Repsol Honda have just officially announced that Nicky Hayden will miss the Czech Grand Prix at Brno this weekend. The Kentuckian damaged his heel when he landed heavily after a jump during a Supermoto race at the X Games in Los Angeles on August 1st, and is still in a lot of pain.
Although the injury does not necessarily prevent Hayden from riding, racing at Brno could exacerbate the damage, leaving the American with problems for the rest of the season. Citing the examples of other riders who have ridden with injuries only to make their problems worse, Hayden said he would prefer to concentrate on recovery rehab, and come back at Misano fit, and try to finish the season well.
Hayden apologized to his team, especially after having received special permission to take part in the race at the X Games. "I just wanted to do some riding during the break, have some fun and I thought that maybe it'd give me a little spark for the rest of the season, but it backfired on me," he stated in the press release.
Hayden's decision to withdraw from Brno is interesting, from a number of perspectives. Firstly, it points to a shift in thinking inside the paddock about riding with injuries. Every rider does it, as it's just not possible to ride an entire MotoGP season without crashing at some point, whether it be during the race, practice or just on a training ride. If you want to ride on the limit, first you have to find the limit. And that means that sometimes you have to go over the limit. Thanks to the outstanding protection offered by modern protective motorcycle gear and the never-ending push to improve safety at racetracks, injuries are becoming less severe, meaning often riders are racing with some discomfort, rather than serious pain. But riding a large, hard object with protuding parts at high speed will inevitably mean that riders end up hurt, leaving them the choice to brave the pain and score points, or sit the race out and focus on recovery.
This season, a lot of riders have been riding badly hurt to little apparent effect. Loris Capirossi has ridden the Suzuki to mid-pack results with various injuries, and John Hopkins has soldiered on with the frankly disappointing Kawasaki with a groin injury, a back injury, and will appear at Brno still recovering from a broken leg. Dani Pedrosa attempted to ride at Laguna Seca with broken fingers and a broken ankle, and only gave up when it became apparent that the tires Michelin brought meant that Pedrosa couldn't be competitive, whether healthy or not. And then there's Jorge Lorenzo, who you could argue made his injuries considerably worse by racing when injured, with the pain from his huge highside at Shanghai possibly partly responsible for crashes at several races which followed.
Hayden's decision to skip a round and come back when fit could mean that some riders are just not prepared to take that risk for a handful of points, unless they are still in with a chance at the title. The thinking may be that if you are not in contention for the championship, then you need to concentrate on podiums and race wins, and foot and hand injuries are precisely the kind of problem that will prevent you from being able to push hard enough to run at the front. Whether this is a one off, or whether we will see this more often towards the end of the season remains to be seen, but it will be interesting to see if this is a trend among the riders or not.
The other, slightly more conspiratorial, explanation for Hayden's decision to withdraw from the Brno Grand Prix is that he believes that Repsol Honda will not renew his contract. Hayden has been waiting for word from Honda for a couple of months now, and as the season has progressed, his prospects with Honda have looked less and less realistic. If Hayden has decided that Repsol are unlikely offer him a new contract, then it makes more sense for him to concentrate less on pleasing his current employer, and more on impressing future employers. And struggling around outside the top 10 with an injury makes less of an impression than dicing with the front men while fully fit.
Of course, that is just speculation, based on nothing more than a press release and a healthy dose of skepticism. With Repsol Honda due to announce their team very soon now, we shall soon see just how accurate that speculation turns out to be.
No need for an introduction this time, just straight into more of Jules Cisek's fabulous photographs from Laguna Seca.
Typical Californian weather: foggy and cold
You know you're in trouble when you have to use intermediates in the dry
Of course, if you had Bridgestones, the conditions didn't bother you
Laguna's front straight, not long, but still fast
Not so much Elbowz as Kneez
The edge of the world
Three riders, three lines at the Corkscrew
Right a bit
Almost as loud as the bikes
It was like this for most of the race
This distracted attention from the great battles further down the field
Dovi chasing Nicky's ride
Colin Edwards: great looking bike, not-so-great looking result
Thanks once again to Jules for allowing us to use these photos, and be sure to check the rest of Jules' great pictures.
Last year, we ran some photos from Laguna Seca by friend of MotoGPMatters.com, and one of the driving forces behind the rideontwo.com forums and the outstanding MotoGPOD podcast, Jules Cisek, who many of you will know by the nickname Popmonkey. Jules' day job is "something in computers", an occupation which seems to be almost compulsory in his native San Francisco. But it's quite clear from his fantastic photography that IT's gain is photography's loss. Fortunately for us, he's allowed us to share some of his superb pictures from the 2008 US GP at Laguna Seca. And what's even better is that Jules' skill as a snapper is obviously improving.
The Doctor's bike at the Hard Rock Cafe
Names To Watch For: The Red Bull Rookies
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's poor Jorge Lorenzo
The big time:
Two-time winner at Laguna, and a MotoGP world championship, yet Nicky Hayden still can't afford socks:
Strictly socializing: Yamaha team manager Davide Brivio and Loris Capirossi's manager Carlo Pernat:
Tornado or Terminator?
