Valentino Rossi

Le Mans MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Winning Tactics, Overheating Front Tires, What Yamaha and Ducati Want, And The Impossibility Of A KTM Aluminum Chassis

There are lots of ways to win a motorcycle race, but most racers are only capable of applying one. Some riders can only win they can break away at the front, and have a clear track to ride clean, fast lines. Other riders can't maintain a pace on their own, so have to sit behind a fast rival and wait until the end of the race to pounce. Some need to sit in a group and exploit the dynamics of that group to create the right moment to strike.

Great riders can adapt to any type of race. If they need to break away, they break away. If they need to sit with another rider and wait, they wait. If they need a group to drag them along, they sit in front of a group and slow the whole thing up to control the race and wait to pounce.

The truly great riders can manage all of this, and understand what is needed in any particular situation. They don't just adapt to a type of race, they create the race they need in order to win. It can render them nigh on invincible, as they control the race. They write the rules, and force everyone else to play along with them. Then they rewrite them again, and leave their rivals on the back foot.

Finding a way to win

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Le Mans Saturday MotoGP Round Up: Strategy, Luck, Gambling, And Lorenzo And Zarco Finding Speed

Typical Le Mans weather is what we have had so far at the French circuit. Yesterday was glorious, sunny and dry. Saturday was overcast, gloomy, with a very light rain falling for most of the day. Track conditions were changing continuously, especially during qualifying, the track drying out quickly when it briefly stopped raining, before becoming much wetter in a matter of minutes once it started again.

The fickle track conditions made life very difficult for everyone in MotoGP. The only session with consistent conditions was FP3, when it was wet for all of the session. The amount of water on the track changed drastically during FP4, so a majority of the riders decided to sit out most of the session, only taking to the track in the last ten minutes or so to get a feel for the track ahead of qualifying. But by this time, it was clear that qualifying would be something of a gamble.

The form that gamble would take turned out to be poker. In Q1, some riders raised the stakes, some bluffed, and some folded. That process repeated in Q2, the 12 riders entering the second session examining their cards before trying to find the best way to play them. The cards in play were whether to choose slicks or wets, whether to use the soft of the medium compound wet tire, and the ever-changing track surface as the rain disappeared then returned.

Poker face

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Le Mans MotoGP Friday Round Up: Two Fast Ms, Saves Which Mask A Weakness, And Going Faster Thanks To Ergonomics

The weather is a fickle mistress to motorcycle racing. The MotoGP riders have just spent two sessions in dry and relatively sunny conditions looking for the perfect setup, and all that work is likely to be wasted. Rain is expected overnight, and then all day on Saturday, starting from around 10am, just in time for FP3. Sunday looks like being damp, rather than wet, so even the setup found in what will probably be very wet conditions on Saturday will be of little use on race day. The race will be something of a gamble.

But we still learned plenty on Friday. We learned that Marc Márquez and Maverick Viñales have the best race pace, a couple of tenths quicker than the sizable group capable of fighting for third. We learned that Marc Márquez is still capable of impossible-seeming saves, though that is also a portent of problems with the Honda – neither Jorge Lorenzo nor Cal Crutchlow managed to duplicate Márquez' trick, instead ending up in the gravel. We learned that Alex Rins still can't put a single fast lap together, despite having very good race pace. That it was a carbon swingarm which Pol Espargaro had been testing in secrecy at Jerez. And that Fabio Quartararo is a genuine competitor.

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Jerez MotoGP Race Round Up: A Winning Package, A Mechanical Failure, And A Surgical Suzuki

Motorcycle racing fans have heroes. They worship the riders like demi-gods, beings capable of superhuman feats of speed and agility. And watching riders at the top of their game – Marc Márquez skating the edge of disaster, Alex Rins sweeping through corners, Andrea Dovizioso braking not when he sees god, but after he has been invited home to meet god's mother, Valentino Rossi disposing of rivals like they are standing still – it is easy to understand why they are deified like that. They truly are exceptional, awe-inspiring, breathtaking to watch.

This idolization of riders makes it easy to forget that there is more to MotoGP than just a superhero on two wheels. If a rider is to destroy his rivals, he needs a weapon, and that weapon needs to honed to a fine point before being wielded with the kind of malice racing requires. Bikes need engineers to design them, mechanics to prepare them, crew chiefs and data engineers to make them fit the riders' needs.

Riders, too, need preparation. They don't just wake up one day, leap on a bike and go racing. They must train, and diet, and stretch, and get themselves ready. They must listen and learn from engineers, coaches, team managers. They need support when they are down, encouragement when they are up, guidance when they are out of control. They need to be honed and fettled as much as the motorcycles they race.

E pluribus unum

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Jerez MotoGP Subscriber Notes: On Quartararo, Dealing With Adversity, Young Pretenders, And A Tight Championship

What is a new surface worth? The short – and wrong – answer is just under a second a lap, for Jerez at least. The long answer is that there have been too many changes in the series to give a definitive answer. Comparisons between 2018 and 2019 are complicated, as much more than just the surface has changed.

But the track is undoubtedly much quicker, and the surface is much better. The MotoGP race was 31 seconds faster than in 2018, Marc Márquez taking seven tenths of a second off the race lap record. But the Moto3 race was only (well, "only") 9 seconds faster than last year. The Moto2 race was cut to just 15 laps, making comparison impossible, but the race lap record in the intermediate class was 0.9 seconds faster than the previous record.

So how much of that improvement is the track? Moto3 is arguably the wrong class to judge the track by: what makes the class so enjoyable is the fact that nine or ten riders spend almost the entire race engaged in fierce combat at the front, so nobody is riding an ideal line. Moto2 has different engines, different electronics, and Dunlop brought a different profile tire with a larger contact patch to Jerez, all three of those factors adding a significant element to the much faster pace of the race.

Tight and fast

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Jerez MotoGP Friday Round Up: Exposing Ducati's New Swingarm Spoilers, Honda's Software, And Track Grip In Hot Conditions

Friday is turning into update day, especially since Ducati opened the can of worms which is aerodynamics in places not covered by aerodynamics. The first day of practice at any race now is the day the other factories roll out their new swingarm attachments, or devices, or whatever you want to call them. But let's be honest: they are aerodynamic spoilers.

Jerez was no different. On Friday, both Aprilia and Yamaha debuted their versions of Ducati's swingarm spoiler (poetic justice for Yamaha, as their water-deflecting spoiler from last year was the inspiration for Aprilia and Ducati to start adding parts to the swingarm). Stefan Bradl, making an appearance as a wildcard as a reward for his role as HRC test rider, was spotted riding a chassis covered in carbon fiber (stuck on top of aluminum, not an entirely CF frame).

Normally, test riders don't attract too much media attention, but HRC's obsessive secrecy managed to change that around. As soon as Bradl entered the garage, mechanics from the test team put up massive screens, hermetically sealing off the garage to prying eyes. This alerted the media to the fact that Something Big Was Going On in Bradl's garage, and a group of keen observers gathered every time he exited the pits. That kind of behavior did more to draw attention to what Honda was doing, rather than keep it out of the public eye.

The hidden, the visible, the overlooked

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