From "one of their worst tracks" to three top-six finishes: Honda turn their Argentina fortunes around

Tuesday, 25 October 2022 09:07 GMT

Honda’s results in 2022 marked a stark contrast from last year when they struggled to break into the top ten…

With the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship visiting the Circuito San Juan Villicum for the Motul Argentinean Round, there might have been some trepidation at Honda heading into the round. With two riders who had not been to the circuit before and a circuit where they struggled to crack the top ten in 2021, Team HRC managed to secure three-top six finishes throughout the round to move themselves above BMW in the Manufacturers’ Championship.

Things started strongly for Iker Lecuona in Free Practice 1 as he took sixth place in his first session at the circuit, as well as in Free Practice 2, finishing seventh in the combined classification. It was a trickier start to the weekend for Xavi Vierge with the Spanish rider taking 16th in FP1 before moving up the order in FP2 to take 13th; also securing 13th in the combined classification. During the second practice session, Team Manager Leon Camier spoke about Lecuona’s start to the weekend as well as how San Juan has “historically been one of the worst tracks for Honda”.

Things continued to look good for Honda on Saturday as Lecuona took fourth place in the Tissot Superpole session and finished there in Race 1, running in the podium places in the early stages of the race. Although he was unable to keep Alvaro Bautista ( Racing – Ducati) for long, Lecuona hailed Race 1 as “maybe better than Assen” when he took third place. Vierge kept moving up the order on Saturday as he too tenth in the Superpole session and ninth in Race 1. In Sunday’s Tissot Superpole Race, both Hondas were inside the top nine with Lecuona sixth and Vierge eighth, setting up Race 2 perfectly for the two Spanish rookies.

Race 2 was where the two Honda riders were on track together with Vierge in sixth and Lecuona in seventh at the end of 21 laps, separated by just two tenths of a second. It means Team HRC left Argentina with three top-six finishes to their name in 2022 and moved back above BMW into fourth place in the Manufacturers’ Championship. It marks a stark contrast to the 2021 Argentinean Round, where Honda took a best result of tenth place on three occasions: Leon Haslam in Race 1 and the Superpole Race and Bautista in Race 2.

Discussing Honda’s results across the Argentinean Round, and particularly his sixth place in Race 2, Vierge said: “It has been a really good weekend for us. We started in FP1 struggling a lot, I didn’t understand how to go fast in especially sectors three and four. The team did an amazing job. They helped me a lot to improve my feeling with the bike and I also understand how to go fast. Every time we went out, we improved a lot. After FP3, we made some changes on the bike that gives me the pace to be there. Like always, starting from the fourth row, it had been difficult to go forward in the race. The plan was to gain some positions in the Superpole Race to move up a row, and we did it. This helped us to fight in Race 2 to be closer to the front.”

Reflecting on Race 2, Lecuona said: “I’m both very frustrated and very happy. Frustrated because Race 2 was the first race where I couldn’t make a pass unless the rider ahead had a problem. It’s true that I made a bad start to the race, and I was able to pass Bassani because he had some problems through a corner when Baz crashed out. But once I closed the gap to Xavi, I couldn’t do anything, no “clean” overtaking. Maybe with a rider who was not my teammate I would have taken more “risks” but, in this case, I thought it was better to try to do it safely but honestly it was impossible. In the middle of the race, I decided to let the tyres “rest” a bit because the front was starting to feel a bit greasy and then, five laps before the end, I pushed again and got really close to Xavi, feeling I had something more. I was losing along the straight and wanted to overtake him and try and fight with Rinaldi as well. So, that was the frustrating part, but, if I consider the weekend overall, with P4 in Superpole and Race 1 and another close-run P6 in the Superpole race, it hasn’t been bad. So thanks to the team and now it’s time to go back home, relax, recharge and focus on preparing for Indonesia.”

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