Archive - Jul 2008
The renewed suggestion from Carmelo Ezpeleta, that a spec-ECU needs to be forced onto the manufacturers, has crossed over from "concerning" to insulting, disturbing, and offensive. For some background on my opinion, I'd like to refer you to my thoughts at the beginning of the year.
The pervasive or ubiquitous use of the phrase "traction control", when speaking of a problem with the quality of MotoGP racing, is a red herring, at best. Second only to the even more nebulous "electronics", it is now used as a pejorative, intended to suggest that the riders are not in control of their machines and that this is somehow the fault of everyone but the governing body for the sport. Every team is confronted with the same issue: the electronics are more intrusive in the 800cc era so that the bikes can finish the races on artificially small fuel loads.
I'll put this another way, in order to be more blunt: attempting to call this "traction control" is fraudulent. Rev-limiters and throttle-limiters functioning as fuel misers have overlapping benefits with traction control mapping, but the objectives are different. As Jorge Lorenzo has shown us, a bike can still high side while "thinking" it is saving fuel and "controlling traction". Anyone suggesting that a spec-ECU is the solution to overly paternalistic electronics, or excessive cornering speed, is (L-Y-I-N-G) not telling the truth. A rough equivalent would be to feed a child only rice and water and then begin to lament that he or she is problematically thin. Believing that a subsequent change to "homogenized rice" will solve the problem would be considered sophistry by anyone observing from the outside. This is obfuscation, and an inquiry into motive is begged...
I don't know if governmental leaders around the world behave as they do in the United States - I've read just enough Machiavelli to believe that it's probable - but here we have many problems whose origins are in governmental regulations. The Congress, with the "help" of regulators and well-funded "special interests", author new legislation that often drastically alters the course and cost of living or doing business; changing the rules mid-game, if you will. What ensues is voluminous, expensive "study" into the "unintended consequences" of the legislation and regulations, attempting to identify the problems that are, somehow, not traced back to the changes brought about by the new laws. What eventually follows is more legislation to make the whole process even more complicated and expensive, and more controlled by the governing body or bodies. However, a repeal of the problematic catalyst never manages to make the light of day, because lawmakers do not relinquish control of something they plotted and labored over seizing in the first place. This is a psychological invasion campaign whose initial purpose was to obtain increased - or total - control, with incremental implementation.
Why do this in a prototype racing series? Frankly, I don't know, but all the fingerprints are there. Constant rules tampering makes the sport extraordinarily expensive for the manufacturers willing to compete, but the consequences become highly unpredictable. The onset of the 800cc era - again, in Mr. Ezpeleta's own opinion, on the heels of the sport's best rules package - brought about a decrease in fuel capacity and a drastic change in tire regulations at a time when the largest tire manufacturer was suffering a significant shakeup at home. Ever since, the CEO of the governing body has been steadily waging a psychological campaign against his own rules package, but he is not recommending a reversal in direction towards something that worked well. Instead, he pursues even more control of the elements of a sport that is supposed to be innovative, by definition. How this benefits anyone escapes me, but there is precedence in Formula 1, and it is not attractive.
Laguna Seca wasn't the only race Scott Jones attended. He also went to Donington, and shot some fantastic images there as well. Now, he's provided us with some of those photographs for use as desktop backgrounds as well. You can find the full selection over on the following page:
Here's a few to whet your appetites:
If the acuity of a political operator can be measured by the skill with which they manage to find alternative ways to achieve their goals, then the people at Dorna are truly masterful. After Carmelo Ezpeleta's previous attempts to introduce a spec ECU into MotoGP was met with widespread disapproval, the wily Spaniard has found another approach.
This time, according to Spanish sports daily AS.com, Dorna will be pushing for introduction of a spec ECU on the grounds of safety at a meeting to be held at the Czech Grand Prix in Brno. After the reduction in capacity from 990 to 800 cc failed so spectacularly to slow the MotoGP bikes down - with lap records falling during the very first season of the reduced capacity - Dorna is looking around for another way to reduce speeds. The reduced top speed has led to dramatically increased corner speeds, meaning that crashes are now happening at higher speeds, and that the smaller bikes are arguably more dangerous than the old fire-breathing 990s.
The idea is that a spec ECU could be used to artificially reduce performance, meaning that the bikes could be made slower. However, even the most cursory examination of this argument reveals how deeply flawed it is, as it is essentially a rehash of the capacity reduction. If you reduce performance, you simply increase the importance of corner speed, and make crashes happen at even higher speeds, as riders struggle to maintain as much momentum as possible through the corners.
