Former world champion Jorge Lorenzo left the Italian Grand Prix of Mugello and flew to Japan. While there he will have meetings with HRC technicians and brass where they will try, first-hand, to design a fuel tank and tail section that will allow the Spanish rider to adapt his 250-ish riding style, with sweeping arcs and on the very edge cornering, to the 2019 RC213V which he says he needs in order to turn his thus-far near disastrous 2019 MotoGP season around.
For Lorenzo, the upside is that this is HRC/Honda–the “because we can” company. Oval piston streetbike? Done it. Win the MotoGP title one season on a 500cc two-stroke then the next on a V5 four-stroke MotoGP racer? Done. Beat Kenny Roberts for the world championship (1983) and then debut a new bike in 1984 where the exhaust and fuel tank are reversed? Done, by Honda, (but without much success). In short, Honda, when they want to, can be incredibly enthusiastic about exploring strange new worlds and fixing new to them if not non-existent problems.
Of course, the elephant in the room for the entirety of Lorenzo’s HRC visit is this: his teammate, Marc Marquez, after six races in 2019, has won three of them. The factory Honda RCV213 is clearly very good and profoundly capable. I’d bet money that Marquez could swap bikes–on the grid– with Lorenzo on any given Sunday and put Lorenzo’s bike on the podium.
It’s still early days for Lorenzo at Honda. Assuredly Honda is fully willing to move some footpegs around, change clip-on angle, make the fuel tank cover into something he can brace his inner-thigh against mid-corner and whatever else Lorenzo needs or thinks he needs. Lorenzo brings an impressive resume with him to Honda, multiple world championship and all, so it’s not as if they have a new rider grasping at straws in the dark. However, this is not the first motorcycle that Lorenzo has struggled to find a competitive edge on, at all. In fact this is the third one in a row.
In all probability what comes next might be the fork in the road for Lorenzo at Honda. If the struggling continues, at some point HRC is probably going to tell him they have made a good faith effort to try and adapt the motorcycle to his peculiar if not out-dated riding style and he needs to find some kind of configuration of chassis, fuel tank and tail section in the garage that will work. Keep in mind Honda began this journey with the Spaniard last year at Valencia and started making one-off parts to help Lorenzo then–more than six months ago. In HRC-time that’s probably half a dozen new frames, and at least as many different sets of controls, all trying to get Lorenzo in podium-range. Aside from the engine, there’s a gigantic pile of chassis parts and frames–already–for him to find a solution from.
Ask yourself this: what would Muzzy do? Robert “Rob” Muzzy ran a successful Superbike team here in the USA for 20 years, and built bikes that won the Daytona 200, the Suzuka 8 Hours and the WSBK title. He worked with a couple dozen riders in that period and actually was a rider in his youth. In all probability, at this point, Muzzy would be sitting Lorenzo down and explaining to him that they have built him a half-dozen frames and numerous sets of seats, tank pads and footpeg mounts, and starting now “You need to find a way to be faster with what we have built for you.” He’d also probably point out that the precise, fluid and perfect-lines riding style that an ex-250 rider brings to MotoGP is an out-dated if not antiquated method of riding a MotoGP bike in 2019 and it’s really not the bike that needs to change, it’s the rider.
Lets keep an optimistic outlook and say that Honda is able to engineer a motorcycle that Lorenzo can utilize with even his very unique riding style and he is able to return to the top of the podium. It would be a feat lost on no one–especially the deeply self-absorbed Lorenzo.