"It’s possible! What better place to do it than at home?" Honda in podium contention at Aragon?

Friday, 22 September 2023 14:21 GMT

A mightily positive Day 1 for the factory Honda squad at Aragon as they surge to the top positions but can they stay strong when racing ignites

The Tissot Aragon Round is well underway for the 2023 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Champion at the MotorLand Aragon venue near Alcaniz, Spain. Hosting a test just three weeks ago, plenty of riders and teams had a good base to work from, with Team HRC’s riders of Iker Lecuona and Xavi Vierge being two of stand-out performers on Friday. Both were up inside the top six in FP1, before finishing the day in fifth and eighth overall, a solid effort at their second home event of the year.

FP1 saw both riders on track for many laps, with Vierge setting 17 – the joint-highest of anyone inside the top six – and Lecuona setting 16. Both had a different chassis; Lecuona on the newer one with less bracing, to improve turning, whilst Vierge stayed with the old one, not feeling much difference. It was the same for the last round at Magny-Cours but with the test at Aragon in August bringing positivity, both were on the pace from the start. In FP2, as times improved once more, the Hondas slipped back slightly as they didn’t improve their lap times but likewise found more time with regards to a solid race pace, concluding the day with 77 laps between them and valuable data for the races.

LECUONA SURPRISES HIMSELF? From no podium chance to a flicker of hope

Speaking about the first day of action, Iker Lecuona was happy with the progress and the feeling on Friday: “Overall, I’m quite happy. Perhaps the outright lap time isn’t the best but the pace is really good. We worked on race pace, I was alone, fast and consistent. We can manage the tyre life well which is a positive point for us. This morning in P2, but the positive is the race pace. I had a small crash at the end of FP2 at Turn 14, just trying the new development front tyre which I didn’t like. Two laps before, I saved a similar moment. I know why I crash but we need to check the data and change the priority now for the rest of the weekend.”

After initially writing off a podium threat on WorldSBK’s media day on Thursday, Lecuona backtracked, saying: “Right now, it’s possible! The pace was strong alone and very similar to the top riders, but it is also the first day, cold and windy with a dirty track. The guys went faster in the afternoon but we struggled with the higher temperature, so we need to wait and work in FP3 and check Superpole; maybe in the opening laps of the race, we can stay with the front group or the second group to take P5. We need to wait until tomorrow as the track improves run-by-run.”

VIERGE VALIANT FOR P8: “The pace is good… we can get good results!”

Those sentiments were echoed by the #97 of Vierge, who is top Honda in the Championship in P10: “It has been a solid first day, it’s been a long time since we started good on Friday, so it’s so positive. The test at Aragon has helped but as we said before, this kind of layout adapts much better to our bike. We’re happy with the first day; our pace is not so bad and of course, we need to work for tomorrow because I think we can improve a little bit more but we are going in the right direction. Iker is going so fast, so we have good data to analyse, which will help us for tomorrow. The goal is to do a good job and to come back to the good positions; what better place to do it than at home? We’re looking forward to the weekend, the pace is good and I think we can get good results.”

CAMIER ON 2024: “Our intention is to continue the same”

Team manager Leon Camier commented on the good first day from pitlane in FP1: “This track, I think, is a bit of a better circuit for us in general. We’ve had some better results here in the past and it seems to suit our package at the moment. The last few races, to be honest, have not been the best. They’ve been at circuits we expected to struggle at a little bit more but they’ve been back to back. It looked like poor performance for a bit. Hopefully, this weekend, we can have a solid weekend and it’ll be nice for the whole team to have slightly better results.”

Talking about the difference in the chassis, Camier explained: “The only updates are really on stiffness. We reduced it in a couple of areas to try and get a little bit more turning from the bike. This is something that Iker felt a little benefit from and for Xavi, there was no real benefit. Iker’s using the chassis, as he was at Magny-Cours and Xavi’s still on the old chassis. For us, it works quite well, as we see more of a direct comparison between the two. We tested the chassis here at the test a few weeks back and it was a slight positive for Iker.”

With attention turning to 2024, Camier couldn’t give much away, saying: “Our intention is to continue the same and I hope we will have an announcement soon.” Honda’s 2024 line-up has been one of the hot topics, with it seemingly relying on movements in MotoGP™ to determine who will be there. Iker Lecuona confirmed on Thursday at Aragon that the goal is to stay with Honda, although the Championship is yet to be defined.

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