In addition to the great photos from Laguna Seca, Scott Jones also provided us with some superb images from the British Grand Prix at Donington a few weeks earlier. Now, we've made some of his best pictures from that race available as desktop images as well. So far, the images are only available in one resolution, but check back for higher resolutions later.
Alex de Angelis, not happy in the rain: 1024x768
Randy de Puniet, equally fast looking both forward and back: 1024x768
The most consistent of the rookies, Andrea Dovizioso: 1024x768
Colin Edwards, just short of the podium: 1024x768
Toni Elias: 1024x768
We gave you a little appetizer earlier, now we have the full 19 course meal. Scott Jones' fantastic photographs shot at Laguna Seca as MotoGPMatters.com's official representative are now online, and ready to gracefully adorn your desktop.
You can find them here:
Here's a taster, to let you know what you're in for:
As promised last week, here are some of Scott Jones' fantastic photographs from Laguna Seca for download as desktop images. The images are available in three sizes to suit most desktops: 1400x1050, 1280x1024, 1280x800 and 1024x768. If you would like to see the images in other resolutions, let us know.
The Corkscrew part 2 1280x800
As promised last week, we now have some of Scott Jones' fantastic photographs from Laguna Seca and Donington available for download as desktop images. The images are available in three sizes to suit most desktops: 1280x1024, 1280x800 and 1024x768. If you would like to see the images in other resolutions, let us know. So, here's the first few of Scott's images, with the rest of them available on this page.
As expected, the Chinese round of MotoGP at Shanghai is off the calendar, and as predicted earlier this week, the Hungarian Grand Prix will take place in late summer. But the calendar has a lot of significant shakeups: Motegi moves from late September to the spring, June is a lot less busy, with only 2 lots of back-to-back races in 2009, rather than three pairs which we saw this year. The British Grand Prix moves from June to late July, and Estoril switches back to October.
|May 17th||France||Le Mans|
|July 5th***||United States||Laguna Seca|
|July 26th||Great Britain||Donington Park|
|August 16th||Czech Republic||Brno|
|September 6th||San Marino & Riviera di Rimini||Misano|
|October 18th||Australia||Phillip Island|
|November 8th||Valencia||Ricardo Tormo - Valencia|
* Evening race
** Saturday race
*** Only MotoGP class
Dorna officially announced today that MotoGP is likely to be returning to Hungary for the 2009 season. The proposed race will be held at the Balatonring, a circuit currently being built near Lake Balaton in Hungary. The series has visited Hungary twice before, in 1990 and 1992, and MotoGP has a huge following in the country, in part due to the phenomenal success of Gabor Talmacsi in the 125 cc class.
The announcement is not a confirmation that the race will actually take place. Dorna merely proposed to the FIM, the official sanctioning body, that the race be included on the calendar. The FIM is not obliged to accept the proposal - though they generally tend to - and the track will need to be approved before racing can take place.
This is likely to mean a shakeup in the rest of the calendar. The track, which is still under construction, has to be approved two months before the race is to take place, which would be cutting it very close if the race is to replace the Chinese Grand Prix, which took place at the beginning of May. A more likely scenario is that Misano will be brought forward to early May, the weather on Italy's Adriatic coast allowing such a move, and the Hungarian Grand Prix could take place in early September, giving the consortium currently building the facility plenty of time to finish construction.
Since the end of last season, Honda has been in a quandary about what to do with its pneumatic valve engine. Despite the vast amounts of time and money being poured into the lump, the air valve RC212V remains a powerplant with non-trivial problems. Only Nicky Hayden's loud and public demands to be allowed to use the engine have caused HRC to relent, and to give the American what he wants.
Meanwhile, Honda has been forced to continue development on the steel-spring valve engine as well, just to allow Dani Pedrosa to keep up with the Ducati and the Yamaha. Having two engines being developed in parallel is a time-consuming and expensive exercise.
Pedrosa had every reason to stay with the steel spring engine: Despite the small power deficit, the bike suited Pedrosa's style perfectly, and helped keep him either near or at the front of the 2008 MotoGP championship race. Until the Spaniard crashed out of the lead at the Sachsenring, that is. A DNF in Germany, followed by another blank at Laguna Seca, where Pedrosa failed to start due to the injuries he sustained in the crash, means that Pedrosa has seen a 4 point lead be replaced by a 41 point deficit.
