Lorenzo explains breakthrough Mugello Ducati win, secret Honda talks
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The two-week period covering the 2018 French and Italian MotoGPs was arguably the most dramatic of Jorge Lorenzo’s career.The five-time world champion left Le Mans just 14th in the world championship and unsure of his racing future, with Danilo Petrucci poised to take over his Ducati seat in 2019.But in the following days, Lorenzo not only received the parts needed to increase his corner speed and save energy on the Desmosedici, but clinch a secret two-year deal with Honda and then win Ducati’s home event at Mugello.So how did it all happen?In the latest episode of his 99 Seconds YouTube series, Lorenzo explains:”In 2018, I was the rider who had the best starts, braked later than anyone and put the bike upright first to use all of Ducati’s power, meaning I accelerated the best. But I suffered from the same problem again and again.”I had arm fatigue during the races and that made me slow my pace very much and also a turning problem that made the front wheel not want to turn in the same way as the rear.”Supposedly this was caused by the aerodynamics, those large wings that Ducati had, which made a type of turbulence in the middle of the corner, at maximum lean, and with worn tyres it made it very difficult.Related ArticlesaccImages.createImage(); Marc Marquez: It will not be the easiest of weekendsaccImages.createImage(); Morbidelli: Wonderful to race at Mugello, but it won’t be a normal one”At Le Mans I managed to escape for 6-7-8-9 laps, but finally I gave up due to the pace of the riders behind me…. Eventually finishing 6th, 10-seconds behind Marc Marquez and getting just 16 points from four races, which put me 14th in the standings.”As if this wasn’t enough Petrucci, whom many practically placed as my substitute at Ducati, finished second, achieving one of his best races, and was fifth overall.”gg725898.jpg accImages.createImage();While Lorenzo had made an even worse start to the season than in his debut Ducati campaign, team-mate Andrea Dovizioso – who had fought Marc Marquez until the final round of 2017 – won again at the start of 2018.Lorenzo was well aware that his time at Ducati looked to be nearing an end but was desperately short of alternatives.Related ArticlesaccImages.createImage(); Morbidelli: Wonderful to race at Mugello, but it won’t be a normal oneaccImages.createImage(); MotoGP podcast with Keith Huewen: Dovi-Aprilia, Magic Mugello & more”Suzuki, who had shown some interest in me at the beginning of the year, seemed to want to bet on a younger rider, Joan Mir, so the Suzuki team doors were finally closed,” Lorenzo said.”Honda, a team that I had offered to be part of, seemed to give me no answers. And the only option that seemed still open was Petronas, where my manager Albert Valera was working and it seemed as if they were creating the whole team around me.”Petronas Yamaha boss Razlan Razali didn’t share that view, although the Malaysian team did come close to a deal with Dani Pedrosa.”4Either way, Lorenzo said he wasn’t thrilled by the idea: “I didn’t really feel like [joining Petronas] because I’d already been in the official Yamaha team and it seemed like a step back.”The lack of compelling options for 2019 meant, “Everything seemed black…. All my thoughts were negative. I didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.”But everything began to swing in Lorenzo’s favour on the eve of a test session at Barcelona.”5″Between Le Mans and Mugello there was a test in Montmelo. I stayed in a hotel in Barcelona to train before it and while I was cycling I received a surprise call from Alberto Puig, who told me that he didn’t want me to get too excited but joining the Honda team in 2019 was a possibility.”He still had to work with the Japanese team but they said the option was interesting, and that the most important obstacle, that I had already anticipated, was that Marquez could supposedly veto me from joining. But they had already spoken with Marc and he had no problem about me joining the team.”This made me more cheerful… but above all Alberto Puig told me to keep the conversation confidential. I couldn’t resist telling my coach Ivan Lopez but no one else, not even my manager… who was still very focussed on Petronas.”gg734184.jpg accImages.createImage();Things got even better for Lorenzo when he arrived at the test and was presented with the first version of Ducati’s fuel-tank modifications.”The next day at the test Ducati finally brought me the first version of this famous ‘extension’ of the tank. It was made to help support me when braking and I verified that the ‘fins’ really helped me,” he said.”6″They made them a little bigger on the second version and it helped me in the middle of the corner by holding my legs and knees so I could relax my arms for a few seconds in every corner and recover energy.”In addition, I was still investigating how to improve my riding to adapt to the bike and I discovered if I angled the entry into the corner a bit more, I would go directly into the apex and I used the rear brake to stop it a little bit more and enter at a lower speed, being better prepared for the exit.”7″Those little things made me more competitive and I finished second in the test.”Meanwhile, the off-track developments were continuing apace with Puig now in a position to offer Lorenzo a Repsol