“Márquez seems strongest to me, but behind there are several riders who can spring a surprise.”

Gilles Bigot is a familiar face in the MotoGP paddock, and helped Álex Crivillé to a 500cc title 20 years ago, in 1999.

For the 62-year-old Frenchman, the equality amongst riders and manufacturers in MotoGP is providing a great spectacle which does not only feature the established names in the premier class. Bigot is currently working as a chief mechanic in Moto2, but one of the main milestones in his career came when he was Álex Crivillé’s crew chief for the Spaniard’s 500cc title-winning campaign with Repsol Honda.

Your relationship with the Repsol Honda Team is closely tied to Álex Crivillé’s 1999 title. What do you remember about that season?

“It was a dream come true; the result of a lot of work and a journey full of obstacles for Álex [Crivillé], because he had the best rider of the 90s as his teammate. At the beginning of the season, I think we found a very good base setup. Since 1995, one of my requests to HRC to help Álex was for them to develop an electronic control for the exhaust valves, to better control the bike’s power when accelerating, and it worked very well. Many elements combined for us to be very competitive and have a good season.”

You arrived at Honda with Álex. What was it like to join a Japanese team, with a young Spanish rider and a teammate like Doohan?

“At the beginning it was rather difficult, because Álex was the third rider, it was my first year as a chief mechanic, and my first year in 500cc. In the opening preseason test, in Australia, I was told on the first day that we were going to use Doohan’s two bikes from 1993, plus some same parts, and that we would be located behind the box occupied by Mick Doohan and Shinichi Itoh. I understood that we had to earn HRC’s trust. In the first three races, the difference between us and the winner was quite big and there was some tension. But at Jerez, Álex cut the gap a lot and at the next round, in Salzburgring, we took a load off our shoulders thanks to the podium he earned after fighting with Kevin Schwantz. From there on he gained confidence and everything went well with the team; There was a very good atmosphere among us all. I will always remember when Álex crashed in practice at Laguna Seca; he had destroyed the bike and, when he arrived in the pits, mechanics from Mick and Shinichi’s crews helped us to rebuild it. The bike was ready in under an hour.”

How has the job of a crew chief changed?

“Before, there were many things that a crew chief could decide, from the setup, to the gearbox, to the chassis geometry. We had 4 or 5 different front tyres, and 5 or 6 rear tyres, and you had to choose them well. There were fewer technicians and engineers. With the power that the current bikes have, the electronics needed to control it has taken on a more important role. Nowadays it is simpler in terms of tyre choice, but much more reflection is required when analysing at what temperature each compound works best. Everything is analyzed down to the smallest detail and there are several engineers working on the electronics. Data has taken over.

A little anecdote from my first season is that Alex asked HRC for permission to participate in the Superprestigio, in Albacete, and HRC said yes. When I asked what package we would have, the answer was: ‘A motorcycle and some spare parts, the coordinator -Roger Van der Borght- a mechanic, and you.‘ We set up the bike thanks to Álex’s instructions, as we didn’t have a computer or data,  and we won the two races.”

After four races, we have seen two victories for Márquez, one for Dovizioso and one for Rins, with three different bikes. Is the World Championship more evenly matched than ever?

“Yes. It’s very interesting, because it’s very homogenous. It’s been a fantastic start to the season and seeing three different manufacturers being capable of winning is very good for motorcycle racing. Although we support a specific rider, there is nothing better than knowing that from the start, several riders and manufacturers will aspire to victory. This makes the races more beautiful.”

“Jorge will find the solutions needed to go faster.”

 

With so much equality, what is the key to making a difference?

“All of the bikes have the same tyres and the same ECU, plus there is a limit to preseason testing and even to trying things out in the Grand Prix itself, because FP2 has become a qualifying session to earn direct access to Q2. All this leaves you with little time to set up the bike and requires maximum concentration and fitness. The riders must be very determined to reach the limit and 1% makes all the difference.”

How do you see this season going?

“I imagined that Marc would be performing at a high level, right from the first race, and that we would see Dovizioso up there with him. I also thought that Álex Rins could win a Grand Prix this season, and he has already achieved that and is second in the World Championship, which is to be admired. Valentino Rossi is always up there, but the other novelty this year is Fabio Quartararo. He needs to finish things off with a good result, but he has speed and a style that suits his bike well. What will happen from now on? At the moment Márquez seems to be strongest, but behind him are several riders who can spring a surprise. It’s very interesting.”

What can we expect from Jorge Lorenzo?

“Changing manufacturers twice in three seasons is something that should be valued. The Yamaha seems to be the most docile bike to ride, so leaving them was a very risky gamble. Then he left Ducati, and a bike that he had just managed to get to grips with, to join Honda. It is another display of courage, because time goes by very quickly and you have to maintain your motivation when the results aren’t as you had hoped. The reduction of testing time and the new format for the sessions on Saturday cannot have helped either, although I think Jorge will find the solutions needed to go faster. The question is whether it will be enough to fight at the front.”

What do you think will happen this Sunday at the French Grand Prix?

“First of all, let’s hope it’s sunny. We already know that Márquez will give his all, so it will not be he who will be the focus for onlookers, but rather Fabio Quartararo. How will he do? He could cause a shock to many riders. Then there is Álex Rins, who won there in Moto2 and got three podiums in Moto3, so he could add another in MotoGP.”

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David Martínez Pato

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