You can't keep a good man down: Vincent Haskovec
The Fastest Pillion In The West
They paid a lot of money for the privilege
Careful with that cooler, Eugene
Would he still think it was cool if we told him that they call that a pork pie hat in England?
Livio Suppo, Marlboro Man
Back To The Future
You won't recognize the man on the left until he speaks... MotoGPOD's Bob Hayes hits Cannery Row
21 liters of pure, blistering pace
Suzuki's latest naked bike
Special paint: unlucky for some
Toni Elias goes native
Like many sports, motorcycle racing is a numbers game. Some of those numbers, like horsepower figures, the dimensions of engine internals and chassis geometry are closely guarded secrets, and kept carefully concealed. Others, the numbers which result from those secret figures, are almost painfully public. Every lap, even every sector of every lap, is recorded, then published on the MotoGP.com website and exposed to the full glare of public scrutiny. Anyone wanting to know just how fast a specific rider rode on a particular lap during a particular session at a given track, and to see where they finished a specific race, and where that left them in the championship, can pop over to MotoGP.com and look it up.
Of course, the ability to look at find that information is completely different from the ability to digest and understand it. To many people, those figures quickly become a jungle of numbers, and they end up not being able to see the MotoGP wood for the trees.
Fortunately, the internet being what it is, there are a few rare individuals who have an affinity for figures, a passion for MotoGP, and the necessary skills to present those numbers in a more digestible form. There are even one or two people who, from sheer love of the sport, then put the result of their labors up for the rest of the world to enjoy.
One such person is Ming-En Cho, a software engineer and interaction designer from San Francisco. She has used her formidable talents to create a MotoGP stats viewer, which displays the results of each race and the resulting championship standings in an easily comprehensible form. No longer are you left attempting to do mental arithmetic and juggling results to work out what really happened, Ming-En Cho has created a simple yet beautiful representation which helps you understand what went on during the race at a glance.
The race viewer shows you the positions for every rider on every lap of each race.
Hovering over a particular rider lights up his progress through the field, plus his lap time for each lap:
Selecting season view shows the current championship standings after each race, with the points total broken down by each score:
The size of each block is in proportion to the number of points scored, and hovering over the block tells you what track those points were scored at:
All in all, an outstanding way of representing the results of every race. The application is beautifully designed, and brilliantly thought through. It is both a pleasure to use, and extremely informative. Well worth heading over to Ming-En Cho's site and giving it a test run yourself. Now, if she would just do the same for lap times during the practice sessions, we could work out who was going to win on Sunday before the race has even been won.
If Valentino Rossi's victory at Laguna Seca made one thing clear, it is that Yamaha is in serious need of more horsepower. For despite Rossi's brilliant tactical race, his victory was in large part due to the tightness of the Laguna Seca track rendering outright speed less relevant. Down the front straight, Casey Stoner's Ducati was clearly faster and Rossi was forced to use every defensive trick in the book, including a few that expanded the definition of a tough move, to avoid being blown away by Stoner's blistering pace.
At Brno, the next race and one of the widest tracks on the calendar, it's going to be a great deal more difficult to get in Casey Stoner's way. Though there are plenty of corner combinations, there are also several places round the track where the extra speed and horsepower of the Ducati will gain Stoner just enough space to start riding at his own unstoppable rhythm. And after Brno, the majority of the tracks MotoGP visits have the wide open spaces that will give Stoner ample opportunity to get past Rossi. If Rossi is to defend his line once again, he will need more horsepower to match the pace of the Ducati round the faster sections of the tracks which are to follow.
Yamaha are aware of this, and according to MotoGP veteran reporter Michael Scott reporting for Motorsport Aktuell, are hard at work over the summer looking both for extra horsepower as well as improved power delivery. Scott is reporting that most of these improvements will be found from the engine's electronics, rather than physical changes to the engine.
These changes are unlikely to be used in the race, as a catastrophic failure for Rossi and Yamaha at Brno would put Casey Stoner right back into contention. But the parts will be tested at the two-day testing session to be held immediately after the Brno race weekend.
Yamaha won't be the only team testing new parts. As we reported earlier, Dani Pedrosa will also be testing Honda's pneumatic valve engine at Brno. The gamble for Pedrosa is now less than it was. The improved power the air valve unit has on tap could help Pedrosa regain some of the points he lost in the two consecutive scoreless races at the Sachsenring and Laguna Seca.
So, what do MotoGP riders do during the summer break? Well, while some spend time relaxing at holiday resorts, and others are hard at work recovering from their injuries, Nicky Hayden will be going racing. Racer X, the motocross magazine and sister publication to the excellent RoadRacer X magazine, has confirmed that Hayden will take part in Saturday's AMA Supermoto race to be held at the X Games this weekend.
The race will be run at 4 PM PST on Saturday, August 2nd, and will be shown on live television, on the ESPN network. Hayden has qualified in 15th position.
