Early May: IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia conducted testing at the Almeria circuit in Spain, on conclusion of the Spain Grand Prix. Multiple Moto2 teams participated with varying benefits, but IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia gathered precious machine setting data, and lap times on par with the others. Armed with a new confidence, the team moved to Le Mans for Round 4, France.
Mid-May weather in Loire, France is typically unstable, punishing teams racing in the Grand Prix of France with low temperatures and cold rain. The first day, Friday of race week this year was sunny, but conditions deteriorated day by day. Yuki Takahashi was 2.3 seconds from the lead on Friday, on a machine that handled like it was back a square one, mainly due to weather conditions differing from the testing at the Almeria circuit.
"We thought we had found a breakthrough," commented a disappointed Takahashi.
Secondary cornering was the major problem, as traction, and thus acceleration, out of a corner was lacking.
The skies were foreboding Saturday morning, and soon after heats began at 3pm, it rained. Despite the team's efforts in drastically changing the machine set up from Friday, the changes in track conditions meant the team faced a tough race day without sufficient time to test those changes.
Sunday's 26 lap race started under dry conditions, but as expected deteriorated to the point where rain caused a red flag on lap 22. Takahashi finished 18th in a difficult race riddled with fallen riders. Although not within the points, the team gained insights into solving their current problems.
Team Manager Tadayuki Okada commented on the disappointing, yet fruitful Round 4: "The gap between where we want to go, and what the rider wants is definitely closing. It's a good sign looking forward."
"We have been using a low rear set-up, but if we can improve traction out of the corners by raising the rear, we can expect better times," continued Takahashi. "Fixing our traction problems is paramount for the Italian Grand Prix, because of the course layout. Although the results were disappointing, the experience from Round 4 and the Almeria tests provided us, and our rider, with a clear direction for the future. As the new frame will probably be ready in time, we should be more competitive in the next round.
The new frame arrived on time for Round 5, Italy. The cause of the traction problems out of the corners was clarified.
"Rear rigidity and grip has definitely improved. The data shows us the rear is performing solidly, and the feeling of grip is there. But, secondary cornering still needs to be improved leading us to the conclusion that the cause is in the front end," Takahashi looks back at Friday's practice session.
With no overnight solution in sight, the team spent Saturday exploring improvements that could be made. Sunday's race was a hard battle, ending in a 24th place. Lap times were 2 seconds slower per lap than the top group.
"We really let Takahashi down this race," Takahashi commented. "Takahashi's style is to enter the corners without sliding the rear, but the mainstream style now is the exact opposite. Maybe we should be developing the machine in that direction. We can then move the riding position a bit forward and make minor changes, but we urgently need to find a solution to the fundamental problem that we lack rear grip. No matter how radically we set up the machine during race week, if there aren't any changes in the data then there is not much we can do on site. We, as a team, have to reconsider how to solve our problems and develop the machine rapidly."
The Catalan Grand Prix marks exactly one-third of the racing season. IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia introduced major component changes here. With the new-specification machine Takahashi finished Day one in 25th. Although the results were not stunning on paper, lap times were closer with the top, and results of changes to the machine were now quantifiable. In qualifying on Saturday, Takahashi finished 22nd, 1.5 seconds behind the leader, but less than 1 second from second place.
Enthusiasm could be felt again in Takahashi's voice: "I'm disappointed we couldn't improve our position by much, but considering we have only tested the new spec machine for four session, our times are definitely improving. Everything is positive, now that we can set up the machine knowing what changes will bring what changes. I don't think tomorrow will bring vastly improved results, but we can move forward now with confidence."
Weather conditions for the June 16 race were the hottest all season, with track temperatures reaching 51℃. Despite many riders crashing, Takahashi finished the difficult race in 20th position. Avoiding a pile-up in the opening lap costed Takahashi valuable places, he gradually climbed through the field, and battled with the leaders. The results were still poor considering Takahashi's potential, but were a vast improvement on the troublesome first five rounds.
"We now have a feel for how much our lap times can improve if we fix our current problems, and how we can race with the leading group by improving our times by how many seconds. We didn't get the results we wanted again, but we view the experience positively. Since yesterday's qualifying round we changed the amount of trail for this morning's warming up laps, and identified the problems that resulted. Speaking to the team we decided to change the settings back and working out a solution for the next round, rather than gambling in the finals. Each time we race, we're making improvements," Okada comments.
But for a team racing to win, 20th place is not a satisfying result.
"We ended up finishing in the usual position. We'll still be in the same position if we don't fix the problems we've identified," Okada showed his dissatisfaction with the results. "We did however identify the direction for machine setting. We can now share and provide more coherent setting directions with the rider thanks to his feedback. Conditions in Assen, the next race, will be different again, but we're getting a better idea of which direction to develop through our experiences this race."
The first half of the 2013 season has proved to be a time of foundation-building for the IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia's first season. The major changes to the machine in Round 6 have set the stage for the mid-season battle. The team, under Okada's leadership, are becoming united, and are making positive steps forward with each race.