Interview: Stoner's Crew Chief Cristian Gabbarini On Getting Heat Into The Bridgestones

If anyone was in any doubt about the pivotal role that the spec Bridgestone tires play in MotoGP, this year will have made their significance abundantly clear. The stiff tires offer unbelievable levels of grip, but only once up to temperature, feeling vague and distant while still cold. That presents riders with a paradox: to go fast, the tires have to be warm, but to get heat into the Bridgestones - the front especially - you have to push it hard to make it work.

Championship leader Casey Stoner has proven to be a master at handling this dilemma, seemingly achieving astonishing levels of lean angle and getting his Repsol Honda RC212V turned faster than anyone else on the grid. When asked about the method he uses for getting heat into the tires, Stoner has spoken several times about using the throttle to load the front. 

To an untrained observer - and even to people who do have the training - this doesn't seem to make sense. After all, use of the throttle makes the front wheel want to lift, doing the polar opposite of loading the front Bridgestone. To understand exactly what Stoner means by "using the throttle to load the front," we turned to the man who knows exactly what the Australian is doing when he rides the bike: Stoner's long-time crew chief Cristian Gabbarini. Gabbarini, who worked with Stoner at Ducati, and joined HRC when the Australian moved to Honda, took time at Brno to answer our questions. Here's what he had to tell us:

Q: Casey talks about using the throttle to load the front to put more temperature in the tire. Whenever other people talk to me, they say "but surely the front gets light and that doesn't work." So can you explain the mechanics of that to me?

It's not exactly like this. In general, you can load the front by weight distribution, changing weight distribution, or using - I don't want to say too much, but more than normal front brake. To keep the front down and keep the load over the front tire. But when Casey says this, using the throttle, because when you - how to say? - you push more, not just by the throttle, by the speed, you enter in the corner 5km faster than usual, you load more suspension at both ends, you have to brake harder, you have to go in harder, so you load more both tires. When you enter the corner, mainly it's the front. So, in general, when you push more, you load more the front in this phase of the corner.

Q: so you're loading it more on corner entry, and then through the corner as well, but as soon as get on the gas, the load comes off the front?

Usually yes. It's difficult to load more the front using the throttle when you exit. In general, when you exit, and especially in Casey's case, he picks up the bike very quickly, trying to have as little lean angle as possible, to have more acceleration. What Casey usually did and does, he loads the front a lot by braking when he is going into the corner.

Q: So trail braking, braking all the way into the corner

Yeah. You can see the suspension travel on the front is very deep, with a lot of lean angle. He believes a lot in the front tire, and to be honest, this is one good way to make the front tire work, because everybody is complaining about warming the front tire up, you have to push, to stress it, to make it work. But you have to believe in it.

Q: To me this seems to be key. The tire doesn't work until it's hot, but the only way to get it to work is to believe in it and brake hard.

At the beginning, while the bike is still in upright position, you brake hard in the first part and you start to warm it up, because the tire starts to move and so for the internal friction, it starts to warm up, and also the compound starts to move so... Because of the friction in general, you can put energy in and warm up the tire. Then you have to still keep the brake on and go into the corner. In general this is the riding style of Casey.

Q: Next year, the construction is going to be a little bit less stiff from what I understand from Bridgestone...

This is what I heard. But to be honest, we tried just a couple of tires, and it's difficult to say.

Q: Do you think this will make any difference to Casey's style, or will it work anyway?

Sure, both. Casey's style and setting. But as usual, if you have the possibility to choose one tire, also if with the same carcass you use the hardest option of the compound, all the stiffness of the tire overall is higher. So the compound makes a part of the difference.

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Total votes: 63

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Are we to infer that not all the riders are trail-braking into the corners? I was always under the assumption that it would be a pretty standard technique for every rider on the grid, even if the Bridgestone wasn't so difficult to get warm.

Or is it just being pointed out that Casey's a lot better at the technique, a-la Scott Russel back in the day?

EDIT: Or perhaps just an Aussie translation for "use the throttle" = trail-braking...

