Born in Belgium, Jiménez has been in the championship for almost 25 years, which has allowed him to experience a crucial part of the history of competition motorcycling firsthand. Toni, who speaks four languages - “It is important in the paddock; I go from Italian to French, from French to Spanish and then to English all day ”, he tells us-, he has had a relationship with our other three guests, Ramón Forcada, Ramón Aurín and Juan Martínez, he has worked with Cobas and in Showa, for Yamaha factory and for a few years he has been chief mechanic in Fausto Gresini’s box. Although, above all, Jiménez himself recognizes the importance that the figure of his friend Carlos Checa has had in his career.
Solo Moto: We have seen a silent revolution in terms of Spanish technicians parallel to that of the riders. Ramón Forcada linked it to the fashion that they took heads of mechanics with them, more or less from Valentino Rossi. We also mention schools; one, that of Antonio Cobas, and others those of those who came from the world of suspensions. Where do you stand?
Antonio Jiménez: I did both. Like Forcada, I was in Cobas, although he was a little longer than me; I had a couple of years, and he continued with Sito Pons where Cobas was also. I learned a lot. When I arrived in Spain from Belgium I found Ramón Forcada as a person of reference, and we spent three years working together. I learned a lot there with Cobas. I was a mechanic, and I became a GGPP mechanic when I lived in Belgium. Cobas one day in the paddock told me that if I would be interested in going to work for him, and I said yes, without thinking that this would go forward. One day I was in Belgium at home, and he called me at five in the afternoon. He said: can you be in Barcelona tomorrow at nine? And I said yes. I don’t know how I managed. At that time he was with Patrick Vd Goorbergh. I didn’t even know how I was going to get to Barcelona, or anything. But I did it. I’m talking about the year 1988.
SM: Why did he look for you precisely?
AJ: I started the World Cup as a one-year adventure. I had a friend who had a team in Belgium, who was Olivier Liegois, and he told me to do a year with him. I was riding a motorcycle in Belgium, paying for everything, and in the end I thought it would be good for a year to go around the world. I started and saw that I could curdle, that I liked the job. By then, Spanish pilots, Garriga, Pons, were very fashionable, and I went to talk to Cobas because I was tempted to do so. I gave him my number and when the World Cup was over he called me. I took suitcases, wife and daughters, and I left for Barcelona, thinking it was going to be another adventure of a year or two; and at the moment it is 24 years …
SM: And what does the Cobas school contribute?
AJ: The Cobas school was very important, because very few people gave importance to what were the geometries, the chassis, the suspensions, Antonio’s own very special systems to stabilize the bike under braking and things of this type. Cobas was passionate, and he did not do this for the money but because he liked it and he liked having people involved in his work. There we were a small group that worked the hours that were not written. I arrived in Spain and I remember that I was going to work one day in the morning and maybe I would return home three days later to pack my suitcase and go that way. It was the way before, and that’s how you learn. People nowadays don’t want this, they want to go to the hotel at five o’clock, shower and go for a walk. Formerly he worked until two or three in the morning, or all night if necessary. How many times have Ramón Forcada and I fallen asleep in the car going to the hotel to take a shower and return to the circuit? There was no time for more. The Cobas had to be made whole, there was no replacement, we invented everything at the time. But we did it with a beastly desire. And maybe to take a ride and have the pilot stop because something was breaking …
SM: What is the best memory or the best teaching that you have saved from Cobas?
AJ: He was a guy who got very involved with his people. He knew that we worked a lot and he was always there supporting us. And then he gave you the freedom to express yourself, you had an idea, you presented it and he supported you. I remember already at that time I saw the first laptops with it. We traveled to the United States in 1990, and Forcada, Cobas and I went to a computer store in Los Angeles. Ramón bought one, a Toshiba, because it has been a crack of this since the first computer that came out. And there was also Ramón Aurín. Antonio bought one too. In 1991 we already had our caravan with a telemetry, a laptop and all this. Aurín is the first telemetry of the World Cup, forget it, there was no other. It was 1991, and we already put the telemetry on Aspar’s two and a half, and also on 125. And then in 1991 on Crivillé’s bike, with the JJ Cobas with a Honda engine. It was the milk. We worked a lot, but everyone was looking at us. Everything you see on motorcycles now, the honeycomb carbon fiber collars that are fixed directly to the chassis, for example, is what we had on Crivillé’s bike in 1991. Cobas was innovative, he was a person. that he was way ahead of his time. If he had been here now with the history of CRT and Moto2 or Moto3, this would have been his world, it would have been where he would have really developed his full potential.
