After an absence from the grand prix paddock of nearly a year, Danny Kent returns to Moto2 action in Qatar this weekend as he bids to resuscitate his grand prix career with Speed Up Racing.

The Englishman sensationally walked out of Stefan Kiefer’s Moto2 team at the Grand Prix of the Americas last year, meaning his competitive appearances were limited from there to two wild-card appearances for Aki Ajo’s Moto3 outfit.

Upon signing a two-year deal with Speed Up for 2018 and ’19, Kent moved to the south of Italy to undertake a strict training regime to bring his physical condition in line with what is required of a Moto2 rider.

Testing performances have been promising and Crash.net sat down with Kent at the recent Moto2 outing at Jerez to discuss his time away from the sport, his preparations for 2018, a string of chassis changes and his targets for the year ahead.

Crash.net:
How has the experience with Speed Up been so far?

Danny Kent:
It’s been good. More or less every test we’ve done we’ve changed suspension. For this test we switched to Ohlins. When I first tested the bike last year we were on WP. That’s what they’ve been using for the last three years. That’s what I set my best lap on. I made a 1m 41.9s last November using that. But they were already in negotiations with Kayaba. We tested it and we felt like there was a lot of potential. The front was really good, but we had some problems with the rear. They promised that during the winter they were going bring some new stuff on the rear for these tests, but we turned up and the problem was exactly the same. No matter what we did it was the same problem.

So after the last test Luca [Boscoscuro – Speed Up team boss] rang me and said, ‘We’ll be using Ohlins for this test.’ I feel it’s much better, but we’ve only had it maybe four sessions in the dry. And we’ve matched the lap time that we did with Kayaba already. So I’m glad that they made the switch. We just need better weather to do more laps. We’ll be going to Qatar and there’ll be a bit of guesswork for my team there if I have some problems. They’ve been using different suspension for the last three years. This suspension is quite different.

Crash.net:
Does that mean you’re going into the first round playing a bit of catch-up?

Danny Kent:
Yeah, we will be. Already just after the four sessions I have a great feeling with the rear. We just got a few things to change on the front, but you never know. We could turn up to Qatar and everything is perfect and I get lucky. So far I’m happy. I just need more time on the new suspension.

Crash.net:
In terms of the chassis, is it requiring a big adaption after your time on the Kalex and Suter frames?

Danny Kent:
No, not really. The biggest thing is changing all the suspension is actually changing the bike quite a lot, especially from Kayaba to Ohlins, especially from the rear. With the Kayaba we had a lot of problems. When you touched the gas it would just immediately run wide. No matter what we changed, we’d always have the same problem. Now we have very good turning, but a little bit less grip. There are a lot of things that we wanted to try, but we weren’t able to because of the rain.

Crash.net:
Have you set yourself any targets going into this season?

Danny Kent:
No, I haven’t set myself any targets. Of course, we want to win. Any rider wants to win, but I have to be realistic from my past results. If I can start the season with top tens and improve from there, then I’ll be happy.

Crash.net:
How does it feel to be back after sitting out the most part of last year?

Danny Kent:
Last year was a strange year for me because most of my life every year I’ve been racing the bike. From last year I rode I think maybe four races in the whole year, so it was very strange.

Crash.net:
What did you do in that time?

Danny Kent:
I started to knuckle down a little bit. I think already in August I started to go to Napoli, so I was out there most of the time. But basically I was just preparing everything already last year to play catch-up in terms of fitness-wise. I’ve been training a lot every day, twice a day. I’m working with a guy who was the trainer of [Simone] Corsi [Speed Up’s rider in 2016/’17] over the last couple of years. I got in contact just through Luca because Simone was with him last year. I went out and I did the test in August last year with these guys in Aragon. And then after that I went to Napoli and did a fitness test. Then from there I rented an apartment until now.

Crash.net:
So was it Luca that suggested this guy to you?

Danny Kent:
It was Simone who suggested him to Luca, and then obviously Luca got me in contact with him. He’s a good guy. He was in the Olympics in 1990. Not running, but the walking. They say it’s walking but the pace they do is faster than what I do running.

Crash.net:
What sort of stuff has he got you doing? A variety of things?

Danny Kent:
A bit of everything really but mostly running. More or less every morning I had to run between 45 minutes to an hour and a half - sometimes even 20 kilometers. But a lot of it was a lot of slow running. Sometimes it felt like I wasn’t working. It was all heart rate training. It was every day. Then in the evening we’d do gym work and strength work. Also I did a lot of MX which in the past I would never ride. We drove the van from UK to Napoli. It took two days. We took the MX bike and we did a lot of MX training as well.

Crash.net:
Was there any point last year when you were thinking of other places to go?

Danny Kent:
We were in talks for World Supersport. Honestly I thought that with the results and the chances I was given in Moto2 already it was going to be difficult to find an opportunity in Moto2. So I was looking to find some options just in case nothing turned out here. We were in talks with Puccetti and the World Supersport. They even asked me to do the last four races of the World Supersport from last year. We were going to agree to it, but then we signed the contract with Luca. Then also there was a possibility for BSB, but of course I would like to try and stay in the world championship at this stage.

Crash.net:
With what happened last year is there a feeling that this represents your last chance in this paddock?

Danny Kent:
I have to be realistic now. Like I said, I thought I was lucky to get this ride. So of course if I go out there and I don’t have some good performances it’s going to be impossible unless I bring $500,000 to a team. This year is important for me to have good results. I have a two-year contract with the team, but sometimes contracts in this paddock don’t mean nothing.

Crash.net:
How have you found working with the team?

Danny Kent:
Yeah, I have a great feeling with them. Luca’s really passionate about racing. He’s here for the same reason as we are. We all want to win. The bike has been developed around the WP suspension for the last three years, so of course we will be going to Qatar on the back foot. Maybe sometimes the combination with the suspension and the chassis works very well. Right now we’re still guessing. So maybe we’ll go to Qatar, we’ll have some problems. Maybe the bike is amazing. But I’m feeling confident. If we have the bike that I had yesterday, my ideal lap was three tenths faster than what the actual time was which would have put us in I think maybe sixth position, with only four sessions on the Ohlins. I’m feeling confident.

Crash.net:
It’s early days, but what do you think this chassis is capable of this year?

Danny Kent:
The bike’s won races in the past, but obviously it was a different year with different suspension. I think it’s possible for podiums. Last year I didn’t ride for maybe five or six months. We did a two-day test here and on the second day I did a 1m 41.9s which is a fast lap time. So, the bike’s capable. It’s just now we have new suspension. We just got to find the right direction to first to be able to do it. We’ve proven that we can do it. We just got to get that whole package there now.

Crash.net:
I remember speaking to you around this time last year and it seemed that you weren’t really enjoying it that much. How does it feel to be back?

Danny Kent:
When you’re struggling with things it’s normal that you don’t enjoy things. I’m happy with the team. I’m happy with the bike. So I’m enjoying riding again. My life is racing, so if I’m enjoying that then I’m happy.

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