EXCLUSIVE Carlos Checa - Q&A
20 August 2013
By Christian Tiburtius
An exclusive interview with former MotoGP star and 2011 World Superbike champion Carlos Checa.
Checa is currently 14th in this year's WSBK standings for the Ducati Alstare team, after an injury interrupted season on the new Panigale...
Where are you from is Spain?
Close to Barcelona so I'm a Catalan.
And is that where you live?
My parents live there, but my home base since '99 is England. Initially I was in London, I didn't like it so much though so I moved to Great Ayton near Middlesborough. I moved there because when I signed for Yamaha, the manager lived there and my girlfriend liked it. It was very good there for cycling and sport and quite beautiful.
Five years ago I moved back to London because of the ease of travel.
Are you recognised in the street a lot?
In Spain and Italy, yes. I'm not recognised that much though, I'm not a football player. You can survive very well, it's not too bad.
So after all these years, why do you still race?
That's a question I've been asking myself in the last few weeks!
I'm 40 years old, I started in world championships in '93, so this will be my 20th year in world championships but I still like the competition, I like to compete.
This year though is probably my hardest because technically we're very far from the top riders and once you've been there fighting with the top guys, it's very hard to be riding mid-pack, you feel very limited.
My recent years have actually been very successful in that I was able to win more races in the last three years than in the rest of my career, so in general I've really enjoyed these times.
For me I don't feel different sitting on the grid now to what I did when I started my career. It's not your age or how many years you've been racing, it's your approach to what you do. Confidence doesn't change over the years, it comes more with what you do and achieve and how you do it.
Maybe the years give you more serenity and allow you to judge and have a vision. Perhaps more maturity, when you're in action the nervous system reacts the same.
Motorbikes for me are my passion, they're my life. Maybe one day I'll stop, but I still enjoy it and while I still enjoy it I'll be there. I've liked motorbikes since I was very young and my passion for bikes is more than for competition. Sometimes when I have an opportunity to try other motorbike styles, like enduro or motocross, I always take part.
When you have the speed, the ability and the risk and you put those all into a competition it's fantastic.
You enjoy the risk?
Yeah, of course. I can't enjoy something if there's no risk. You always have a risk in anything you do. I have some friends who go climbing and they have more risk than me.
It just depends on whether you accept it or not. I accept it and I'm sure that I'll race until I can't. At the moment it's not in my mind to retire though.
I understand that the sport is very dangerous, but the benefit I get is much bigger than the risk. The benefit is excitement and adrenaline. I do a lot of extreme sports such as parachuting which give me the same feeling. I like to push my body and mind to the limit.
Also, it's only when you are at the limit that you can discover where you are and improve, if you never push to your limit you'll never improve. The limits I am talking about here are your mental limits; it's there that the improvement comes.
If there's no risk then it feels as if my mind hasn't woken up and when you have risk you feel happy. You can't win something worthwhile if you can't lose as well
I don't ride on the road though. A sports bike on the road makes no sense to me.
Given your attitude to risk, would you consider riding the TT?
No, not the TT. I'm completely against that race.
For a thrill I can go at 300km/h without a helmet if I want but it's not a good idea, the TT is the same thing.
For sure I can race at the TT, but for me it makes no sense. We know there's danger in racing and we've been fighting for rider safety for a long time so that doesn't seem like a good idea. Taking part in a sport is one thing, but being stupid or reckless is another. Mind you I'm not saying that the riders who take part are stupid, it's just those circumstances. The world has grown up in many areas and safety is one of them.
Also I think that some of the scenes we get from that race such as motorcycles jumping in the street don't give a good image for motorcycle racing
I would ask the people who organise that race if they would be happy if their son were taking part.
Do you enjoy the traveling lifestyle of racing?
It's not so bad but I prefer practice, racing and testing, any work on the bike, I'm not really here for these other aspects.
Don't the injuries you sustain over a career build up?
No, I feel quite well. I've made a full recovery even from this season's accidents. I'm honest, if I didn't feel well, I wouldn't be here. Physically I'm fine and it certainly isn't an excuse for not going fast.
