Exclusive: HRC Director Tetsuhiro Kuwata talks WorldSBK FireBlade development

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Picture: GeeBee Images

Officially speaking, Honda was back in WorldSBK with an HRC effort last season, using the previous version Fireblade.

But in 2020, the fully liveried and heavily changed HRC project in WorldSBK – operating from Spain but still fully, fully official – is running the all-new CBR1000RR-R SP as a very different creation, in terms of both people and machinery.

The potential of the new bike has clearly been there, but also there have been what looked like real issues and problems from the outside point of view.

After the project’s first podium at Motorland Aragon, a week before the Teruel round - thanks to Alvaro Bautista’s third place finish just 3.599 seconds behind race winner Jonathan Rea and less behind Chaz Davies - HRC Director Tetsuhiro Kuwata agreed to talk to bikesportnews.com just before Superpole at Teruel.

As it transpired, just before Bautista was looking good for another podium challenge in Teruel race one, until he folded the front and fell. But, it was genuine competitiveness again, and against the best bikes in the ever-stronger series.

Q: You achieved one good result here already, but also we can see many problems, many difficulties. How is the bike and your expectation?
TK: You know this bike is completely new. So we expected some struggling for the beginning of the season, sure. But our target is always winning the race. So we’re working hard to make some steps for the good races. But sure, it takes a long time to reach to that position last week. But it is a fact.

So we have to accept this, but also we try to continue working hard to reach our target. Anyway, we are sure we are still struggling with some parts for the machine point of view. Now we are focused on the fix of this problem with the development team.

Q: You have a problem with the engine? Because Alvaro already used some engine, and we saw last weekend he had some problems?
TK: For the season, the engine is a performance engine. Our understanding is, not so bad. We are not so much struggling also with the reliability of the engine.

Q: The chassis seems quite conventional, but when the riders speak they are doing testing here, other places. They are still not in the base. They still have to find the base, I think, each rider?
TK: Also when we started we need to run the Pirelli tyre with the new CBR. Of course we need some adjustment for the chassis side for the future as well for matching for the Pirelli tyres. Sure, last year we had some experience, but now it’s a completely new machine.

So of course we can use some experience from the last years, but the new machine, new riders, all of the new package, so we need to find a base – at first. But our understanding, like last week’s result, now we can find the right base setting, like a starting point. So then just we understood this is like a more base setting. But this is like a starting point to improve the other aspects.

Q: Is there enough potential in this bike to reach the top? Or do you think you need to bring another homologated bike with all you have learned?
TK: It’s not only my understanding. Also our riders always said to us. So our machine still has a lot of room to improve to the machine. So we don’t think to provide another homologated machine for here. That machine still has enough potential to reach our target.

Q: Especially Alvaro says all the time that the biggest problem is - apart from electronics, which you will fix for sure - is the lack of mechanical grip. How can you sort this out? Is it possible to sort out this problem?
TK: Yes, of course. We can fix this problem. But we are trying to do many ways, many things. So you know this championship level is always so very difficult. It’s very competitive. So we cannot make like a big step. So we did a small step, but finally, OK, if you have ten small steps, we have some steps.

But now my understanding from the beginning of the season to now, we have our step. But still we can pray that some chassis or some electronics are the way for fixing this problem. So my understanding is to just keep going.

Q: It was a big decision to bring completely new team for WorldSBK. Obviously many experienced people not in WorldSBK here. Honda is a long time away from WorldSBK, and especially building a new one. Would things have been maybe faster if you decide we stay with half the experienced people, half GP, etc? Would the progress be faster maybe, in hindsight?
TK: If I want to make the best team, which is not only experience. This is like teamwork, relationship in the team, is very, very important. So from the last years we tried to find out the good team for this year. So finally we bring many people from other areas, not WorldSBK, but still I believe this is the best package for our team now.

Q: Why is the specification of the Moriwaki bike a different one than from this factory team?
TK: Not a completely different one. Some parts are different. Sure, we respect their project. Their project, their role, their target is they want to develop the machine themselves. Of course we have a lot of technical relationship, it is there, but so we respect their approach. So for example some parts will be different, but some parts are the same as the factory machines. Not completely different machines.

Q: We saw immediately a winning Honda in BSB, but here it took much more time, although obviously now on the podium. So, more or less, is it just a technical bigger mountain here than BSB, or more simple with BSB? Why immediately working there and yet here it has been difficult with Alvaro and Leon, two good riders?
TK: I don’t want to say about which series is a big mountain because both are difficult championships. Also this championship has many, many strong competitors there. This is also true. So also, we have not so much experience for WorldSBK. But BSB, they are working a long time for BSB so they have some know-how. But we don’t have the know-how. That’s why. So we take a lot of time to reaching that level. That’s my understanding.

Q: What’s on the rumour that you are waiting for Crutchlow before you re-sign Haslam? Is this all not the case? Why didn’t you sign Leon so far? You are happy with Haslam?
TK: Yeah, yeah. You can see for example the last race (in Aragon), he’s fighting with the – let’s say - second group. They beat them - with Toprak and many strong riders. We can’t say it’s bad - it’s good for us! Anyway, we are happy with this team, this package, with everything. I am very happy.

Q: Honda always goes racing to try to win, but also in the past always to train engineers - Honda is an engineering company. Is the way you’ve done it with the new people and new staff as important for Honda, for HRC, for the future as for this year?
TK: For example, this year without this Covid ‘disaster,’ we wanted to bring more Japanese engineers to here. It is a very good place to learn the many things for the development of the machines, the timescale, technical things, many things. But unfortunately this situation it’s quite difficult to bring the Japanese staff now. We have to bring the minimum number of people here. But original plan is we would like to bring more Japanese staff from Japan to here.

Q: Not just for better performance, also for their experience? It is the Honda way?
TK: Yes, for the future. Yes, this is the Honda way. Our target of the racing activities, one of the things is – okay - we need to show our product is good. But other hand, a very, very important thing is growing up the engineers. This is very important for the Honda way. It never changes, to the future.