2015 Austin Thursday MotoGP Round Up: Stoner Vs Pedrosa, Nice Guy Nicky, And How To Beat Arm Pump With Braking

One of the hottest topics of conversation at Austin revolved around two men who were not there. One, Dani Pedrosa, is out after having had radical surgery to try to fix arm pump. The other was a man who would have liked to have ridden, but whom fate, or HRC, decided against. Casey Stoner made it clear in a tweet on Thursday that he would have liked to have ridden, and that he did not feel he needed protecting.

The back story? It seems that it was actually Casey Stoner's idea to ride at Austin, to replace Dani Pedrosa, but HRC rejected the idea. HRC, having seen Stoner's test times – rumored to be well over a second off the pace of Márquez and Pedrosa at Sepang – feared that the Australian would not be competitive at the two races Pedrosa is certain to miss. HRC top brass, especially Livio Suppo and Shuhei Nakamoto, have a soft spot for Casey Stoner, and apparently feared the effect which struggling to finish ahead of the satellite riders could have had upon the Australian. In the tweet he posted on Thursday evening (shown below), Stoner made it clear that he had entirely realistic expectations of how replacing Pedrosa may have turned out.

 

 

What does this mean? It seems safe to infer that Casey Stoner will be back on a MotoGP bike sooner rather than later. A full-time return remains entirely improbable, but a wild card, or another replacement ride, could happen pretty soon.

There was a general feeling of sympathy for Dani Pedrosa at Austin. In the press conference, Valentino Rossi went out of his way to praise the Repsol Honda rider. "[With] Dani, we miss one of the best riders of MotoGP of the last years," Rossi said. "Sincerely, I hope that he can fix the problem, and like a lot of times in the past, he can come back soon, stronger than before." Though still despised by a small number of mainly American fans, for an incident that happened nearly ten years ago, and has been forgotten by everyone involved, Pedrosa is well-liked in the paddock. The past two years or so have seen him open up, the Spaniard often cheerful and smiling, though he remains rather terse during press debriefs. If you can ask him a question he is interested in answering, he is a great interview. If he does not want to answer, it's like pulling teeth.

There was a touching moment with the other party to that incident from Estoril 2006. Austin is Nicky Hayden's 200th Grand Prix, and as the only American rider in the paddock, he was of course in the press conference. His family surprised him in the press conference, bringing in a cake celebrating his 200th GP, and a placard for him to hold. Hayden received  a generous and deserved round of applause from the assembled media and his fellow riders, before sitting down to start the press conference. He was genuinely moved by the whole situation. I watched him closely after being presented the cake, and though he did his best to hide it, the 2006 world champion was choking up. Whether he will ever reach the heights of 2006 again remains to be seen, but he is still a likable and hard-working rider.

Pedrosa's predicament sparked a debate on the merits of surgery, and on dealing with arm pump. We had long conversations with Cal Crutchlow, Sam Lowes and Bradley Smith on the subject, which threw up a few interesting notions. Two things were clear from all that was said by all three riders, all very different in physique and in riding style. Firstly, taller riders have few problems. Secondly, modern braking techniques – using one finger to brake, rather than the whole hand – could be a major influence.

Bradley Smith was particularly eloquent. When asked if he had ever suffered arm pump, Smith confessed that he never had. "Touch wood, I'm fine," Smith said. "But look at my arms compared to who we're speaking about." Though fit as a butcher's dog, as a rather charming English expression has it, Smith is tall, gangly, and slightly built. Compare him to either Crutchlow or Lowes, and they are much more compact, shorter, stockier, more sturdily built. That was definitely a factor, Smith opined. "It seems that longer riders or taller riders seem to struggle less. I don't know if it's the distance between the elbow and the wrist. Because if you imagine all of us have very similar muscle between A and B, but if it's smaller, then it's more compact in there. We're talking about millimeters of space, even less than millimeters when it's inside the body. It's such a complex area, the fact that I have a bigger surface area to spread it about."

Having grown up riding motocross - "one of the most gruelling sports imaginable," in the words of the Tech 3 rider - may have helped, Smith felt. "I think my body is a bit accustomed to it, from six years old I've been riding motocross, and it's one of the places we see it more, and I think I've just been lucky with that." Did it help him to ride more loosely? "It's impossible to say. My braking pressure is the same as the others, but I think it all depends maybe on how many fingers you use on the brake as well. I actually go whole hand to the brake, which if you think we are talking about muscle contraction and being able to get blood in and out of an area, opening your whole hand is potentially helping that circulation through and back. You're also not straining one specific muscle. If all you're using is one finger on the front brake or two, that's a very specific muscle group, whereas if you're using all four, you're spreading the load."

