At the end of the first day of practice at Brno, it was clear that there were two men a long way clear of the rest of the field. Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi were over half a second ahead of the man in 3rd, and the only riders capable of cracking into the 1'57s. The timing sheets seemed to tell a fairly clear-cut story of two fast men, a pack of riders all very close to each other, and another disastrous failure by Michelin. The grid seemed to be shaping up nicely.
The problem was, Saturday's weather threw not so much a fly as a whale into the ointment, after a storm front unleashed torrential rain over the Czech track, leaving the circuit completely drenched, though still ridable. With more rain coming in during the day, the grid was going to reflect a slightly different reality than Friday's practice had revealed, and confusing the picture even more, the forecast for Sunday is for the usual warm, bone dry conditions we have come to expect from Brno over the years.
During the morning's free practice session, Casey Stoner had already proved quite emphatically that he is probably the best wet-weather rider in the world, by stomping all over the competition. And as qualifying started in a light drizzle, he continued in the same vein. On just his 2nd flying lap, the Australian took a 5 second lead over the rest of the field, leaving his rivals gasping for breath.
Full times from the official Qualifying Practice session at the Brno MotoGP round:
Casey Stoner was quickest once again in damp and miserable conditions. Rizla Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen was the only man to get close, though still over half a second down. Valentino Rossi was well off the pace for much of the session, only leaping into the top 5 in the last few minutes of the session.
The Michelins continue to struggle. First Michelin rider is Dani Pedrosa in 8th, and Michelin shod men are propping up the bottom of the table.
|Pos.||No.||Rider||Manufacturer||Fast Lap||Diff||Diff Previous|
|3||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||2'10.941||1.332||0.773|
|14||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||2'13.885||4.276||1.609|
Casey Stoner took revenge in this afternoon's session of free practice, taking back the top spot that Valentino Rossi had taken in the morning. Stoner was quickest all session, taking a comfortable lead of well over half a second at one point. But on his last couple of laps, Rossi clawed back some time, getting to within 2/10ths of a second. It's hard to say at the moment, but it looks like Rossi is at least close to Stoner's pace. it was clear that Stoner was really pushing, though, as the Australian ran off track, and was forced to get off his Ducati to get the bike facing in the right direction.
Stoner wasn't the only rider to have off-track excursions. Randy de Puniet, Alex de Angelis, John Hopkins and James Toseland all suffered crashes. Toseland's was at very slow speed, tipping over in the gravel, but de Puniet managed to crash twice in the 60 minute session.
The Bridgestone's dominated once again, taking the top 6, and 9 of the top 10 places. Only Colin Edwards seemed to have some pace, at one point cracking into the top 3. After the drama at the Sachsenring and Laguna Seca, Michelin look to be in for a third disaster in a row, despite having tested on the new surface in June.
While Stoner and Rossi dominated, the good news for the rest of the field is that they managed to closte the gap. From over a second down, the rider in 3rd place is now just over three quarters of a second off Casey Stoner's pace. But that's still a long way from closing the gap.
Practice continues tomorrow, but the forecast is for cold, wet conditions, so the data is unlikely to be any use for the race on Sunday, which is expected to be warm and dry.
|Pos.||No.||Rider||Manufacturer||Fast Lap||Diff||Diff Previous|
|5||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||1'58.264||1.033||0.036|
|14||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||1'59.405||2.174||0.077|
Both Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner are well under lap record pace, and over a second faster than the rest of the field. So far, it looks like Michelin got it badly wrong again, with Colin Edwards the first non-Bridgestone runner down in 9th place. Dani Pedrosa is clearly not fully recovered, and bringing up the rear of the field. Practice continues this afternoon.
|Pos.||No.||Rider||Manufacturer||Fast Lap||Diff||Diff Previous|
|4||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||1'59.134||1.352||0.113|
|14||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||2'00.496||2.714||0.049|
The gloves are off. Neither Valentino Rossi nor Casey Stoner were taking any prisoners during their enthralling and almost terrifying battle at Laguna Seca, and since leaving the track, the atmosphere has only gotten worse.