Hayden has considerable prowess as a Supermoto rider, and spends a good deal of time practicing the art when staying at his California home with his brothers. The combination of sliding and corner speed makes it an excellent discipline for honing racing skills, which is why a lot of road racers use it to keep their skills sharp.
As a taster for Saturday's race, here's a great video, in which Nicky Hayden and Max Biaggi get to show off their skills:
The news that MotoGP would be going to Indianapolis, bringing the return of motorcycle racing to this historic track, was met with interest and acclaim all around the world. The Brickyard at Indy is one of the world's legendary tracks, a name recognized by both race fans and non-race fans alike.
But not everyone is enthusiastic. And we're not talking about riders worrying about problems with grip or the final turn back onto the front straight. No, it seems that the town elders of Speedway, Indiana - the town which is home to the track - are afraid that the arrival of thousands of MotoGP fans on their noisy motorcycles could keep the upstanding citizens of their town awake at night.
Perhaps fearing scenes from The Wild One, the Town Council are attempting to pass a special ordinance banning "unnecessary noises made by certain motor vehicles". The ordinance is specifically aimed at motorcycles revving their engines noisily, and will give police the power to impose fines on anyone they believe are causing a nuisance by making a lot of noise with their bikes.
While a concern for the well-being of their citizens is an admirable thing in a politician, it doesn't look like the elders of the Town of Speedway have really though this through. Although it is quite clear what they are afraid of - even the most perfunctory browse through Youtube will turn up aural assaults from many European MotoGP rounds - the wording of the ordinance seems a little strange. After all, a case can be made that bouncing your sports bike off the rev limiter or doing long and noisy burnouts are an integral part of the weekend's entertainment, and an important factor in keeping the atmosphere going at a MotoGP weekend. Unnecessary, like so many adjectives, is very much in the eye, or the ear, of the beholder.
Laguna Seca wasn't the only race Scott Jones attended. He also went to Donington, and shot some fantastic images there as well. Now, he's provided us with some of those photographs for use as desktop backgrounds as well. You can find the full selection over on the following page:
Here's a few to whet your appetites:
If the acuity of a political operator can be measured by the skill with which they manage to find alternative ways to achieve their goals, then the people at Dorna are truly masterful. After Carmelo Ezpeleta's previous attempts to introduce a spec ECU into MotoGP was met with widespread disapproval, the wily Spaniard has found another approach.
This time, according to Spanish sports daily AS.com, Dorna will be pushing for introduction of a spec ECU on the grounds of safety at a meeting to be held at the Czech Grand Prix in Brno. After the reduction in capacity from 990 to 800 cc failed so spectacularly to slow the MotoGP bikes down - with lap records falling during the very first season of the reduced capacity - Dorna is looking around for another way to reduce speeds. The reduced top speed has led to dramatically increased corner speeds, meaning that crashes are now happening at higher speeds, and that the smaller bikes are arguably more dangerous than the old fire-breathing 990s.
The idea is that a spec ECU could be used to artificially reduce performance, meaning that the bikes could be made slower. However, even the most cursory examination of this argument reveals how deeply flawed it is, as it is essentially a rehash of the capacity reduction. If you reduce performance, you simply increase the importance of corner speed, and make crashes happen at even higher speeds, as riders struggle to maintain as much momentum as possible through the corners.
What's more, of the four crashes which have caused riders to miss races, it is hard to point to a single one that would have been less serious if the bikes had been limited by top speed. Dani Pedrosa simply outbraked himself in extremely difficult conditions at the Sachsenring, and Loris Capirossi sustained an arm injury in a typical racing crash, when he collided with Toni Elias. Jorge Lorenzo's big highsides were caused by cold tires, though the crashes which caused both Lorenzo and John Hopkins to miss races were arguably as a result of losing the front at very high speed through difficult corners. However, traction control had no effect on any of these crashes whatsoever.
The more interesting proposal is one to examine ways of reducing tire performance. Part of the problem has been that tires have improved so dramatically over the last few years that corner speeds are getting higher more quickly. Alan Cathcart, in an interview with Dean Adams for the Soupkast podcast said that he expected MotoGP to go to grooved tires at some point (mp3), in an attempt to reduce speeds. Now, that prediction, made last year, is starting to look spookily accurate.
The problem is, of course, that motorcycle racing at all levels is fundamentally dangerous. Riders whose prime motivation to beat the other guy will always push as hard as possible, and well over the limit from time to time, with sometimes painful consequences. But with only 18 riders on the grid, injuries tend to be extremely prominent. Perhaps if Dorna concentrated on finding a way to make the racing more affordable - such as leaving the rules alone for long enough for teams to justify their investment, and for the performance of the machines to reach a natural plateau - then we could see a return to fuller grids, and a more consistent show.
We gave you a little appetizer earlier, now we have the full 19 course meal. Scott Jones' fantastic photographs shot at Laguna Seca as MotoGPMatters.com's official representative are now online, and ready to gracefully adorn your desktop.
You can find them here:
Here's a taster, to let you know what you're in for: