There were some raised eyebrows when Takaaki Nakagami revealed his jump in form during practice for the second Jerez MotoGP weekend was down to radically altering his riding style after combing through Marc Marquez's data.

Fastest in two of the free practice sessions meant something had clearly changed for the better. But could a rider really make such a big step just by looking at Marquez's telemetry - and would the LCR Honda rider's form even carry over to the race?

The answer was a resounding yes. The Japanese slashed 16-seconds off his race time from the previous Sunday - almost double the improvement of any other rider - on his way to a career-best fourth place, just half-a-second from the podium.

Changing from the 2018 to 2019-spec RCV for this season means Nakagami now has a machine with greater engine performance, but which is also much more physically demanding to turn.

It was this area that studying Marquez's data, with the aid of his team and HRC technical manager Takeo Yokoyama, helped provide answers for.

"Last weekend I really didn't understand how to manage this 2019 Honda bike, which everyone says is harder and physically not an easy bike to make the lap time for the handling. It's a difficult bike, but it has big potential," explained Nakagami, who was tenth in the season opener and 21.6s behind winner Fabio Quartararo.

"After the first race, me and the team, also the HRC guys with Takeo, deeply checked on the data the difference between Marc's bike and mine and my riding compared to Marc.

"Marc knows very well how to adapt to this 'heavy' [feeling] bike. On the data I understood how he manages with this bike.

"The main thing is, just a little bit different setup, but I changed my riding completely. I tried to be the same as Marquez-style. I can't completely copy, but I tried to ride how he rides, how he manages this bike.

"On Friday I tried it and suddenly I felt much more comfortable and much easier riding, and the lap time is more consistent. This is the difference.

"Also, because Marc was not able to make the race, Takeo was in our garage many times this weekend and he checked deeply my riding on the data compared to Marc again and gave some advice on how to stop the bike, 'Marc is doing this and this, let's try'.

"So I had pretty warm support from HRC and this is good for the future.

"As you can see it helped quite a lot! You can see the result is we are improving, improving. The conditions were so difficult in the race today with less grip than last weekend, but our lap time was faster.

"Hopefully we can keep learning. Always I'm looking at Marc's data and trying to understand well and the next race will be another completely different track. Also Marc will come back and I want to keep watching and keep focussed on Marc's data.

"This is the target and if I manage very well, I can fight for the podium very soon."

Nakagami spent most of the second part of the race behind Yamaha star Maverick Vinales, for what would become the final podium place following the retirements of Franco Morbidelli and Francesco Bagnaia.

"It was a really nice race. I'm really close to the podium. Of course, I did my best but I was always following [others] during the race. At the beginning, it was the Ducati of Bagnaia and then most of the rest it was Vinales," Nakagami said.

"It looked like Vinales was struggling with the front tyre. He made many mistakes and almost crashed from losing the front. But after 15 or 16 laps I think he changed the style, found something and picked up the lap time.

"At the end he was a little bit faster than me and overtook Valentino.

"But during the race I was following them and the Honda is quite different to the Yamaha, so it was really good to understand for the future.

"Also, easy to say now, but we're in a good position in the championship [fourth] and hopefully the next challenge is for the podium. Let's see."

Nakagami was one of the riders close enough to Bagnaia to see his engine smoking and felt Race Direction didn't black flag the Italian soon enough.

"I was really scared to lose the front and I thought 'please go out of the line and stop the bike'. Because for 2 laps we were behind and there was a lot of smoke and it was not safe," he said.

"Race Direction always says 'Safety first' but this time they had a big mistake. This is not the best way. They have to stop the bike at least after 1 lap, okay. But 2 laps is not the way."

Nakagami's injured team-mate Cal Crutchlow completed his first race of the season in 13th place. The Englishman, like Repsol Honda team-mates Marc and Alex Marquez, has the 2020-spec Honda but it seems many chassis parts, as well as the fairing, are currently 2019 spec.

 

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