Stefan Bradl is so calm, cool and collected on race days that he could be mistaken for a well-seasoned MotoGP rider, despite being only halfway through his rookie year in the premier class.
It's a demeanour that's served the German well as he continues to make terrific progress on board the LCR Honda machine.
Last time RedBull.com spoke to Bradl, the 2011 Moto2 World Champion had just scored another top-eight finish at Silverstone. Since then he's missed out on a podium by just a fraction of a second at Mugello, placed fifth in his home GP at the Sachsenring, and on Sunday he ended his first race at Laguna Seca in seventh.
Ahead of the Red Bull US Grand Prix, Bradl took part in a special event in San Francisco and RedBull.com caught up with him post-race in California to find out how he's enjoying his continued apprenticeship in MotoGP…
Last time we spoke you were really happy with how your rookie MotoGP season was going. How do you feel now?
“It's been really, really good. We can be happy with the first half of the season, there haven't been many mistakes. We've done a good job so far. We had some really good results and, overall, we can be happy with how the season has gone. My home GP was a great race, Mugello was too. The target for us was to close the gap on the second group with Dovi [Andrea Dovizioso], [Cal] Crutchlow, and [Ben] Spies in the second half of the season, but we've already finished some races directly behind them. So we're doing better than we planned and everybody in the team is happy.”
You did say that Barcelona was the best weekend you'd had from start to finish. Is that still the case?
“We always have the problem that on Friday we struggle with the bike set-up and I need to work out a good one. That's not easy because while we're not arriving at a circuit that's new to me, it is a new one on this bike. That's maybe our weakness this season, that the Friday is sometimes a little difficult. But this is normal in a rookie season and we hope to take this experience into next year.”
How did you find your first experience at Laguna Seca?
“It was a tough weekend. On Friday I had to learn the circuit and I was trying to push myself. Then on Saturday morning we lost almost the whole practice session because of bad weather. So we only started working on our bike in the qualifying session, which was difficult. In the end, we made a little step up from Saturday to Sunday and we found something in the bike. In the race, I was able to ride at a good pace for the first couple of laps, but then I lost my front feeling and I almost crashed a few times due to the chatter and grip. In general, though, I'm happy with how it went.”
Technically, how did you find the track?
“It's very difficult, especially when you arrive as a rookie and have no experience with the bike setting and you have to learn the track. It was a tough weekend for me. But we finished seventh, which is a good result for us. We're happy with that. The track is really bumpy, there are some blind corners, and a lot of banked corners, so this is one of the hardest race weekends in the calendar. We did the best we could.”
Everybody talks about the famous corkscrew. What was it like on a 1000cc GP bike?
“The first time you go through the corkscrew, your stomach is up here [he points to his throat and laughs]! Then you get used to it. It's difficult to get the right braking point and go through it with a good line, especially the exit, which is quite important because then you have a fast banked corner. I could see better lines from the guys in front of me during the race, which was an improvement for me and we'll try to keep this for next season.”
You rode here on a Honda CBR1000 at the end of May. Did that help?
“I think it did. My first time here, especially with this bike, would've been even more difficult. I had some reference points telling me where to go, where the blind corners are, what's coming next.”
How's your working relationship with your crew chief Christophe Bourguignon?
“I feel very comfortable with the team, everything is very professional. It's great for me, and I can enjoy that. It's a fantastic feeling to have had a good season so far. We are working well and we haven’t made so many mistakes, so that means we are working in the right direction. At the beginning, it was difficult. I didn’t know anyone in the team so the first tests were tough for me, but I wouldn’t change anything now. It's really nice to work with them. Especially with 'Beefy' [Bourguignon], he's a cool guy. He always keep calm and he's important for me.”
How was the Red Bull event in San Francisco?
“It was fantastic! It was a hard day, though. We woke up at 6am to do the shoot. It was a super event, and thanks to Red Bull who did a great job. If you watch the video and see the pictures, they are really great. To do that with Alcatraz in the background, and with the San Francisco skyline in the background, was cool. I don't think anyone has done anything like that with a MotoGP bike so I'm proud of that.”
What was it like winding down the famous Lombard Street on a 1000cc Honda RC213V?
“I was in first gear, but I kept the clutch in my finger and just rolled it down. It was great fun. I moved my body around a bit to make it look like I was going fast, but I really wasn't able to get much speed through there.”
Marc Márquez steps up to MotoGP next year. How do you think he'll adjust?
“He is a really talented guy, very fast. Nobody knows how he will adapt to the bike, because there are many things you have to learn about, such as tyres, braking, electronics. We'll see how he can adapt, and how quickly. But he'll go into a factory team on a factory bike and get a really experienced crew, so for him the package is waiting there. He just needs to jump in and do what he can. He has the best possible set-up for a rookie.”
What do you think about the rookie rule being changed so that Márquez can step into a factory team?
“They've put many things together. He is Spanish, in the Repsol team, everything was already there. It's a chance nobody else has had – maybe Valentino [Rossi] did, but that's more than 10 years ago. We'll see. For sure, he will have some pressure, because he'll be on the best bike and in the best team, but I think he can adapt because he is a talented guy.”
Looking ahead to the rest of the season, which tracks are you looking forward to riding?
“I guess we have the most difficult one, Laguna Seca, behind us now. The next circuits I know quite well and hopefully we can fight for P4 and P5, which is the target for the next couple of races. We want to keep the gap from the top guys as small as possible.”
You came really close to a podium-finish at Mugello – do you think it's possible in the second half of the season?
“If we have the chance, I would love to be on the podium. That's the dream!”