Newly-crowned 2017 MotoAmerica Superbike champion Toni Elias is a good example of a dirt-track non-specialist rider with an amazing improvement on the oval. Three participations in Superprestigio with an astonishing performance in 2016, claiming second place behind Marc Marquez…and ahead of Brad “The Bullet” Baker, who finished third. The 2010 Moto2 world champion is ready for his next step forward in Superprestigio: overall victory.
Victory was really close last year…
Yeah, that’s right…but Marc is really strong in dirt-track racing. I am very happy because I keep learning new things in every race I am in. I improve my knowledge on the bike setup, the most suitable riding style or even about the situations you must face during a dirt-track race. Winning the Superprestigio would be a blast, for sure, but this is a very singular event. You need a bunch of good luck, be smart and, above all, to perform good starts.
Was second place in 2016 a surprise even for you?
Yes, of course. The event was on Saturday and the bike was far from an acceptable setup on Thursday. But we did not surrender and worked hard until we managed to get a winning bike.
A too radical setup was Brad Baker’s mistake in 2016 Superprestigio. Is it so difficult to tune the bike up for the oval in the Palau Sant Jordi arena?
Well, It has been hard for me since 2014, provided that I have ridden three different bikes in the Superprestigio so far: Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki (laughs). The track in Barcelona is very tricky. It is a kind of clay with a very good amount of grip and, in some way, it is like riding on tarmac: you enter the corner with a slide and, right at the middle, you are ready to set the bike upright and give way to the throttle again. The big problem is that we do not find these track conditions where we practice on the days before the event. Superprestigio racetrack is not a major concern in itself, but it is very demanding regarding your decision-making process on Friday’s free practices in the venue.
The 2016 Superprestigio featured more contacts and track incidents than ever before. Why?
For us roadracers it is very important to perform well in Superprestigio and maybe we ride with our own revs too high! (laughs). But this is not tarmac and if you are too fast and go wide, there’s no backward step…
Which specific dirt-track riding skill is the most difficult for you?
The corner entry, of course. You “through” the bike into a rear-wheel slide, but I should improve the technique needed to do this. Pro riders such as Baker and Ferran Cardus, for instance, use the front tire scrub also. That is really difficult to do! Luckily, I perform much better when in the mid-corner and on the corner exit.
Do you feel comfortable with the motocross-like starting gate?
Single line starts are good for me, but I’d prefer the lights instead of the automatic gate. In my opinion, the motocross gate is not the best thing for dirt-track starts, because speed is much lower at this point with this kind of bike and it bumps. This fact may have direct influence in the first part of the race.
Do you consider yourself a true victory contender following Marquez’s and Baker’s walk-overs?
My options are bigger now, that’s a fact, but everything can happen in this race. The Americans will be on top, of course, and other good performers on Barcelona oval too. And Superprestigio races always take something up the sleeve!
Taking your performance in 2016 as a reference, what do you think you have to improve?
Race starts, for sure. I have always performed badly in Barcelona so far and this matter is crucial in dirt-track racing. Being the fastest rider on the track is useless if you are last to make it to the first corner. So 100% concentration at the starting gate! If my starts are smart and good, I can win the Superprestigio.
Who are the riders to follow?
Apart from the Americans, Ferran Cardús is continuously improving his skills and he’s showing a really good riding technique. Gerard Bailo and Adrián Garín are very fast, too. On the roadracers side, Frenchman Tom Chareyre is to be highlighted. His racing experience is huge and he knows what he has to do in every single situation. He’s a six-time Supermoto world champion and has enormous knowledge on how to manage all grip levels we can find on the track.
How are you getting ready for Superprestigio 2017?
Maximum practice time on the 17-inches tires is now the most important side of my training routine. Unfortunately, some pre-season testing with my Superbike team will prevent me from some extra training time in Spain. I will arrive there just a few days before the event. Riding the Suzuki for the second time in Barcelona will help. I know the bike and part of the job is already done!