Honda contract.”In the afternoon I received another surprise call and agreed to meet with Alberto Puig on the outskirts of the circuit and he presented me with the first offer. I had a few days to accept and it was a pleasant surprise because due to the bad circumstances I was expecting a lower offer.”The offer was [still] much lower than I was earning in Yamaha and Ducati but I expected even less. At that moment I had to tell Albert [manager] about it and a few days after the test we signed at Alberto Puig’s house so I was officially a Honda rider for the next two seasons.””8Lorenzo therefore arrived at Mugello with the Honda deal signed and sealed, although the first rumours wouldn’t emerge until after the race weekend.”I arrived at Mugello without the pressure to achieve results at all costs to secure a future for myself. I felt happy, thrilled and excited to sign a two-year contract with the most powerful team, with the longest history in the championship; Repsol Honda,” he said.”I was asked on the Thursday about a statement made by Ducati boss Claudio Domenicali who said I was a great rider but hadn’t been able to adapt to their bike and perhaps it was time to look for new options.”9″Those words hurt my pride and in a few seconds I responded strongly with; ‘I can’t saying anything to the boss, because he is the boss but I would like to tell him that I am not a great rider, I am a champion.”But while Ducati management were openly questioning Lorenzo’s future, the factory’s technical staff, led by Gigi Dall’Igna, continued to introduce further developments aimed specifically at addressing Lorenzo’s woes.”On Thursday when I arrived in the box I saw that Ducati had brought me another version of the ‘fins’ for the tank. They had got the idea from looking at old MotoGP photos of Honda, Suzuki and Ducati 10 years ago where the tank shapes were made to fit around the knees. On the other hand the 2018 Ducati tank was very round, narrow and low.”10″Ducati also brought narrower and smaller wings to try to reduce the turbulence I was feeling in the middle of the corners.”I could verify in FP1 that the new tank fins helped even more to relax the arms and gain energy. In FP2 we put the new fairing and as we hoped in cornering the bike seemed more ‘free’ and we gained 2-3 km/h on the telemetry. So we already had two things that made us improve.”In qualifying I missed pole position by just hundredths to Valentino and afterwards with the engineers we spotted three problems for the race. Two of them were tyres, the front was graining on the right while the wear on the rear also had to be managed.”The third problem was Andrea Iannone [Suzuki] had been stronger than before and fastest in almost every practice. We couldn’t control that but we could maintain the tyres. For the rear I had to be very careful with opening the throttle on the exit of the corners to avoid wheelspin, but the graining on the right front I didn’t know what I could do.”I went with [crew chief] Cristian Gabarrini to speak with Michelin’s Piero Taramasso. He told me the graining was basically exaggerated when the grip of the rear was higher than the front, making the front push and wrecking the tyre.”To avoid this I had to do the corners without gas, but riding like that in short corners like Le Mans is very different from long fast corners at maximum lean angle like Mugello.”I tried it in warm-up and we saw the front tyre was wearing less and then I tried to improve on it even more in the race.”gg730842.jpg accImages.createImage();Lorenzo hit the front at the start of the race, but to the outside world there was little reason to think the #99 wouldn’t be fading backwards once again.”I overtook Rossi into turn one and from the first lap, in the right-hand corners, I tried to apply the strategy of cornering without the gas. I was in first, felt under control and it was relatively easy for me to stick to this strategy.”Marquez then became my closest rival and I knew he was more dangerous but my rhythm made things difficult for him to follow and he ed on lap 5. This surprised me and I could relax a little.”Rossi closed in on me but was passed by Dovizioso. I understood it was a crucial moment because my 0.7s advantage could go either way. I pushed a little more and was able to pull 1-2 tenths a lap. I knew I had a great opportunity and I forgot a little about conserving tyres. From lap 13 Dovizioso threw in the towel and my lead suddenly went to 1.5s.”When it got to 2s I knew only a mechanical problem could stop me, I was conserving the tyres, counting down the laps and making no mistakes. On the last lap I made the ‘1’ sign with my finger as I passed the Ducati grandstand, then crossed the finish line for what was one of the happiest days of my life.”gg730853.jpg accImages.createImage();While the Mugello victory came too late to save Lorenzo’s Ducati career, he still had enough races remaining to potentially leave as the factory’s first world champion since Casey Stoner in 2007.Lorenzo duly won again next time out in Catalunya and climbed to third in the points after a third Ducati victory at the Red Bull Ring, before injury at Aragon ended his championship hopes.Further injuries also meant the Repsol Honda ‘dream team’ alongside Marc Marquez in 2019 turned into a nightmare and Lorenzo retired halfway through his two-year HRC contract.
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