Total votes: 218

Gabbarini's translation - when Casey says "throttle" he means "brakes".

Total votes: 186

Sounds like a bog stock standard racing technique to me, sharp and hard braking whilst upright with lessening pressure on the lever as the gyroscopic forces take over to make as smooth a transition from braking to cornering keeping the suspension movement consistent and level. Perhaps Stoner does it better than anyone else but the technique is hardly a revelation.

I wonder how much rear brake Stoner uses? In the past it would be used to tighten a riders line. I suspect some of them wouldn't use the thing at all.

Total votes: 170

I wouldn't bet any money on it, but I think Hayden is the only one using significant amounts of rear brake.

Total votes: 160

Good thing you didn't bet any money.
Check out David's third paragraph here. :-)

Total votes: 167

I was actually thinking other then Casey, but I did not say that... so I sounded kind of dumb. But yeah, one time speedway guy (Casey) and one time flat-tracker (Hayden), it's no surprise they they're big on the rear brake.

Total votes: 172

Casey mentioned after the race at Indy that his leg was sore from using so much rear brake.

Total votes: 151

In interviews this week Stoner said that he felt very tired toward the end of the race at IMS because he was using a lot of rear brake.

In any case this article only covers an element of Stoner's technique. Capirossi has said that Stoner's technique is almost impossible for other riders to copy. Rossi has made similar comments.

On another note, I can't think of any rider whose technique has been so exhaustively analysed as Stoner's. Stoner himself has provided some remarkable insights into his craft. This is surely a great thing for MotoGP fans. It's such a pity that there is so much animosity towards Stoner from some quarters. Better to learn to appreciate such a great talent, which should have been obvious to everyone after his astonishing championship in 2007.

Total votes: 182

While Casey can be a bit dour at times, it's beyond me why it bothers people so much. It has zero affect on my appreciation for the guy's talent.

Total votes: 175

Casey Stoner is an alien, with a very particular style, very impressive, a real genious.

I don't see any animosity against him, I would say a lack of love and passion when we compare to Rossi.

But the guy doesn't care, he's honnest, fair, fast as evil and intelligent ... has a great wife, earns lots of money ... he has what he deserves for sure.

Passion and love are not directly linked with talent and results, they're also linked with personnality and I dont know how to say it in english "pleasure to share with fans"

For sure, im "closer" to Rossi spirit ... this "game spirit", this humor ... but that doesn't mean i have animosity towards Stoner, he just doesn't give me the passion and the love ... but he probably does with other people, good for him, good for them.

There has been Doohan era (5 years), then Rossi (9 years) ... we're probably at the beginning of Stoner's one ... he has for sure both the talent and the balls to accomplish such an exploit

The next couple of years will tell

Total votes: 160

Perhaps Casey is (trail)braking while on the throttle?! This may sound counter intuitive, and would reduce traction and lean angle, but it would load the suspension front and rear, creating more friction and thus heat.

Total votes: 193

Not perhaps, he is...

Just like left foot braking in a car.

Hell, I even pedal against the front brake on my mountain bike in certain corners to make the front tire bite.

Any and all of that is hardly new technique, I guess people were confused by Casey's explanation of it in the past.

Total votes: 169

Any and all of that is hardly new technique

I've never, ever heard anyone suggest keeping the throttle on while using the front brake. My practical experience of doing it by mistake was a broken collarbone and a couple of cracked ribs.

As for rear brakes, if you look at the 3 Repsol bikes you'll notice that one has a larger diameter rear disc and a 4-piston rear caliper. It's not Casey's :)

Total votes: 192

I wouldn't dare try it on a motorcycle, I'm no where near a good enough rider, plus it's not a technique for the street, unless you have a death-wish.

The reason I mentioned Scott Russell above, is he was the first guy I noticed doing it when I became aware enough. Then I happened to read an article about it (or maybe it was the other way around, who could remember anymore).

