Much in his style—working away from the spotlight—Dani Pedrosa finished the 2017 preseason brilliantly. The 31-year-old Catalan rider closed the winter tests on the podium alongside the impressive Maverick Viñales and the always-consistent Andrea Dovizioso. Others may have topped the headlines, but in the end, it was Dani who finished on the podium of the classification.

2017 will be Pedrosa’s 12th MotoGP season, making him the most veteran rider in the major class after Valentino Rossi. For all of his dozen years in the class he has been a Honda rider on the exclusive HRC team, and the fact that after so much time he hasn’t won one single world title has been diminishing Dani’s credit as a rider season after season. But there are indications that suggest 2017 may be a turning point for this trajectory.

When we booked our interview with Dani Pedrosa’s new managing company, American Wasserman, we asked for the opportunity to chat in a more relaxed place than the race track, where whether they like it or not riders are always in “race mode”. We tried an interview in a low-pressure atmosphere to check if our hunch that we were in front of a “new Pedrosa” was right. When Dani showed up to our meeting, he appeared comfortable and relaxed, and for the next half hour our conversation was more of a chat than an interview.

As a long time part of the Honda “family,” Pedrosa has experienced a multitude of situations in the HRC garage. Thus this year’s confusion over the type of engine to be used in 2017 isn’t unfamiliar territory, nor has it been worth worrying over. In fact, with fewer than two weeks to the start of the racing season, it doesn’t seem to be an issue anymore…

“For now I think that yes [it’s solved], unless something unexpected happens. But anyway, this is a very Honda decision in thinking about durability, providing for the other teams and so on. Unless something strange happens, I think there will be no changes now.” Dani admits that the start of the preseason didn’t go very well, but he believes that since the end of January, Honda has made positive steps, especially with electronics. “Between Sepang and Australia, and in Jerez, we have been improving.”

Aggressive or smoother engines, those that sacrifice bottom power for top end power…? We asked Pedrosa which type of engine he prefers, because last year at a certain point in the season he said that he wouldn’t have chosen the motor Honda decided to use on behalf of Marc Marquez’s wishes. “I’ve ridden everything. For example in 125cc, the bike was peaky, that is, very aggressive, but at the same time it had no power; let’s say it was smooth, that you could keep the gas open. In 250cc it was the same but with more torque, so it was more fun and it was not a very difficult bike. Then I had the V5 (MotoGP), which had a similar engine to a quieter bike, but it was very heavy and very difficult to control in the corners, and then we had the screamer motorcycles – totally uncontrollable. In general, I like a bike that allows you to concentrate on the track and that allows you to ride laps consistently; this includes settings geared towards having a more stable than unstable bike. But recently at Honda, it has been very difficult to have a very stable bike and we always work towards that. For example, our toughest rival has always been Yamaha and they have, in quotes, the “opposite” version of ours, and we have always looked at how to evolve our bike based on the shortcomings of the rivals.”

“Our Honda requires that you be quite intuitive and that you don’t have a ridged way of thinking”, Dani Pedrosa

Pedrosa confirms what we wrote here in a few weeks ago about the “reactive caracter” of Honda’s RCV, a bike that necessitates the rider to react to what the bike does, not like the afore mentioned Yamaha that allows the rider to control what the bike does. HRC’s bike requires very aggressive riders. “It requires that you be quite intuitive and that you don’t have a ridged way of thinking,” explains Dani. “Like maybe on one lap you take the perfect corner and the next corner you move three times, and that’s where you have to have an open mind, and above all make sure it doesn’t worry you. For example, if you have a bike that usually doesn’t move and in a corner moves once, you usually think that on the next lap the bike will do it again if you ride the same, but with the Honda not always, maybe on one lap yes and on another no, and you have to react to what the bike does.”

As likely the most technical rider in the MotoGP field, Pedrosa obviously prefers the chassis more stable than nervous. “You can always choose a bit between a more reactive bike and a more stable bike. By changing links, changing the front trail, you get one thing or another.” Dani also confesses that he feels better in the acceleration phase and in mid-corner than on the brakes, where he admits there are other riders who are better than him in this area.

The same way Casey Stoner and Marc Marquez were kind of revolutionaries, so was Dani when he arrived in MotoGP with the way he lifted the bike exiting the corners looking for more traction.

Revolutionary riders

Pedrosa has been in MotoGP for over a decade and has seen a lot of riders come and go, ridden all variations of MotoGP machines that have required different riding techniques and styles. Racing memory is short, but in the same way Casey Stoner and Marc Marquez were kind of revolutionaries, so was Dani with the way he lifted the bike exiting the corners looking for more contact for more traction. What he revealed about that was quite interesting: “This happens more or less with each new generation. The rookie who has been watching the winning guy for a long time, the first thing he does is try to copy him, he uses him as a reference…and then adds something extra to the riding and how to control the bike,” said Dani, referring to Stoner and Márquez.

“You see that they are doing something that you don’t, so you have to reinvent yourself; you have to readapt yourself because your rival has something over you. But this evolution can also happen because of a change of tires that require another type of riding. For example, from Michelin to Bridgestone [Editor’s note: This change occurred in 2009] we went to super leaning the bikes in the corner, braking later, being very aggressive at the entrance of the corner and all that requires a change in riding style.”

Pedrosa’s uninterrupted marriage to Honda started in GP on a two-stroke 125cc Honda; it’s not possible that Pedrosa hasn’t been curious to ride bikes other than the one built by the engineers at HRC.

With the return to the French tire maker the backwards recycling has been needed. “At the rider level, with the return to Michelin, we had to change the bikes a bit; we also changed the riding style again. Perhaps not in the same way as before, because they have adapted to the new speeds too and to the new demands of the motorcycles.”

Dani’s fidelity to Honda

We’ve already mentioned Pedrosa’s uninterrupted marriage to Honda, a relationship that goes back beyond the MotoGP years. He started in GP on a two-stroke 125cc Honda and won two titles on a factory NSR 250. It’s not possible that Pedrosa hasn’t been interested or curious to ride bikes other than the one built by the engineers at HRC.

“Obviously, with so many years, you see the rivals, you see your shortcomings, your advantages, and I’ve always wondered why I’ve always been with Honda. While I’ve ridden different bikes, all of them were Honda. A road bike, a scooter, a Honda is a Honda, it’s difficult to explain…You know that a Honda always works, it’s intuitive, easy to manage. For example, I have never ridden a Ducati, but from what I see of the riders who have, it’s a very different bike, not so intuitive but maybe it has points where it goes very well. For example, sometimes I went to train supermotard with my friends, and I take the Honda and they take a KTM, and you’re always curious to know what the other bike is like.”

For this season, Dani Pedrosa has made many changes to his environment; I would say he has incited a revolution in his approach to racing.

The year of the blank slate

For this season, Dani Pedrosa has made many changes to his environment. I would say he has incited a revolution in his approach to racing. A new manager, new crew chief, new mechanics, new assistant and the presence of Sete Gibernau in the garage as a track consultant. It’s obvious that Pedrosa wants to try a different approach to what he has been doing until now.

“The main reason for all these changes is because…   (to be continued)