An exclusive interview with Aruba.it Racing Ducati's Chaz Davies on what caused his untouchable form after the summer break, his undying competitive edge and future MotoGP aspirations.
Crash.net:
Given how you're going at the moment, I guess you wish the season would just continue?
Chaz Davies:
That's right, honestly after the last few races I kind of want the season to start tomorrow rather than just having finished.

Six on the trot and all the ones in the dry since the break we've won.

During the summer break I felt that we turned a corner and I knew we were going to be competitive for the rest of the season. But winning every dry race was beyond what I could have hoped for so I view the upcoming break from racing with a mixed frame of mind.
Crash.net:
Would you say that this is the best you've ever ridden?
Chaz Davies:
Honestly I think it's a combination - you don't suddenly gain talent overnight, particularly when you've been racing as long as I have.

It's a combination of the bike being in the right format for me and the team giving me a bike that I can win with. That then puts the confidence into my riding to do well, I would say it's a matter of confidence on confidence. It also helps that we haven't crashed since improving the set up.

It's fair to say that I'm riding as well as I ever have done. I actually felt that I was riding as well at the start of the season but I can't take credit for everything, it's a team thing.
Crash.net:
You mention turning a corner during the summer break?
Chaz Davies:
Honestly I felt I was struggling during the early part of the season. We were having issues, we weren't at 100%. We were maybe at 95% and I would say that that last 5% was the difference between finishing first and third. That also meant that I was crashing too much.

From the outside, maybe it didn't look that bad but I just wasn't getting the feeling I needed from the bike and was always coming back to the pits with the same comments.
Crash.net:
Can you be specific?
Chaz Davies:
Well I was basically pushing the front tyre too much. My style is quite front heavy and I ask a lot of the front end so if that's not right then I have problems. I'm quite sensitive to that.

We tried changing the weight distribution in the winter to help with that and it seemed to work at some races but at others I felt as if I couldn't brake. At those races whenever I tried to use the front brake it felt as if I was collapsing the front too easily.

I'd always been able to get away with using the softer front tyre over a race distance but we started to have to go with the harder tyre for wear reasons and that again meant that I was lacking feel at the front.

These factors meant that I was starting to lose a bit of confidence in the bike at the beginning of the season which was frustrating given how I'd been going at the end of the last season - it felt like we were going backwards.

With trying to solve that with the weight distribution adjustment I felt as if we were losing our way a bit. It was during the summer break that we found a solution to it.

I would say that I'm particularly vulnerable to front end feel. My style is very aggressive, I brake late, hard and deep into corners so getting that feel and confidence is probably more important for a rider like me than most other riders.

In fact my team-mate tried my exact settings and was nowhere. But I could have told him that before he started as I'm aware that my settings are pretty specific to me.
Crash.net:
One thing I've noticed about your riding is that your passing is pretty brutal, is that a part of your style that you work on?
Chaz Davies:
Not really, maybe I just get a little over excited at the start of the race to be honest. Being in the thick of it always gets me going

I've never been much of a qualifier, I don't think I've had that many pole positions since being in Superbikes so in the races I've got to go forwards quickly. I like putting in the aggressive first laps and trying to make up for being buried during qualifying.

My late on the brakes, front end style really helps with making that kind of passes.
Crash.net:
You mention about being excited at the start of the race, are you a nervy rider?
Chaz Davies:
I'm not sitting there on the grid buzzing, in fact it probably couldn't be more opposite to that. Before races I feel calm, maybe in the past in Supersport I was a little nervous but as I get more experienced I get calmer. That means that I can clear my mind and focus on what I need to think about.

I do get excited but I try to keep that under control and try to channel that feeling where it needs to go, to focus it.

The thing that helps is that I'm just so competitive and having the other guys there to compete against is like a red rag to a bull. For me that's where it's at, if it's a practice or even qualifying it just means less, even though I'm still giving my 100%.

I'm always trying my best but when the other guys are there I just always find that extra gear and unfortunately that competitive feeling can't be manufactured. It's real competition which brings me out, maybe that helps to explain how I qualify and how I pass.

I'm a useless multi tasker but if I'm just given one thing to do I can bring a huge amount of focus and energy to that task and I feel like that when the race starts it's me at my most focused and effective.

Some people seem to shine in qualifying and I could never understand that, they could pull one lap out but when it came to doing 20 it was a different matter. For me it's the opposite - I get more and more focused the more laps I do. I'm not such a one for the one off.
Crash.net:
So perhaps it's the lack of immediate and visible competition which is stopping you qualifying as you want?
Chaz Davies:
It could be a part of it, I'm just better at focusing for 20 minutes rather than two minutes.
Crash.net:
But from the viewers' point of view your bad qualifying makes for entertaining racing though.
Chaz Davies:
Yeah, well that's the thing, it keeps it interesting. Both Tom and Johnny have been doing fantastically and sometimes disappearing up the road and you need someone like me to put the moves in to get up the pack.

