In 1989, Álex Crivillé won the 125cc World Championship on a JJ Cobas with Repsol support. Ramon Forcada enjoyed his rookie season as part of that team, and 30 years later remains in MotoGP and has experienced first-hand the evolution of the competition.
Currently the chief mechanic for Franco Morbidelli, he has worked with riders such as Crivillé, Sito Pons, Alberto Puig, John Kocinski, Alex Barros and Jorge Lorenzo.
You came into the World Championship in the 1980s. What do you remember about that time and your first races at Grand Prix level?
“My arrival came as a result of the great season that Álex Crivillé was having. They started a new project with JJ Cobas after leaving Derbi and began to win races, so they saw the possibility of winning the World Championship. I came in to work on the test bench with the engines. I remember that my arrival was thanks to Repsol, who got onboard as a sponsor and provided the necessary funds to do that work.”
What did it mean for you to reach the World Championship in 1989 and win the title that same year with Crivillé?
“Winning the title was amazing. That first year I was working with Álex’s engines, and I got to watch things work well and Álex win the title that wasn’t planned when he was hired by JJ Cobas.”
Several of you shared a mentor, in engineer Antonio Cobas. What do you think remains from those years?
“Cobas defined an era in the Motorcycle World Championship. He had a very calm and open character. He told you exactly what he thought and never set himself limits. He always said that “you will never know how something works until you’ve tried it. However far-fetched the project, what you have to do is try it.” The chassis we use now are the result of his ideas and it’s a pity he left us so soon. With the changes that the World Championship is going through, with a class like Moto2 with a single engine for all teams, I am convinced that if Antonio were there, there would be a Cobas in the Moto2 World Championship.”
Beyond the breakthrough in electronics, where has the greatest evolution come?
“Everything has evolved. The tyres have changed a lot, the power has increased under control, and the aerodynamics haven’t stopped evolving. The geometry is what I think has varied least, because the bike moves through a series of forces that control it and make it work, and these have stayed the same – the weight is similar and there are still two wheels, the same lean for corners, etc. As for the World Championship, it has become very professional; obviously many things have changed and it has taken a step forward – for better or for worse – but that’s the price that must be paid to have a World Championship like it is now.”
How do you remember life in the paddock in the 1980s and 1990s?
“The paddock has changed a lot. Before it was like a family: There were no such large structures and all the teams travelled by truck or coach. In our case, it was a “fifth hand” coach with a camping tent. There was camaraderie and no hurry to finish. I remember that one of the big differences was that after practice, the teams talked and even ate together – not in hospitality areas, but in the box itself, with other people. The way the bikes were, you knew that every day you would finish later than midnight. If you had a crash or a problem, it was not out of the ordinary to carry on working until practice the next day.”
Do teams spend more or fewer hours working now?
“Now they spend many hours working at the circuit. There are still days when you spend between 14 and 16 hours in the box. Everything has been professionalised, including the operation inside the garage. When practice is finished you try to give the mechanics a list of everything that needs to be done, to start as soon as possible. Before it was a little more relaxed.”
30 years ago, after practice, the teams talked and even ate together – not in hospitality areas, but in the box itself.”
You have worked with 125cc, 250cc, 500cc, 990cc, 800cc and 1000cc. Which do you prefer?
“Each class has something good and something bad about it. The bike that I remember most fondly is the Honda NSR 500. Then there was the 990cc, the first MotoGP bike, that was a five-cylinder four-stroke. It was a simply spectacular engine: Very simple, with a brilliant construction, without much technology. It was a classic engine that worked very well.”
Two-strokes or four-strokes?
“For me it’s definitely two-strokes, because for a mechanic it’s a different world. You had many more variables; Nobody used an engine that wasn’t modified. Everyone made their changes; Sometimes you gained power and sometimes you lost it, but you always worked on it. Nowadays nobody touches the engines – among other things, because it is forbidden. The four-stroke bikes have a lot of setup work – either electronic or mechanic – but there is little manual work. There are few things you can do with your hands. When we worked with two-strokes, even if it was a factory bike, everyone did their little tricks. Every day you had to lift seats, look at the pistons, etc.”
You have also got to know many riders. What do you think is the most important thing in the technician-rider relationship?
“The important thing in the technician-rider relationship is, above all, trust on a technical level. There is nothing better for a rider than to be able to explain to his technician what is happening and believing that he will solve it. For the technician it’s the same: If you know that the rider can explain to you what he really felt on the bike and is clear about what he needs to go fast, it helps you to immediately take the right path. Mutual trust is important.”
What memories come to mind of your time on the Repsol Honda Team with Alex Barros?
“When Barros was on the team, the results never really came. He had been through an operation in the winter, we missed the entire preseason, and when the season started the results were not as expected. Above all, what I remember best is the relationship between the team. I was only there for a year, but we already knew each other, since we had had Repsol as a second sponsor on other teams, and I still have that great relationship with many people from the team. It’s been 15 years and it still endures.”
The World Championship has changed a lot. What do you miss and what is there now that you wish you had when starting out?
“I miss many things. The technical plan and the manual side of things. The things you did, that you could invent and test, which is now impossible because of how the bike works. When I started out, I would have liked to have been able to invent more things, because the problem with the test benches and when you develop a bike is that you break a lot of things – because not everything works. For small teams, like JJ Cobas when I started out, was difficult. It was done and done well because we won the World Championship, but you always had to avoid the risk of an engine exploding, since that was a big problem for the team. I would also have liked to have the ease of travel that there is now. When I started, you had to use a van or car, and that meant spending a lot of time away from home, crossing borders, etc. Now it is easier to return home.”