Opinion

Passing The Torch

Since the rumblings began emanating from the machinations of Colin Edwards’, Hervé Poncharal’s, and Lin Jarvis’ closed-door meetings to figure out how to get Ben Spies and Tom Houseworth into MotoGP in 2010, and the subsequent announcement last Fall, one of the most popular ways to cast the story (and indeed, one of the few speculative avenues that doesn’t automatically involve Silly Season 2011) is to suggest that the tensions between Colin Edwards and James Toseland will somehow be amplified in the arrival of the superior abilities of Ben Spies. I realize magazines and newspapers need to manufacture material in the off-season to sell copies, and we who post on The Web need to draw traffic when potential advertisers don’t care that the sport is on hiatus. But I am here to tell you that this particular road is a dead end street. Headlines of “Tension at Tech 3”, “Monster Battle Brewing”, and “Trouble in Paradise” (a city in Texas, but not home to either rider), can be summarily ignored.

Consider that, though he has no wins in his 7 years of not missing a start in MotoGP, Colin Edwards has an enduring career because it was quickly realized he provides useful data for bike and tire engineers. He is a developer who brings home the equipment and can communicate intelligently about it. Every team needs at least one of those and having two is a godsend, especially if the information is somewhat transferable between the riders.

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2010 WSBK Preview

After a long, cold, lonely winter, the World Superbike racing season is finally upon us again. With 26 machines on the grid, the series is down a bit in participation, but considering the depressed world economic climate, it could be a lot worse. Despite the drop in sheer numbers, there are seven manufacturers with factory (or the equivalent) teams. There has been some shuffling of  marques and talent on privateer teams, but participation is fairly strong on that level as well.

Reigning World Superbike Champion Ben Spies has abdicated his throne for the theoretically greener pastures of MotoGP and there are a crop of both familiar and new faces eager to claim his title. There doesn't appear to be someone who is going to grab the series by the throat and make it his own in his rookie year like Spies did, but then no one could have predicted that at the beginning of last season either.

The Empire Strikes Back

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In Defense of Toni Elias

Now that the 2009 season has come to a close, and Toni Elias has signed with his current team boss to move down a class for 2010, there will be a temporary ebb in the debates about who this man is and where he belongs in the sport. There is a long-developing opinion espoused, subscribed to, or at least tacitly accepted by a growing number, that Toni Elias takes the first half of a season to lazily absorb his life in the top tier of motorcycle racing before beginning a mid-season panic where he must suddenly show results good enough to secure a job for the subsequent season. I don't know when this line of reasoning began, but since it seems to pass for critical thinking these days, I, for one, have had enough.

I'll save you some time and give you the punchline up front: Toni Elias has never been on the same bike two years in a row since entering the MotoGP class. How good would your first half of the season be?

Toni Elias, Donington Park

Name the current riders who have had great success (say, a win, or frequently on the podium) in their first year on a bike... let's keep it to the MotoGP era: Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa. There's a familiar list, right? Loris Capirossi with a couple of wins for Ducati. After that, it's a long way to Colin Edwards who featured on the podium a couple times in his first year with Honda and then again with Yamaha, followed by Nicky Hayden in his rookie year, and then Andrea Dovizioso with one podium appearance in his rookie year. Name the rider(s) who scored wins in his first year with more than one team: Rossi.

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WSBK: Portimao Preview -- The Payoff

On his Twitter page Ben Spies has the saying "Put in the time....It will pay off someday.." This statement is more than an aphorism to the young Texan, it's a reflection of the philosophy that has brought him 3 AMA Superbike championships and has brought him to the brink of seizing a World Superbike crown. Spies never seems to get overly excited (well, except after being forced out of a race by an equipment failure or a fellow competitor's bonehead move) and approaches racing in a seemingly workmanlike manner, solving problems and moving step-by-step to the desired end. This calm and methodical system has led to Spies capturing a record-tying 10 Superpoles and winning 13 races so far in his rookie season.

