Analysis

2011 WSBK Aragon Sunday Round Up - Momentum Shifts

There is a rather pleasing symmetry to Max Biaggi's victory in race two at Aragon: it meant that Biaggi's win rate in the first half of the season was 0%, but is 100% in the second half of the season. Of course, the second half of the 2011 World Superbike season is exactly one race old - the 13-round WSBK season has 26 races, and race two was the 14th race of the season - rather flattering his 100% win rate, but that won't diminish the psychological impact of the reigning champion's first win this season coming right in the middle of the season.

Biaggi can rightly regard this as a turning point; after a long season where nothing has gone his way, finally everything worked out for the Alitalia Aprilia rider. Most of all, Biaggi finally managed to ride a perfect race, free of the errors that have been so costly so far this season. Even in race 1, Biaggi managed to fritter away the lead, running wide in the final hairpin with just 5 laps left to go and gifting Marco Melandri the win, Biaggi finally succumbing to the pressure which Melandri had so exquisitely applied. But in race two, Biaggi turned the tables on the Yamaha man, tightening the thumbscrews on Melandri from the front, until eventually Melandri crumbled, losing the front - and then getting it back again with a most spectacular save - and running wide, rejoining 5 seconds behind the Aprilia and out of reach.

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2011 WSBK Aragon Saturday Roundup

It is a mark of how Max Biaggi's luck seems to be running that during the final session of Superpole, Biaggi managed to first help Marco Melandri take pole for tomorrow's race, then prevent Tom Sykes from bumping Carlos Checa off the front row of the grid by getting in the way just as the Kawasaki rider was in the final stages of his last fast lap. Biaggi's starting point is good - 2nd, right next to Melandri, and 2 places up on Checa - but if fortune had been smiling on Biaggi, he would have pole and had Checa on the 2nd row, firmly behind him.

Little things like this can make a difference, but despite having the run of the green against him, Biaggi is actually in pretty good shape for the race tomorrow, the Aprilia rider the only man to get down into the 1'58 bracket on race tires, and half a second quicker than championship leader Checa. Checa, Biaggi and polesitter Melandri are clearly the class of the field at Aragon, and on the basis of practice, the three men most likely to be on the podium tomorrow.

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2011 WSBK Aragon Friday Round Up

If you're looking at the times from the Motorland Aragon circuit and wondering how come they're ten seconds slower than the MotoGP riders, it's because they're riding a different track layout. Where MotoGP runs a single long sweeper as the final corner, the World Superbike series races the configuration which includes the more finicky hairpin at the end of the back straight, which takes the riders back to the start and finish line. That short section adds 270 meters, but the hairpin is where they are losing all the time.

The conditions haven't helped either. While ambient temperatures are merely nicely warm (32°C) the track temperature is absolutely scorching, approaching 60°C under the burning Spanish sun, and with no shade around the circuit, there is little to cool the track. 

Despite that, it was Marco Melandri's day. The Yamaha man benefited from having raced here last year with MotoGP, and also from a recent test at the track, but mainly, Melandri is just back in the groove again after Misano. For both sessions, the Italian was comfortably fastest and is looking like getting faster. Melandri is 23 points down on Max Biaggi in the championship, and looking like pushing the Alitalia Aprilia rider for 2nd place, especially with Biaggi struggling on the first day of practice in Aragon. 

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2011 Silverstone MotoGP Monday Round Up - Tires, Elias, Moto2, The Twenty One-Three

The big surprise at Silverstone was not so much the crashes - given the conditions, it was just a matter of waiting for them to happen - it was the riders who crashed out. That Marco Simoncelli went down is less of a surprise - the Italian is fast, but still errs on the side of bravery, with predictable consequences - but putting money on Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies to crash would have got you long odds indeed, and given a tidy return.

The problem was, of course, the Bridgestone rain tires. Undoubtedly superb in the wet, the cold temperatures in Silverstone (remember, this is mid-June, supposedly the start of summer) combined with the wet meant it was hard to put and keep the heat in the tires during the race. Every lap was like an out lap, Valentino Rossi said, the best description of the situation, describing the need to both simultaneously tiptoe around and not get caught out by the tires, and push hard to try to get some heat into them. Some teams had decided to run two sighting laps to heat the tires before putting them into the tire warmers, but others felt it was too risky, given the length of the Silverstone circuit and the brief period before the pit lane closed. Ramon Forcada had decided that it was too much of a risk, and had sent Lorenzo out on a single lap, and Lorenzo had struggled with heat in the tires all race long.

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2011 Silverstone MotoGP Sunday Round Up: On Colorful Language, And Beating Stoner

There's an old racing cliché that says that rain is a great leveler. It turned out to be so in more ways than one at Silverstone, with several key players finding themselves on the floor in the utterly miserable conditions on race day. The most important faller was Jorge Lorenzo, the Spaniard crashing out for the first time since Phillip Island 2009 and gifting the lead in the MotoGP championship to the winner, Casey Stoner. Lorenzo's DNF put an end to an astonishing streak of 25 races in which the reigning World Champion finished in the top 4, most of which have been on the podium, and 10 times on the top step. Consistency won Lorenzo the 2010 title, yet it was his consistency that failed him on Sunday.

So why did Lorenzo take a risk and crash out? Speaking to the press after the race, he explained that he knew he was faster than Dovizioso at that point in the race, and believed he had the pace to run with Casey Stoner. So he pushed hard to get past Dovi, and he paid the price, going down in the first corner.

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2011 Silverstone MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Three Point Seven Six One Seconds

There is plenty to talk about after qualifying on Saturday - both here in Silverstone and over in Misano in Italy - but there is only one topic of conversation throughout the paddock. The magic number being bandied about is 3.761, the gap from Valentino Rossi - in 13th (yes, you heard that right, 13th) place on the grid - to the polesitter for Sunday's race Casey Stoner. A quick straw poll of the media center suggested this was the largest gap between Rossi and pole in recent history, with most journalists saying it is probably his biggest deficit ever in Grand Prix, and maybe even of his racing career.

So what is a nine-time World Champion doing so very far off the pace? Rossi knows exactly what the problem is - the Italian is struggling on corner entry, can't carry the corner speed he wants to and can't get the bike to to turn - but finding a solution is a completely different matter. Jeremy Burgess and his pit crew tried a bunch of solutions throughout practice and not one of them appeared to work. Whatever they did, Rossi stayed resolutely stuck near the bottom of the timesheets, and many, many seconds off the pace.

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2011 Silverstone MotoGP Friday Round Up: Stopping Casey, And Selling Jorge

We're in England, so naturally, all the talk is of the weather. The morning saw all three classes get in a completely dry session, but the rain which had been threatening all day finally fell in the first few minutes of the 125cc session. It rained properly, wetting the track completely, and then promptly stopped. That left the MotoGP riders on a track that was progressively drying, but oddly, only in the second half of the circuit, making for very tricky conditions.

Tricky or not, morning or afternoon, wet or dry, Casey Stoner was fastest, and by an embarrassing amount. The Repsol Honda rider was over six tenths quicker in the morning, then put in a final blitz in the afternoon to put eight tenths on the man in 2nd place, Marco Simoncelli. If you need an illustration of just how great Stoner's domination is, you need only look at the final sector times. While the Australian is either a little bit faster or just a little bit slower than the rest through the first three sectors of the track, his advantage in the final sector - from Chapel through Stowe, Vale and Club over the line - is eight tenths of a second, a huge gap in a forty second section.

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2011 Silverstone MotoGP Thursday Round Up - On Scheduling Conflicts, New Buildings And Dani Pedrosa

This may sound a little strange at first, but if you're a motorsports fan, then this is a terrible weekend for you. How can this be? I hear you cry - there's MotoGP from Silverstone, World Superbikes from Misano, Formula One from Montreal and the legendary 24 hour sports car race from Le Mans. Plenty to go around, you would think, but then again, there is so much going on that there is a huge amount of overlap, and bike fans especially will be losing out.

British Eurosport commentator Toby Moody pointed out that bike racing was the big loser this weekend, a point he also made to FIM president Vito Ippolito at Barcelona last week. The first race of the day at Silverstone is a 11:15 local time, or 12:15 European time, which is 15 minutes after the first World Superbike race starts at 12 noon at Misano. The MotoGP race then starts at its usual time of 2pm CET, or 1pm local time, right in the middle of the World Supersport race. The last race of the day at Silverstone, the 125cc class, starts at 3:30 European time, at exactly the same time as World Superbikes. But both of those races will be hard to see on TV, as the 24 hour Le Mans race concludes at 4pm European time, and the final hour of the race is traditionally fully televised. There might be lots of racing going on, but the bikes, in particular, won't be getting much of a look in.

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2011 Catalunya MotoGP Sunday Round-Up: Half-And-Half Races, And Tough Guys And Collarbones

Race day came in Barcelona, and we had one-and-a-half exciting races, and one-and-a-half snoozers. The 125cc and part of the Moto2 race was pretty good, while the lead in Moto2 and the entire race in MotoGP - with the exception of a highly entertaining between three satellite Ducatis for 9th place - was a complete procession.

The 125 race was the best one of the day, with Nico Terol facing an attack from a different quarter than in Le Mans, this time the Frenchman Johann Zarco. Zarco pushed Terol all the way to the wire, passing the Bankia Aspar man on the exit of the final corner, then giving him a little elbow for good measure and forcing him off the track. From the initial footage it just looked like a racing incident, but the front angle showed the move to have had some intent, with Zarco leaning on Terol to push him aside. The move earned Zarco a 20-second penalty, taking his hard-earned victory from him and bumping him back down to 6th. The Frenchman protested his innocence, though one senior journalist in the paddock said the team told him that Zarco had admitted his mistake behind closed doors. Rossi said of the incident that it reminded him of Max Biaggi's move on him at Suzuka, and so it was the right decision to penalize the Frenchman.

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2011 Catalunya MotoGP Saturday Round Up - Hollywood Pole, And Japan Again

It is rather fitting that Paris Hilton should be coming to town, given the scenario that unfolded during qualifying for the MotoGP class this afternoon at Barcelona. It was straight out of a Hollywood script: after taking down the local hero, the Villain of the Piece turns up at Montmelo, faces down the booing crowd, and then steams home to take pole, his first ever in MotoGP.

Of course, in the Hollywood script, Marco Simoncelli would be defeated on the final lap by the guy brought in to defend the honor of the local hero, and if we were to cast Jorge Lorenzo in the role of Dani Pedrosa's avenging angel, then there is a good chance that Lorenzo will at least run the Italian to the line. But this isn't Hollywood, and despite Simoncelli's pole - taken with a brilliant lap, storming through the final sector to just edge Casey Stoner - it is the Australian Respol Honda man who is still firmly in control at Barcelona.

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