Anyway, the rider doesn't have the throttle wide open against the brakes, but enough to be loading up the the front suspension through the apex. Not only do you get better front grip, it also helps the bike rotate.

And no, Scott didn't invent this either... he was just way better at it then anyone in the AMA or WSBK at the time.

EDIT: tried to find the article I was referring to, but that shit is so old I don't think it's on the internet. But I did find this gem...

"Q: You once said that you discovered late in your career that the brakes can be your friend. Can you expand on that a little bit? Did you go part of it thinking they weren't your friend?

A: Well, there's a point in time when you ride a Superbike, that because you need to get the motorcycle to steer and change directions, that the longer you can hold the front brake lever on, the sharper the steering geometry remains throughout the turn. So without pulling in on the brake lever and compressing the front end, you can't get a Superbike to turn perfectly. There was one point in time, after watching all kinds of videos, that I was like, "Man, look at Scott Russell! How long is he going to hold that stupid brake lever in?" He held it in all the way through the turn. And I watched Anthony Gobert. He does the same thing. He'll hold the brake lever on and thumb the throttle. It's all about keeping the nose down. And these guys that ride the Ducatis have got to do that to stay up with the in-line four-cylinder Japanese bikes.

There was just some point in my career that I just said, "You know, I used to be afraid of plowing the front end on the way in, and now it's become a comfortable experience." But it didn't happen soon enough, because I retired shortly after I discovered this."

http://www.superbikeplanet.com/2005/May/050525ski-interview.htm

Total votes: 176

That's pretty wild. Obviously the first part is just about trail braking, but getting on the throttle at the same time... who was that?

Burgess talked about one thing that impressed him in the data of both Rossi and Doohan was that neither had any dead-time between closing the throttle and being on the brake... but he certainly wasn't talking about overlapping them going onto the brake. I guess overlapping while going from brake to throttle is another matter.

What I read about Scott Russell was when he rode the Suzuki 500 for... not long. A couple of commentators remarked that he was the hardest counter-steerer they'd even seen, he'd absolutely wrench the bike onto its side. Usually that's not the technique of someone who extends their trail braking way into the apex. It was also a problem for him on the 500, it got itself tied in knots because of how fast he was chucking it in.

The other thing is that if you have a subscription to the MotoGP site, for part of the IMS race they had an onboard shot of Stoner, pointing directly at his brake hand. It didn't look to me like he was overlapping, he seemed to be off the brake before he actually had his knee down. Otoh he did use the same technique as Gobert, ie braking with just his 2nd finger to keep the first wrapped around the grip. Maybe that is a sign that he likes to be able to control the throttle while braking.... worth watching anyway for how clinical he is: there is no hesitation or feeling his way, he was very definite about what he was doing with the lever.

Edit: found it. Watch the full session MotoGP video, starting at 1h01'55", there is about a solid minute of watching Stoner operating his front brake and throttle. Looks completely classic to me:
close throttle and brake, release brake, open throttle. Easy :-D

Maybe he did it differently on the Duc.

Total votes: 177

showed Stoner braking with only his middle finger while keeping a tight grip around the throttle.
My passion for Grand Prix does not go back too many years ago and it seems to me he's the only current rider to use such a technique, was anybody else braking like that before in GP?

Total votes: 179

Some index finger only, Some middle finger only, Many with both fingers. I don't know of GP riders doing it but some racers grab the brake with a whole fist full, not a great way to maintain throttle control. There was a great onboard racing video of Eddie Lawson on the Cagiva so many years ago. He would just caress the lever with his index finger only. Stoner certainly appeared to be very abrupt with his use, but of course there's a tonne of finesse behind what the naked eye sees.

Total votes: 152

...does it, strangely enough

I don't know of GP riders doing it but some racers grab the brake with a whole fist full

Total votes: 167

Very subtle and only one finger. But Eddie was using his index, which makes sense, Casey uses his middle finger.

Total votes: 170

Oh, it makes sense. Gives a little more leverage plus you still have thumb+forefinger for throttle control. Gobert was the first I saw do it, but I've never noticed it much in Australia: possibly because the important classes there all now require stock calipers and discs, so most people need two fingers.

