(ed note: MotoPod listener Guy Anderson submitted this in reply to one of the many conversations I’ve had with roads racer Mark Miller for the show. I thought it was pretty cool … -jim)
by Guy Anderson
I get where Mark is coming from with regard to riding on the road. I get the absolute free spirit of it all, and I love it.
Here in the UK its hard to ride like mark does in the canyons - its practically impossible. 60 million people in an area smaller than California. And even some of that area is so remote up in Scotland as to be nigh-on impossible to get to.
My knowledge of American geography could be written on the back of a postage stamp, so I can’t compare areas in the UK to those in the USA, but back in the late 70s I was getting into my stride as far as being a fan of bike racing. I lived in Lincolnshire, just 30 miles from Cadwell Park and went there as a kid so many time to see cars and bikes racing. Anyway by the time I was 16 I was riding road bikes having progressed from off-road bikes, and I got to know a guy who had moved into the village. He raced. A TZ750 and a TZ350 (which I later raced). So I convinced him to let me go to the races with him to fetch and carry. Eventually I was spannering for him, and then he let me try the 350 on a Thursday afternoon at Cadwell.
The village he and I lived in was in an area called New Holland - it was flat. It was empty. Maybe a bit like the mid-West? We would work on the bikes in the mid-week summer evenings, put some kit on and test. On the back lanes. Now you and Mark’s idea of England’s back lanes might be a bit different to the reality of New Holland. Miles and miles long. Flat fields on either side and no hedges or ditches. We could link enough together to make varying sizes of circuits and spend hours without seeing anyone checking out jetting or working in new clutch drums - anything without a care in the world.
Fast forward 30 years and I have a Tuono. Frankly its too fast for where I live now. It’s the most involving road I’ve ever ridden, and needs to be ridden fast and hard. To my extreme luck and pure good fortune I met Andy. Not as fast as me on the road but so much faster on a track. And we’ve become speed tourists. I hate the term, but it’s the one term I can think of to describe Andy and me. Each year for the past 5 or 6 years we’ve gone to France for a week. 60 million population (same as the UK) but 60% bigger. That means a lot more space. More room to stretch your legs. Warm weather. Beautiful roads. Stunning food. Nice girls (bon jour Veronique). These days Andy and I ride the 1000kms (in one day sometimes) to get down to Provence. In the region of Provence is Grenoble. Its pretty much the start of the Route Napolean that runs to Grasse - its about 250km of the most gorgeous, the hardest, most challenging; most frightening road I’ve ever ridden.
And you know what? I ride it harder than any track day; harder than any race I was doing 30 years ago (I think - maybe time plays tricks). Its wide; its open; its everything I think Mark has in the canyons. I go into some corners seeing the exit and knowing that the road will not throw any surprises and every time I open the throttle earlier, harder. I brake later, lean further. The world needs Aprilia v-twins with Akropovics fitted. But its my own personal challenge. No-one else worries me least of all Andy. No cars. No quarry lorries. Just Armco, blue skies and the smell. The smell of lavender; of peaches growing in massive orchards. You know the first time you do an illegal drug? That fright and excitement of doing something wrong and something you hope will give you immense enjoyment? The ride is the same. It all goes slow. It doesn’t stop though; it just slows. Everything is more vivid, and I get that feeling I’m floating. I admit any long straight will bore me, so I slow down to check and readjust my brain for what has just gone and what is to come.
Tuono and KTM Super Duke might not be everyone’s idea of the perfect bikes. They are. Don’t let anyone kid you otherwise.
So for the record, I get Mark’s gist. I get his raison d’etre. It is all about the joie de vivre. And he’s right……!
by Pete Hitzeman
It seems almost cliche’ to say that the motorcycle racing community is very much a family. But one has to look no further than Colin Edwards’ post-race interview at Indianapolis, or the faces of the podium finishers today at Misano to know that it is completely true.
The past week has been uncharacteristically trying for those in the roadracing family. Last Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 13-year-old phenomenon Peter Lenz was killed in what can only be described as a freak warm-up lap incident, just before the second USGPRU race. News of Lenz’s passing reached the turn 1 grandstand, where I was sitting, just before the start of the Moto2 race via text message and mobile internet, and the mood among the gathered thousands immediately turned somber. For those of us who already knew, the excitement of the Moto2 race and even Ben Spies’ masterful ride to 2nd place in the MotoGP race had a decidedly hollow feeling.
