LCR Honda rider Cal Crutchlow has tipped his team-mate Taka Nakagami to finally become a MotoGP race winner this weekend, thanks to the Japanese rider’s incredible pace on the opening day of practice for the Teruel Grand Prix.
The weekend marks the series’ second visit to the Motorland Aragon circuit in as many weeks, and Nakagami had finished last weekend’s race there in fifth, with a late charge through the pack not quite enough to launch himself into the battle for the podium.
However, fresh off securing a two-year extension to his Honda deal, Nakagami looked outstanding in today’s opening two sessions at the breezy circuit in Spain’s Monegros Desert.
“It’s Taka’s race to lose right now by about 11 seconds,” said Crutchlow after practice, “because if he had kept the gap over everyone else that’s how much he would have won by.
“But he hasn’t suddenly got a new bike – he’s just riding well.”
Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso reckoned Honda’s RC213V was enjoying a clear edge at Aragon, saying: “I think the Honda riders, they are a bit more convinced to have a good bike on this track. And they are faster compared to everybody.
“The pace they did today, it was something unreal.”
But while Honda’s Aragon GP results – with Crutchlow on the front row, Alex Marquez in second and Nakagami back in championship contention) – suggested a track-specific resurgence, Crutchlow was quick to dismiss the notion.
“I don’t believe the Honda is better at this circuit, but Taka and Alex are riding better,” he argued. “I’m feeling a bit better too, able to push a bit more.
“People say that Honda has turned it around, but I believe every time we ride the bike we make some small changes, be it the electronics or the rider or new suspension.
“Right now we are fast around this circuit, but as we saw last week, it was Alex that made the difference, and again he was really fast again today, as was Taka.”
Nakagami was for his part in agreement with his team-mate, admitting that he doesn’t feel like Honda has made a huge step forward.
Consistently fast this year when MotoGP has had back-to-back races at the same track in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the 28-year-old was adamant that Aragon was simply another example of this.
“People have been asking me what we’ve done to the bike because all the Honda riders are fast, but it’s nothing secretive – we started FP1 with the same set-up we used in last Sunday’s race,” Nakagami insisted. “I’ve just kept riding with the medium tyres and it’s been good.
“From the start we’re so competitive, which I’m really happy to see. It’s important to keep that pace until Sunday, but at this moment it looks like we’re working in the right way. Now we have to just remain consistent, stay smooth and for sure the result will come.”
Crutchlow also had some glib remarks for Repsol Honda team boss Alberto Puig about some of his comments earlier in the year.
Puig was insistent previously that Honda’s poor performances while Marc Marquez remains out through injury was not due to Honda’s hard to ride bike but rather because his riders weren’t pushing hard enough.
“I think the reason we’re all saying that Alex is fantastic because he’s been able to come in and ride the Honda – all you have to do is look at other rookies who rode the Honda and what they’ve done since,” Crutchlow said.
“But I don’t think that it’s because Alberto Puig says the riders have to push more, because we push as hard as we can every time. We never go on track and not try our best.
“In saying that, I like Alberto – he’s fiery, he says what he thinks, and he gets the riders wound up. It doesn’t work for some riders, but it works for us!”