Casey Stoner

The Brains Behind The Bikes, Part 2: Andrea Zugna On Practical Experience vs Data, Working With The Greats, And The Will To Win

Data: this is the information which engineers try to mine in pursuit of ever more performance

In the first part of the interview with Andrea Zugna, the former Honda and Yamaha engineer told the story of how he came to MotoGP, brought in by former Yamaha racing boss Masao Furusawa. Zugna talked about the different roles he played at Yamaha. And he gave an engineer's view of the MotoGP technical regulations, and rules in general.

At the end of 2009, Zugna left Yamaha to join Honda. As Head of Performance at HRC, his role expanded to include the entire bike, and not just the electronics. "In general, performance analysis is where you look at the whole package - rider, bike, tires and everything - and you try to figure out where to work, what works and what doesn't, and so on," Zugna explained.

"I think now every company, every manufacturer has kind of a performance analysis group, also because we are at the point of refinement where you don’t make big steps. It’s more about refining, analyzing deeply and so on. So objective numbers are getting more and more important. But, at that time in 2010 it was just starting," the Italian told me.

Things have changed a lot over the last decade, however. "Now, maybe ten years later, it’s common practice. Not only in MotoGP - you have data science, whatever, machine learning, cloud computing… all these terms that are now normal, weren’t ten years ago. So maybe that was more of a general process in how you tried to get the maximum out of the data you had."

An ocean of data

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Crunching The Numbers: Rider Of The Decade 2010-2019

Who is the greatest MotoGP rider of the past decade? Followers of the sport will all have their own answers to this question, based on their own criteria. One way of trying to answer the question objectively is by using numbers to quantify performance. Sure, the numbers may overlook certain factors. But going over the numbers from 180 races held over the space of 10 years helps eliminate outliers, and separate the signal from the noise.

To qualify for consideration, you have to win races. The 180 races held between 2010 and 2019 have seen 13 different winners: Cal Crutchlow, Andrea Dovizioso, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Márquez, Jack Miller, Dani Pedrosa, Danilo Petrucci, Alex Rins, Valentino Rossi, Ben Spies, Casey Stoner, and Maverick Viñales. Of that group, Iannone, Miller, Petrucci, and Spies have all won only a single race, ruling them out of contention. Alex Rins has won two races, but the Suzuki rider has only been active for three seasons, meaning he made little impact over the full decade.

That left eight riders who have won multiple races this decade: Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Lorenzo, Márquez, Pedrosa, Rossi, Stoner, and Viñales. Of those eight, Andrea Dovizioso is the only rider to have started in all 180 races (he actually started 181 races, but the 2011 race in Sepang was red-flagged after Marco Simoncelli's tragic death, and would have started in Silverstone last year, had the race not been canceled due to the weather). Two other riders have started every MotoGP race held while they were in the class: Marc Márquez has competed in all 127 races held since 2013, and Maverick Viñales has started all 91 races held since 2015.

Clear Victor

Whichever way you run the numbers, one rider stands head and shoulders above the rest.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Ducati’s man-management disaster could cost it MotoGP glory

Ducati won its first MotoGP race in five months on Sunday, but the weekend proved that the Italian factory has forgotten how to look after its riders

MotoGP wasn’t supposed to have a silly season this summer, because all the big names have two-year contracts to the end of 2020 or one-plus-one deals that seemed certain to roll into next year. Then all of a sudden MotoGP is having a stupid season.

At Sachsenring last month Jack Miller announced that his 2020 contract renewal with Pramac Ducati was all but signed. “We’re just sorting out the pennies,” he said.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Do MotoGP greats need to prove themselves on different bikes?

There’s a theory going around that top MotoGP riders, such as Marc Márquez, must prove themselves by winning titles with different brands. And it’s nonsense...

Marc Márquez’s current HRC contract expires on December 31, 2020. That’s 600 days away. And yet journalists are already hammering away at their keyboards, wondering aloud which brand of motorcycle he will race in 2021: will he stay at Honda or will he go somewhere else? Of course, it’s all guesswork, because no one has a clue what Márquez will do.

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Ducati And Casey Stoner To End Collaboration

Ducati announced on Tuesday that they would not be renewing their collaboration agreement with former double world champion Casey Stoner. The move had been widely rumored since the middle of the year, and the announcement was merely a formality.