SM: Is there a lack of talent, has that spark been lost, or is this world much more hermetic and doesn’t allow that kind of people to come out?
AJ: I think there are people. When they told me about Kalex I thought “this guy has invented a motorcycle and you’ll see the hell that is going to stick…”. Well no. There are people who have passion. To make a motorcycle and see that now the best motorcycle is the Kalex. Suter is a little wilder, maybe, but he’s a guy who puts it all in there. He has raced on a motorcycle and his passion is this, and I don’t think he does it just for money. These are people who do it because they really like it. But not all have the same ability. To get where some of us have arrived, you have to go up little by little, stick a lot of hosts and work a lot. And now this is getting more and more difficult.
CATCHING THE TRAIN
YE: We were talking about Cobas, but we are also seeing the importance of suspension work, for example in Showa.
AJ: Yes, the Showa part is very important. Since 1992, when it was decided to make Showa Europe, based in Barcelona, Goto San, who was the boss at the time, had been chasing me for a long time. The thing is, I had signed a two-year contract with Romboni and I told him I couldn’t. He was so screwed up that I took Forcada there. I told him that I was going to take him to a very valid uncle who he had worked with and that I was sure that he would curdle. It was a very good job for Ramón, the problem is that he got to kill himself with the Japanese, and it didn’t last long. Goto San insisted. In 1993 and 1994 I could not, and in 1995 Carlos (N. del R .: Checa) asked me to go with him to Sito for the issue of the official two and a half. There I met Forcada and Ramón Aurín again. In 1996 the one from Showa already told me: “Hey, I’ll give you whatever you want, but come on.” And I already went to Showa. There I met Juan Martínez, who was the apprentice who had just arrived, the young man they put there. He and I started to make what Showa Europe was to work, and then Santi Hernández came, who was our apprentice; He was not even 18 years old … One day he went with Juan and Doohan, another with me and Cadalora or Kocinski, and that’s how he learned. The Showa years were unforgettable, they were something to frame. And there you learn a lot. I started in Showa with riders like Cadalora, who is a great technician and who also taught me a lot, I think he did more to me than I was able to contribute at that time. Another important person was Kanemoto, someone who contributes a lot to you, because if you are a sponge, you keep all the good things about those people and then that is what you are going to take advantage of in the future to develop the talent that you ultimately have to put a motorcycle ready. Because getting a motorcycle ready is not easy and you get ideas from everywhere.
SM: That from Showa must have been the great opportunity.
AJ: After a few years while I was there, another came to me. When you catch the first train, you pick up all the correspondence, but if you don’t jump and get into the first one … Absorbing people like the ones I’ve worked with helps. When I took the first train it was to change my life, change the country, take my family, with a two-year-old daughter and a fifteen-day-old daughter, and with my Italian wife. My other great opportunity was when Carlos was at Yamaha and he told me: “Man, come with me, I’m not clear here. He left in 1999, but it was very complicated. He hit a lot of hosts and the Yamaha was a motorcycle disaster. I went there with him for two years, but only to help him. And he did nothing, he was there. Carlos paid me and I gave him a cable. And suddenly Nakajima (N. of the R .: Masahiko Nakajima, current project leader of the M1) said to me: “Antonio, from your experience, be a little interested in the technicians, look at the telemetry, give your opinion with us in the technical meetings” . I got involved a bit apart from being with Carlos. In 2000 the MotoGP project was launched and they told me if I wanted to go in and be chief mechanic. They made me a four-year contract to guarantee that I would stay. We started that year the first tests with the MotoGP, with Max and with Carlos. And that was a beastly opportunity. I started as chief mechanic with a new project and from the roots. Now it is much more difficult. Getting to MotoGP is very difficult. It is something very complex. People like Forcada or me, who have lived it from the first moment, who have seen all the evolutions, okay. Now you come here and you see the panorama and you get scared, because you don’t know where to take it. There are a million parameters in every way, chassis, suspensions, electronics, engine braking … And you say: How can you get a motorcycle ready in forty-five minutes with so many things? For people who come from abroad it is complicated, and sometimes the pilots bring their own, but the pilot sometimes does not know what he wants. I want to be with my people and I want to achieve a good result; the problem is that if you arrive like Simoncelli arrived… I always told Fausto that they were wrong but he answered me that if it was not like that, he would not come. After two years, Marco’s people still didn’t know how the bike worked. The thing is, the kid was talented. But if he had come to an already formed team, he would have done much more than he did. Before we had …
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