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World Superbike: Magny Cours Preview -- 3 To Get Ready, 4 To Go

Three points. Three miserable stinkin' little points. That's what the World Superbike championship has come down to coming into the penultimate round at Magny Cours, in central France. Despite being the final round  in the series from 2003 to 2007, Magny Cours has somehow never been one of those places where legendary battles to the finish happen. The closest that the the French circuit has came to deciding a title was in 2007 when this year's point leader Noriyuki Haga doubled to come as near as he ever has to winning a world championship, a mere two points behind James Toseland.

Haga is in the catbird seat, albeit just barely, after winning race 1 and taking second in Race 2 at Imola. Haga and Ducati have historically done well at the mostly flat French track, with 4 wins and eight podiums for Haga and 7 wins and 10 podiums for Ducati. Haga's showing at Imola confirms that the Rider Formerly Known as Nitro is recovered from his mid-season shoulder and arm injuries, or at least well enough that they don't matter much.

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Imola Superpole Notes -- The Kids are All Right

To paraphrase pole-setter Michele Fabrizio, it's good to see three young guys at the top. Fabrizio, who said at the post-race press conference that he used his anger at being mis-timed on a previous lap as motivation, set his first pole in the Superbike class on the back of a  blindingly fast last lap. Fabrizio is in the enviable position of being an Italian rider on an Italian bike on an Italian track, which should provide him with ample motivation for Sunday.

Ben Spies looked a bit chagrined at being pipped  by Fabrizio, wryly noting that he would have thought that Fabrizio would have let the American take the pole in repayment for Fabrizio taking him out in Brno.  Spies claimed to have made a few mistakes on his fast lap that cost him a few tenths, not that the casual observer could detect any errors. Spies was his normal smooth unflappable self, in contrast to Sterilgarda Yamaha teammate Tom Sykes, who looked at times like the Urban Cowboy riding the mechanical bull at Gilley's, his R1 bucking and snorting through the corners.

Third-place man Jonny Rea also claimed errors on his best lap but was happy overall, citing a number of new parts that needed to be evaluated over a shortened practice schedule.

Noriyuki Haga elevated himself up from the depths of midpack to come fourth, which isn't a bad place to be for an old guy. Haga has always had the ability to summon forth a bit of extra speed on race day, so he should be able to hang with the kids at the front.

Ducati mounted Shane "Shakey" Byrne and Jakob Smrz have been fast all weekend, but have been unable to muster the extra couple tenths necessary to stay with the front-runners. Smrz might have some splainin' to do to Team manager Frankie Chili, who looked livid after Smrz' last lap crash.

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The Truth Behind The Rossi Leg Wave

At every press conference, in every interview, in fact just about any time Valentino Rossi answers questions in public, the same question comes up again and again: "Why do you stick your leg out when you're braking for a corner?" And every time, Rossi shrugs and explains that he doesn't really know; "it just feels natural to do" is the answer he usually gives.

The move - taking his foot of the footpeg, dangling it as if almost preparing to slide it on the ground dirt-track style, before finally picking it up and putting it back on the footpeg, ready to help tip the bike into the corner - has become Rossi's trademark, but he is no longer alone in his leg waving. One by one, the rest of the grid have taken on the move, and it has spread to riders in every class, from MotoGP to 125s to World Supersport. First Marco Melandri and Loris Capirossi followed Rossi's example, then Max Biaggi, then the current generation of Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo. Now, just about everyone is doing it, all the way down to club racers.

With no explanation forthcoming from the originator of that distinctive dangle - usually dubbed "the Rossi Leg Wave" - observers have turned to a mixture of speculation and the other riders for an answer to the puzzle. Other proponents of the leg wave such as Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa claim that it helps them balance the bike as they approach the corner on the brakes, and armchair pundits follow a similar line, offering a range of theories grounded only very vaguely in physics concerning balance, leverage and weight transfer. It is clear that the debate over the subject has entered that most dangerous phase, the point where speculation based on science ends and darker, more occult attribution begins.

