Analysis

2011 WSBK Donington Race Round Up - Changing Codes Pays Off

What a strange and interesting weekend the World Superbike round at Donington has given us. That Carlos Checa should win at least one race at Donington was to be expected, but the strong results from the Yamaha camp - in both Superbikes and Supersport - was a bit of a surprise, while the complete meltdown by Max Biaggi was shocking.

To Biaggi first. The Alitalia Aprilia rider started off well, sitting on provisional pole after the first qualifying session on Friday, and joking about how it was both unusual and nice to have people talking about him on a Friday. It all went downhill from there: an on-track run-in with Marco Melandri saw a furious Biaggi stalk into the Yamaha garage, issue a couple of comedy slaps on Melandri's cheek (both meant and received as an insult), getting himself hauled in front of Race Direction and issued a fine (for the slap) and a warning (for blocking Melandri on track, a punishment Melandri also received).

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2011 WSBK Donington Day 2 Round Up - The Handbags Edition

After the second day of practice at Donington Park, we should be talking about the way that Carlos Checa blew everyone away on the Althea Ducati. About the way that Checa got perilously close to posting a lap of 1'27 round the revised Donington track. About Leon Haslam's strong 2nd spot on the grid after qualifying, or Tom Sykes' outstanding 3rd fastest time. Maybe we should even be talking about Eugene Laverty's narrow escape when he had a huge crash at Craner, writing off his Yamaha R1. But we're not.

Tonight, all the talk is of a minor scuffle in the Yamaha pitbox, when Max Biaggi strode in to complain about being balked by Melandri during superpole and issued his fellow Italian with a light double tap, before stalking back to the Aprilia garage:

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2011 WSBK Donington Day 1 Round Up

After a layoff of nearly a month, World Superbikes are back in action this weekend, taking a bold - and some would say foolish - gamble to head to Donington Park in the English Midlands at the end of March. But gambling on both England's fickle weather and the state of the Donington circuit, so close to bankruptcy over the past couple of years, has paid off, and the first day of practice took place under sunny skies and surprisingly pleasant temperatures for the time of year, on a track that was bumpy but ready to race on. The modifications to the track have been well-received in general, with the Foggy Esses having been opened up a little, and now a little faster and smoother.

Max Biaggi is on provisional pole, not usually the place the Roman Emperor is to be found on a Friday afternoon, usually taking another day to get bike and body dialed in and ready to race. While Biaggi will be happy to be competitive this early, it is the Yamahas who are looking strongest, with both Marco Melandri and Eugene Laverty on the front row alongside Biaggi. Melandri's transition to World Superbikes has gone off without a hitch so far, and Laverty has also shown little trouble adapting to the 1000s after spending so long in Supersport. The Yamahas are up to speed far earlier than they were in 2010, and showing plenty of promise this year.

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Racing With A Shoulder Injury: Kenny Noyes Speaks From Experience

Ever since Valentino Rossi joined Ducati, the burning question of just how competitive the Desmosedici GP11 is has been clouded by Rossi's shoulder injury. The weakened shoulder - a result of training accident in which Rossi hyperextended his shoulder, fixed by surgery in November of 2010 - has made it very difficult to judge how fast Rossi could be on the bike if he could ride the Ducati unhampered by his shoulder. As a consequence, debate has raged among fans and pundits over how much or Rossi's deficit to put down to the shoulder, and how much to the bike.

Such shoulder injuries are relatively common in motorcycle racing - at Qatar, the list of riders recovering from post-season shoulder surgery was alarmingly long - as being thrown from a moving motorcycle at speed almost invariably causes some kind of damage to shoulders, arms and hands. Add to this the fact that the shoulder is one of the most complex joints in the body, and certainly the one with the largest range of motion, and you begin to understand just how big an effect a shoulder injury can have.

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2011 MotoGP Qatar - Race Day Notes And Queries

The night race at Qatar produces a strange rhythm for the riders and teams, but it hits the media heaviest. The press are often here till 4am or later, filing stories ready for the next day's papers or to hit the web. Sunday night is the worst, as early morning flights leave you rushing to get things done before heading out to the airport.

So with my 8am flight just a couple of hours away, no time for a full round up of the day's events. Instead, the big things I noticed after this evening.

First and foremost, we got ourselves more of a race than we bargained for. We all expected the Repsols to battle over victory, we all expected Casey Stoner to come out on top of that scrap. What we did not expect is for Jorge Lorenzo to keep Stoner and Pedrosa in sight throughout the race, eventually beating Pedrosa and having a hint of a chance of catching Stoner. Lorenzo celebrated his 2nd place like a victory, and given the right royal kicking the Hondas had been handing out earlier to all and sundry, running with the Repsols is a real achievement. Once we get to tracks with less emphasis on speed and getting drive out of corners, Lorenzo looks capable of mixing it up with Stoner and Pedrosa.

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2011 MotoGP Qatar Day 3 Round Up - Get Ready To Rumble

The first race of the season hasn't even happened yet, but the Honda story is already starting to get old. The headlines are writing themselves, the only thing that an editor has to do at the moment is cast a cursory glance over the wording to check whether it was Casey Stoner or Dani Pedrosa who spotted the fastest time.

