Duncan Bishop

Honda’s PR faux pas

Duncan Bishop

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PR has pitched Stoner and Rossi into battle

There were no dust-ups in Sepang. No snakes run over, no pit lane collisions a la Max Biaggi and Nicky Hayden in 2005 and nothing more than the standard frustration at slower riders towing a ride from their more experienced counterparts.

All good-tempered and pleasant so far in 2012, then. Until someone decided to bring stats into the equation in a somewhat irrelevant fashion, that is.

HRC are normally the most stoic of factories when it comes to public relations. It would be oversimplifying things to say that they are stony-faced and 'typically Japanese' when it comes to promoting their riders, but there is certainly a desire for the Honda brand to represent the best in motorsport on track and become the manufacturer taken most seriously.

Honda's PR man got creative on Twitter last week, posting what appeared to be a photograph taken of a magazine spread. No, it wasn't that kind of faux pas, but you expect that Rossi fans would have been more pleased had it been so.

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Honda burning their bridges with 'The Doctor'

The picture was a graphic comparing and contrasting results from 2006-2011 for Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi. It is hardly surprising that the numbers reflected favourably towards Stoner, bearing in mind the source. What was a surprise was that it was tweeted at all.

Firstly, take into account that for four of the years used in the picture, Stoner wasn't even an HRC rider. You understand from this that the source material was originally presented in a slightly different way to that intended the second time around.

There isn't much support for Stoner in pro-Rossi circles - mostly due to their traded barbs in the press and to some fans' dislike for anyone who dares to beat their idol. Making (or reposting) a direct comparison is not going to win the Australian any more fans.

At best, it looks like the kind of gloating that riders usually try and avoid in their contact with the press: kicking a man whilst he's down. At worst, coming from an official HRC source, it shows insecurity in singling out Rossi and may even be the final bridge burnt on the road to any eventual homecoming for 'The Doctor'.

Rossi added a fun-loving side to the Honda factory team in his time with them - one that hasn't always been present as the manufacturer has tried to protect its image in the MotoGP era. Honda have cut out what they see as damaging personal expression on a regular basis, for example when Nicky Hayden brought his homemade 'PRC' (Puig Racing Company) stickers to the 2008 Valencia GP and was swiftly told to consign them to the pit box bin, or when any number of young riders have turned up to a race with a unique hairstyle that lasted all of Thursday afternoon before being turned into a short back and sides.

Honda's PR man is a good friend of Stoner's and I have no doubt that his intention was merely to talk up his rider, trying something a little bit mischievous that didn't have to pass through the HRC press release filter. It was a mistake - misjudged but not malicious - and any press officer/journalist has been grateful for a sub-editor when whimsy takes over (I confess to once having written the headline 'Rossi faces taxing challenge' at the height of his battle with Italy's inland revenue service). It's not so serious, really; and it isn't the biggest error ever made in MotoGP.

Rossi responded with a simple challenge to compare his first five years in the premier class with Stoner's. Talking up his achievements on the NSR500 and RC211V like that, maybe there is a spot for him in Honda's PR department upon retirement.

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