Takaaki Nakagami, the only rider in the MotoGP championship top 16 without a podium finish this season, celebrated his new Honda contract extension in perfect fashion by leading Friday practice for the Teruel Grand Prix at Aragon.

The LCR Honda rider, on the 2019 spec RC213V, was second quickest to Repsol Honda's Alex Marquez in FP1 before rising to the top in FP2, having been fast on both medium compound tyres and then a 'soft' time attack.

"Before every race I mention that I want to get my first podium this weekend, but unfortunately it's still not happened," said Nakagami, the only rider to score points in all ten rounds, helping him to fifth place in the standings.

"This season it's really important to be consistent and, so far, I'm quite happy with our performance. At some point, we need to improve but I believe the results will come.

"Especially this weekend I'm pretty confident. Why? Because yesterday I announced a new contract and now it's like I'm completely free. I don't think about the future, don't need to talk about it. I feel no stress. I'm just like a kid, enjoying every lap with this bike. And it looks pretty good.

"I think it's time to show we can finish on the podium, but the only way to do it is just to do our best in all conditions and for sure the results will come."

Honda, the only manufacturer other than Aprilia without a race win this year, had all four of its riders inside the top eleven in both Friday sessions.

"Many people ask me what's happened to Honda's bike because it looks like all the Honda riders are quite competitive," Nakagami said. "But nothing secret, because for us we can say that everything is exactly the same like last weekend.

"We started in FP1 with last Sunday's set-up, so nothing different and just kept riding with the medium compound tyres.

"The pace from FP1 was good, we are so competitive and I'm really happy to see that. Looks like at this moment we are on the right path and I'm happy because on the bike, even with the strong wind in FP2, we are able to manage and set a good pace, good lap time, with the medium compound.

"Also end of the session we put soft compound on the rear and it was good. Only a few laps but I felt for tomorrow we can improve for the set-up and especially electronic side, because with the medium to keep the pace it was good but for the qualifying lap we need to improve.

"In the qualifying lap Suzuki and Yamaha is pretty strong and also Ducati, especially Jack, so don't forget these guys. We'll try to fight with them tomorrow and get a place on the first or second row. That would make the race easier.

"Anyway, I'm pretty happy today, in FP1 and FP2 all the sessions we are so good and the team did a great job. Now try to concentrate, don't think about the championship, just do our best and for sure the result will come."

As well as being unchanged from last weekend, Nakagami's Honda has altered little since the Jerez season opener.

"From Jerez to what we have now I know it's a little bit updated, but chassis is exactly the same. A new shock and new front fork. I know only this! Not a huge difference.

"I understood myself. I changed the riding style from Jerez 1 and I continued to keep adapting to this bike. That's it. No secret and no huge difference from Jerez."


Nakagami added: "A few days ago Alex Marquez mentioned that with this [Honda] bike you need to give more than 100% in every area. This is the key point.

"If you some relax or not concentrate it’s easy to crash or lose one second. That's why riders say the Honda bike is really difficult to manage because more than 40-minutes you are close to the limit. Easy to make a mistake. But if you don't lose concentration this bike has a lot of potential.

"This is our bike and I really enjoy it. Now it looks like I am able to manage every area so I don’t feel negative."

The most significant recent upgrade appears to be the new Ohlins shock, which is now permeating through the grid.

"For this weekend we are able to use this new shock with both bikes and it's working pretty well in these conditions. Last weekend, in some corners yes, some corners no.

"But this weekend from FP1 we keep like this and I felt some positive. I feel the rear is a bit more stable and less pumping. the grip level is very similar but the bike is more smooth when you start to spin, so you are able to feel how much spin on corner exit so I can control.

"This is good for the race especially. For qualifying I don’t think the performance is not a huge difference to the standard, but for the race pace it helps the bike become more smooth."

The only Honda rider on the podium so far this season is rookie Alex Marquez, who comes into this weekend following back-to-back rostrums at Le Mans and Aragon 1.

One area where Marquez was visibly fast last Sunday was through the sweeping final corner.

"He's able to carry the speed, especially the last corner, where you can see during the race he overtook many times. He is able to keep inside.

"I saw the race and his data for all the laps, it looks like this is his style, but for me it's still difficult because for the qualifying lap I think we can do it, but if I do this I'm a bit worried it means you have to use more edge grip in the last corner and then at the end of the race it is a little bit difficult to keep the pace.

"I understood Alex does it like this but we need to find our line with a different bike and set-up. Difficult to copy exactly. I'm still learning from Alex!"

Among the items on Nakagami's Saturday agenda is to try the hard tyre compounds, front and rear.

"If tomorrow is warmer I think in FP4 we'll try, because even with the medium we are quite on the limit.

"Last weekend, even in the cool temperature, with the soft on the rear it was very close to the limit. The performance was good but by the end of the race I'd used more than 100%. It was completely no rubber. So it's time to try hard compound.

"Today with the medium was good. A little bit struggle to feel the side grip, but performance is not bad. The race pace pretty consistent. So we are thinking to go to the hard."

Team-mate Cal Crutchlow was third in FP2, using the 2020 spec Honda.

 

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