This was a school of thought Sam Lowes could agree to. Lowes also brakes with the whole hand, rather than with just one or two fingers, as is the fashion among many of the GP riders. Lowes put it down to having grown up riding Supersport bikes, rather than racing Grand Prix machines from a young age. He would roll off the throttle and brake in one smooth action, he told us.

Why would using four fingers to brake be better than one? The most reasonable hypothesis is that using the whole hand gives the forearms a moment to relax. If arm pump is caused by a lack of blood flowing through the forearms as riders tense up, and contract their hands into a fist, then forcing the forearms to relax must surely help. Stretching all four fingers releases the muscles which tend to cause arm pump, and allow blood back into the muscle, and down to the hand.

Holding on to the bars with two or three fingers, while you operate the brake with one or two fingers, created a double whammy on the forearms. Braking with a single finger, or two digits, meant that a lot of stress was being placed on particular muscles in the forearm. In the meantime, you are using the other two fingers to hold on to the bars, which are also exerting pressure and loading up the muscle. By using four fingers, there is a brief period with no pressure on the forearm, as the riders unfold the hand and reach for the brake lever. Squeezing it distributes load more evenly, stressing the forearm muscles perhaps less.

Of course, if it rains on Sunday, then arm pump is simply not going to be a problem. Riding in the wet is all about confidence, and with reduced track grip the limiting factor, rather than outright mechanical grip, the loads placed on rider and bike are orders of magnitudes less. So far, the weather looks good for Friday, things getting worse by Saturday and Sunday. But that's just the latest forecast, which is likely to have changed by the time you read this. It is definitely going to rain this weekend, the only question is when. And how much. Things could get interesting.

Total votes: 16
Total votes: 47

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Comments

I don't recall Rossi ever suffering from arm pump. He taller than the average rider and some videos of him using the brakes show him using three fingers. Bradley's comments, like everything else he says, are well expressed.
Ciao

Total votes: 56

Always impressed by Bradley in interviews, intelligent fellah.

Total votes: 37

Never considered myself a HUGE Smith fan, but when he hangs it up someone HAS to grab him for commentary, probably the most insightful dude in the paddock

Total votes: 35

I totally agree that Smith is clearly a thoughtful and articulate rider. I can't help to think, however, that at least some of the impression that he's a particularly thoughtful and articulate rider is driven by the fact that he's a native English speaker.

I'm a decent speaker of Spanish, and I've seen some footage of interviews conducted in the rider's native language and dubbed in English, and I think it's obvious that most riders give a lot more nuance and depth when speaking their own language than when communicating in English. (Not a knock on their English skills, either, which are broadly impressive.)

Fact is, there is no way you can pilot a modern prototype motorcycle with any degree of success unless you're quite a bit smarter than the average bear. To simultaneously assess various performance factors affecting your machine--at triple digit speeds, while battling the best riders in the world--and then be able to effectively communicate any needed changes to improve your results? Well beyond the typical brain's capabilities, I'd say.

Total votes: 35

It could be related to the CSA of the fibres within shorter limbs, it could be spreading the force across multiple muscles within the anterior compartment. Or the longer fingers mean htey have better leverage on the brake levers. Or it could be natural variation of the compartment structure of the population showing up in Dani. The typical fasciotomy/fasciectomy hasn't particularly helped Dani, so he might just be the extreme example, Perhaps he suffers from scarring or overhealing associated with the operation leading to binding of the muscle facia.

Either way. It has gotta suck.

Total votes: 39

...Stoner's tweets just get more intriguing, and revealing. The most tantalizing back story since Rossi moving to Yamaha.

Great stuff!

Total votes: 39

I wouldn't be too sure about it. While Aoyama is no match for a prepped-up Stoner, you have to consider that Aoyama is an active MotoGP racer. He has missed just one race (Qatar 2015) as compared to more than 2 whole seasons for Stoner.

Don't forget Aoyama is also a World Champion (the last champion of the 250cc 2 stroke era), so it's not that he's completely useless on a motorbike either.

Total votes: 55

Who knew motogp riders would have such insights into anatomy. He's going to have a successful career in the sport after he retires from riding.

Total votes: 50

Just points to Suppo not wanting to put Marquez nose out of joint but when you look at it, I can only see it as being to the Spaniards advantage cause there's no way Stoner is race fit and Marc could go about his business without all the attention?
Then again, maybe Marc is a little 'precious' behind the scenes and not the happy go lucky boy most people want to believe he is? Not hard to believe when you see how he behaves on the track.