For Ducati, the bulk of the test work will continue to fall on Michele Pirro, who did most of the development work. Stoner's input was valued by Ducati as he was able to lap at similar lap times to Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo, while Pirro is a couple of tenths slower than the factory riders. Stoner had helped with development of both the Ducati Desmosedici and the Ducati Panigale V4. 

What happens next for Casey Stoner is unknown. Rumors continue to circulate that Honda are interested in seeing Stoner return as test rider, though official sources remain quiet on the subject. 

Below is the press release from Ducati on ending their relationship with Casey Stoner:

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Subscriber Interview: Cristian Gabarrini On Working With World Champions, How Ducati Has Changed, And Carbon Fiber In Racing

There are few crew chiefs in MotoGP quite as revered as Cristian Gabarrini. And with good reason: the Italian has worked with some of the most successful riders in the history of the sport. After a spell as data engineer for the LCR team in 250s, Gabarrini moved to Ducati to work on electronics. In 2007, he was paired with Casey Stoner after then Ducati team manager Livio Suppo had dropped Sete Gibernau in favor of Casey Stoner.

It was a match made in heaven. The pairing of Gabarrini and Stoner proved a formidable one, Stoner winning his first race on the Ducati Desmosedici GP7, and going on to take the title at the first attempt. Gabarrini moved to Honda with Stoner for the 2011 season, where they repeated the feat, winning the championship that year as well.

After Stoner retired at the end of 2012, Gabarrini stayed on to work with Marc Márquez and his crew chief Santi Hernandez, helping the pair adapt to MotoGP. After a year as an engineer for HRC, we was paired with another Australian, this time working with Jack Miller to help him make the massive jump from Moto3 straight to MotoGP.

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Livio Suppo Interview: On Talent, Gambling On Young Riders, And Replacing Rossi

Valentino Rossi's Peter Pan-like ability to remain competitive through his late thirties leaves fans and paddock insiders alike wondering if and when the nine-time world champion will retire. The subject comes up every two years or so, when Rossi's contract (and that of others) comes up.

Though it looks for now as if Rossi will continue, who to replace him with is an interesting question. Should Yamaha go for a veteran to partner Maverick Viñales? Or should they pick young talent for the second seat, and allow them to develop?

Last year, I spoke to three different factory bosses about how they viewed the issue, and how they go about developing talent for their own factories. The interview with Ducati boss Paolo Ciabatti was published last summer, but at the beginning of 2017, I spoke to Livio Suppo, then Repsol Honda team principal, about how his experiences of bringing on young talent, and the problem of finding a replacement for Valentino Rossi.

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Subscriber Feature: Alberto Puig Interview - On Identifying Talent, And Making Champions

Alberto Puig has a remarkable knack for identifying talent. Since a leg injury forced him into retirement, the former Spanish Grand Prix winner has been deeply involved with the search for young racing talent, in Spain and beyond. His list of successes is vast: Puig is famous as the man who discovered Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner, Toni Elias, Bradley Smith, and many others.

Because of these successes, he has often been called to lead projects searching for talented young riders. He started with Movistar, then worked with Dorna to set up the MotoGP Academy, which became the Red Bull Rookies Cup. He has worked and advised on the Asia Talent Cup series, and is now involved in setting up the British Talent Cup.

How does Puig do it? What qualities is he looking for when he evaluates young riders, trying to assess whether they will be a success or not? And is there a rider where he got that assessment wrong? At the launch of the British Talent Cup back in February, I quizzed Puig on his secrets. He joked off my statement that he was one of the best at identifying young talent. "Maybe I'm lucky!" he laughed. But I persisted, and Puig explained what he was looking for in young riders in a fascinating conversation.

Q: It might be luck considered luck if you had only found Dani Pedrosa, but there are so many riders....

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Ducati & Aprilia Complete Two-Day MotoGP Test At Misano

Aprilia and Ducati have wrapped up their two-day private test at Misano. The Italian factories had a grand total of three riders out on track, with Casey Stoner riding the Ducati Desmosedici GP, and Sam Lowes and Mike Di Meglio riding the Aprilia RS-GP.

Testing continued as it started on Wednesday, with Stoner giving the GP16 a proper run out, working in the main on chassis and electronics. The test was private, and no times were recorded, but paddock gossip believes Stoner was quick straight out of the box, posting times which matched those of the factory riders. Though Stoner did not speak to the media, Ducati did issue a press release with a statement from the Italian, shown below. Stoner will now stay on for the World Ducati Week, which starts this weekend at Misano.

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