Despite the disparity with the rest of the field, qualifying actually turned into a pretty exciting spectacle. It was a race of two classes - the two lead Repsols matching each other's times, while the rest of the field battled valiantly for the rest of the places on the two front rows, but it still gave the viewers something to get engrossed in.

Stoner's 1'54.137 is a spectacular improvement over last year, cutting the best part of a second off his pole time from 2010. And it was the first time we got to see Stoner really pushing, starting to sling the Repsol Honda around like he used to muscle the Marlboro Ducati around in 2010. He admitted in the press conference that he had been a lot closer to the limit than he had been so far during practice, saying he had even managed to get close to tucking the front at one point. The bad news - at least for the competition - was that he had not been that comfortable on the softer tires, and felt he had better pace on the harder race tires.

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Honda's Magic Gearbox: Worth A Few Hundredths A Shift

Honda's seamless shift gearbox has been the talk of the MotoGP world since it first debuted at Sepang, with journalists on a quest to chase down exactly what it is and how it works. The only response you receive from HRC or Honda riders about the gearbox is that it is "better" and that it is "smoother". The best guess about its operation so far has been that it is either based on or very similar to the Xtrac Instantaneous Gearshift System, which allows two gears to be engaged simultaneously, while driving only one.

Since the introduction of the system, speculation has been rampant as to exactly how much advantage Honda's gearbox confers. Wild guesses were doing the rounds, with the highest guess being that it would give an advantage of 0.9 seconds a lap, an absolute eternity. According to one of the journalists over at GPOne.com, Filippo Preziosi said he believed that Honda's gearbox was probably worth around 0.2 seconds a lap.

In my adopted home of the Netherlands, they have a saying: "Meten is weten", to measure is to know. In that spirit, I went out to the side of the track during the test, and took a number of recordings of bikes exiting Turn 10 and shifting up the gears, going past and shifting up. On the basis of those sound recordings, I tried to estimate the length of the gearchange for each of the bikes that I had recorded. 

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2011 MotoGP Qatar Day 2 Round Up - Magic Cogs

A long time ago, when I worked at a software company, we had a timekeeping system that consumed hours of our productive time as we tried to keep track of the projects we had worked on every week. One member of our team was smarter than the rest of us, however. He figured he knew roughly what projects he would be working on for the next couple of months, and would fill in his timesheets about 6 weeks in advance. He saved himself a whole heap of time doing that, while we struggled.

Compare and contrast the lot of a MotoGP headline writer. The way things are looking so far, we could fill in the headlines for all of the practice sessions and races for the next three or four MotoGP rounds well in advance, and get about 90% of them absolutely spot on. Put the following words in any order: Stoner, Repsol Honda, Pedrosa, Dominate, Clean Sweep. Throw in a couple of conjunctions, and you are set to go for quite some time.

It goes without saying that the Honda camp are happy, with both Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa half a second ahead of the rest. Stoner confessed to having spent some time watching videos from the 1997, 1998 and 1999 seasons, in which Mick Doohan, Alex Criville and Tady Okada battled all year long for the championship aboard Repsol Hondas. There was even a Yamaha fly in the ointment, in the shape of Max Biaggi, Jorge Lorenzo's hero as a child.

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2011 MotoGP Qatar Day 1 Round Up - The Drama Returns

So we're finally racing again, after what seemed like an eternity. Even though we were here just a couple of days ago for the final test of the year, walking through the paddock on Thursday was like being in another world. If a racetrack during a test on is a cold, desolate place, come race weekend, there's a completely different vibe.

There was of course much focus and talk about the ongoing disaster in Japan, everyone enquiring of Japanese friends and colleagues how things were in their hometown. As a mark of respect and to show their (and our) concern for Japan, Dorna announced there would be a minute's silence before the MotoGP race, and just about all of the MotoGP teams are carrying some form of Kanji text wishing everyone in Japan well on their bikes or leathers somewhere.

Despite the obvious concern about Japan, the overwhelming feeling in the paddock was a buzz of excitement, everyone glad to have the long wait over and to be racing again. All those hours of hard, tiring but necessary work busting out laps to prepare for the season are finally over, and now those laps actually mean something.

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2011 MotoGP Qatar Day 2 Roundup: A Few Thoughts

What a difference a day makes. On Sunday, the desert was calm, temperate, really quite pleasant overall, at least until the temperatures started to drop and the dew came. Monday was a different proposition altogether; Twitter was ablaze with reports of a sandstorm blowing over the Losail circuit.

As we drove to the circuit ourselves, it turned out that "sandstorm" was a bit of an exaggeration. But not by too much: winds were very strong, with plenty of gusts, and the air was laden with dust. We didn't expect to see too much action tonight, but when the horn sounded for the start of the five-hour session, bikes started to trickle out onto the track, despite the wind.

The wind would be a key player, and expose the weakness of a champion. In his daily media debrief, Jorge Lorenzo fulminated against his bike, complaining that they couldn't get a setup for the bike, they'd gone backwards, and that if they had had to race tonight, he would have been running 1'57.2s and watching the Hondas disappear doing 1'56.0s. "Even my grandmother would have been faster than me on a bike with a good setup," Lorenzo quipped.

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