Kawasaki's project leader
Yoshimoto Matsuda has been working for Kawasaki for 13 years now and, prior to joining the MotoGP project, was in charge of the design of Jet Ski engines, one of the biggest markets for the Japanese manufacturer.
The enormous success of
Kawasaki in this high-level and challenging market resulted in Matsuda being chosen as one of the engine designers for the first Kawasaki MotoGP engines in 2002.
Chief designer of the new Ninja ZX-RR 800cc engine, this cheerful and outgoing Japanese gentleman is responsible for the introduction of the revolutionary pneumatic valves system. Once finished with the design, Matsuda-San was promoted, early this year, to project leader of the first Kawasaki engine of the 800cc era, enabling him to keep a close eye on his creation.
How would you describe your job and what are your main responsibilities within the team?
“I am the project leader for the development of the racing bike, the Ninja ZX-RR, and my responsibility is to organise and control the advancement of the whole machine: engine, chassis and engine control unit, both at the race track and the factory. The latter is my main place of work but, at the track, I liaise with the team's racing director, Ichiro Yoda, and the technical manager, Naoya Kaneko, as well as the riders. I then report back to the factory about the things on the bike that need changing in order to improve it. My job is, basically, to have a clear vision. I get loads of input and every small detail needs to be taken into consideration to keep developing the bike. It's like making a cake.
How did you become involved in motorcycle racing and what were you doing before?
“As soon as I finished my studies, I began working for Kawasaki as an engine designer for jet skis. There is huge competition in that market and you can't stop evolving and changing: I learned a lot in a short time. That is why I was chosen to work on the MotoGP project in 2002.”
What is your best memory?
“I have lots of great memories. Shaking hands with Nakano in 2003 made me realise I could have a bright future in MotoGP. The good result (Shinya got a third) in Motegi in 2004. But maybe the best one was in 2006 when, as an engine designer, I had drawn up the full plan for the whole bike. It was the end of the 990cc era and the bike's performance was so good, with Nakano showing great potential and almost passing Gibernau at Motegi. Unfortunately, he crashed in that race but it was a great moment for me, to see my dream, the bike I'd designed, working. It was… is… amazing.”
How challenging has it been, designing the new 800cc engine?
“The freedom I had when I started the design was wonderful but, on the other hand, the 800cc project was almost like starting from scratch again. Everything was challenging, as the importance of the engine in the bike is massive: it affects the centre of gravity, the balance of the bike, the shape… But in particular, the power development was an issue, so too, adapting to the new fuel regulations, which are very tight. How we manage to achieve top speed depends on the concept and, as yet, there isn't a clear idea about what is the best way forward for the MotoGP machines. I believe, though, that Ducatis and Kawasakis are “the concept bikes”, more forward-thinking, while other, intermediate, projects are unlikely to succeed. This is one of the biggest differences between us and Formula 1. Their engines' development potential seems to have peaked while, in motorcycling, there are still many options. “
Do you think the use of pneumatic valves will be the future for all engines?
“The pneumatic system is very popular in Formula 1: they think about top end power and, because of that, a bigger valve is needed. But we use them for another purpose. I cannot discuss that but I can say that, for my hypothesis, I need this system. I believe 90% of the motorcycle engines will come to embrace this solution because it's simple and reliable.”
Who do you think is the greatest Grand Prix rider of all time and why?
“Valentino Rossi. He rode for Honda and did a great job, then switched to Yamaha and did a great job there, too. I know how different the two are so I'm aware of how much of an improvement he's made. Everybody calls him ‘The Doctor' and I agree, not only in terms of performance but also from the development side. He has great vision and he's also a great character. Using a parallel with bikes: the whole package is great. When I was young, I admired Kevin Schwantz's aggression but I didn't see him race much.”
Any bet for this year's MotoGP world championship?
“Rossi again. This year is the first 800cc season and a new era for everybody. Rossi's vision and development knowledge, as well as his talent for making the most of what he has, puts him one step ahead of the others.”
Technical matters aside, what have you learned, working at the world championship?
“So many things but the most important has been to communicate efficiently. It might sound silly but communication is not just talking. The key point is to know what your priorities are, what you want to say and what you want to achieve. How to express your opinion and know when to push but also when to pull back. At times, Japanese and European ways of thinking can be different and putting the two together is not always easy.”
If you could be somebody else in the team for one day, who would you choose to be and why?
“I would choose to be a rider. I always have to hear them complaining and I would like to be the one who grumbles for a day!”