It started with complaints in parc ferme by Casey Stoner that some of Rossi's passes were too hard and too dangerous. The complaints continued in the post-race press conference and in the media immediately after the race. Valentino Rossi then poured oil onto the fire by dismissing the incidents as the kind of thing that happens during a close race, and nothing to get particularly upset about. He summed it up in two words which are well on their way to achieving legendary status: "That's racing!"
Stoner parried swiftly. "That's racing, is it? We'll see...." Part threat, part promise, it was clear the young Australian was not about to let it lie. In the weeks that followed the race, he stepped up the war of words, telling the Spanish press that he had lost all respect for Rossi, a man he once regarded as a hero. He even suggested that Rossi's fears that he couldn't match Stoner's pace had forced him to overreach himself, saying "I believe that I can be faster than Rossi. He knows that too and it worries to him. I probably shouldn't say it but I think that it was because of that in Laguna he let his ambition to win take control over his technique."
In turn, Valentino Rossi has made no secret of the fact that he intends to pursue the same tactics for the rest of the season. In the run up to the Brno race, Rossi set out his stall quite bluntly: "We have seven races left and I am dreaming of them all being as fun as Laguna Seca!" The message could not be clearer: If Casey Stoner didn't like the passes Rossi put on him in the US, then that's exactly what Rossi is going to serve up for Stoner at every race to come.
All In The Mind
The war of words reveals a deeper truth about motorcycle racing: Though the focus is almost always on the physical aspects of the sport, the speed of the machines, and the delicate balance, subtle throttle control and sheer skill of the riders, a very large part of racing takes place between the ears.
It's not hard to understand why. Roaring towards a corner at close to 200mph, waiting for the very last inch to go from full throttle to full brake while getting ready to find the exact fastest speed you can pitch the bike through without crashing requires incredible concentration. The slightest distraction means braking a foot later, which means carrying a fraction more corner speed, which is so often the difference between exiting the corner ready to fire off towards the next turn, and exiting the corner in a jumble of gravel, tumbling limbs, and expensively destroyed motorcycle parts.
So it's unsurprising to find that mental tactics can be just as effective as extra horsepower. If you can get your opponent to spend a few percentage points of his attention on worrying about you, where you are on the track and what you are likely to do, that's less focus on getting the most out of the bike. A little intimidation can get you a few fractions of a second, time you won't find as easily through suspension adjustments and traction control settings.
Valentino Rossi is an acknowledged master of this trade. Rossi broke both Max Biaggi and Sete Gibernau with his mental pressure, turning them from championship contenders to also-rans, forcing them both out of MotoGP. His modus operandi was simple: get in behind his rivals, and breathe down their neck until their concentration broke and they made a mistake. All Rossi had to so was to show them a wheel now and again, and bide his time until they ran off the track, or ran wide, or crashed out. It worked often enough to make Rossi's 5 premier class titles if not a walk in the park, then at least a jog around the block.
Are You Talking To Me?
Then, two young riders came up from the 250 class, and to Rossi's horror, they were impervious to his pressure. Both Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner were perfectly happy to let Rossi sit on their tail, as it allowed them to get on with the job at hand: pushing the bike to its absolute maximum every lap of the race. That strategy gave Pedrosa 6 race wins, and handed Casey Stoner a world title. Clearly, another tactic was required.
At the previous MotoGP race at Laguna Seca, Valentino Rossi unveiled his strategy for dealing with the relentless pace of Casey Stoner: Get in front of the Ducati, and get in Stoner's way. Those tactics worked beyond expectation at Laguna, but part of that was down to the nature of the narrow, twisty California track. Back in Europe, on wider, faster tracks, it's going to be a good deal more difficult to apply the same strategy.
To do that, Rossi would need more horsepower from his Yamaha M1, to allow him to keep up with Stoner on the straights and attempt to pass him on the brakes again into the corners. The Italian was due to test new electronics for the bike at the post-race tests on Monday and Tuesday, which may be able to help in this area.
