasonable, this upgrade is provided to all [in the Open class].
“At the moment, we haven't had the need to add something, because the current software is able to provide us with what we need. In HRC, however, we have adapted what we already have available to our specific needs, in particular with regard to the engine brake management: among the various ways in which you can manage it, we have identified the most suitable for the characteristics of our bike.”
Asked to give his opinion on the performance of Moto2 title runner-up Redding, Gabbarini stated:
“First of all, Scott has a very positive approach: he's very open to listen to the advice coming from his team and from HRC.
“He's working a lot on his riding style because he comes from a category where the engine power is very limited, so he is used to carry a higher cornering speed, while in MotoGP you need a compromise that allows you to raise the bike as soon as possible on the exit, increasing the contact surface of the tyre, with benefits on tyre wear and on acceleration.
“After all, this is an issue on which all the riders coming from a smaller class must work. Scott is also very tall and heavy, so he needs a specific set-up, influenced also by the fact that he's really aggressive under braking”.
Redding is currently 13th in the championship, directly behind Hayden (11th) and Aoyama (12th). Gresini's Production Honda is the only version running Showa (rather than Ohlins) suspension and Nissin (rather than Brembo) brakes.
The top Open class competitor is Aleix Espargaro, who is seventh in the championship with a best race result of fourth for Forward Yamaha.