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Between the Races: Kawasaki's Mike Preston
November 16, 2005
By Laurel C. Allen

The average race fan will never know Kawasaki Road Race Manager Mike Preston’s face—a fact he doesn’t seem to mind. (Rather than provide a photo of himself for this interview, Preston asked that we use pictures of Tommy and Roger Hayden instead, saying “I’m not the one who belongs in the spotlight. I don’t do anything special.”) Busier than ever behind the scenes, Preston heads up the factory green team, which delighted road race fans with the recent announcement that the squad will return to Superbike racing for 2006. When we heard that the Haydens had traveled to Japan to try out the new ZX-10s, we had to give Preston a call.

Road Racer X: Can you tell us a bit about the recent test—where it was and what the facility is like?
It was at a track that Kawasaki owns called Autopolis…. We stayed in the town of Kumamoto, and from this town it’s about a 30-minute drive up a mountainside, and it’s actually in the mountains, at probably around 3,500 feet. It’s a really beautiful setting right now: Some of the trees are gold and it’s fall back there, but there’s still a lot of green—big meadows, rolling hills.

Autopolis is a regular, full-on racetrack, built about 25 or 20 year ago. I think what happened was that it never got used because it’s on the southern island of Japan—Shikoku—so there wasn’t much attendance. People tried to hold some big Japanese nationals there—auto events, motorcycle events—and they still have a superbike national event there, but they eventually went bankrupt or whatever and Kawasaki ended up buying it. We’ve had it for two years now, and they’re in the process of renovating it.

Sounds great. How long were you there?
Well, the adventure started out a little slower than it was supposed to. We were supposed to leave here on a Saturday…. Both Tommy and Roger were going to ride, and then it was myself, Dan Fahey, and one of our staff guys. Tommy and Roger had a little hiccup leaving Kentucky with the plane that was supposed to take them from Kentucky to Chicago…. While it was refueling, the guy in the plane actually tried to drive off. So they were a day late, and then we ended up being a day late as well because of a plane delay. We all got there Monday night, then the boys had to wake up and go test on Tuesday and Wednesday, which wasn’t exactly ideal because of the 15-hour time difference, but they got it done.

What were you testing, and what did Roger and Tommy have to say about it?
Well, for us it was the first time we could ride the new ZX-10. It wasn’t in full race trim yet, but the idea was to test engine components…. We sent our race bike from last year over there as a baseline, and they prepared us a new bike with a superbike engine. Dunlop provided us with tires, and the guys ended up pretty excited…. It’s definitely better than what we had, so I think they’re real encouraged about that.

They were consistently a second faster on the new bikes. Actually, they were a little faster than that but I don’t want to get too crazy. They always wanted to ride the new bikes more and more—they said the new bikes were faster and better. The new bikes had some better handling, the boys noted that, and for sure they liked the motor better. It was definitely a lot better and easier to ride overall, which might have contributed to the faster lap times, too. It started sprinkling during the last half of our final day—just enough to keep us off the track—but basically the boys were faster and faster each time they went out and they always wanted to ride more.

Did you do anything interesting off the track while you were there?
It was a really good opportunity for us to meet with the Kawasaki people in Japan, find out how much they’re going to support us. Our meetings were really good, even better than anticipated. I think there’s going to be more support than anticipated. It was also great because Roger and Tommy were in the meeting—that was probably their least-favorite part of the trip—but they were asked for their opinion of the bikes, and that right there tells me the Japanese are even more pumped up than what I’d told the boys to expect, so that’s really exciting for me and my staff. Some of the people involved were around when we were doing Superbike before, so they’re excited to be getting back into it. It was also the first time a lot of the people in Japan met Tommy, and for sure the first time some have met Roger. We send race reports every week and they know about these young guys winning, but it’s nice for them to match the faces to the names.

How did the boys like Japan?
Well, Tommy already knew what to expect…. Kumamoto is a pretty remote place, and I’ve probably been there 50 times, but the track is new to me—it was only the third time I’d been. Eating was a little limited, but the guys did fine. Plus, after that we flew into Osaka, and that’s not too far from our factory in Kobe, which is an area that I’m real familiar with. So we were there two and a half days, and when we were there the boys ate nice meals, and they had fun. Near our hotel the boys found a shopping center, and on the fourth or fifth floor there was an amusement arcade—you go in and get a card, and inside they have any video game you can image plus a full soccer field, basketball court, batting cage, things like paintball… They were in there a couple of nights playing games.

When’s the next time the new bikes will be on a racetrack?
Fontana is the next. It’s a joint team test; Yamaha is the primary on that one but we’ll join in—it makes it better for everyone. It’s nice to see where you’re at compared to others, and if we rent a track by ourselves for two to four bikes, we don’t get enough rubber down to make it really good. And we want this to be good—everyone here is really excited for 2006.

Source: Road Racer X
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