WorldSBK Catalunya: Tyre woes frustrate Lecuona’s podium charge

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Picture: GeeBee Images

Honda’s Iker Lecuona stunned during his home WorldSBK visit to Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya last weekend.

Lecuona tests a bit at his team’s local circuit, and as an ex-MotoGP runner he has been around the 4.657km long Montmeló track regularly, to say the least. But few were ready for quite how fast he was on Friday, half a second ahead of everyone else. Even fewer were ready for his narrow Superpole win on Saturday.

The man himself could have done without dropping back to sixth on Saturday, after the long second race but he knows why it happened. And why it had happened before. We all thought it was about tyre consumption, and he agrees.

“Yeah, just the tyre,” Lecuona admitted in the post race debriefs. “For me, the problem with the Honda is always the same. Every race we struggle with the grip. Every race we struggle the last three/ four laps. Another time, we fight for the podium and I struggled the last four or five laps. So, I’m very frustrated.

“I’m not happy with my race. I’m happy until mid-race that I worked good, had a good plan with the electronics to try to save the tyre. Also, the throttle management. Everything. Everything I can do on the bike, I tried to do it to save the tyre. But, I go with the hard tyre and I don’t know…. I need a strong tyre. After five laps to the end, I lose everything. Zero grip. I lose the front. When Jonny [Rea] overtook me, I cannot do nothing.”

Lecuona was one of the very few to opt for an SC0, but he rejects the idea it was a mistake. “No - for me, if I check the race of my teammate, I chose good,” he affirmed. “Friday I did the race distance with this tyre, so I know I can work good with this tyre, with a good pace to fight to be close to the podium. I know Alvaro [Bautista] has the step. You need to check the lap time from yesterday in FP2, but I feel confident to stay with Johnny. It’s like this until lap 14 that he overtook me and he goes seven tenths faster in two laps. I don’t have tyre, and he has tyre. He with the 800 option and I go with the SC0. For me, it’s the same. Always we struggle with the rear in the end. I struggle with the rear in the end. I’m frustrated. I am not happy. We need to solve this problem because this weekend it’s not like Assen. In Assen, I felt strong. When I finished in the podium, it’s because two top riders crashed in front of me. This time no. This time I recovered the gap to Toprak [Razgatlioglu] step-by-step. I don’t push the tyre. I try to save the tyre until the end.”

Intriguingly, even into the third year of the current Honda, and more than half a rookie season done for both riders, Lecuona was polite but blunt when he was asked if this tyre problem was the last step that is needed with this bike?

“No. It’s the first step,” he said. “In this track, why? I don’t know. The bike works really good. Just is two and a half, three tenths from the lap record in the Superpole, and I had a mistake in corner nine. So, almost I had one tenth more just in sector three. So, the bike works good.

“The problem is that the bike destroys the tyres. Why? I don’t know. We spin more, we force more the front, but we destroy the tyre. This is the reality for us and this is why I struggled the last laps during the last races.”

So is there an HRC plan?
“Yeah, of course,” he confirmed. “I need to wait until next year, but when I’m a rookie and I fight for the podium like this weekend and I feel fast alone, I manage well, I lose some positions on the first lap on the start. But, I recovered step-by-step. I’m frustrated. I don’t care about what Leon [Camier] thinks or Honda thinks. I feel that I know Honda works really hard, very hard, also Leon on his side, to improve the bike, to give me this bike to have this performance this year. But the problem is that I want the bike now. I know I can’t have this bike, but it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating when you feel fast and you cannot do it.”

Back to happier thoughts for Lecuona, and his landmark Superpole win. What did it mean, personally, that he scored the first pole position for Honda in WorldSBK for six years, and the first double across the two world championships since 2011?

“For me, for sure it’s a pressure to have this potential, but also for Honda it’s important,” he said. “Marc Marquez in Japan made a pole position, and here. For sure, it’s important to have that. It shows everybody that I have the speed and all Honda has the speed. We need time to arrive. I’m sure we will arrive, but sometimes like today I’m frustrated because I want a better bike now. I know I can’t, but I want.”

Picture: GeeBee Images
Picture: GeeBee Images