As Brad Baker prepares to take MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez on for the fourth time at the Superprestigio event in Barcelona, retaining the title he won last year and in 2014 are at the forefront of his mind.

It has been an eventful few months for 'The Bullet', as an extended stay in Europe that took in the final MotoGP race of the season, a day at Valentino Rossi's ranch, and extensive training at Marc Marquez's dirt track in Rufea, culminates with the fourth running of the Superprestigio on Saturday.

Baker spoke to earlier in the week to discuss his move from Harley Davidson to factory-backed Indian machinery for 2017, training with Marquez and Rossi, and his expectations for the weekend ahead.
With the Indian factory making a return it seems American Flat Track is in pretty good shape at the minute. How would you judge the health of the series?

Brad Baker:
It's in the best spot it's been in since the early nineties. I mean, in the early nineties it was on ESPN every weekend. There were several factory teams. There was a lot of money involved in the sport. Riders were making a good living. Right now we've got Flat Track in the X-Games. We've got a full TV package next year. We've got two factory teams, six factory riders and some other top teams. It's also growing big internationally, so, yeah, Flat Track's in the best state that it's possibly ever been.
You'll be lining up on a factory Indian next year after three years aboard a Harley Davidson. Was it difficult to leave Harley?

Brad Baker:
No! [laughs] I won't explain why but they made my move pretty easy.
You must be excited by the Indian deal.

Brad Baker:
Yeah, 1951 was when it went out of business. They've been in business for four years now and they've developed a purpose-built race engine. They've developed a very good chassis with everything around it with some of the top teams and top bike builders in the history of the sport. They've hired three of the best riders and the number one and two teams from the last three years. So they've done their homework pretty well.
And you have a new tuner and team-mate for 2017.

Brad Baker:
My team-mate is Bryan Smith, the current grand national champion. Our crew chief and manager is Ricky Howerton, the guy that built the Kawasakis that have been known in Flat Track for the last couple of years. They were complete rocket ships and were the most beautiful bikes in the paddock. You mix Ricky Howerton and Indian motorcycles and hopefully we'll have some magic.
You recently trained at Valentino's Ranch. How was that whole experience?

Brad Baker:
It was an amazing experience. It's a beautiful part of Italy. Then obviously his ranch is nice and secluded. It's in a great area. The racetrack is super cool. It's more like a GP-style course and layout. You know, off-camber turns, uphill, downhill, lots of turns. Then the surface is a different kind of surface, and very similar to where we start out our season in Daytona. There's not very much grip so it makes for a really technical racetrack. We enjoyed it a lot. We had some good racing and all of us and the VR46 riders had a good time. That's what it's all about. They say they train in MotoGP for the ranch. They're just as competitive - if not more competitive - at the ranch than what they are in MotoGP!
As one of the top dirt-trackers, I imagine the GP riders were keen for you to teach them a few things...

Brad Baker:
Yeah, we were just talking motorcycles together. We were talking about set-ups, this, that and the other. They're all very friendly and they welcomed me as one of the guys so it was very cool.
Did you see any similarities in how Valentino and Marc approach training?

Brad Baker:
It's very much the same. They're both very focussed on what they do. They both enjoy it. It's less pressure at the dirt track so they try to enjoy it more when they're riding. They still have their technicians. They still have their lap times. They still have everything top-notch. And they're practising the same way they race. They're enjoying it, there's way less pressure but it's still the same. You practice the same way you race.
In the pre-event press conference you said Valentino is slightly more considered when training whereas Marc just throws the bike into the corner. Was that the starkest difference between the two?

Brad Baker:
Exactly. But Marquez is getting more precise as well. Obviously Valentino Rossi is Valentino Rossi because he knows how to push and to push the limits as well. It's like comparing Jared Mees and me too. He's a veteran rider like Rossi. And now that even you can't really call Marquez and I rookies, we're still younger riders. There's just a little more aggression that you see.
You watched Marc racing at Valencia recently. Can you see how his dirt track training translates to his style on a MotoGP bike? Or vice-versa?

Brad Baker:
Yeah. I mean, he's ridden dirt bikes his whole life and I feel like that's what's created that style. He's obviously done road racing his whole life but he's done motocross and flat track his whole life too. I think that's what's created a lot of his style.
What are your thoughts on the fourth running of the Superprestigio?

