Meet the Rider Coaches - Niccolò Canepa
Next up in our two-part series about rider coaches is a man well known within the Yamaha family, Niccolò Canepa. He is the team's Official Test Rider and a champion in his own right. Early in his career, Canepa won the 2007 Superstock 1000 FIM Cup and, via competition in MotoGP and other series, became FIM Endurance World Champion with Yamaha GMT94 in 2017, the first Italian rider to win the endurance championship. This year, he dovetails coaching Alex and test rider duties with fulltime racing commitments in EWC with the Yamaha Austria Racing Team (YART) and in MotoE with LCR. He is also a regular attendee at the annual Yamaha bLU cRU Masterclass, where he mentors young riders looking to follow in his footsteps.
Nick, when did you first meet Alex?
"When he came to WorldSBK for the first year in 2014 we were competitors, then it was 'worse' when I became test rider for Yamaha as I did a couple of wildcard entries and we were fighting against each other! But we built the respect for each other because of it and I know how hard he works every day."
How did you become Alex's coach?
"A year ago I was testing for Yamaha and on the first day I was riding, with Alex and Michael on the second. I stayed to watched on track and saw some differences between them, and I noticed some things the bike was doing when I was riding, but by watching I could see it better and give more feedback. So Andrea Dosoli asked me to come to the last races of the season. But it is difficult with two riders - of course, you can see both on track but when you go to speak to them the division is not really fair. During the winter, Alex asked me to come with him this season because he liked the way I worked. I was really happy to do it because we had already a good relationship. He really wants to improve and to work hard, and it makes my job enjoyable as well."
What sort of things do you work on with Alex during a race weekend?
"Because I am also the test rider for the Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team, I know the bike very well. So technically I can help Alex and give him advice if he has doubts about the settings or something like that. This is the most important point for me, because many other coaches don't have this opportunity. I can also speak to Andrew, Alex's Crew Chief and we can all work together to improve the bike overall.
Then as a rider coach, we work with video analysis tools like corner overlays. I shoot videos during practice sessions and testing in the winter, and we can look to see what positive points we can use from other riders. Alex is great because he tries every time to improve and he listens to me. He really understands and trusts in what I am asking. I see immediately in the next session he will try to do it."
Where do you think his strengths lie?
"His commitment is unbelievable. The way he works over every single little detail is great and helps him achieve results. I'm still racing so I'm learning a lot from him! When you are so strong in this commitment, you can do better than other riders. Sometimes, he needs my help to keep in mind the targets for us, for him, for the team and the bike. From the winter, when we started to work together to now, Alex is in really good shape - physically it's impressive and also mentally. He already knows what to do, but I like to be next to him just to remind him of the procedure. Every race I feel like it's easier, and I have less work!"
How do you find it working with a Brit?
"Everyone says I am quite a-typical as an Italian because I am calm - Alex is the opposite, he wakes up early and he's full of energy all the time. We compensate for each other sometimes. For the rest, I don't really see any big differences - I'm learning to have different breakfasts!"
Is the way that Alex approaches racing the same to yourself?
"The way Alex approaches racing is so much better than mine! I have changed quite a lot this year because of it. Some things I may be better at though so I try to give him advice. It's a kind of balance. I am happy to see his improvement and to feel that for 1 or 2%, I am part of it and that makes me proud."
Do you have a rider coach yourself?
"I don't actually; however in YART we have our Team Manager Max Neukirchner who raced in WorldSBK and has been in endurance for quite a few years. He knows the bike and team very well, and looks at us on track during practice the same way I do for Alex - we have three riders on a single bike so it's not the same, but it's helpful to have someone that can give you advice because from the outside sometimes you can see something that you cannot see on the bike.
The 'rider coach' is new figure and 10 years ago nobody had one. If I could go back, I would like to have someone to help me when I was in MotoGP. It is really positive to have a good person next to you that you can trust. Before it was your dad or your best friend coming to races, but it's not the same as if it's a rider or an ex-rider that has technical knowledge. That is so much better and they can look with different eyes!"