Rabat and Kallio: No quarter asked or given
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Gosselies, Belgium – 9 April 2014: Rivalries are always entertaining, especially when they’re played out on the racetrack. They come about when you get two riders with equal talent, equal determination and fairly equal machinery, both fighting for the same thing; race wins.
When the two rivals are in the same team, it just makes things even more interesting.
If pre-season testing and the opening race of the season have shown one thing, it’s that Marc VDS teammates, Tito Rabat and Mika Kallio, are going to be seeing a lot of each other on track this year.
It was Rabat who took first blood by posting the fastest time in the first pre-season test at Valencia. It looked like the Spaniard was going to make it two from two during the next outing in Jerez, until Kallio bumped him from the top of the timesheet in the final hour of the three-day test.
At the final test at Phillip Island it was Rabat who took the honours after smashing the lap record, but it wasn’t without cost, as both riders completely destroyed a bike each in pursuit of the bragging rights that accompany the fastest lap time.
A couple of weeks later and the pair were at it again, this time in the opening race of the season in Qatar, which Rabat won and Kallio finished third, only to be promoted to second when Takaaki Nakagami was disqualified for infringing the rules.
This weekend they head to Austin for the second race of the season lying first and second in the championship, with Rabat keen to extend his lead and Kallio equally determined to depose his teammate from the top of the standings.
And both riders have form at the Circuit of the Americas. They fought a titanic battle in the closing stages of last year’s race for second place, with Rabat once again coming out on top by the narrowest of margins.
“It was a good fight with Tito in Austin last year and it went all the way to the final corner,” explains Kallio. “Unfortunately, I made a mistake going into the last turn, braking just a few metres too late and I ran a little bit wide. It left just enough space for him to get up the inside and I didn’t quite have the drive out of the corner to out drag him to the line for second place. It was close though!
“The battle was a good one,” agrees Rabat, “but it was almost over for me at the start. I touched Mika’s bike as we left the line and it bent my clutch lever up. I thought my race was done, but I managed to hammer the lever back into place with my hand. After that I had some places to make up, but I eventually made contact with Mika and Dominique Aegerter, who were fighting for second place. Mika has a lot of experience, so he was difficult to pass, but then he ran wide in the final corner and I was able to get up the inside to take second.”
It means Kallio heads to the United States this weekend with a score to settle.
“On the strength of the opening race in Qatar, I think there’s a good chance we could find ourselves in the same situation again in Austin,” says Kallio. “Hopefully we’ll be fighting for the win this time around, rather than second place. Of course, I’ll be looking to reverse the finishing positions this year!”
Kallio is well aware, however, that it’s not going to be easy to beat his teammate, especially as the Marc VDS pairing share the same strengths and it is Rabat who currently holds the advantage.
“Tito is always strong at the end of the race but in the past, this was my strongpoint too. When I’m fighting in a group towards the end of the race I like to look at whom I’m riding against, identify where they are strong and where they are weak and then come up with a strategy for the final few laps. It’s an approach that worked well for me on the two-stroke bikes – and in Brno last year – but it’s been more difficult to do in Moto2.
“Since last season we’ve had a problem with making the rear tyre last full race distance and, while the situation is better this year, it’s still not perfect. In Qatar I wasn’t able to push at the end, because the grip had already dropped off, whereas Tito and Taka still had something left in the rear tyre and were able to pull away in the final couple of laps.
“It’s something we’re working hard to fix and I have every confidence that we will find a solution. Once we do, then I think it’s going to make things even closer between me and Tito, especially at the end of a race.”
Making the task even more difficult is the fact that Rabat is well aware he’s a man with a target on his back after the win in the opening race in Qatar.
“Sure, Mika is going to be a threat, not just in Austin but at every racetrack this season,” declares Rabat. “But it’s not just Mika I have to watch out for. Taka Nakagami, Tom Lüthi, Sandro Cortese and Maverick Vinales are all a threat and, who knows, we could be adding even more names to the list as the season progresses.
“I want to beat them all, not just my teammate.”
This is a sentiment echoed by Kallio, but just how far do you go when it’s the last lap and your teammate stands between you and victory?
“Obviously, when you’re battling with your teammate on the last lap you don’t want to do anything stupid,” declares Kallio, “but just because Tito is my teammate doesn’t mean I’m going to give him any more room than I would anyone else. We both want to win and, at the end of the day, he’s a rival like all the others.”
Unsurprisingly, Rabat’s answer was remarkably similar.
“If Mika is in front of me then the fact that he’s my teammate doesn’t matter. If it was the last corner and I was battling with Mika for the podium, would I close the door on him? Yes, of course I would, just like I would close the door on any other rider I was fighting with for the win.
“I’m sure if the positions were reversed he wouldn’t hesitate to close the door on me because, teammates we may be, but we’re also rivals chasing the same prize; race wins.”
The man with the unenviable task of managing the rivalry between his two riders is Marc VDS Team Principal, Michael Bartholemy.
“There is always a rivalry between teammates, even if one of them is winning races and the other is finishing outside the top 20 every week,” explains Bartholemy. “But in Tito and Mika we have two riders capable of winning races and the championship, so I expect the rivalry will increase as the season progresses.
“In our case the rivalry is a good thing, because it motivates both riders. It’s more a competition between the two; their characters are such that the rivalry is never going to be bitter, so we won’t be putting a wall down the middle of the pit box as other teams have had to do in the past.
“And while their on track antics are probably going to see me finish the season with more grey hairs then I started with, I know they are both sensible enough not to let the red mist get the better of them, to the point where they take each other out of a race.”
The Grand Prix of the Americas gets underway with free practice for the Moto2 class on Friday 11th April.