In theory, motorcycle racing is simple. A bunch of riders line up at the start, and the fastest rider and bike combination wins. But theory has a way of falling so disappointingly short when faced with reality, and this is no exception. After all, it isn't the fastest rider who wins, but the first rider to cross the line. Examples are legion of riders who are incredibly fast, but who have a tendency to find a way to end in the gravel, rather than the winner's circle.
And there is more than one way of ensuring you are first across the line. Every rider has their own approach, a way of leveraging their own strengths to beat the opposition, bending the race to follow the direction which will play into their hands, and away from their rivals. Their tactics and strategy are almost a signature, a little piece of racing DNA, and speaks both of their ability and of their racing heritage.
Dani Pedrosa, for example, wants to get an early lead then settle into a fast rhythm, lapping as precisely and perfectly as he can, each corner taken at the fastest speed possible. He treats each race more like a time trial than a group race, and can push the bike hard from the start of the race all the way to the end, his concentration never lapsing, his speed only flagging in the final laps as the engine management systems start leaning out the bike to conserve fuel. Ironically, Dani Pedrosa has the perfect mindset and strategy to win the Isle of Man TT, and the worst possible physical stature to deal with the rough, uneven conditions encountered when racing on public roads. But on the relatively smooth, manicured asphalt of a short circuit, Pedrosa is almost unbeatable.
Casey Stoner most resembles his fellow Australian and five-time World Champion Mick Doohan. Like Pedrosa, Stoner likes to run fast, perfect laps, but where Pedrosa lets his concentration be disrupted when battling with other riders, Stoner relishes the opposition. Just as Mick Doohan did before him, it merely increases his determination step up the pressure another notch, pushing harder still until his opponents cry mercy, and capitulate. Stoner lays his rivals out on the rack, and stretches them and stretches them until they can take no more.
Other riders require the challenge of rivals to be at their best. Kevin Schwantz was at his best in a brawl, when wile, cunning and brute force could overcome the speed of his opponents. If you went into the last lap with Schwantz on your tail, you were in real trouble, as the American racing legend would surely find a way around you before the lap was over, and steal the win you'd worked so hard to secure. Left to run on his own, however, Schwantz would let his concentration lapse, and start to sag. The measure of Schwantz' motivation was made clear after the crash that broke Wayne Rainey's spine. Without the pressure of Rainey chasing him every foot of the way, Kevin Schwantz started losing interest, and retired shortly afterwards.
Like his hero Schwantz, Valentino Rossi is another rider who prefers the challenge of competition. Rossi rides best when he has others to push him, and is forced to up his game to match their attacks. But though the Italian enjoys close battles, that isn't the way that he wins races. Valentino Rossi's tactics have much less to do with bikes, or tires, or passing, and much more to do with pressure.
Like Casey Stoner, Rossi wins by mercilessly applying pressure on his rivals until they crack. But while Stoner applies pressure by just going faster and faster until the opposition can no longer keep up, Rossi does so by finding his opponents' weak spots, and like a practiced master of martial arts, exerting just enough force to incapacitate them, waiting until they make a mistake.
But the tactics which proved to be so deadly when dealing with Max Biaggi and Sete Gibernau have been useless when confronted with Casey Stoner. When Rossi raced Biaggi and Gibernau, all he needed to do was sit snapping at their heels for long enough, and at some point, distracted by the pressure from behind, both Biaggi and Gibernau could be counted upon to make a mistake and hand Rossi the win.
Neither Casey Stoner nor Dani Pedrosa are particularly susceptible to this. Stoner, especially, is oblivious to anything happening behind him, and once he gets a clear track ahead, he changes gear and takes off. However hard Rossi pushes, Casey Stoner just doesn't seem to notice, and gets on with the job of putting in lap after scorching lap until even the seven-time World Champion cries enough. Mr Perfect is not just fast, he is also impervious to pressure.
Wow, what a race! Rossi was all business on the grid.
Stoner was focused.
The front row prepared for battle...
If you haven't already seen the 2008 Red Bull US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca, then make sure you do, as quickly as possible. Beg, borrow, steal a copy of the race. Head on over to MotoGP.com and sign up for the rest of the season package, just so you can watch the race online. Whatever they're asking, just pay them, because it's worth it. That race was a piece of history. If you love motorcycle racing, or even if you only have a mild interest in motorcycle racing, watch that race.
Full results of the 2008 US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca.