Phillip Island, Australia: We caught up with Mika Kallio ahead of the Phillip Island tyre test to find out his thoughts on testing so far, as well as his expectations for the season ahead.
You had offers to go elsewhere this year, including MotoGP, so why did you decide to stay in Moto2 with Marc VDS for a fourth season?
I’ve been with Marc VDS for a while now but, like every season, at the end of last year I had to decide where I would ride in 2014. I looked at all the possibilities, including MotoGP, but the best possibility for good results was to stay in Moto2 with Marc VDS for a fourth year.
For me there were two or three things that were most important when making the decision. Firstly, the atmosphere in the team is really good, especially last year when I took my first win in Moto2; that was incredible.
Also, I had a few options in MotoGP, but there was a big question mark about the competitiveness of the bikes on offer. So, in the end, I think I’ve made the right decision to stay with Marc VDS, because this is where I can get the results, both for me and for the team.
This will be your fourth season with the team, but this will be the first time you’ve started the year with the same bike and the same chief mechanic. How important is this stability?
It’s really important to keep the same crew behind you; I can be really calm because everything is on a good level. In previous years we’ve changed from Suter to Kalex or my chief mechanic has changed, which meant adapting to a new situation during testing. This year is much better, because everything is the same, everything is on the same level and it allows us to concentrate on the areas in which we were a little bit weak last year.
This is key to being on the podium regularly and trying to win as many races as possible this season.
How have you prepared over the winter for the new season? More ice racing at home in Finland?
In the past I’ve spent a lot of time in Finland and tried to practice as much as possible with the ice racing bikes, but this winter has been different. This year we had quite a mild winter at home, so it wasn’t possible to race on the ice so much. Also, I sort of decided this year that I wouldn’t go anywhere else to ride over the winter.
I know I have the experience already; okay, this is the front brake, this is the front wheel… Even without time on the bike over the winter, I’m pretty much ready to go. Being off bikes for such a long period of time also increased my motivation ahead of winter testing.
You’ve always been known for your consistency and race pace, but where did the outright speed come from in Jerez, where you topped the timesheet at the last test?
Last year we had a few weak points, with one of these being qualifying, where I struggled to push to the limit for one fast lap. During winter testing I tried to concentrate a little bit in a different way with my mind, tried to enjoy again riding the bike while focussing on the right things.
Testing at Valencia and Jerez went well and we were able to concentrate on improving in the areas most needed. One of the most important things was how we approach each track session, pushing from the start and making the most of the track time and tyres.
One of the biggest issues you had last season was that you often had to work harder in the races because you qualified off the front three rows. Is this something you’ve targeted as an area to improve this season?
We were on a good level in the races last year and, if all went well, finishing top five was always a realistic goal. But the problem was the qualifying; too often I was qualifying outside the top ten, which made it really hard to fight back into the top five in the races.
I had to push harder from the start, using the tyres more to make up places, and then paying the price later in the race, when it was impossible to attack again because the tyre performance had already dropped off.
Improving my qualifying performance is something we’ve focussed on during testing. My race pace last season was good, and I believe it will be better again this year, but qualifying higher up the grid will be critical to good results, which is why we’ve focussed on this area during winter testing.
Which riders do you see as being the biggest threat in terms of the championship this season?
This season I think there are quite a few riders who will be consistent each weekend. Obviously my teammate, Tito, is going to be one of the main contenders, but I also believe I can be there too.
Lüthi has shown both speed and consistency during winter testing, as have the Aspar guys, especially Terol, so let’s see what they can do. Then there are the new guys from Moto3; they have the skills to go fast, but I’m not really sure if they can be constantly on the top every weekend in their first season. I guess we will see.