India’s only motorcycle grand prix team resumes battle in France this weekend, with high hopes of more strong results after a top-ten start for the all-new Mahindra grand prix machine.
On track barely six months after the project was initiated, the sleek white-and-red 250cc Moto3 Mahindra MGP3O has been fast, reliable and successful from the debut in Qatar, with a best-ever double top-ten finish at the first attempt.
Seventh-placed Miguel Oliveira moved up to fifth at the next round, and the Portuguese teenager was fighting for fourth in round three at Jerez when another rider tipped him off. Team-mate Efrén Vázquez (26, from Spain) made up for it with eighth, his second top-ten of the year. Oliveira is seventh and Vázquez tenth overall in the Championship standings; with Mahindra currently lying third in the Constructor points.
Directly after the race at Jerez the team went testing at the Almeria circuit in Spain – valuable for two reasons. Firstly the riders and technicians are still learning the finer details of the new motorcycle, and two clear days allowed them to gather data and incorporate further setting refinements to the fully adjustable chassis. Secondly they were able to test engine development parts, to be introduced in the coming races. Both aspects were positive, said Mahindra Racing’s CEO Mufaddal Choonia, with steps made in chassis set-up and improvement of the overall understanding of this very new project.
“The engine test was encouraging. The riders felt a definite improvement, especially at the top end, where we are currently suffering a little against the opposition. Now we are currently running durability tests, before bringing the new parts to the track.”
Round four, the second European race, is at the Bugatti circuit at Le Mans: 2.6 difficult miles (4.185km) that shares the pits and a section of track with the famous 24-hour car endurance circuit. With no long straights and a variety of fast and slow corners, plus the ever-present chance of rain, the French circuit favours riding skill and excellent cornering and braking – all areas that should also favour the new Mahindra.
Last year Vázquez and Oliveira were on the front row together, qualified second and third, but atrocious conditions took their toll; Vázquez went out on the warm-up lap, and Oliveira was in a substantial lead at two-thirds distance when he slipped off.
“I’m definitely looking forward to this race. I like the track: last year I was leading until I fell on lap 16 – conditions were crazy wet, with so many accidents. This year, the Mahindra bike is getting better, and we understand more about how to find the best setting. It’s more a track for riding than just horsepower, and we have the chance of a strong result.”
“I like Le Mans, but I had bad luck there last year. I almost made pole position, but then I missed the race! Wet or dry I will be giving my 100 percent. At Jerez we finally found a good setting for the corners so I could fight with the KTMs, and we have improved it even more at tests. These top ten results are important for Mahindra, and I want to move further towards the front.”
MUFADDAL CHOONIA – Mahindra Racing CEO
“We had positive results at the tests, after a very good first three races. At the last one, we took one more step ahead, and Miguel rode from 15th to the top group before his accident. It was very encouraging to hear Valentino Rossi commenting favourably on the Mahindra project and team on Italian TV during the race. The Doctor has noticed and we could not have asked for a greater endorsement of our efforts! So we are excited to go to another track where the Mahindra MGP3O has a good chance of continuing the strong performance. At the same time, development is continuing at our base in Switzerland.”
DAVIDE BORGHESI – Mahindra Moto3 Project Leader
“Last year was difficult, and so the first target for the new bike was reliability, even more than performance. We were pleasantly surprised since we had relatively fewer teething issues, but it is because we worked in a good way. It was very important for us to finish races, especially in the first part of the season. We have some new power-up parts in the pipeline, but Jerez and Le Mans are tracks where the rider makes more of the difference than just horsepower. We won’t bring new parts until we are 110 percent sure they are perfect – the test at Almeria was an encouraging step in the process.”