I always like to do some training and when I'm not competing any more I'll still continue to stay physically fit. I've got friends of 55 who are still pushing on the bicycle. For me training is fun anyway.
How long is your contract with Ducati?
Just this year and we haven't discussed anything for next year. That's normal in Superbikes though because the season finishes very late, it finishes in November [the Indian season finale has since been cancelled]. I imagine we'll start talking in September or October.
Do you anticipate staying?
I don't know.
I'd really like to stay with Ducati though, I like them. At the moment I am just racing this bike with this team at this race and don't want to distract myself with future plans.
The Panigale is doing very well in Superstock but not in WSBK, why is that?
The bike is good for Superstock but not for Superbike, the rules dictate that. In Superbike the four-cylinders can have quite extreme tunes but that isn't allowed in Superstock.
In Superbikes I'm down 20km/h on the straight whereas Niccolo [Canepa, Ducati Superstock rider] only loses maybe 1 or 2 km/h to the fastest bikes. Basically for us the problem is the power. In Russia for example I was one of the fastest in the sector with curves and then lost five or six tenths on the straight.
The championship has certain rules and at the moment they don't favour us. The two cylinder bikes as the rules stand simply can't live with the four cylinder ones.
The air restrictor situation has been reviewed after every three races but it seems to be making little difference and the four-cylinder bikes are also making big improvements. Some of the four cylinder bikes we've got here are pretty much the same level as those in MotoGP and that gives us little chance. At the moment there is an imbalance in power.
The handling is very good though and I'm always one of the fastest in the twisty sections.
Doesn't it affect your confidence when you know you are down on power?
No that certainly isn't an excuse, it's just the reality of the situation. Also it's a compromise I always knew would be part of this project so it's a question of professionalism and dignity that I always do my best.
In racing it is always difficult to get a winning bike and I'm doing my best to try to build up a race-winning bike with this team. I knew that when I first tested the bike that we weren't ready, what you don't know is how much progress you can make. What I do know for sure is that you won't make any progress without pushing.
At the moment we're struggling to be in the top five or seven, but this is our position and we have to be realistic. I have to have a clear vision of what I'm doing and where I am and then I can put my maximum effort in even if we can't win.
For me the final result is to try to make the bike better and to make some improvements. If the race results in some improvements then that's a good result, at this time, the main focus is development
How do you feel about the planned rule changes to a more Superstock specification for WSBK?
I welcome them. It would only be an advantage to Ducati as we're winning in Superstock.
Also, it's not high technology and performance which makes this sport good. We have to make the racing more equal, safer and cheaper. This movement towards Superstock will help because the main problems are economic. Anything which makes it cheaper is good.
The technological championship is MotoGP, WSBK should be more production based with modifications that all teams can afford, not just the factories. Not many teams can afford that technology at the moment.
BSB is good in this respect, in BSB you can go racing.
In MotoGP you've ridden Japanese bikes and you've ridden the Ducati, what makes the Ducati so difficult to adapt to?
The only difference is that at this moment it's one second slower than the others.
I don't know, when I rode it in 2005 I liked it, I got some podiums, the bike was good for me. I tested the 800 and I didn't like it so much, it was with a different team, had different tyres and was much stiffer.
The Honda was different to the Yamaha, the Suzuki was different to the Yamaha and the Ducati was also different. I don't feel that there is any particular difference which makes the Ducati worse.
It's just two wheels, an engine and some handlebars and at the moment it just seems as if they've lost the balance between these components. The bike that Casey won on is totally different to the one now anyway, it had different tyres and 20km/h more than now. When they changed the bike he didn't want it anymore.
Heather Watson (Ducati press officer, also present):
I remember Casey complaining about the bike too, but when Ducati wouldn't fix the problems he would just ride around them. He never said it was a perfect bike to ride, he just said that he had to ride it on the limit and when he complained, people wouldn't listen, it wasn't easy or anything.
Sylvain Guintoli and Hopper both came to BSB to successfully rebuild their careers, is there any chance that you would come?
I don't know, I would consider it at the end. Maybe some races.