On Wednesday at the Manx GP, James Adam, a 28 year old Royal Navy officer from Prestwick, and Chris Bradshaw, a 39 year old traffic policeman from Tamworth were killed in the same accident on lap 2 of the Junior race. The race was immediately red flagged and later abandoned. Adam was declared dead at the scene. Bradshaw was airlifted to a nearby hospital, but later succumbed to his injuries.
Today, on the very day a moment of silence was observed for Lenz, 19-year-old Shoya Tomizawa crashed exiting a high-speed right hand corner on lap 12 and was struck by two other riders with nowhere to go. Tomizawa was a rising Japanese star, having won the first ever Moto2 race at Qatar. His riding style was bold and tenacious, but off the track he was known for his smiling, lighthearted demeanor. The entire Grand Prix paddock has been devastated at his passing, with many MotoGP riders declining to even comment on their races after news reached them.
Fatalities in motorcycle racing have become mercifully rare over time. Tracks are safer, protective equipment has made quantum leaps, and the motorcycles themselves are less dangerous in many ways. But weeks like this remind all of us how dangerous the sport we love can be. There is no air fence or back protector for bad luck. And when bad luck happens at high speed on two wheels, the worst can, and occasionally does, happen.
This element of danger is a part of why we love the sport the way we do. We idolize the riders, whether favorites or not, because of the bravery it takes to do what they do, and the skill required to do it so well. Anyone who has ridden a motorcycle knows the sort of risks involved, but we choose to do it anyway. We choose to ride and race not because we are blind to the danger, but because we understand that for those of us with this sort of passion, to live a life devoid of risk is to not live at all.
There is an ancient Italian proverb which says “It is better to live one day as a lion than a thousand years as a lamb.” Lenz, Bradshaw, Adam and Tomizawa all chose to be lions. And while we will mourn their loss deeply, we, the fellow riders, racers, fans, journalists, photographers and track personnel consider ourselves honored to have known them, and more honored still to be counted among them.
Goodbye and Godspeed, brothers. We will never forget you.
by Pete Hitzeman
A significant portion of the epic silly season in MotoGP this year involves the future of the series itself, as Dorna seems poised to yet again revise the class rules, starting in 2012. While we’re nowhere near any final version of the ‘12 rulebook, it seems clear that 1000cc engines will be returning in some fashion, be they true prototypes, production engines in prototype chassis (a la Moto2), or some sort of spec engine. Some talk has been heard of even allowing some of these bikes to enter races, on an exhibition basis, in 2011. There are also rumors of claiming rule teams, who would be allowed to claim the equipment of other teams for a set fee.
Dorna’s motivation to put more bikes on the grid is certainly understandable. A mere twelve riders have finished the last two races at Sachsenring and Laguna Seca. With only a total of 18 riders on the permanent entry list and wildcard entries being a financial impossibility, it’s clear that the size of the grid is the most glaring problem facing MotoGP’s tenability as a world championship.
However, the notion that allowing less-expensive (and ostensibly slower) motorcycles onto the grid will cure what ails MotoGP is misguided, at best. The root cause of the perennially anemic grid is not the cost, though it is incredibly steep. It’s the fact that only five or six bikes are even remotely capable of challenging for race wins. The last satellite bike to take a race win was Marco Melandri aboard the Fortuna-sponsored Gresini Honda at Philip Island in 2006, during the last year of the 990 era. In the four years since, we have not seen a satellite rider on the top step, and they rarely feature on the podium at all. Ben Spies’ dramatic 3rd place finish at Silverstone is the only appearance on the podium by a non-factory rider this year. Including Melandri’s epic 2nd place in the wet last year at Le Mans on board the Hayate (Japanese for Dornasaki), and Colin Edwards’ battle to a second place finish over Randy DePuniet at a soggy Donington, there have been only 17 podium finishes for non-factory riders out of the 62 races (186 podium spots) run thus far in the 800cc era.
Potential sponsors know that TV air time for motorcycles outside the top six is sparse, at best. Top-level riders have little desire to race each weekend, knowing that if they’re lucky, they might score an underwhelming fourth. Even the MotoGP.com commentators, known for being a bit over-enthusiastic, sound a bit forced when describing someone’s 11th place finish as a good result for the weekend. Creating an environment that may put a few more bikes at the back of the order will not improve the series.
And let’s not pretend that the proposed rule changes will suddenly make racing at that level affordable. Bridgestone will have to develop tires to work across an even wider variety of platforms. New chassis and engines will have to be developed, from scratch in some scenarios. And the generic costs (travel, hospitality, crew salaries, equipment rental) of running a world championship team will not change. All of that is said to ask this: What sponsor, flush with all the cash that abounds in our current economy, wants to dump a few million dollars into a program destined to generate thrilling battles for 16th?
If Carmelo Ezpeleta wants to see the MotoGP grid grow, and the show become as exciting as it once was, three things have to happen. First, the rule set needs to be left alone long enough for the series to stabilize. Small changes are to be expected, of course, but the basic formula needs to be allowed to work. Second, some sort of effort needs to be made (either by electronics or tire construction) to make the racing less single-file.
Last and most importantly, the stranglehold of the factories on the series has to be broken. It’s clear to any close observer of MotoGP that the number of competitive riders on the grid far exceeds the number of competitive motorcycles. So long as the factories are, for whatever reason, giving substandard equipment and support to their satellite and customer programs, the racing will continue to be poor, and the same riders and teams will be on the box, week after week. While that continues to be the case, sponsors, teams and riders will continue to look elsewhere to spend their time, talents and effort, and the future of MotoGP will continue to look both dark, and short.
From the blustery shores of Phillip Island, the MotoGP paddock have headed north into the tropics, swapping Australia’s chilly spring for Malaysia’s hot and humid northeast monsoon, packing away their quilted jackets and retrieving their lightest cotton shirts once again.
The contrast is not just in the climate, however. The two tracks could hardly be more different, in just about every way imaginable. The Phillip Island circuit sits well away from civilization, at the edge of an island looking out over the great Southern Ocean. Sepang, on the other hand, lies just a handful of miles from Kuala Lumpur, one of the great cities of Southeast Asia.
Matching its isolated location, the facilities at Phillip Island are rather basic, to put it kindly. Not so at Sepang, which boasts ultramodern paddock facilities, large, well-furnished pit garages and an air-conditioned media center, as well as two striking grandstands lining the back and the front straight.
The track layouts are also perfect examples of the difference between the old and the new. While Phillip Island is still based loosely on the public roads which once hosted the racing, Sepang is a purpose-built Tilke-designed CAD masterpiece, with each corner carefully calculated by computer. In this aspect, though, the new simply cannot rival the old, the Malaysian track’s complex layout no match for the glorious flowing ribbon of asphalt the rolls up and down Phillip Island’s landscape.Read on »
The Exception And The Rule
There is an unspoken rule among motorcycle racers: you always ride, no matter what. Broken bones are shrugged off, bruises laughed at and only very severe injury is enough to keep riders off their bikes. There is one exception, and that is one honored more in the breach than in the observance: brain injuries (usually contusions and concussions) and broken vertebrae are taken deadly seriously, and if suspected will make the normally extraordinarily lenient medical staff of the Clinica Mobile hesitate to give a rider the all-clear.
So naturally, when Casey Stoner took two months away from racing to treat an illness that stubbornly refused to be diagnosed despite being examined by a trail of doctors around the world, a blaze of rumors swept through the MotoGP paddock. As there was apparently nothing wrong with the Australian, it had to be something else. Some said he was a broken man, and could no longer cope with the mental pressure being applied to him by Valentino Rossi. Others claimed that he hated Europe and wanted to leave MotoGP altogether, asserting that Stoner’s preferred option was to go and race V8 Supercars in Australia instead. Some alleged that the problem was being caused by Stoner’s poor diet and exercise routine, the 2007 World Champ surviving on chocolate and vitamins, rather than nutritionally-balanced meals. The most bizarre rumors involved friction within the team, caused by Ducati team boss Livio Suppo having made a pass at Stoner’s young wife.
Whatever the real cause of Stoner’s problem, opinion in the paddock was almost unanimous before Stoner’s return to racing at Estoril. No one who had ever taken time away from racing to recover from a series of vague and poorly-defined complaints had ever returned to their pre-absence form, and, it was feared, much the same fate awaited Casey Stoner. Upon his return, the consensus ran, he might turn up at the front every now and again but he would never be the force that he was in 2007 and 2008. Nobody else before him had, so why would Stoner be any different?
