Former GP racer Lucio Cecchinello is a Honda man through and through. Team owner and principal at LCR Honda (the ‘LCR’ standing for Lucio Cecchinello Racing), Cecchinello started his racing career on a Honda NS125R, and worked his way up to the GP ranks, where he spent most of his time on a Honda RS125 (he finished his career on an Aprilia though). In 1996, Cecchinello started LCR, making him both the team’s rider and its principal director, an absolute rarity in the paddock.
LCR Honda slowly grew from the 125 & 250 Championships into the premier class of the sport: MotoGP. Campaigning a number of top riders, LCR Honda has seen Casey Stoner, Randy de Puniet, Alex de Angelis, Nobby Ueda, Toni Elias & Carlos Checa all ride the team’s bikes at some point in their careers. This year LCR Honda has Moto2 Champion Stefan Bradl in the saddle, and the team hopes the German rider will be just as impressive on the big bikes as he was with the 600’s.
Taking some time to talk to HRC’s PR machine, Cecchinello shares his unique perspective on having both a racing and managing career. As a satellite team owner, Cecchinello’s opinions about CRTs from a business perspective are especially intriguing, as he forecasts trouble for CRT teams trying to bring in big-name sponsors.
Perhaps most significant are his comments regarding Moto2 though, as Cecchinello believes that the middle class of GP racing should go to a 500cc two-cylinder format, which would allow manufacturers to race in all three class with the same cylinder and head designs. The interview is a pretty good read for any MotoGP fan, check it out after the jump.
When you were racing you were more than just a rider…
I started racing quite late because my parents wanted me to finish high school. When I won the European Championship in 1995 I was already 26, so when I returned to Grands Prix the following year I realised I was already quite old! So I thought quite deeply and decided it was best to invest the money I had won in establishing my own team.
The other reason I made my own team was because I thought that the Grand Prix paddock is a fantastic place, a wonderful environment, and I didn’t want to leave it, so I thought the best way to stay here was to establish my own team. I was already looking ahead.
Was it difficult being a rider/manager?
I am not ashamed to say I recognized that during my career I raced riders who had much more ability and talent, so I tried to compensate for this with dedication, with work, with application, and with training. Because I started so late I was already 30 years old when I started to be really competitive in GPs. At that age your mind changes. Let’s say that your approach to risk is a little different – that’s just a normal human process. And at the same time I was also managing my own team, so I had to take care of a lot of other things apart from riding, which definitely absorbed a lot of my mental energy. So maybe I could have won more races if I hadn’t had to think of so many other things. But anyway, I did my best.
What’s it like working with Stefan Bradl?
It’s difficult to fully judge someone after such a short time. Also I know that when you start a new project with a new rider it’s always very exciting, like a honeymoon! So at the moment we are on honeymoon and it’s fantastic, everything is really cool, really fine. But honestly, I am surprised to work with such a young rider with such a high level of intelligence and maturity. Also, he’s a really nice guy.
Would you say he is a thinking rider?
Yes. So far in his career he has already shown that he is a very consistent rider. He is the kind of rider who has a very clever approach – he learns step by step, trying to reach the limit of the bike by first understanding how the bike works and how it reacts. So he is taking his time to adapt to MotoGP but the potential is definitely there.
LCR had a very tough 2011…
Yes, last year was way off our target and expectations. The team was the same as before, the bike was even better than before and Toni [Elias] joined the team as Moto2 World Champion and already with some great results in MotoGP. We think that the problems were due to his weight and his riding style – he didn’t put enough heat into the tires.
Do you still miss riding?
Yes, absolutely, I still miss riding. You have different ages in life. At first you play with toys, then maybe you discover the joy of doing a sport, and then if you are really lucky and you have enough skill you go into another age when your sport becomes your work. This is fantastic, but it’s not forever. Now I am in another age in which jumping on a bike, just to have the feeling, the adrenaline, the emotion, is still fantastic. But because I can’t see any personal goal in riding a bike I prefer to stay away. After I stopped racing I did ride a few times but I suffered a lot from this because it was a deep, strong emotion. Let’s say it’s like making love with the love of your life, with a woman who you still love but with whom you know there is no future. It’s too dramatic because it’s something you can’t really have.
When did you last ride a race bike?
It was at the end of 2004 when I tested our 125 and 250. I’ve never ridden our MotoGP bike. Of course I’m curious, I’d love to ride a MotoGP but I would like to do it in a proper way, not just a few laps because that way you understand nothing. I either do things properly or not at all. Maybe one day I will ride a MotoGP bike but not now because I have other priorities.
