Opinion

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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The Numbers Game - Why Rain At Qatar Is More Likely Than You Think

Clouds in the sky at the Losail track before the Qatar MotoGP race

After the rain-soaked debacle of the postponed MotoGP race at Qatar, any MotoGP fan worth his or her salt will be able to recite one statistic by heart: It only rains in Qatar for eight days a year, on average. And so staging a night race under the floodlights there, in the certain knowledge that the race must be canceled if it starts to rain, seems like a pretty safe bet. After all, 8 rain days out of a total of 365 means that there is only a 2.2% chance of the event having to be called off, right?

It seems like an obvious conclusion, but as with so many other conclusions drawn from statistics, it is completely incorrect. Human beings are notoriously bad at math, and this is just a typical instance. Just why this conclusion is incorrect is obvious when viewed logically, so let us look at it in more detail.

The key term to understand here is "average". It may well rain for 8 days a year on average, but that does not mean that those 8 days are spread evenly throughout the year - after all, the average temperature of the Earth is 14º Centigrade, or 57º Fahrenheit, but tell that to someone in Nuuk or Furnace Creek Ranch and they'll laugh in your face.

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The Rookie Rule, A Paper Tiger

 

At a press conference held today at Jerez, FIM president Vito Ippolito and Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta announced a range of rules aimed at two goals: Cutting costs and making the sport more attractive as a spectacle. We have been over the oxymoron of changing rules to cut costs ad nauseam here, so we will not continue to flagellate that particular moribund equine any more than is necessary - and frankly, that horse probably does need a little more flogging, just to make sure it is truly dead. Instead, we shall concentrate on another change, one aimed at helping the private teams in the series.

That rule is of course the ban on new entrants into the series joining factory teams. Under the new rule, any rider eligible for Rookie of the Year - that is, any rider who has not previously been entered as a full-time rider at the start of a MotoGP season - will not be allowed to join a factory team in their first year of MotoGP, and will instead have to serve an apprenticeship at a private or satellite team, before stepping up to the very top step of the very top series. The rule, drawn up at the behest of IRTA, is aimed at helping out the private and satellite teams by giving them a shot at signing the big, marketable names which will help them attract sponsorship.

On paper, this is an excellent idea. In theory, big name entries into MotoGP such as Marco Simoncelli, Alvaro Bautista and Ben Spies would help the private teams find the sponsorship they need so that they can afford to stay in MotoGP. It stops the factory teams from poaching the top talent, and means that the private teams will get the publicity they so badly need, and quite frankly, broadly deserve.

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Kawasaki: Why Flog A Dead Horse, When You Could Revive A Live One?

The latest news/rumor on the Kawasaki front - or perhaps that should be the final nail in Kawasaki's coffin - is that Dorna is attempting to acquire the Kawasaki bikes so that Marco Melandri can race in MotoGP in the 2009 season, as reported by various press sources. Carmelo Ezpeleta is said to be willing to pay for the bikes to run out of his - or rather Dorna's - own pocket, in order to pad out the grid and give it some semblance of credibility.

If this is true - and that's a big if, as one of the sources is Alberto Vergani, Marco Melandri's manager, and Italian riders' managers are about as reliable as Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf, though they tend to err slightly more often on the side of optimism - then it is both completely puzzling and remarkably short-sighted. If the Kawasaki - or "Dornasaki" as some wags are labeling it - does turn up on the grid, it will be a bike that is likely to start at the back and travel rapidly backwards. As the year progresses, the competition will receive a steady stream of upgrades, improving at each race. And each of these upgrades will leave the Comatose Kawasaki yet another step behind, heaping calumny upon humiliation over the head of the poor rider foolish enough to volunteer to ride the ailing beast.

Any attempt to resurrect Kawasaki will be doomed to failure, with no money for development. The attempt offers nothing to either the team or the rider(s) involved, and is more likely to damage Dorna than anything else, despite allowing the Spanish company to save face. This is surely a rescue better left untried.

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Saving MotoGP Part 3 - Avoiding The Traps Of The Past

Over the past two days, we have examined the causes for MotoGP's current financial difficulties, and seen why most of the suggestions doing the rounds for fixing the situation are likely to do more harm than good. Today, in the final part of our examination of the state of MotoGP, we submit our own proposals which could form the basis for making the sport a great deal cheaper, and getting private teams back into the sport.

As explained in part one of this series, the biggest problem facing the sport is that horsepower, and with it, top speed, has become incredibly expensive. The best way to cut costs, then, is to make horsepower cheap again.

The easiest way of making horsepower cheap is the old-fashioned way, by raising engine capacity. There is no replacement for displacement, the old saying goes, and for years the quick way to more power has been to bore out the cylinders and add the cubic inches. But while an increase of engine capacity to, say, 1200cc would be a big improvement on the current situation, a braver step is necessary.

For under the current rules, the bikes are limited in two different ways: by engine capacity (800cc) and by fuel allowance (21 liters). Both of these factors can be regarded as having the same goal: to limit the energy output of the machinery. But if both factors perform the same function, why not simply drop one of those limits?

Removing the fuel limit might help make the racing more exciting, but it wouldn't help make the bikes any cheaper. Engine design would still chase the limits of what a given capacity is capable of, and with unlimited fuel to play with, that would make the engines even more high-revving and therefore fragile.

Bigger Is Better. Probably.

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Saving MotoGP Part 2 - How To Encourage The Cheats

Yesterday, we examined why MotoGP turned into the bottomless pit which swallows money, and looked at the mistakes which made this result inevitable. Today, we'll be examining the suggestions being put forward to fix the situation, and get spending in MotoGP back under control, and picking them apart looking for flaws in their logic.

The proposals being put forward come from all around the motorcycle racing world, from seasoned veterans and respected thinkers in major media outlets, to the purest of noobs in every racing corner of every motorcycle discussion board around the internet. The ideas vary from the brilliant to the absurd, with all shades in between. But there are a few common themes which keep reoccurring, and which need to be looked at more closely.

The most common proposal for reducing costs is to limit the role of electronics. There may be a lot of good reasons for wanting to do this - to give more control back to the rider, for a start - but the one thing this suggestion will not do is reduce costs.

For the reason that it won't cut costs, look no further than the lessons of reducing engine capacity to 800cc. Beyond the practical difficulties of limiting electronics, the teams would simply spend more time looking for ways to circumvent the spirit of the law, while balancing on a razor's edge on the right side of the letter of the law.

The Workaround

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