Making A Point
On the face of it, MotoGP is in trouble. There are just 17 bikes on the grid, the lowest number in recent memory; a factory has withdrawn due to financial problems, as has a satellite team; another team has had to swap riders mid-season to bring in someone with sufficient sponsorship to allow the team to continue. Every couple of races MotoGP’s rule-making body meets, trying to find new ways to cut costs and looking for rule changes that might make the series cheaper. And contract negotiations have switched from being about riders extracting large salaries from the teams that are trying to hire them to teams finding the riders who will ride for free and bring in the most sponsorship cash.
Yet take a step back and throw off the shroud the global recession has cast over the MotoGP paddock and the series is looking as healthy as ever. Sure, there may be only 17 bikes on the grid, but there are four riders who are capable of winning at any racetrack we visit. The margin of victory is falling again and last-lap passes and gaps of under a second are becoming the norm rather than the exception. Crowd attendance is up, as are TV audiences; team merchandise sales are extremely brisk; and new outside industry sponsors are trickling into the sport, finding valuable opportunities to promote their brands.
Best of all, perhaps the greatest rider of all time is up against a young apprentice, a rider whose speed matches his and who is learning the master’s tricks at incredible speed. Both men have an insatiable appetite for victory, a keen intelligence, and otherworldly levels of ability. What’s more, both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo are on exactly the same bike - though Lorenzo might occasionally dispute that assertion.
Injury and illness have kept Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner from interfering too much in this rivalry - Pedrosa and Honda’s progress delayed by the Spaniard’s leg injury suffered during the preseason testing, and Stoner and Ducati’s fierce challenge blunted by the Australian’s mystery illness and his absence from the last three races - but that has only served to make the match up between team mates all the more intense. After two costly mistakes by Jorge Lorenzo gave Rossi the upper hand in the title race, a similarly expensive error at Indianapolis by The Doctor handed back half his championship lead and gave Lorenzo hope of the title once again.
History In The Making
There is a firmly ingrained belief in Europe that the United States, as a young country, has neither history nor any sense of it. The view back in the Old World is formed almost entirely - and almost entirely incorrectly - from Hollywood and the TV studios, of gleaming glass-fronted buildings, huge and hugely complicated freeway interchanges, and gated communities consisting of a vast sprawl of identikit houses, in the words of the Malvina Reynolds song, little boxes made of ticky tacky.
While it is true that Americans tend to treat their history with a little less respect than Europeans - many a fine 18th or 19th century building has been torn down and replaced with something modern without a second thought, where in Europe zoning regulations and building preservation orders would have made such destruction incredibly difficult, if not outright impossible - the US does have plenty of physical history and a deep understanding and respect for the markers of that history.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a prime example of this European misapprehension. Europe, with its long history and tradition of motorsports, boasts such classic tracks as Monza, Assen and Brooklands. But Brooklands fell into disrepair after the Second World War, the last piece of the original Assen track was pulled up in the changes in 2006, and while both Monza and Assen have a long history, they "only" date back to the 1920s. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, on the other hand, hosted its first race in 1909, some 13 years before Monza and 18 years before racing first took place on the roads south of Assen.
As if celebrating 100 years of racing at the Speedway was not enough, the whole weekend at Indy will be packed with history. On Saturday night, at the Indiana State fairground, the Indy Mile, perhaps the most legendary flat track race of all is to be held. Flat track is a discipline which is itself steeped in history, and the Indy Mile sits at the pinnacle of the sport. Just to add even more texture to the event’s rich tapestry, three-time 500cc World Champion Kenny Roberts will be wheeling out perhaps the most feared motorcycle in racing history, his TZ750-powered dirt tracker. After racing the four-cylinder two stroke - a bizarre configuration in a sport dominated by the endless torque of pushrod V-twins - Roberts uttered the immortal words "They don’t pay me enough to ride that thing."
Though the facility itself has a long history, the association between the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and MotoGP is still very new, as the series visits the Speedway for only the second time. But history will still be written here, as a series of announcements are due to change the face and determine the course of MotoGP for the foreseeable future.Read on »
One For The Team
Probably the best-known aphorism in motorcycle racing - or racing of any sort, for that matter - is that the first person you have to beat is your team mate. Your team mate, after all, is on exactly the same equipment with the same support, and so there are no excuses. If you beat him you’re the better rider, if he beats you, he is. No argument.