I've tried it on the road and it works fine, but it would take practice to make it natural before I'd use it on the track. And I don't really see an advantage and I rarely get on the track these days anyway and... new trick, dog is now old :(

Total votes: 176

Mladin would use his middle finger only for braking as well. Maybe it's an Aussie thing, but it works pretty well - plenty of leverage for the brake, and plenty of control left over for the throttle.

Total votes: 180

I've taken training with Lee Parks. He had us practice overlapping the application of throttle and brake. You begin to apply the front brake before the throttle is fully closed. Practice so you get a very smooth transition. Same thing getting off the brake and back on the throttle. I forget who Lee credited with doing it first.

It's either a known technique, or it's a complete red herring.
You think Casey's crew would be giving away his secrets?
I'm thinking it's a known technique.

Total votes: 167

Telemetry has shown that Rossi brakes with the throttle slightly cracked.

I can't work out what difference it would make with the slipper clutches they use? Why not wind the idle up a bit? Or is it a carry over from days before slipper clutches?

Total votes: 178

It's not exactly like this. In general, you can load the front by weight distribution, changing weight distribution, or using - I don't want to say too much, but more than normal front brake.

I think this sort of says it all: "I don't want to say too much..."

It's a very specific question with an unfortunately (for us) vague answer. I couln't see Gaborini giving up enough to let us fully understand, without giving any kind of technical advantage away.

Total votes: 167

 

The way Gabbarini says "I don't want to say too much", he was talking about something else. The way I understood it when he was speaking was "you can load the front using a lot of brake - I don't want to say using too much brake, but using a lot of brake". That is my poor transcription of Gabbarini's excellent, but not quite perfect English. The fault is all mine, he definitely wasn't trying to hide anything.

Total votes: 172

Just watch the Red Bull slow-mo of Casey at Catalunya. He's got the bike on rails at full lean, and he opens the throttle just prior to reaching the apex. Applying throttle with the bike at full-lean causes the rear wheel to lose some of its grip. Some of cornering forces are turned into acceleration (sliding motion), some of the forces are transferred to the front wheel, which is not sliding. Casey's unique throttle movements creates the inimitable corner entry pictures that make it appear as though Casey is riding the bike sideways.

Examples:

http://cartmanism.com/~gconsier/bikes/casey-stoner-01.jpg

http://image.sportrider.com/f/28302917/146_1007_+motogp_catalunya_spain_...

This is the 'high risk' style that Rossi and Burgess do not want to copy. The great shame, imo, is that we don't have enough fuel to see how Stoner's Schumacher-syle stacks up against point-and-shoot. Another example of how the fuel rules are stunting the creative development of racing a motorcycle. The control tires aren't fantastic either.

I don't know why the MotoGP paddock plays everything so close to the vest. It's not like racing engineers can't figure out what's going on. Even the fans have some idea as the riders leak details. For example, Bostrom said that Spies told him that the tires need cornering loads, not braking loads, to get up to full temperature.

Total votes: 184

The mind-blowing thing about the second of those is that he doesn't appear to have any opposite lock on... ie the front is sliding at the same angle as the rear...

Total votes: 156

There is some opposite lock and the trouble with deciding on an outcome with a single snapshot is most of the time you are changing the amount of opposite so a split second before or after this shot he may have had more.

Total votes: 184

I'm not sure the front slides appreciably. The rear is just sliding along gradually while the increased load on the front tire alters the CoF. The bike turns a much tighter radius, the front tire gets stressed, and when Stoner has the bike pointed the direction he wants, he stands the bike up.

Stoner's style explains why he can ride anything, imo. Doesn't matter how bad the geometry is or how weird the bike may flex, Stoner only needs to be able to manipulate the contact patches with the throttle and the steering input.

Balance is what Stoner needs to go fast ergo he rides 2-3 laps then comes in to make his opinions known. The Bstones don't go off so if the balance is good, run different fuel loads to see how it affects balance. If the setup sucks, start over.

