Subscriber Feature: What Does A Rider Coach Do? Wilco Zeelenberg Explains

The news that Michele Pirro is to serve as a track analyst to Jorge Lorenzo during his time at Ducati was greeted with interest at Sepang. It was unexpected, but looking back at it, a logical and highly sensible decision.

With a total of five Grand Prix titles to his name, why would Jorge Lorenzo want or need a track analyst? Come to mention it, why would Valentino Rossi, with nine Grand Prix titles and 114 victories to his name, employ a rider coach in Luca Cadalora?

The answer lies in what rider coaches and track analysts do. Their role is not quite what many fans believe it is. A track analyst or rider coach is not just there to provide tips on how a rider can improve their riding. They serve first and foremost to provide input on how to make a rider a better racer, and improve their competitiveness.

How do they do that? One of the most important roles of a rider coach is not so much to tell a rider what they are doing wrong or right, but rather what they are doing in comparison to other riders. They often serve as a mediator between the rider and the crew chief, helping to interpret the rider's feedback through the prism of what they see on the track. That gives crew chiefs and data engineers more information to work with, and a better chance at improving the bike.

Winning with Wilco

Wilco Zeelenberg, Yamaha rider performance analyst (an expensive phrase to mean rider coach) for Maverick Viñales, and previously with Jorge Lorenzo, explains by way of an example, of when he was working with Lorenzo at Le Mans in 2012. "Jorge was complaining about problems on corner entry in the warm up at Le Mans," Zeelenberg told me. "So I'm watching from track side, and I tell him, 'you're entering the corner much faster than the rest in the rain. Focus on the exit. The rear keeps breaking away, but don't fixate on that, and focus on corner exit. You looked great in the rain, but you were leaving time out there on corner exit, especially during the warm up.'

This is part of a semi-regular series of insights into the world of motorcycle racing, exclusive for site supporters. The series includes background information, in-depth analysis, and opinion pieces. Though the vast majority of content on is to remain free to read, most notably the daily round ups at each MotoGP event, a select amount of content will be made available solely to those who have taken out a subscription.

The aim is to increase the number of site supporters and be able to move away from online advertising altogether, a model which is broken, as the rise of ad blockers demonstrates. Adding exclusive subscriber content adds value for site supporters, in addition to the desktop-sized versions of Scott Jones' photos for the site. The hope is that this will persuade more of our regular readers to support financially, and help us grow and improve the site. 

If you would like to become a site supporter, you can take out a subscription here. If you are already a subscriber, you can read exactly what a rider coach does, and how Wilco Zeelenberg helped make Jorge Lorenzo a world champion here.


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Trackside analyst perspective is SO good. It is a natural blind spot for a rider. And fan! When you had Laverty's brother's observations about everything MotoGP it was SOOOO interesting!

While it may be a natural blind spot, different riders take and work with multiple perspectives in their own manner. (Just like the rest of us). Jorge has such intense and pointed focus (or as he says, f*ck-yous). It is a strength. And it is a weakness. He is also willful, which is likewise (again, f*ck-yous). His big red X on black surrounded by a white circle a perfect representation. He and the Yamaha in the dry and tires/track surface within reasonable parameters? We have seen plenty - how brilliantly beautifully blisteringly fast.

Here is where I am captivated. The day after the close of 2016, Jorge's very first ride on the Ducati. HOW he rode the bike! Lean angle. Lines. Pace. HOW? Wow. Wasn't that full of promise? Looking like he might put in the fastest lap there and comes up w third. Looking just like he did on the Yamaha.

"Silky smooth, on rails...gelling immediately."
Go ahead, do your own trackside analysis - 5 mins of his first go

This does not include a shot of Gigi's clear pleasure but I remember it. It does say "Gigi has been dreaming for yrs of Lorenzo on board the Ducati..." really? I bet not. Dreaming of a top rider, yes. But of them Jorge is the poorest fit, diametrically opposed to Stoner's rear wheel blasting pivots. A bit of a conundrum. Staying tuned.