Now, in a tacit admission by Yamaha that Rossi's Laguna Seca tactics are going to be tough to apply at the fast and wide Brno, MCN is reporting that Rossi will test the upgraded electronics during Friday morning's FP1 session. According to MCN, the revised electronics are aimed at improving the traction control system and allowing the engine to turn more revs.
Despite the romance and the glamor, life in motorcycle racing's premier series is a merciless existence. Just how tough it is is revealed in an interview MCN's Matthew Birt did with Ant West, in which West reveals his exasperation at his own form. In the interview, West concedes that if he was in charge at Kawasaki, he would probably sack himself, given his run of poor form since the beginning of the season. Kawasaki are expected to announce soon that West's contract will not be renewed for next year.
But finding a replacement will not be easy. Riders are hardly lining up for a shot on the Kawasaki ZXRR, especially after having watched John Hopkins slip from potential podium positions aboard the Suzuki to struggling to get into the top 10 on the Kawasaki. The only thing capable of tempting riders is money, and money is not something in abundant supply at Team Green, despite the Monster Energy sponsorship.
So West may yet get to stay in MotoGP. His main advantage is the fact that he is cheap, and the alternative for Kawasaki would be hiring another rider prepared to ride for pin money, in MotoGP terms. Until Kawasaki can improve the bike and get it running closer to the front, Kawasaki and West could yet be condemned to stick together.
Repsol Honda have just officially announced that Nicky Hayden will miss the Czech Grand Prix at Brno this weekend. The Kentuckian damaged his heel when he landed heavily after a jump during a Supermoto race at the X Games in Los Angeles on August 1st, and is still in a lot of pain.
Although the injury does not necessarily prevent Hayden from riding, racing at Brno could exacerbate the damage, leaving the American with problems for the rest of the season. Citing the examples of other riders who have ridden with injuries only to make their problems worse, Hayden said he would prefer to concentrate on recovery rehab, and come back at Misano fit, and try to finish the season well.
Hayden apologized to his team, especially after having received special permission to take part in the race at the X Games. "I just wanted to do some riding during the break, have some fun and I thought that maybe it'd give me a little spark for the rest of the season, but it backfired on me," he stated in the press release.
Hayden's decision to withdraw from Brno is interesting, from a number of perspectives. Firstly, it points to a shift in thinking inside the paddock about riding with injuries. Every rider does it, as it's just not possible to ride an entire MotoGP season without crashing at some point, whether it be during the race, practice or just on a training ride. If you want to ride on the limit, first you have to find the limit. And that means that sometimes you have to go over the limit. Thanks to the outstanding protection offered by modern protective motorcycle gear and the never-ending push to improve safety at racetracks, injuries are becoming less severe, meaning often riders are racing with some discomfort, rather than serious pain. But riding a large, hard object with protuding parts at high speed will inevitably mean that riders end up hurt, leaving them the choice to brave the pain and score points, or sit the race out and focus on recovery.
No need for an introduction this time, just straight into more of Jules Cisek's fabulous photographs from Laguna Seca.
Typical Californian weather: foggy and cold
You know you're in trouble when you have to use intermediates in the dry
Of course, if you had Bridgestones, the conditions didn't bother you
Laguna's front straight, not long, but still fast
Last year, we ran some photos from Laguna Seca by friend of MotoGPMatters.com, and one of the driving forces behind the rideontwo.com forums and the outstanding MotoGPOD podcast, Jules Cisek, who many of you will know by the nickname Popmonkey. Jules' day job is "something in computers", an occupation which seems to be almost compulsory in his native San Francisco. But it's quite clear from his fantastic photography that IT's gain is photography's loss. Fortunately for us, he's allowed us to share some of his superb pictures from the 2008 US GP at Laguna Seca. And what's even better is that Jules' skill as a snapper is obviously improving.