Total votes: 171

Phoenix,

Those pictures are insane. If I didnt know any better, id say the were photoshopped (the clearly were not). Just looks like he is going the wrong way!

Total votes: 170

has been a feature of his riding since more-or-less forever - P.I. '09 was probably the most extreme example.

Total votes: 172

Watching Stoner ride is just mesmerising, on TV you get to see his servo like right hand operate the throttle, the telemetry of his throttle trace they show just craps all over the idea that he uses a lot of electronics.

When people say MotoGP is boring my answer is go see a race live. Stoner at Phillip Island through turn 3 (the fast left before the 1st hairpin) is amazing. 250kph leaving TWO black lines on the road, a jaw dropping, swearing inducing sight that you must see.

Another great, thought provoking article David, thanks.

Total votes: 167

I remember my first trip to PI. I walked up to the top of the Honda Riders Club grand stand. The first thing I saw was Rossi doing a giant wheelie in Really strong wind between turn 3 and 4 (over a bit of a brow). I was gobsmacked. Didn't see it again.
Yep, I've seen Casey STRUT HIS STUFF at turn 3 at PI - awesome. So fast I have much trouble distinguishing between the two Ducs through there.

Total votes: 167

I've often thought of Freddie Spencer and Stoner as having similarities.
Didn't Spencer generate far more wear on the rear brake than his contemporaries by using it heavily for trail braking and to modulate the power delivery of the top end heavy power curves that he liked.

Total votes: 170

Freddie was great to watch in his heyday, like Stoner now. Their styles are vaguely similar, especially front end control and ability to slide the front. Freddie used up a set of rear pads every 2- 3 races apparently. Most of the US/aussie riders of that time hardly used any rear brake and they slide the rear a lot. Garry McCoy reckoned he used a lot of rear brake and he was a bit of a slider. Freddie said he used it more to control wheelspin. Remember also Mick Doohan used his thumb rear brake a lot to tighten his line he said.

Total votes: 157

Thanks a lot... I love that kind of inside stuff (which is why Motomatters rocks)

Man, I sure miss watching Bayliss....

Total votes: 154

You know. I read or heard in a interview with Ben Spies. Where they were asking him the difference he felt between tires in AMA, WSB, and Motogp. He said one of the biggest differences was the way the Bridgestones worked. This was his first year when the interview happened. He said you have to "load" the tires to make them work in the turns. When he described it he said it was how you ride the tires in the corner. Saying it was the pressure put into the tires when not on the brakes or throttle.

Do not have the link to the article, but that is the way he talked about it. Stoner and he have said similar things in a couple of areas. Stoner does not hide a damn thing when describing what he does. What has me laughing is the way he says it with a look that says, "I don't know what the f*ck is wrong with everyone else, but I can do it." That dude is going down in my book as a favorite. Something in Australia makes all their champions no nonsense beat you with no mercy kind of champions. But all are fun to watch even when they are way out front riding. Look at Mick Doohan when he leads a race. Troy "Baylisstic" Bayliss, and Stoner. Watching Stoner on a qualifying run is ridiculous. Whatever he is saying about putting heat in the tires I believe.

Total votes: 142

These are the words of Vittoriano Guareschi In Issue # 127 of the excellent online weekly magazine GPWeek.
In the above issue they have an interview with Vito, the interview can be accessed here: http://mag.gpweek.com/?iid=50918

A couple of snippets that have some relevance to the topic at hand:

Q: Working first with Casey and now Valentino Rossi, how do you compare them?

A: Vale is 9 times World Champion, has a lot of experience and for Vale it is important to improve the machine, to make a result. He works a lot with the machine, the team and the group.
Casey has fantastic control especially in the throttle, The hand and the engine is the same part for Casey - this is a big talent. But maybe he is young, needs more experience.
You can say Vale is like a professor. And Casey .... not a normal student, a top student. No: he is a genius!

Q:What is testing like - is it a lot of lap after lap, mile after mile, endurance testing?

A: .............. Also, after many years in this job it is possible for me to speak to the rider about his style and I can copy his style, it is not easy and you leave two seconds, one and half - but it is enough to understand the first part.
It was not so easy to copy Casey's style because he was very difficult, but after two years ..... some of the techniques I could do.

Sorry if posting these snippets and the link to site cause any issues David?

Total votes: 170

That is huge. Guareschi is making a direct comparison between the two riders and singles Stoner out as the 'genius' with fantastic throttle control. As Ducati MotoGP team manager and tester he is almost uniquely qualified to make the comparison as well with all the data and so forth he would have to go through.

Thanks for the link.

Total votes: 182

Links to other publications (well, the good ones, such as GPOne.com, Superbikeplanet.com, and GPWeek.com) are very welcome. We have to be careful about quoting too much from other articles, but that was a decent balance. The most important thing is to link back to the original source, though, as I try to do in my news stories when I am not the original source.

Total votes: 173

An article in RRWorld interviewed Hayden during year 1 on the Duc. Nicky was familiarizing himself with the Duc, and trying to come to "grips" with it (bad pun - sorry). Ducati shared Stoner's test lap data with Hayden - didn't help .. Casey & Nicky tried "follow the leader" around the track ... didn't work .. the line and style of Casey's cornering is an outcome of his process, skills and technique ..

As others had previously posted, Casey's phenom talent was insufficiently recognized even by Ducati ..
Casey seems to be extremely gracious this year whilst he notches up win after win on the Honda regarding those who had questioned his talent and motivation in previous years on the Ducati.

Total votes: 176

All this talk of how they load tyres mid corner has got me wondering how the heck Pedrosa does it with his paltry 50 kilos? Anybody has an idea?

Total votes: 148

Stoner is very light too: 58 kg (on motogp website)

Total votes: 201

in the techniques of Stoner and Pedrosa. Both are so good at standing the bike up on the fat part of the tyre and driving out of corners. Through the corners you can see them both acting and reacting to bend the machine to their will.

Total votes: 166

Stoner and Pedrosa are very fast standing the bike up after the apex.
But when Pedrosa (and Lorenzo) are smooth as "mantequilla", keeping the bike perfectly in line, Stoner is more "slip and slide" so in the end they have a very different style.

Total votes: 174

Hello Mr krka1073

What authority can you cite for: "one time speedway guy (Casey)" ?

Trust this site is not degenerating into normal English web chatter...

Total votes: 163

He certainly raced a lot of dirt-track and long-track in Australia as a kid, winning
41 titles according to his bio. I remember he turned up at some off season dirt track meetings with a KTM during the Ducati years.

I don't think he ever rode speedway as such... does anyone know if he ever raced a slider, or just standard-framed MX bikes on the dirt tracks?

Total votes: 169

... dirt & long track. My apologies, there's a huge difference. But make no mistake, it is ALL web chatter.

Total votes: 180

So says an interview article in MCN or BIKE magazine of a couple years ago. I have it, I'll have to look it up. What I recall of the article was an explanation of how he (and in ways other Moto GP riders) use the controls in ways totally perverse to the way most of us use them on the street and track. It went into detail how he would use front and rear brake at various times under various conditions all the way through a corner to manage weight bias, dampen harmonic oscillations, etc, etc. In one instance data showed him accelerating out of a corner, full throttle with front and back brakes on. Do not try this at home. Do not even relate this to what most of us do on a bike. Enjoy the hell out of watching it. Genius indeed.

Total votes: 169

an interview article in MCN

I guess it might be true anyway :)

However the on-board from IMS did not show anything unusual in the way he used the front brake on the Honda.

This all reminds me of when I was racing a 600: I'd occasionally hook in behind Josh Brookes or similar for a few corners, while they weren't trying too hard. The hope was I'd find some magic trick, special line, whatever, that I could copy. There never was. They were all just very, very good at doing the usual stuff.

Total votes: 172