Sometimes I wish it wasn't like that but at least it's a good show.
Crash.net:
Famously people say that the Ducati maybe lacks power and speed when compared with the fours, is that now solved?
Chaz Davies:
I'd say that we've now bridged the gap.

This is my third season now with the Panigale and I would say that in the first year we started a good step behind, last year we closed the gap and by the start of this year we were very close. We weren't quite on par at the start of the season but now we're close enough for it not to matter.

There are so many other factors regarding how much speed you get nowadays and I think the Ducati is close enough for those to take up the slack.

A good comparison would be the second race in Qatar. When I passed Johnny on the long straight, when he pulled alongside me we stayed absolutely neck and neck going into turn 1.

I think for the first time in three years I can say that we're on a par with our competition and that the team have done a fantastic job getting ever more speed from the bike.
Crash.net:
How much has that got to do with those stubby little exhausts?
Chaz Davies:
They definitely help, we got them at Aragon and we made a step forward immediately.

When we fitted those exhausts it was the first time I could slipstream our main rivals - it was a nice feeling but since then there haven't been any significant engine updates. The exhaust was probably our most significant engine enhancement.
Crash.net:
I'm guessing that stability in your team is also helping your performance at the moment?
Chaz Davies:
Yeah, I'd say so. I've had the same crew for three years now and there are even guys with me from BMW in 2013.

More than anything though I'd say that it's riding the same bike - that's the most important thing. Having a second year in my contract when I signed for Ducati was such a big thing for me.

I knew it was going to take time to develop the Panigale into a competitive bike and in the end it worked out as I anticipated; we came a long way in 2014 and then started to get wins in 2015.

That was the stability that I needed, in the past I've always been this manufacturer, that manufacturer, this championship, that championship, this bike, that bike and in that situation it's so difficult to get the best from the bike.

I think that Ducati could see that things were progressing as they should and signed me again for 2016 and you can see that it's got better again.

Apart from that, if you're going to have stability it's great to have it with Ducati - they're a brilliant manufacturer to ride for. You can see that from the outside; they're all heart and are a thoroughbred racing company. I've ridden for many other manufacturers but have never experienced the connection between what I do on the bike, what the team does on the track and the development programme back at Bologna.

It's great how tightly knit the company is right from production of a road bike to the relationship with the team. Things like receiving a personal phone call from Claudio Domenicali after a good result really means a lot to me and shows me that they are so committed to World Superbikes.
Crash.net:
I guess stability of crew chief is also important, how is the communication managed when you relay information to the team?
Chaz Davies:
We work much more as a group rather than keeping it one to one like some other crew chiefs do.

All my guys have got something to give and they're all experts in their own field. They're all clever people and are open-minded enough to listen to each other without any agenda. Even when it's not strictly in their field they've always got something to offer without it turning into a free for all. Nobody seems to stand on anyone else's toes. I'm really lucky to have that productive atmosphere.

The pit language is English though I do sometimes speak Italian with the mechanics working on the bike. But the immediate debriefs are done in English as their English is better than my Italian at this point.

When I come in to the garage it will be more of a huddle where I can direct my comments to the relevant person with all others being able to hear. Sometimes we'll also have a meeting sometime afterwards when we've had time to digest things - we don't make any rash moves but try and make considered ones to make step by step moves to where we want to be.
Crash.net:
Do you get involved with the details of suspension or electronic settings or do you like to keep the jobs more separate?
Chaz Davies:
50/50. Obviously when I come in I try to communicate what's going on with the bike as best I can to the appropriate engineer as they're the experts and know what they're doing - I have full trust in them and that's the kind of basis of how we work.

But sometimes I will spend some time with them at the computer to pick it apart and break down the data to show how it relates to what I'm feeling just to give them a better explanation of the feelings I'm getting out there.

Mostly though they get it exactly right just from my comments. The only difference being that if I'm 100% confident I'll actually direct them as to what to do with the bike such as it needs to be harder, softer, longer or shorter. If I really believe in something I'll simply say what needs doing to the bike rather than relaying feelings. That comes with the confidence of knowing the bike and having experience with it.

I don't think we have a complicated system at all, I think the way we work is very simple and I try not to spend excessive time looking through the data because there's so much of it and you can find pretty much anything you're looking for if you look for it.

Over a race weekend perhaps the most profitable thing I can do isn't trying to work on the settings or data but to work on myself. Working on my riding and breaking down what I'm doing corner by corner to try to get the best out of myself.
Crash.net:
I think more than most I hear you talking about 'finding a rhythm' - how do you see that?
Chaz Davies:
I think some people would describe it as being in the zone.

It's when a 1000 things flow together; everything's clicking off, you're hitting your marks, you hit the brakes right, your body's in the right position and you relax down. Even in one corner all the millions of things you have to do all flow into one and you don't need to think about it. It's when things become almost automated.

