With nine rounds down and nine to go – including this weekend's Red Bull US Grand Prix – the 2012 MotoGP season is exactly halfway through.
More significantly for Dani Pedrosa, the Spaniard is enjoying his best standing in the World Championship at this stage of the campaign since he led it by four points at midway in 2008.
Pedrosa has arrived at Laguna Seca for Round 10 trailing leader Jorge Lorenzo by 19 points, a difference that can be gobbled up and overtaken in the space of one eventful race as the Repsol Honda rider well knows.
In a bid to reel in Yamaha man Lorenzo and retain the title they won last season Honda have made some significant changes to the RC213V in the wake of the Mugello test, with Pedrosa taking up the option of a new engine and chassis in a bid to close the gap.
Just before the action kicked off at Laguna Seca redbull.com spoke to the 26-year-old about his new machine, how the season has gone so far, the joys of being injury free, the impending retirement of current team-mate Casey Stoner and the arrival of a new colleague in the HRC factory set-up, Spanish sensation Marc Márquez.
Dani, how happy are you with how the season has gone so far? Second in the Championship and eight podiums from nine races has to be considered a good first half?!
“I'm quite happy I have been injury free and able to have good races, and I've been riding well on the bike. I'm perhaps not hugely happy about the results because I was expecting to win a little bit more, but I just wasn't able to manage to win some more races. Overall I have to be happy compared to previous seasons if I take a look back. I always had injuries and things like that, so being injury free now is good and I think so far it's been good, but I have to keep focused for the second half of the season.
“It's crucial to keep the same level and even try to take a small step forward because [Jorge] Lorenzo is winning many races and is clearly controlling them sometimes. We have made some improvements to the bike, so I guess we can take a small step.”
Which race or races have really stood out for you this year?
“It's hard to say which weekend has been the best because the results have been very similar, but I've never really found an all-round complete weekend. In Jerez I had a great feeling but I was slipping a bit in the first laps when the track was half wet, so I kind of lost the race there. In Qatar, the first race of the season, it was similar over the last laps – I executed my strategy but it was not good. In Assen I had a good weekend but in the race Casey got me on the strategy also, so I have kind of a mix – good here and good there, but not the full weekend all round yet.”
'The track is special and the fans are as well, they're cheering for many riders' - Pedrosa on Laguna Seca
You've signed for two more years with Honda, how easy a decision was that to make?
"Of course it's great for many reasons. One is because you keep racing [with the same team], secondly because it's where I want to race. I've been here for a long time and it's great to continue. I have a long history with the team and with my mechanics.”
Was it a relief to get it sorted relatively early in the season? There are still a few riders who don't know what they're doing next year...
"Normally I work well under pressure, that's when I ride my best, and I wasn't really worried. I knew if I kept racing well I should get a chance in a good team. Obviously with it being done now I can forget about it and focus, and stop thinking about all the possibilities here and there. It certainly feels more natural now.”
Were there any other options you considered?
“As is usually the case with these kind of things you check some different options (he says laughing). Finally I ended up in the same team and it's good.”
'It's sad he is leaving ... this is a guy who is always at the top' - Pedrosa on Stoner
Let's talk about Laguna Seca. What do you like about it as a track and a Grand Prix?
“It's a great GP. The track is special and the fans are as well, they're cheering for many riders. It's just great to see how they push hard for all the riders on the grid, not just for some, and that's fantastic. It's very fair and I like it. The atmosphere is really good and it's usually sunny which is great, and that's excellent for racing.”
After the Mugello test you decided to go with the new engine and the new chassis for Laguna, whereas Casey is just going with the new engine. What were the main reasons for your decision?
“Just the feeling. Obviously Casey and I have similar thoughts about the bike, but we ride a little differently so I believe it's just the feeling we have on this. We both had the same feeling with the engine which is good, and here I will have one standard bike which I have been using since the beginning of the season. That's to get the feeling on the track, how the tyres are here. Later in the weekend I'll start with the new bike and see if the new things really are okay for the race, because sometimes to get the feeling on a four- or five-lap run is not the same as it is over 30 laps.”
What do you like the most about the new bike?
“Basically the engine braking was a lot more helpful for me. On the Honda you can see on TV that it's always shaking on the entry into the corner, and the rear is moving, so it's very physically demanding for the rider and very tough. You're trying to hold onto the bike every time you'e braking and trying to control the stability. That takes a lot of energy and at the end of the race the rider is more stressed and tired than if you're riding with more stability. So the engine braking makes it a little bit smoother through the turns and I'm sure this will help.”
'His level is extremely high, so he will be strong. For Honda I think it's a very strong team' - Pedrosa on Marquez
Talking about next season there are some big changes. Firstly Casey's retirement: what were your thoughts when you heard about that?
“It surprised me, obviously. We are young, the same age (26). Sure it's surprising, but at the same time I had already heard a few years earlier he was kind of looking for that but until it happens you don't really believe it. But I have respect for it. It's not easy to stay at the top when you're riding at that level, but I don't think that's the issue for him. It must be for other reasons, but I fully respect his decision. It's sad he is leaving the Championship because of the level of the competition. It wouldn't be the same if we lost one rider who was 10th or 11th on the grid, this is a guy who is always at the top.”
After Casey's announcement you revealed that you had considered retiring at one stage due to the injuries you were sustaining. What was the main reason you didn't retire?
“I believe [it was] because I hadn't won the Championship yet. I think that's the main point, because I was so down after so many injuries that I had no more will, and when the will is gone it's gone. But one day I woke up and I felt no, it's not gone, it's here and I must try again.”
Your new team-mate will be Marc Márquez next season. Everybody knows he is extremely talented, but how excited are you about riding alongside him and how competitive do you think he can be from the beginning?
“Looking at him sure his level is extremely high, so I believe he will be strong. We should wait and see how it goes though. It's been a long time since Repsol Honda had two Spaniards on the team so it's great for Repsol, and for Honda I think it's a very strong team.”