Tell us about your time as a race mechanic…
My father allowed me to discover the world of motorcycles. He loved old bikes, he had a great collection, maybe 300 bikes, especially small machines like a Garelli Mosquito, some Moto Guzzis and Lambrettas. When I discovered bikes I really loved the technology and I wanted to be more involved. I love tuning bikes, I love restoring bikes, I like to work with my hands. My father taught me how to use the tools, then I met some racers and I asked if I could work for them, free of charge. I started working with a couple of Italian riders during high school holidays, then with Team Italia. First I cleaned the bikes and the workshop and then I helped maintain the bikes. In 1987 and 1988, just before I started racing, I did a few races working with Corrado Catalano, also with Alessandro Gramigni and one race with Loris Capirossi when he was doing the European Championship.
What’s your best racing memory?
The first victory is always something that gives you a very strong emotion. That was Jarama in 1998, when I beat Marco Melandri. Also, my first race in 1993 and my first points at Hockenheim in 1994. But after Jarama, the biggest emotion was winning at Mugello in 2003. This was the second track I visited when I first started in sport production. I will always remember arriving at Mugello – such a great place, such a huge, brilliant track.
Your era in 125s was an era of many great battles…
Yes, there were many strong riders in that period and many experienced riders like [Kazuto] Sakata, Ueda, [Dirk] Raudies, [Jorge] Martinez. For me it was really tough to try to beat them. I was always trying to make up for my lack of talent, but finally at 33-years-old I can say that I beat Stoner, Dani Pedrosa and so on! I have a special photo of that race – it’s me in front of Stoner, Pedrosa, De Angelis and [Andrea] Dovizioso. It’s fantastic because it says a lot – the old generation with the new generation pushing from behind. After that I started getting beaten by my teammate – Casey – and I realised it was time to retire.
What’s your best memory as a team owner?
The big emotion was getting pole position at our very first MotoGP race, at Qatar in 2006 [with Casey Stoner –Ed.] . We were a new team with a new rider and a new bike and – bang! -– pole position! I was in heaven! I touched the sky, that was huge, fantastic!
Do you remember bringing Stoner to GPs in 2002?
Or main sponsor Oxydo Safilo wanted to participate in 250s as well as 125s, so I spoke to Dorna and IRTA, asking them if there was a young rider with some skill who deserved a ride. Then I talked with Alberto Puig who told me there was this young kid, only 16. So we organised a test at Jerez. Casey was immediately really fast, just one second behind Melandri on the factory Aprilia 250. Hmm, we realised he had some potential! The same again when he first tried the Honda RC211V. He was immediately fast. That was confirmation that he has a very special talent.
Many teams are running CRT bikes this year – why did you decide to continue with prototype machines?
Every team has its own history. Our story with our partners is that we are growing our relationship with them by being involved with Honda, using a prototype machine. Many of our sponsors are medium-sized companies who manufacture accessories – Rizoma, Arrow, Givi – and also bigger companies like Elf. They all support LCR because we are strongly involved with Honda. For example, Rizoma make the handlebars and footrests for our bike, and Givi like to support us because this gives them a strong relationship with Honda dealers. For sure, if we didn’t have prototype machines then Elf would be the first company to say that they are not interested to help us. All these companies want to be involved with top technology to help them sell their products.
Do you think CRT is the future?
The reality is that motorsport is going through a difficult phase. First, the tobacco companies withdrew, and they had invested a lot of money in this sport. Then we had to face the global economic crisis which has reduced company profits, which of course has reduced sponsorship budgets. In this environment I think the sport has maybe reacted too quickly, changing too many rules. I believe that when times are hard you need to stop and take time to think what you need to do. It would not be good for our sport to lose the manufacturers from MotoGP, so I hope that Dorna, the MSMA and the FIM can develop technical rules that will keep the manufacturers interested. I think maybe we have to focus technical development towards the end user, to the people who buy bikes for the street. We need to create a new vision, creating technical rules that can help the manufacturers to market motorcycles for the street.
In general MotoGP is very successful. Worldwide interest is still growing, South East Asia has huge potential, the TV networks are still interested, we have many new circuits that want to host MotoGP races, from South America to India to Russia. I think Dorna do a very good job with the television.
What do you think of the RC213V?
For me, it’s a work of art. The RC213V is the best bike I’ve ever seen because it’s such a concentration of hi-tech. The latest engine management software is just incredible. It’s a fantastic bike.
How do you see the Moto2 class developing?
I think we are in transitional moment – I don’t think Moto2 needs to be 600cc forever. I also think it would be good not to have a mono-engine formula – even if the current supplier is Honda – because it’s not good to kick out the interest of the other manufacturers. So, firstly, I would like Moto2 become a multi-engine class in the future and, secondly, I’d like to see Moto2 become a category for twin-cylinder 500 four-strokes. This would make it easier for the manufacturers to develop their engines because the cylinder and cylinder head could be the same for all three classes – four-cylinder 1000s, 500 twins and 250 singles. And then I would like to see companies selling 500 twin streetbikes at a good price, because at the moment the European market is shrinking because many people cannot afford to buy bikes, even the current 600s. I would be good to attract some new manufacturers, maybe KTM could build a 500 twin, Aprilia too.
Source: HRC; Photo: © 2011 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved