Analysis

2011 MotoGP Assen Friday Round Up: Tire Talk, And 11.1 = 11.0

It's funny how the mood of the paddock can swing. There was much to talk about after qualifying on Friday - because race day is on Saturday here, a hangover of Assen's Dutch Reformed Church past - such as Marco Simoncelli's second pole, Casey Stoner's relatively lowly 3rd place, Jorge Lorenzo missing out on the front row twice in 7 races, Karel Abraham - yes, the kid with the rich daddy, or perhaps we should say the really, really fast kid with the rich daddy - being quickest of the Ducatis, and Valentino Rossi struggling with the GP11.1 just as much as he did with the GP11.0. But instead, all anyone wanted to talk about was tires.

The topic got chewed over by every rider, journalists moving from hospitality unit to hospitality unit to ask the same questions, and receive the same answers, more or less, the only variation being in the solutions offered. The problem, of course, is that the Bridgestones are simply too good. MotoGP's spec tires offer phenomenal levels of grip - in an offhand comment, Casey Stoner referred to 58 degrees of lean as "not that much" - with outstanding duration. It is common for riders to set their fastest laps in the second half of the race, the point at which the tires are supposed to be degrading and losing grip.

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Ducati GP11.1: Two Parts Different To The GP12

While much of the focus at Assen this weekend has been on how different Valentino Rossi's new Ducati Desmosdici (dubbed the GP11.1) is from it predecessor, the GP11, perhaps the more intriguing question is how close the GP11.1 is to the GP12. The differences between the GP11 that Rossi was riding two weeks' ago at Silverstone and the GP11.1 he has at Assen are huge: when asked by reporters what parts from the GP11 were used for the GP11.1, Ducati team boss (and head of the test team) Vito Guareschi reeled off a very short list: "The wheels, the brakes and the front forks." Everything else, he said, was different.

The GP12, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish altogether. The difference between the 2012 machine tested by Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi last week at Mugello and the 2011 machine which Rossi is riding this weekend is just two parts: a modified crankshaft to give the engine a shorter stroke, bringing it inside the 800cc maximum capacity, and longer conrods to fit the relocated crankpins. Everything else, Guareschi revealed, was identical, the bike being an adaptation of the GP12 which Rossi had tested and been so pleased with at the Jerez test.

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2011 MotoGP Assen Wednesday Round Up, Part 2: On Colin Edwards, And Other Stuff I Missed

Sometimes, you don't get everything you want done late at night, so a few more thoughts which got missed from yesterday's round up. The first thing worth noting - repeatedly, as it's the kind of thing which is easy to forget - is that the race at Assen is on Saturday, a hangover from the race's ancient history (the Dutch TT was first run in 1925, and switched to Assen the next year). This part of Holland was once dominated by a strict Protestant sect which prohibited any activity other than church on a Sunday (especially something as frivolous as motorcycle racing), and so the race was first run on the last Saturday of June, and that soon became a tradition. Nowadays, you can go out and do more or less what you please on a Sunday (though the locals might draw the line at sacrificing virgins in Satanic rituals), but the Saturday race stays.

Last night, Yamaha launched their 50th anniversary bike at a special event in a nearby hotel, which I was unable to attend due to scheduling problems, but the Yamaha staff are all walking around in their special red-and-white shirts, and I have to say they look pretty spiffy. Given that the red-and-white color scheme is Yamaha's original colors (the blue version coming over from a US branding exercise several years ago), I, and a few other people in the paddock, think they should stick with it.

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2011 MotoGP Assen Wednesday Round Up: The Ducati GP11.1, Or Rossi vs Stoner

There was naturally only one topic of conversation in the paddock in Assen, and I'm sure you won't be shocked to hear that it wasn't the composition of the new Greek cabinet. Valentino Rossi's brand new Ducati, the legality of using parts for a 2011 bike which have been tested for a 2012 machine, and what this all means about the machine that Casey Stoner left behind for Valentino Rossi, all these things were discussed, but really, they all boil down to what is rapidly becoming the most over-debated topic in motorcycle racing at the moment: Valentino Rossi vs Casey Stoner.

The two protagonists themselves agreed on one thing: The development iteration just discarded by Rossi in favor of the chassis based on the GP12 frame was about at the end of its potential, everything else they were at odds at. Unsurprisingly, given that this is turning into one of the classic rivalries of the modern era, and that they have so much to disagree about.

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Clarifying Testing Regulations: Why Rossi Is Allowed To Use GP12 Parts On His GP11.1 At Assen

Much has been made of the fact that the Ducati Desmosedici GP11.1 (as it has so geekily been dubbed) that Valentino Rossi is to race at Assen this weekend features a large number of parts - some would say, almost an entire motorcycle - that have been developed for next year's machine, the GP12. Rossi has tested the GP12 now on 3 separate occasions, but the parts and concepts he tested at both Jerez and Mugello are now being rolled out for the 2011 bike. This, some fans and media are claiming, is in clear breach of the rules; after all, contracted riders are only allowed to test this year's machines during the official tests at Estoril and Brno.

Yet MotoGP Technical Director Mike Webb today told MotoMatters.com that his team have been monitoring the tests closely, and that everything at the Ducati tests has so far been completely legal and within the bounds of the rules. Obviously, the GP12 Rossi and teammate Nicky Hayden have been testing is not a 2011 bike (the capacity was checked to ensure this) but if the bike is basically the same except for the engine, why this test legal?

The answer is simple. Section 1.15.1.1 of the FIM Grand Prix Regulations covers testing restrictions, and subsection A is phrased as follows:

Practice by contracted riders with machines eligible for the MotoGP class is forbidden:

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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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