Petronas SRT reveal impact of virus and what’s in store for 2021

One for the album: Petronas Sepang Racing Team won the Independent Team award in the just concluded MotoGP season.

Now that the dust has settled on the 2020 MotoGP season, Petronas Sepang Racing Team (SRT) principal Datuk Razlan Razali and team director Johan Stigefelt, retrospectively revealed to StarSport’s LIM TEIK HUAT the unpredictable season and what the future holds.

Q: How difficult was Covid-19 truncated season? Razlan: To begin with there was uncertainty from the start. Fortunately the season went ahead in July and it went well. We all managed to stay safe and only two people from our entire team tested positive. They were from staff outside the circuit which means the protocols implemented by Dorna, a sports management company, worked very well.

We really appreciate all the hard work that Dorna and IRTA put in with the various countries and authorities to make the season a success. It was very good of them to coordinate and manage all the testing and protocols so that we could race.

Stigefelt: After last year we had a lot more experience that we could draw on. We knew from experience how it could work, so we prepared ourselves really well for the 2020 season. That was one key element which enabled us to start off so well. We also knew each other and knew how to work to get the best out of each other. We also knew how to handle the logistics, which is a very big operation in this team.

When the Covid situation fully emerged we were in Qatar at that time. We had to fly our Moto2 and Moto3 people to the Qatar race but also our MotoGP staff had to pack up all their bikes and prepare everything because we didn’t know when we would start again.

It was very difficult but I think we handled everything really well and once we started to travel again we were also prepared.

Q: Talking about the MotoGP category, it has been a season completely unexpected for a two-year-old team. How do you rate this 2020 season and why?Razlan: It was unexpected and actually it has been a roller-coaster ride. We started off this year coming off the back of a great first season in 2019 where we achieved a number of pole positions and a couple of podiums, which was already beyond our expectations.

Our approach this year was to try and get that first win and to be the first satellite Yamaha team to do so in 20 years. We wanted to achieve that for the fans, who couldn’t be at the races, for the team and of course for Yamaha. Even better than that, Fabio Quartararo won back-to-back races in Jerez. After that it became a roller-coaster affair as we somehow led the championship standings for most of the year. But later we found ourselves slipping backwards until Franco Morbidelli claimed his first podium in Brno and Quartararo came back with a win in Barcelona.

After that we had mixed fortunes with Quartararo struggling while Morbidelli became more consistent, taking podiums and wins.

Although it was a topsy-turvy season, there were plenty of positives. Morbidelli coming out second in the world championships was beyond our expectations.

Stigefelt: In my opinion, it was not completely unexpected because we saw, especially with Quartararo in 2019, incredible performances that saw him get stronger after each race. He grew as a rider and we too learned and grew with him as a team.

Also we got better machinery from Yamaha, he had a factory bike, so coming into this season I had expected top results from Quartararo.

We did not put any pressure on him but we were expecting podiums and wins, that’s what we were targeting. With Morbidelli, it was a bit different because he struggled in 2019, but he worked so hard in the winter and he really was an underdog this year. It was really nice to see that progress and to see him end this season second in the championship.

Q: What were your favourite moments in 2020?Razlan: In MotoGP Fabio’s win in Jerez, achieving our team’s first victory in MotoGP was unbelievable and a great feeling. Words cannot explain further than that.

Then Morbidelli’s win at the second Valencia round was such a good moment. At the first Valencia race we had two pole positions in Moto2 and Moto3 but we weren’t able to capitalise on it.

We had possibly the hardest championship round but then one week later Morbidelli’s win was like a big morale boost. Those were two great moments for the team.

Stigefelt: If I were to list my top three moments, the first is definitely the win after the lockdown. Quartararo’s win in Jerez was such an amazing feeling and that was the reward for many years of hard work and dedication from everyone in the team.

My second highlight is Misano when Morbidelli and John McPhee both won on the same day and I was on the podium two times – it was a great feeling. The third best moment was Morbidelli’s fight in Valencia when he beat Ducati rider Jack Miller in a last lap battle.

Q: What can we expect for the 2021 season?Razlan: We are very excited for 2021 in all three categories. We welcome Darryn Binder to our Moto3 team. He has a lot of potential and we will look to help him develop further and perform well. I am sure he and John will push each other to be better and I know that we have a strong team for Moto3. I am looking forward to many podiums and hopefully the fight for the Moto3 crown.

In Moto2, we hope to continue our progress. This year we achieved our first pole position in the category and, although we weren’t able to get our first podium, this year’s championship standings are already an improvement on last year.

We expect Xavi Vierge to continue to fight, with Jake Dixon not far behind him, or Jake could maybe even be in front of him.

I am confident that Morbidelli will continue his good form in MotoGP next year and I think he could be one of the contenders for the 2021 world championship.

It will be a very different atmosphere here for Valentino Rossi as we are a real family and one team across all three categories, where we support one another completely. I hope to learn a lot from him and at the same time I am sure he can learn things from us as well.

Therefore I think next year will be extremely exciting.

Stigefelt: I think in MotoGP we will continue to target podium finishes and I hope we can help Morbidelli to be even better.

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