Yamaha Racing caught up with Yamaha Factory Racing’s Team Manager Wilco Zeelenberg recently at Assen to ask a few questions about the current season in MotoGP and his continuing role alongside reigning World Champion Jorge Lorenzo…
Has your season started as you expected?
“Well, I would say better! After the first two races we’re leading on points tied with Marquez which is a bit of a surprise as we expected Dani to be there, closer anyway than Marc. For the Championship it’s great to have another guy instead of Casey up there which is what was needed.”
Jorge is a very accomplished rider, is there another step forward in his learning this season?
“He continues to improve, especially in the way of building up the weekend. He’s a little quieter, and takes more time to go into details to set the bike up for the race. You can see clearly it’s a big relief that he has two Championships under his belt and its also clear it’s a big relief for him to know he’s settled for a couple more years. It’s nice to have these things in the pocket, but he’s not satisfied, he still wants more! He’s still very hungry but in a calmer way.”
What’s a bigger motivator for Jorge, beating teammate Valentino or Marc Marquez?
“I would say both, not one more than the other. First of all he wants to be the best Yamaha rider, second he wants to be the best Spanish rider. As Marc is on a competitor bike its difficult to judge differences at times. For sure he wants to beat them all!”
In 2012 the YZR-M1 was a great package and the one to beat at most tracks, is it the same story this year?
“In Qatar we won by six seconds, and in Austin we were just three seconds from Marc. This time gap over race distance is not a lot so track-by-track we have to re-analyse this story. It’s quite exceptional that this happens in the first and second race already, Honda struggled in Qatar and we struggled in Austin. Everyone is waiting to see the whole package being good for everyone at the same track and then we’ll hopefully see four or five guys really racing each other. I think that’s what this class is about now and why this sport is so attractive.”
What is the focus on bike development for this year?
“Track by track it’s a bit of a different story this year. In preparing our bike for 2013 we tried to improve the stability on the rear because we had quite some problems on bumps last season during acceleration. Corner entry and turnability were also an issue but we solved that over the winter tests.
Has your role changed at all this year?
“My role is still very much the same; I concentrate on where I think I am able to add something to Jorge’s racing. I have this experience of watching on track and discussing what I see. Sometimes he needs that so he can concentrate on riding the bike and analysing where to improve. He’s getting better and better at finding the best way to get round the track so I try to help with that and support in the maximum way.”
Can you give a specific example of where you help through watching on track?
“In Austin Jorge struggled into turn one. He always concentrated on fast and late corner entry as this exit needed some improvement because of the pick up and acceleration of our engine. Austin’s turn one is very steep uphill but there was more banking on one side of the corner than on the other side. The reason why he attacked the corner in the normal way with very late entry is because he wanted to turn at the maximum at the crest of the corner and he was losing the front constantly. So we looked at it and we analysed it and then I put him about two and a half metres more to the inside. With an earlier entry we gained a coupe of tenths of a second and it also made the corner entry very safe. These moments are important and can make a big difference.”
You’re back in Europe at Jerez, how are you feeling for the race?
“Casey won in Jerez last year so it was a Honda victory. This year we hope to have a closer package and a better one than we had in Austin. We believe the grip level is also better than Austin so it’s already one step in the right direction. We tested here last month and it went smoothly so let’s see what happens!”
You were at Assen recently watching the World Supersport race, what’s your opinion of the level; do you see any future Grand Prix riders?
“I think so, the guys in Supersport like Sam Lowes are on the level to join Moto2 racing and maybe even a bit further into MotoGP. The MotoGP class is growing; we have 24 riders now so in the future you never know. These young guys are not all able to make the normal MotoGP progression through Moto3, Moto2 and up so it’s difficult to judge but for sure they are fast!”