The Doctor's bike at the Hard Rock Cafe
Names To Watch For: The Red Bull Rookies
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's poor Jorge Lorenzo
The big time:
Like many sports, motorcycle racing is a numbers game. Some of those numbers, like horsepower figures, the dimensions of engine internals and chassis geometry are closely guarded secrets, and kept carefully concealed. Others, the numbers which result from those secret figures, are almost painfully public. Every lap, even every sector of every lap, is recorded, then published on the MotoGP.com website and exposed to the full glare of public scrutiny. Anyone wanting to know just how fast a specific rider rode on a particular lap during a particular session at a given track, and to see where they finished a specific race, and where that left them in the championship, can pop over to MotoGP.com and look it up.
Of course, the ability to look at find that information is completely different from the ability to digest and understand it. To many people, those figures quickly become a jungle of numbers, and they end up not being able to see the MotoGP wood for the trees.
Fortunately, the internet being what it is, there are a few rare individuals who have an affinity for figures, a passion for MotoGP, and the necessary skills to present those numbers in a more digestible form. There are even one or two people who, from sheer love of the sport, then put the result of their labors up for the rest of the world to enjoy.
One such person is Ming-En Cho, a software engineer and interaction designer from San Francisco. She has used her formidable talents to create a MotoGP stats viewer, which displays the results of each race and the resulting championship standings in an easily comprehensible form. No longer are you left attempting to do mental arithmetic and juggling results to work out what really happened, Ming-En Cho has created a simple yet beautiful representation which helps you understand what went on during the race at a glance.
The race viewer shows you the positions for every rider on every lap of each race.
If Valentino Rossi's victory at Laguna Seca made one thing clear, it is that Yamaha is in serious need of more horsepower. For despite Rossi's brilliant tactical race, his victory was in large part due to the tightness of the Laguna Seca track rendering outright speed less relevant. Down the front straight, Casey Stoner's Ducati was clearly faster and Rossi was forced to use every defensive trick in the book, including a few that expanded the definition of a tough move, to avoid being blown away by Stoner's blistering pace.
At Brno, the next race and one of the widest tracks on the calendar, it's going to be a great deal more difficult to get in Casey Stoner's way. Though there are plenty of corner combinations, there are also several places round the track where the extra speed and horsepower of the Ducati will gain Stoner just enough space to start riding at his own unstoppable rhythm. And after Brno, the majority of the tracks MotoGP visits have the wide open spaces that will give Stoner ample opportunity to get past Rossi. If Rossi is to defend his line once again, he will need more horsepower to match the pace of the Ducati round the faster sections of the tracks which are to follow.
So, what do MotoGP riders do during the summer break? Well, while some spend time relaxing at holiday resorts, and others are hard at work recovering from their injuries, Nicky Hayden will be going racing. Racer X, the motocross magazine and sister publication to the excellent RoadRacer X magazine, has confirmed that Hayden will take part in Saturday's AMA Supermoto race to be held at the X Games this weekend.
The race will be run at 4 PM PST on Saturday, August 2nd, and will be shown on live television, on the ESPN network. Hayden has qualified in 15th position.
Hayden has considerable prowess as a Supermoto rider, and spends a good deal of time practicing the art when staying at his California home with his brothers. The combination of sliding and corner speed makes it an excellent discipline for honing racing skills, which is why a lot of road racers use it to keep their skills sharp.
As a taster for Saturday's race, here's a great video, in which Nicky Hayden and Max Biaggi get to show off their skills:
The news that MotoGP would be going to Indianapolis, bringing the return of motorcycle racing to this historic track, was met with interest and acclaim all around the world. The Brickyard at Indy is one of the world's legendary tracks, a name recognized by both race fans and non-race fans alike.
But not everyone is enthusiastic. And we're not talking about riders worrying about problems with grip or the final turn back onto the front straight. No, it seems that the town elders of Speedway, Indiana - the town which is home to the track - are afraid that the arrival of thousands of MotoGP fans on their noisy motorcycles could keep the upstanding citizens of their town awake at night.
Perhaps fearing scenes from The Wild One, the Town Council are attempting to pass a special ordinance banning "unnecessary noises made by certain motor vehicles". The ordinance is specifically aimed at motorcycles revving their engines noisily, and will give police the power to impose fines on anyone they believe are causing a nuisance by making a lot of noise with their bikes.