Total votes: 53

I don't think MM93 would be bothered about anyone, he has all the certainites of youth and the talent back it up. If Casey was fast (and I doubt he would be so quickly) he'd love to race him.

Total votes: 36

Marquez for a "certain" reason is the MotoGP's MIP (Most important person). He is there to win. He is given the best bike, special tyre allocation, backed by race directors and he is mentioned everywhere possible even when he doesn't perform well.

But don't worry, there are always real heroes in MotoGP to beat the plastic ones.

Total votes: 30

Enough already about Marquez' anointed status. (And before you start some circle-jerk theory, I'm not a swooning fan of his, but certainly a rational fan, as I am of many riders. But for the sake of argument here, no favorites. Personally, I hope there's a surprise winner tomorrow, after a blistering battle among three to six bikes. I can dream, no?) Backed by race directors? Please. Mike Webb secretly sponsors Mark Marquez? Wtf.

Did you see Q2 today, when he had one last flying lap, on his second bike, to claw back up from 7th to get to front row or pole? Then shredded the lap record and took pole by .334? Catch that part where MM93 rounded turn (kink) 10, wheel stepped out, bike bucking, throttle wound to the stop in 4th at about 135 mph? I've stood at the turn nine exit and watched the gp bikes crest and bend and light up turn ten there, while going hyperspace on down the hill to 11, and it is - gnarly.

I just don't see how Marquez can be even mediocre-fast, considering that he is presumably carrying his balls around the track with him. Must be like, a ten kilo penalty, not to mention space considerations.

The point it, he doesn't really need much help to do what he does, and he hasn't really been given anything. What help he has, he's earned, by riding like the world has never seen.

Total votes: 34

Surely Stoner is not race fit, as you point out. But given Rossi's performance at Qatar, goofing around during practice, qualifying 8th--when the lights go out, isn't it possible Casey's lap times could go down as his competitive juices start flowing? Turning laps by himself at Sepang isn't the same. Fighting with Aliens in Texas could have been a different story.

Total votes: 50

He said so himself, didn't he?

Because
A) He wasn't going for top times, he was just giving feedback on how he liked the setups.
B) He was running Marc's and Dani's setups which obviously might not be exactly what he needs to go for a top time. And he wasn't allowed to alter those setups to his liking (except for a bit of rear damper preload), which kind of makes sense if you're "merely" a test rider.
C) Dani and Marc were going for a fast lap, at least on the final day of Sepang I and II. They had a whole crew working their asses off to refine the setup to their specific preference.

It is impossible to say just how competitive Casey would be if he had a crew working for him throughout a full race weekend to set the bike up the way he likes it.
If I may speculate a bit: I personally think that after Marc's mediocre start, HRC did not want to take the chance of a replacement rider taking points off of the reigning champion. Especially since we do now have six riders/bikes challenging for the podium (5 without Dani). Casey wouldn't even have had to compete for a win to do that. Imagine if Marc got another one of his "trademark" race-starts. He might just find himself in 5th or 6th place having to overtake Casey. Arguably a harder job to do than finishing in front of Aoyama. And I do mean that in a respectful way. Aoyama is a 250 world champion after all.

Total votes: 69

The first thing Honda need to do is protect the guy that can score them a title, and now Dani is out that's only Marc, who has some points to make up already. Putting Stoner on the bike actually gains HRC nothing. He's not a regular because Dani will be coming back so if Stoner wins all he does is take points off Marc, or potentially get in his way. And if Stoner finds himself in a position to win he's unlikely to back off and wave MM through. Much better to have Aoyama on the bike as he's much less likely to cause any such awkwardness.

Total votes: 43

"Though still despised by a small number of mainly American fans, for an incident that happened nearly ten years ago, and has been forgotten by everyone involved, Pedrosa is well-liked in the paddock."

It's just a little thing but I have no clue what this is about, can someone help me out?

Total votes: 35

Pedrosa took out his teammate Hayden in the penultimate round of the 2006 season at Estoril. Pedrosa's chances for the title were gone while Hayden could have clinched the title then and there (IIRC).
Pedrosa's move could have cost Hayden his title. Luckily it did not turn out this way and Hayden won the crown at the final round in Valencia 2006. The race we all like to remember for the wildcard win of a certain Australian on the 990 Ducati (replacing Sete Gibernau).

