After making an impromptu MotoGP debut at the 2019 final round in Valencia, Iker Lecuona’s rookie campaign has been stalled by the coronavirus crisis.

The new Red Bull KTM Tech3 rider opens up on what he’s up to while waiting for the season to start, his progression from an unknown youngster outside of the Grand Prix paddock to a MotoGP rider and having Fabio Quartararo as an ally.

Crash.net: You’re in Andorra at the moment right, I guess there are quite a few other bike racers isolating there as well?

Iker Lecuona: Yes, there are. Normally I go training with Xavi Fores from BSB but I’m also talking a lot with Fabio but there are quite a few other riders around. It’s actually difficult to go training outside because of the virus though.

Crash.net: We hear some bad things about Spain, are you and your family OK?

Iker Lecuona: Yes, for now apart from the fact that it’s so boring. Everything is OK, I’m training here from home and my family are in Valencia and seem to be fine so far. For now it’s fine so it’s good for doing interviews.

Crash.net: You’re recovering from surgery so this season delay might be good for you?

Iker Lecuona: Yes, I’m recovering fine and feel really good and have felt comfortable in the last days. At the moment I’m just concentrating on my training as usual, but I need to concentrate more on my shoulders and upper body because in Moto2 as a pretty tall rider I didn’t need that strength so much but now in MotoGP I need to work hard on that area because of the incredible braking forces. The braking in MotoGP was the thing which tired me out very early.

I’ve got my personal trainer here and he’s prepared a programme for that which I can do in my home here.

Crash.net: I’ve had a fair amount of contact with Spain but I’ve never met someone called Iker before, where does that name come from?

Iker Lecuona: It’s actually a name particular to the north of Spain, from the Basque country. It comes from Irun/San Sebastian because my father is from there. My brother and I are from Valencia but all my family are from up there.

Crash.net: Being based in Valencia, did you feel the need to move to Barcelona for your career?

Iker Lecuona: No, I never felt the need to do that. I spent my whole career in Valecia working with KSB sport and was probably working with them in Valencia for 10 years. It’s from there that I moved to the world championship. Now I have moved to Andorra and often go to Barcelona because there aren’t any training circuits here, but if I still lived in Valencia I would have everything I need there.

Crash.net: As far as I can see you’ve only had four years circuit racing and have already made the move to MotoGP.

Iker Lecuona: Yes, that’s right but I started on bikes when I was about six or seven. I basically took to them because I just love bikes but then moved on to working with KSB at about eight-years-old. KSB is a rider’s school there and they were happy to take me on particularly with some help from my dad. Before those four years I was racing in the Liga de Escuelas. It’s a kind of interschool competition and we would often race against the Lorenzo School in Majorca.

In 2015 I also raced in the National Supermotard championship and after winning there I got the chance to race a Supersport 600. That was my first time on a bigger machine and right from the start riding it in Valencia I seemed to go fast.

In the last two races in Moto2 that season the CarXpert team was having problems with their rider and I knew two members of that team who suggested my name. Kike Banuls, my teacher from KSB, contacted the team and managed to get me a chance there.

Crash.net: It’s incredible to get such an opportunity?

Iker Lecuona: I think those rides seemed to make a good impression, in Navarra I think I finished top eight and in Valencia I got to fifth and was fighting with Luca Marini for fourth and I think it was in that moment that my life changed and in 2016 I got to the world championship.

Crash.net: You also have a contract with Aki Ajo so you seem to be impressing the right people?

Iker Lecuona: I had talked with Aki and I think it was when I started improving in 2018 that we got together. I think my first podium in wet conditions in Valencia in 2018 encouraged him to contact my manager.

Crash.net: It’s interesting that your results seemed to improve when you moved to the KTM from the Kalex whereas for many other riders this has been the reverse?

Iker Lecuona: That’s true but I had a real problem with the Kalex. I’ve crashed quite a bit on both bikes but always with the Kalex I don’t know why and that destroys your confidence. I had a really big accident on the Kalex in Jerez 2017 and when you’re just 17 you don’t have the experience to put things into context. I could go really fast on the KTM, even in the wet but with the Kalex I just couldn’t trust it.

The minute I changed onto the KTM my laps probably improved by 0.7 seconds. For me the front end feeling of the KTM is really, really nice.

Crash.net: An Ajo contract is probably one of the best situations that a Moto2 rider can be in, would it not have been a good idea to continue with that rather than taking a risk in MotoGP in 2020?

Iker Lecuona: It’s true that it’s a risk and everyone is asking me this question. Also many people are saying that there are so many riders in Moto2 who do really well but never get to MotoGP, there are so many excellent riders there who might do a great job instead of me.

But I’m still just 20 and I’ve probably even got time to go back into Moto2 and then come back again, it’s such an incredible opportunity and which racer would say no? You just never know when you’ll get this kind of chance, particularly when you come from let’s say a normal family which doesn’t have a lot of money. For my family it’s been really difficult financially and when you get a thing like this, you’ve just got to take it.