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Rossi vs Lorenzo - Dorna Shows That Very Occasionally, They Get The Internet

Dorna, the body responsible for organizing, promoting and marketing the MotoGP series, has traditionally done a fantastic job in selling the series to television broadcasters, making the series the second biggest form of motor racing on TV, behind only Formula One, with TV viewing figures not far off the numbers for F1, and hundreds of millions of TV viewers watching the sport online. Unsurprisingly, Dorna has come to think of its job as selling TV broadcast rights.

The tragic consequence of this concentration on old media is that they have singularly failed to grok the internet, as the expression has it. To Dorna, the internet is a threat, a force they can neither understand nor control, and what's worse, a medium without an obvious method of generating an income from. Exacerbating the problem is the rise of peer-to-peer technologies such as BitTorrent and video sharing websites like Youtube. Torrents of MotoGP races appear online within minutes of the events finishing, while clips of the most exciting and controversial parts of MotoGP races likewise flood onto Youtube almost immediately after they happen.

Youtube, in particular, has been a target of Dorna, the site's reputation for taking material subject to copyright claims down first, then asking questions about it later - effectively reversing the burden of proof - making Dorna's job a lot easier. Videos of MotoGP footage on Youtube tend to disappear within a few days of going up, with Dorna firing off takedown notices at a vast rate.

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The Most Important Race In The World

Here's a good way to start an argument, whether you're gathered over a few beers with some race-loving friends or on a internet message board or chat room. Just ask what the most important race in the world is. Within minutes, you'll have a list as long as your arm and a couple of violent disagreements to go with it, with everyone arguing the merits and faults of their own personal favorites.

Is it the Dakar, that ultimate test of man (or woman) and machine, pushing navigation skills, machine reliability and human endurance? Or perhaps it is the Monaco Formula 1 race, the event that is followed around the world, spreading the cult of motorized racing as entertainment to a global audience of casual viewers. How about the Le Mans 24 hour races, another event where either cars or motorcycles are pushed to the limits of their performance, and of their endurance, for 24 hours without rest, a real test of durability? Perhaps it's the Qatar MotoGP race, the race that marks the start of the MotoGP season, and the commencement of battle in motorcycle racing's premier class. Or maybe the Dutch TT at Assen, or the World Superbike round or Formula 1 race at Monza, putting motorcycle racing in its historical perspective. If history is the key, then surely the Isle of Man TT, the 102 year-old race around the Mountain Course, 37-odd miles of public roads. The track is too long for riders to memorize completely, and with long stretches where the bikes are held wide open over bumpy mountain roads, it tests both riders and machines to their limits.

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Melissa Paris - Not The First Woman In Supersport, And Likely Not The Last

At Miller Motorsports Park this weekend, one wildcard rider will be receiving a good deal of attention, more perhaps than is warranted by her results alone. The key word there, and the reason for all the attention, is "her". For Melissa Paris will be making her debut in the World Supersport class, becoming one of a small number of women riders to have raced in international competition.

The team press release trumpeted the news that Paris will be the first female rider to have raced in the World Supersport Championship, a fact that was repeated unquestioningly by a large number of racing sites who ought to know better. Though technically they are correct, Paris won't be the first woman to race in the World Supersport class. In 1998, the year before the World Supersport Series became the World Supersport Championship, a matter mostly of nomenclature, the German racer Katja Poensgen raced as a wildcard at the Nurburgring in the World Supersport race, finishing a respectable 20th, and ahead of 16 other entrants in the class. Poensgen, now a TV presenter with German sports channel DSF, later went on to have two years in the 250 class, one with Shell Advance and Dark Dog in 2001, then a disastrous year aboard a severely underpowered Molenaar Racing Honda in 2003, in which she and her team mate alternated at the rear of the grid.

But Poensgen is not the only woman to have raced internationally: Dutchwoman Iris ten Katen just retired as European Women's champion at the end of last season, and after some respectable results in the Dutch Open Championship; Alessia Polita contested the European Superstock 600 championship, the entry class for World Supersport, scoring points in a large field; Maria Costello competes regularly in the International Road Racing series, racing on public roads in Ireland and the Isle of Man; And just two weeks ago, the 18-year-old Frenchwoman Ornella Ongaro entered the French 125cc Grand Prix as a wildcard.

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