Maybe in FP1 you're not quite in that zone yet so you stay out there and give it time for the rhythm to come to you. You can feel it start to come and then eventually the individual things you might have been thinking of gradually get zoned out - everything sort of seems to slow down and happen in slow motion. When you find it, it feels like you're stroking the absolute limit with all the things you're doing.

When you're at a corner, you're not exactly thinking of that corner, it's just become part of the rhythm of the track. Each corner has a method and when you're in the rhythm you stay in that method. When people say you make a mistake in a corner we're just seeing a symptom of that flow being so close to the limit.

Finding a rhythm to me is a very specific feeling and if I don't find it I don't win races, it's as simple as that.

It's such a difficult thing to explain to non-racers though.
Crash.net:
...and what is your contractual position for the future?
Chaz Davies:
I've got another two-year contract with Ducati so that will take me to 2019.
Crash.net:
So, career wise you're aiming more for the Troy Bayliss than the Casey Stoner?
Chaz Davies:
I don't think you should ever say that you're going to spend all your career with this or that manufacturer, you never know what'll be down the road. But from where I am now and how I feel with Ducati I feel very relaxed.

Things are at such a good level and if they stay at that level I can't see anything changing. I love the consistency commitment that I'm getting here and as long as that continues I'd be more than happy to be a Ducati rider.
Crash.net:
Didn't you say when you first signed to Ducati that you had some MotoGP testing written into the contract, has that happened?
Chaz Davies:
No not yet. It's been talked about quite a bit but it's such a difficult thing to organise. It's so difficult to fit in between the MotoGP and WorldBK schedules and when we do have shared tests I have to focus on the work I have to do on the Superbike.

I really don't want to be stepping on a MotoGP bike at that point just to try it. If I'm going to do a test, to give myself a fair opportunity, it needs to be at least a two-day test solely dedicated to figuring out that bike and all that goes with it and ideally a follow up test after that.

I'd love it to happen that I get another shot at MotoGP but in order to be fair to myself it can't be that I just grab the first opportunity to ride one of those bikes around a track.

It's the old story that you need to go into MotoGP in the right way. As it stands though, as a Ducati rider I'm very well placed.
Crash.net:
But it's still a possibility?
Chaz Davies:
Oh definitely yeah, it's a strong possibility but like I said I don't want to just jump on the bike to have five laps.

I'm at a point that I feel that I'm riding as well as anybody in Superbike and would love to see how that stacks up in MotoGP. As a competitive and hungry person, it's something I'd love to know, especially as someone who's already been to GP.

When I did my three races with Dantin Ducati in 2007, in my first race I think my best lap was within a couple of tenths of what Valentino managed at Laguna Seca. I think that was fairly respectable and I feel that I'm a better and more complete rider now.

I'm not saying that I'd get on the bike tomorrow and do well, it's just that the potential is there - it's all about time and commitment from the manufacturer to see how I'd do.
Crash.net:
...and for next season, you've been in a team with both Marco and Davide - where did you feel most comfortable?
Chaz Davies:
Honestly on our side of the garage we're really just doing our own thing so I'm fairly indifferent. They're very different characters and both very fast with Marco being a bit more proven and stable than Davide. But I must say that Davide is probably the fastest team-mate I've ever had in terms of raw speed. Davide is such a fast rider and it's a big shame he couldn't keep things on a more even footing.

Marco is more experienced and proven and at the end of the day he is the Marco Melandri but I think he may bring something to the team in terms of development which can only be a benefit.

When I was last Marco's team-mate though the dynamic was very different where I was the new guy coming into the team but now he's coming into a team that I'm winning in. I must emphasize though, there's no pecking order in the Ducati WorldBK team - everybody gets a fair crack at it.
Crash.net:
On a side note, I hear that you're now an honorary Laverty?
Chaz Davies:
Yep, I'm Michael's brother-in-law and honestly I don't what that makes me to the other siblings, it's a big family. My sister married Michael - it was a great do, but I've known Michael for a long time and now he sometimes comes spotting for me when his BSB duties allow.
Crash.net:
One last question I've always wanted to ask a racer - when you're driving a car on the roads (and where it's safe and legal to do so), do you take the racing line?
Chaz Davies:
Erm... it depends what time of day it is...without saying too much...yeah.
Crash.net:
I knew it!
Chaz Davies:
It's kind of rude not too, isn't it?

It's also made more tempting because as a Ducati rider I get a very nice Audi to drive which really needs testing.

My problem is that I just can't switch off that competitive spirit and even when I take someone for a ride on the back of a road bike I must stay in the sat-up position because if you crouch down things can get a little crazy!
Crash.net:
Thanks very much for the chat Chaz.
Chaz Davies:
My pleasure.

 

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