Crash.net: So how did the Tech3 ride come about?

Iker Lecuona: Herve [Poncharal, team boss] had actually been in contact with my manager since 2017 but when I signed with Aki and joined the KTM family he could see that there was a way we could work together. He has also helped me in other ways as we went along and was generous enough to give me this opportunity.

Crash.net: So you’ve been in contact with Herve for some time?

Iker Lecuona: Yes, probably about two years, he is such a great contact to have.

Crash.net: He mentioned that he was particularly impressed by you race in Thailand and it was that which swayed his opinion?

Iker Lecuona: Yes, yes I remember that race. I felt that it would be difficult to fight for the podium with the KTM but I just gave it everything and honestly I may have pushed three or four riders wide but I could see the podium was there. When I finally arrived at the first group I knew that I wasn’t going to back down.

Crash.net: Whenever anyone describes you riding they always use the word ‘aggressive’…

Iker Lecuona: Yes, I know. It’s true that I’m just naturally that way and I can’t resist any gap. The way I move on the bike is also aggressive but in the end that’s just part of my style. This style realty seems to suit the KTM which is a bike that you can really fight with, you can’t use a smooth Kalex style on it.

Crash.net: So it’s safe to say that your style is more Marquez than Lorenzo?

Iker Lecuona: Yes, I would say so.

Crash.net: So I’m guessing that as an aspiring Spanish rider you had posters of Marc, Dani and Jorge on your wall?

Iker Lecuona: No, no, it was Valentino. It’s true that I was so impressed by Marc but I’ve always supported Valentino even though I’m Spanish.

Crash.net: And you’re also good friends with Fabio?

Iker Lecuona: Sure.

Crash.net: So I’m thinking that the way Fabio got to MotoGP where a relative unknown was given a chance helped with your career?

Iker Lecuona: For sure, during the last year I’ve been watching Fabio’s progress quite closely and hoping to learn from it. In Valencia he was very helpful and gave me so much help. He allowed me to follow him and also gave me a lot of advice about lines and braking.

Crash.net: He won’t be so generous when you start beating him Iker! Who will be your crew chief at Tech3?

Iker Lecuona: That’s Nico Goyon.

Crash.net: Also KTM have indicated that they might have to ration parts to teams according to performance, will you get the most up to date spec?

Iker Lecuona: Yes I’ll be getting the latest spec, and it’ll be the one with the latest frame. It’s really motivating to have the same bike as all the other KTM riders. I don’t think that I would do so well with last year’s bike but at the moment I’m pretty close in testing to both Brad and Miguel and am about 0.7s off Pol so things are going well.

Crash.net: Which areas of riding the KTM are you working on in particular?

Iker Lecuona: One of the biggest things I had to get used to is the carbon brakes but in general the braking for the KTM is really strong. Other areas I need to work on are corner speed and traction out of them.

When I follow a Yamaha or Suzuki, I can immediately see that they are really strong in corner speed so can also get the power down quickly on exit. I don’t have a lot of experience but I feel that these points will get me the most time.

Crash.net: How did you feel before your first MotoGP weekend?

Iker Lecuona: Whooah! Just so many nerves, but no matter how nervous I get I can usually sleep fine, often my manager has more difficulty sleeping than I do! I had so many nerves on the grid because I was sitting there with Valentino and Marc, all the top riders, so the feeling was so hard to manage.

Crash.net: How did you feel you did?

Iker Lecuona: Once I’d got myself together I managed to stabilise the gap to the second group but my big problem was a combination of the start, carbon discs and nerves. I went into the corner full gas and slammed on the brakes so ended up last but after a while I started to overtake people like Kallio, Lorenzo and Pirro so I started to get things together, overtaking people like that just felt crazy.

I also managed to stabilise the gap to the leading group and little by little improve my lap times. I crashed on some oil left by Petrucci but overall I felt really happy.

Crash.net: How much testing had you had since that race?

Iker Lecuona: Oh, a lot, in Valencia, twice in Jerez, six days in Malaysia and three days in Qatar so I have no complaints there.

Crash.net: So, what happens now with the chaos caused by the virus, some people have suggested racing behind closed doors or having a double race per meeting like in WorldSBK.

Iker Lecuona: I don’t know, with the closed doors idea, honestly I find the publicity and fan side of the racing a little difficult so that could be something for me. Maybe the two race idea with one on Saturday and one on Sunday would be OK but for me at the moment the situation in the world is a little crazy and we just need to keep calm and hope that it’s just one or two months before we can start.

Crash.net: As a race fan I’m finding the lack of racing a little hard to handle, I guess it’s even worse for you as a rider?

Iker Lecuona: Yes, it is! [Laughs]

Crash.net: Thanks for your time Iker and stay safe.

Iker Lecuona: Thanks, you too.

 

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