After the recent announcement that rider Cal Crutchlow will be contracted to HRC for the 2018 and '19 seasons, sat down with LCR Honda team boss Lucio Cecchinello to discuss the deal, what it means for his team, the current season so far and the possibility of running two riders in the premier class next year.
Cal will have a contract with HRC for 2018 and '19. Will this change a great deal in your team?

Lucio Cecchinello:
Honestly, we always had very good support from Honda HRC. Cal from the beginning until now was more and more involved in the bike development, was more and more involved testing parts and giving his opinions to improve any available area on the bike. Let's say that I believe this contract is something that will not drastically change our relationship with Honda, or our working system. I believe it's some kind of recognition from Honda HRC that Cal is important for their programme, for their premier motorsport programme on two wheels. Then it's also an opportunity for him to be more linked with the manufacturer. As well, he may have more things to do for the manufacturer! In terms of events and appearances. It's not everything so positive for him! I'm joking of course, but it's good, what happened.
Was Cal continuing here dependent on him receiving a contract from HRC?

Lucio Cecchinello:
It was one of his requests. Having said that, I believe that he was not really looking for alternatives. But he received some alternative proposals. From there he started to approach us and, of course, [Tetsuhiro] Kuwata [General manager of HRC Race Operations Management]. Then we started to discuss. Honestly, we already started to discuss the renewal of our cooperation at the end of last year. It was one of the targets in Valencia last year, fixed with the new HRC management, was to possibly announce our cooperation and the signing of a new two-year deal before the summer break.
So Cal's performances in the second half of 2016 were enough to convince you that it was a priority to continue with him?

Lucio Cecchinello:
Yeah, definitely. Also, I want to say that we always believed in Cal's performance. We don't have to forget that, as soon as he started to work with us at the start of 2015, at the third race in Argentina he was on the podium. Then he had a few difficulties. I believe that Honda focussed very much bike development on following Marquez's direction, which was not necessarily what was Pedrosa's need, or what was Cal's need - with all respect to Marc. Marc is a special rider. But he really likes the kind of bikes that are not particularly easy to ride for other riders. For the riders that ride this bike and are in the 'circle' of set-ups, Marc is more outside the circle and in a direction that other riders cannot really perform. Then in 2016 we started to listen a bit more from Honda, but it was a difficult start of the season. For us, the tyre was new and Cal is a really demanding rider for the front tyre. Then the weakness of Michelin, at that time, was the front tyre warning. After the improvement of Michelin, and Honda taking confidence with the new software, the results started to come.

About this year, I'm still looking [at it] positively, despite having some negative results. It's looking positive. We did third in Argentina. We did fourth in Texas. We did fifth in Le Mans. When we are in normal conditions, we can fight for the top five positions, which, considering there are two factory Hondas, two factory Yamahas, two factory Ducatis and the incredible competitiveness Zarco and the others at Tech 3 are showing, it's not bad.
If, in 2015, the bike was more designed for Marc's needs, do you feel this year's machine is more designed around the needs of all Honda's riders?

Lucio Cecchinello:
Definitely yes. I have to admit that Honda is doing an incredible effort, because they are not only listening anymore only to Marc's wishes, or indications, but they are also listening more to Cal and Dani. We have the possibility to have, for example, different chassis specification, different aerodynamics packages that are more suitable for Cal's riding style. Basically, what I notice is that Pedrosa and Cal decide on very similar main specs, while Marc still sometimes is a bit too extreme. But at the very end Honda needs to give the very best opportunities to all the riders. They realised it and they believe they put extra effort to listen to all the riders because they understood that other manufacturers are coming strongly. So this is the result of the competition, which is sometimes positive as well, you know?
You mentioned other manufacturers. We know Dorna wants to see more Suzukis, Aprilias and KTMs on the grid as soon as possible. Was seeking a manufacturer other than Honda to supply your bikes ever a real possibility?

Lucio Cecchinello:
Last year we were approached in the first part of the season. We had an approach from Suzuki. We never came into a negotiation. I just professionally informed Honda HRC what was happening. From there we discussed immediately [if] we could make our cooperation stronger, how we could potentially fix a long-term plan of cooperation, and from there it was in Mugello last year that we decided to stick together for the future, at least for '17, '18 and '19. Then it was never discussed again from any manufacturers because I also had an approach from Aprilia in that period last year. Since then I kindly refused to go ahead with that kind of opportunities.
Will Cal's HRC contract make things easier for you, in terms of budget and trying to find sponsors?

Lucio Cecchinello:
I don't think so. I cannot say 'no' but I cannot say 'yes'. At the moment, what is our global economic effort, it will remain the same because we are going to have even more spare parts and more evolution parts. I mean, we never miss anything in our pit garage. But we will have more!
Which is a good thing, no?

Lucio Cecchinello:
So this will be like a mini-factory team?

Lucio Cecchinello:
Is there a chance that we could see two LCR Hondas on the grid in 2018?

Lucio Cecchinello:
We are still considering this option. We decide to have a deadline until Brno. Brno will be our deadline. Either we do or either we don't do. Mainly there are two programmes. One programme is - we would be lucky to have a title sponsor to give me enough money together with Dorna's support to run a second rider. Then I pick the rider. Then it would be nice to see some competitive rider from Moto2 joining LCR... I wish an Italian rider [laughs]. But I never discuss seriously with nobody, because I don't want to speak without having re-signed at least. This is just a dream at the moment, a wish. The second possibility is to find a rider where he is potentially supported by the manufacturer or to find a rider that is potentially supported by some corporation or some institution. It's not a secret that the Malaysian government for example is really interested in having a Malaysian rider in the MotoGP class. The problem they have is they don't really have a competitive Malaysian rider. But they are really keen to support a similar programme. It's not a secret that Honda HRC - if Nakagami will definitely perform in Moto2 - would be possible they would support him in a programme in MotoGP. But this decision has not been taken because, unfortunately, at the moment Nakagami is not in the top three of the championship. Or [there is an option] to find a rider with a potential sponsor behind, which is difficult.

So, I would say realistically at this moment I postpone my decision, and my communication to Dorna and IRTA about having a second rider for a couple of races. Possibly in Brno or Austria the maximum, we would like to finalise. To understand if the opportunity of Nakagami with Honda support will go ahead, or if the Malaysian government would like to go ahead with Syahrin in MotoGP. Or, if I would be lucky, to find the sponsor, which at this moment we have several contacts with agencies but nothing is really there. To be honest and pragmatic, at this moment I would it the possibility is about 50/50.
Looking toward the rest of this season Lucio, what is the team's goal?

Lucio Cecchinello:
We definitely believe in our potential. At this moment, apart from Marc, who is an extremely good rider, I believe that our bikes have some strengths, which is very good braking, very good acceleration, and in race tracks like Assen, or in Germany or even Brno, Misano, where there are not very long straights - there are more tiny corners - I believe our bike has a great potential. I believe that Cal can fight for the podium. I don't want to say for the victory, but definitely for the podium. I believe that Cal could be competitive also at race tracks like Barcelona or Mugello, where lately we suffered more, but we also need to improve our bike, to let our bike work better with the tyre we have, to let our bike to have more top speed. At the moment we have a bit of a lack of top speed. It's quite clear, you know, that we need to improve our top speed. Again, I believe we are one of the best bikes in acceleration, pure acceleration.

By Neil Morrison

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