Total votes: 39

OMG of course, I know, I was thinking of something happened IN the USA. I saw it live and the Valencia race afterwards. That was a really tense atmosphere. The race pace and crash of Rossi is still hard to understand and I know there were rumours about that specific michelin race tires of Rossi. Anyway, I can understand some American fans hated Dani after that incident.

Total votes: 40

That incident between Nicky and Dani could have turned 2006 into a very different story.

But it didn't. So I think Nicky fans really need to let that one drop...

....Besides, with all respect to Hayden... If you showed an outsider career stats for both Dani and Nicky, not many would guess it was Nicky that had the motogp world title.

Karma?

Maybe, but sport is a cruel game and the fact 2006 will have Hayden's name etched in history as the (worthy) winner is IMO more than enough to forgive a rookie Pedrosa a silly mistake.

Total votes: 35

There really seems to have been a remarkable change in their feelings/attitudes towards each other.

Jorge is tweeting photos of him and Vale with captions such as "having fun with Valentino", Vale when questioned about the possibility of doing the Suzuka 8hr with Jorge mentioned that they have discussed participating in car racing events and wouldn't rule out the Suzuka 8hr in the future together and that it would be "fun".

What has sparked this change? Just the change in dynamics within the team since Rossi's departure in 2010?

Just wondering if there is a genuine bromance forming or whether or not it's more a case of 'if we want to beat Marc, we need to be in this together' mentality?

I can't ever imagine this new found friendship translating to the on track action, but it's certainly healthy for the Yamaha Factory team to have 2 such amazing riders pulling together with the amount of stiff competition in MotoGP at the moment.

Total votes: 52

Iirc, a while back when Rossi re-joined Yamaha, he mentioned that he respected Jorge because Lorenzo had maintained respect for him as rider during the Ducati years.

Also... I SUSPECT the fact that during his return year to Yamaha, Rossi didn't really get under Lorenzo's feet, and last year, when Rossi went a lot better than the preceding year, Lorenzo didn't really get under his feet.

If they have a year when they're BOTH regularly at the sharp end. Then maybe the fun will stop... And maybe that's this year ;)

Total votes: 32

Interesting thoughts from David and the riders. If the issue is actually related to using one or two fingers to brake versus four, then perhaps the symptoms are actually due to fatigue of those specific muscles rather than true compartment syndrome of the forearm.

To objectively diagnose exertional compartment syndrome, compartment pressures need to be measured at rest, immediately after exercise when the symptoms are present, and then after a period of rest, 15 minutes or so. There are specific parameters for these numbers.

I wonder if this test has actually been done on the MotoGP riders, or rather the diagnosis has been assumed based on symptoms.

This might explain the somewhat unpredictable results of the surgery.

Total votes: 46

It amazes me whenever Stoner is mentioned how many of you guys start smiling like a donut ! Give it a rest the racing is more competitive without him.

Total votes: 61

But I'm not sure Stoner would dominate the current field the way he did the last time he raced fully for for an entire season. Marquez and Lorenzo could pose a threat for sure so I reckon even if he came back it would still be pretty competitive.

Total votes: 40

David, was that you sitting on the front row at the press conference?

Total votes: 35

Only if you are happy with a three way battle. At a few race we are lucky to see a multi rider fight but it's rare. Why not hope for more? Whether Stoner would be faster than MM or not he would force some strategy at the top. A third factory Honda? Rossi into retirement? Dani to Ducati? Some way MGP hasn't had 4-5 really fast guys in a long time.

Also I have not forgot recent history. It wasn't just Americans saying Casey Moaner. Much like the East/West coast hip hop battles. Media was quick to write a lot of articles against Stoner vs other riders (Rossi). And most of us ate it up.

Total votes: 44

Speaking only for this American Dani has suffered enough and I have gotten over it. Here's hoping he can make a full recovery and take his place at the sharp end once again. Can't have too many fast guys the way I see it.

Total votes: 41

... David dies a little inside everytime there is a Stoner story and thinks about the comments section.

There is just no middle ground nor compromise from anyone regarding him, even me who loves a bit of drama is getting bored of it!

Total votes: 45

It's a sure fire way to get exposure for ANY site.
Stoner wanted to ride, several bogus reasons why hrc said no, anyone who isn't interested is certainly not a fan of bike racing!

Total votes: 32

it's all about the PR, the fans would forget about Stoner making a comeback if the media would quit giving it such exposure. In racing public relations is huge, the fans perception is hyped up leading to every race.

Total votes: 33