With preparations well underway for the return of racing now imminent in many top categories, teams have been having to deal with the implementation of new operating procedures, in order to comply with various new diktats from governments and regulatory bodies.
MotoGP is back on track in July, with the season due to resume in Jerez. In the build-up to first race, Petronas Sepang Racing Team interviewed its team director, Johan Stigefelt, to find out how the team has been operating in recent weeks, about reaction to the new 2020 MotoGP calendar and the challenges the team will face racing in this ‘new normal’.
What’s your reaction to the new 2020 calendar?
“I think the calendar is more or less the maximum that we can do in this short time. Starting in the middle of July and doing 13 European GPs with many double-headers, sometimes triple-headers, will be very demanding for everyone. It’s definitely going to be tough but we will do it, we are all in the same boat and we’ll be doing the best we can. If we have three overseas rounds on top of this it will be a very intense end to the year, but we want to support the championship as much as we can. Of course, if the final race of the year were in Malaysia it would be an amazing reward for everyone here. We would love to round out the year at the team’s home GP. Even if it were not the last race, just on the calendar for this year, it would be very exciting to go home to our fans and title sponsor in Malaysia.”
How has the relationship with Dorna, IRTA and the other teams been?
“The relationship with Dorna and IRTA is great! Our team principal, Razlan Razali, and myself have been in constant contact with Dorna and IRTA, and we’ve also been discussing things with other teams. It’s difficult because everybody is in different situations – some teams are bigger and some smaller – but the support from Dorna and IRTA has been great. Without it, I don’t think it would have been possible to get through this without making drastic changes, which isn’t something anybody wants to do. Thanks to them we have come through this in a good way. It’s not been the best scenario but we’ve managed it and I’m very happy with the support we had.”
How does the team feel about the new attendance restrictions?
“It’s very important to follow the restrictions because they are there for a good reason. At the same time though it hurts because the fans and media help to make this championship come alive for us. It’s going to be tough not seeing the fans in the paddock and not seeing our sponsors and partners enjoying our great hospitality. However, we need to do our best in this situation and try to give everyone a good show on track to make up for it.”
What preparations are in progress at the moment?
“We have been putting in place health and safety protocols that can be implemented when we get to Jerez. That’s really important. Most of our bikes and trailers are already in Spain, which is a big help. The MotoGP trailers are still in Germany at the moment, but they will go to Jerez the week before the race. At the moment we have a very small number of people in the workshop, including our logistics manager, Roger Vd Borght, who is there on a daily basis to oversee the shipments coming in and out. Also, on the administration side we are all still working hard all the time, as there is lots of planning and preparation to do. Our MotoGP team manager Wilco Zeelenberg has been talking with the MotoGP team members, I’ve been talking to the Moto2 and Moto3 guys and discussing it all between Razlan, Wilco and myself. Plus, we have the communications and partnership side where we’re discussing plans with partners every week. There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes to make sure we’re all ready.”
Will the team structure change at the races?
“The team structure will change a bit because we won’t take all of our staff to Jerez; at least for the first few races we will have minimum staff. Most of the staff we take will be on the technical side, so we can focus on setup and looking after our riders. There will be no media, no hospitality, no partners, etc, so there won’t be all the ‘behind the scenes’ staff members. We are definitely really going to miss them!”
What logistical challenges will the team face?
“Actually I don’t think there will be too many logistical challenges. There will be some things we need to work around and adapt to the situation. However, we will ensure things are well planned and implemented to help mitigate these challenges.”
What health and safety measures will the team be putting in place for Jerez?
“Dorna has put some protocols in place already, but we’re going to be implementing a lot of measures from our side as well. We are going to restrict how we move around the pit box and how we work together, along with the introduction of face masks, hand sanitizer and gloves. These are just some examples though; there are many things that we are working on implementing and we will have a member of staff responsible for looking after this area.”
How are the riders? Are you in regular contact with them?
“I talk with the riders more or less every week. I can see that they have been training hard and are now getting back on track with their training bikes, which is great. This is the best thing they can be doing to get used to speed and just riding again. I’m not too worried because each of our riders will adapt quickly and come back riding fast again. I know from my own experiences of not riding and then going back to the bike that they should be okay. The Wednesday session in Jerez is a good way to make sure everybody can get back to normal.”
Do you think the riders will face additional challenges due to changes in track temperatures, the condensed calendar and back-to-back races at the same circuits?
“I think there will be new challenges, for sure. In the first race, the high track temperatures expected in Jerez will be demanding. The busy calendar and back-to-back schedule will be very difficult, but I think the riders are prepared for it. They are all fit, and they all want to ride and get back to what they do for a living: racing. We know the calendar, so everyone is mentally prepared, and all our riders will be fit and ready. We don’t want to have any injuries in any of the races as that could have a negative impact for two or three races. It’s important to ride safe and smart, but also to push as much as possible and get the best out of this schedule.”