The news that Honda would be building a production racer to compete in MotoGP aroused much excitement among fans. There was much speculation over just how quick it would be, and whether it would be possible for a talented rider to beat the satellite bikes on some tracks.
Expectations received a boost when former world champion Casey Stoner tested the RCV1000R, praising its performance. Speculation reached fever pitch when HRC vice president Shuhei Nakamoto told the press at the launch of the bike that the RCV1000R was just 0.3 seconds a lap slower than the factory RC213V in the hands of a test rider.
Was that in the hands of Casey Stoner, the press asked? Nakamoto was deliberately vague. “Casey Stoner is a Honda test rider,” he said cryptically.
Once the bike hit the track in the hands of active MotoGP riders Nicky Hayden, Hiroshi Aoyama, and Scott Redding at the Valencia test, it became apparent that the bike was a long way off the pace. At Sepang in February, the situation was the same.
Nakamoto clarified his earlier statements: no, the times originally quoted were not set by Casey Stoner, who had only done a handful of laps in tricky conditions on the bike.
They had been set by one of Honda’s test riders. And yes, the biggest problem was the straights, as times at Sepang demonstrated. Test riders were losing around half a second along the two long straights at Sepang, Nakamoto said.
In the hands of active MotoGP riders, the gap was around 2 seconds at the Sepang tests. Nicky Hayden – of whom much had been expected, not least by himself – had made significant improvements, especially on corner entry.
Turning in and braking was much improved, something which did not come as a surprise after the American’s time on the Ducati. Once the bikes arrived at Qatar, the Honda made another step forward, Hayden cutting the deficit to 1.4 seconds from the fastest man Aleix Espargaro.
By the time the race rolled around, the Hondas had cut the deficit again. Comparing fastest laps of the race, Scott Redding set the quickest lap for production Honda rider, lapping just 0.841 slower than his teammate Alvaro Bautista, who set the quickest lap of the race.
But consistency proved to be the undoing of the Hondas, Scott Redding and Nicky Hayden crossing the line just 0.035 seconds apart, but over 32 seconds down on the winner, Marc Marquez. Where the difference between the fastest and slowest flying laps of Redding and Hayden was nearly 2.4 seconds, for the front runners, that difference was just over a second.
The difference in performance and the big gap to the front has been cause for much speculation. Where are the Honda production racers losing out to the Factory Option bikes? Is it purely top speed, or is it a combination of speed and acceleration? And where does that lack of speed and acceleration come from?