Brad Baker:
Well, obviously my thoughts are to win the race, you know? I know I have two really good riders to compete against. The job is still the same. The objective is to win. The steps to get there are the same as the past. I'm just as good, if not better, than I have been in the past. Ferran [Cardus] is a lot better than what he has been in the past. He's just as good as Marc and I now. Maybe not as much on his race strategy yet and that's where I come in. My race strategy in flat track is not just about cutting a fast lap. It's about overtakes, setting people up, taking the right lines and just being calm [and] getting a good start. It's still going to be the same type of race. It's just both riders are a little bit better than they have been in the past and it will be just as difficult, if not a little more difficult, this year.
Marc has the might of HRC behind him and sports a fairly trick bike at this event. Do you welcome this kind of competition or would you prefer to race on equal machinery?

Brad Baker:
No, that's racing for you man. It's like that in every single sport. It's just as much of a battle off the track as it is on the track. I wouldn't call my stuff factory. None of it is. I'm a privateer rider in the US. I'm a privateer when I come here as well. I wouldn't say that Marc has an advantage over me with HRC. All I was trying to say is that he has a good team behind him obviously. Anytime that you get HRC behind you, and a team that you're familiar with, and train for dirt track...

I mean the first year was a standard bike, and he didn't do as much training, as much testing and didn't have as much knowledge as you're supposed to do. But every year they figure it out more and more and more. I mean, they're HRC. The only other rider and team who has figured out their set-up is Ferran Cardus, and he rides for the top supermoto team in Spain. Everyone else is not at the level of figuring out that side of the game, which is the set-up of the bike. The team is just as important as the rider in any sport and those are the two teams that I feel have the capability to figure out what works for dirt track. Now that it's three years down the road and they've had the time, they've figured it out.
Do you prefer racing around small indoor stadiums or are half-mile/full mile ovals more to your liking?

Brad Baker:
Well, I grew up in Washington State which has the most indoor tracks in the United States. I mean, I've grown up racing indoor short tracks my entire life. But there are many types of race tracks in the US. I really don't prefer the tiny tracks. I don't mind short tracks but I'd like them to be Rufea size. That's a blast, very fun. But I don't have a preference. I have more of a preference on the surface of the track. It doesn't matter what size it is. If the surface has grip it's fun. I like it. You can ride harder. If the surface gets slick and the grip goes away then you have to ride technical. You've got to go slow to go fast. You can't push the limits as hard because the limit only goes so high because of the amount of grip the track allows you to use. When the track has traction that's usually when I like it the most.
Growing up, was your intention always to race on the dirt or did you ever consider road racing?

Brad Baker:
I thought about it some when I was younger and I did some road racing. As soon as I turned 16 - that's the year that I turned pro as a dirt tracker - I won the championship in my first year in what's the equivalent of the Moto2 class. From that point on road racing hasn't been very well in the US. It's still not great. You have two factory teams where riders are making money [in Moto America] and they don't have many races. My bread and butter, my love has always been flat track. That's what I stick to and look at me now. It's all paid off. I might not be a MotoGP star, I might not travel the world all year long to race but I don't need that to be happy. I travel all of my own country and I make a living doing what I love and what I've always done. So I'm happy.
Finding the grip - I listened to an interview with Freddie Spencer recently and he was fascinating on how he practiced on tracks with varying grip when he was younger. He said he would get wet leaves and put them over parts of his track to ensure there were varying grip characteristics. This helped him a lot later in his career. As it's such a huge part of your skill set, how can you prepare for that aspect?

Brad Baker:
Maybe you water one section more and leave one side dry. Make this one rough... Basically you find the sections of the race track that you can push and have grip. Then you find the parts of the race track that are slick and you just kind of have to exist and stay consistent. You position yourself on the bike differently. You use less gas in the places that are slick. Maybe you regulate your entry speed so you can roll to the centre a little bit quicker. Or you try to keep your wheels in line here and get yourself sideways here. Or perhaps you use the front end more in one place, the rear more in another. There are many different factors. There are many different ways to ride a motorcycle and the way you position yourself. The biggest thing you can change is yourself, not the bike. Really you envision it before you do it. If you do that, usually you can do it.



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