Reality is always a little more complicated than a simple aphorism, of course. Just because you’re in the same team doesn’t necessarily mean that your bike is the same as your team mate’s; development parts filter through at different rates. You may be on the same team, but like riders, not all team members are equal; your crew chief might be a genius or he might be just very, very smart, which can be the difference between finding three tenths of a second during the warm up on Sunday and losing the race because you’re a tenth a lap too slow.
All the more reason to beat your team mate, then. After all, if you do so regularly, then it is you who will get the pick of the development parts, use of the genius crew chief and hopefully, a serious chunk of the team budget. You get the glory, but more importantly, you get the power. The bike is developed to your tastes rather than anyone else’s, so that the bike naturally suits your style. This in turn allows you to get the most out of the bike, more than anyone else, increasing your advantage over your competition - and especially your team mate - and further tipping the balance of power in your favor.
It is this goal which has been driving Jorge Lorenzo since being beaten by Valentino Rossi at his home race in Barcelona. His contract with the Fiat Yamaha team comes to an end this season and talks on its renewal are in full swing. There are a lot of reasons for Lorenzo to stay with the squad - the bike is clearly the best on the grid, the team is probably the best run team in the paddock, and Yamaha’s R&D department are dedicated to building a motorcycle that riders can win on, rather than a winning motorcycle - but there is one major downside: At Yamaha, Jorge Lorenzo is the number two rider, not the number one.
For a young man as ambitious as he is talented, that is not good enough. Lorenzo wants to be number one, and the drawn out negotiations, the posturing, the flirtations with other manufacturers, all are aimed at securing that undisputed number one status, preferably with Yamaha. The one minor obstacle in his way is that at Yamaha he shares a garage with a rider who has 101 victories, 8 world titles and 6 MotoGP championships under his belt. Receiving preferential treatment over the man widely reckoned to be the greatest motorcycle racer ever is a very serious, and rather presumptuous, demand to make. There is only one way to ensure that such a demand is heeded: by beating your team mate, and beating him regularly.
Over the past few races, Jorge Lorenzo’s intention to do just this has been increasingly clear. The young Spaniard has gone out at every practice and laid down a ferocious pace, challenging Rossi - and anyone else - to follow. He has demonstrated emphatically that Jorge Lorenzo is the fastest man on the track, and as such, is the man to beat.
MotoGP, like all things in life, has its seasons. As an outdoor activity taking place in the northern hemisphere, those seasons closely mirror the seasons of Europe: When the series starts racing in April, there’s the thrill and excitement of things new and full of boundless possibility. In July, as summer hits its peak, the MotoGP field has taken shape, and the title chase is in full flow. In October, the championship starts winding down, and titles are mostly settled. And finally, in December, all activity ceases, as MotoGP embarks on its annual winter hibernation.
So by rights, as the riders return to the paddock at Brno after their short summer break and the championship well into its stride, the season should be rushing headlong along the course already laid out before MotoGP took its summer vacation after Donington. But some shock news and new rules coming into effect have thrown the series into confusion, leaving riders, teams and followers floundering for explanations and with a good deal more to think about than they were expecting.
The most astounding news was Casey Stoner’s astonishing announcement that he will be missing at least the next three races, in a bid to discover the cause of the mystery ailment that has plagued him since Barcelona in mid-June. Although riders will often miss a couple of races to recover from a physical injury, to allow a broken leg or fractured wrist to heal, pulling out because of an undiagnosed complaint whose main symptoms are nausea and fatigue has set paddock tongues wagging. Though both Ducati and Stoner are certain the problem is down to some form of viral infection and the fact that since catching it shortly before Catalunya, Stoner has had no time to recuperate, the paddock gossips are putting it down to mental problems. Stoner and Ducati vehemently deny this, and although the Australian is undoubtedly dejected about being forced to pull out, he is back in his native country working on a training program and consulting doctors. Not the behavior of a broken man.
Whatever the causes of Stoner’s problems, on the face of it, his withdrawal should make the title race somewhat simpler. With one of the three main candidates eliminated, the championship will surely go to either Valentino Rossi or Jorge Lorenzo. Nothing new in that of course, but in his quest to beat his team mate, Lorenzo had been counting on a little help. The 25 point deficit the Spaniard has to Rossi is a real mountain to climb, especially with just 7 races left in the season. And so Lorenzo had been hoping that Stoner could get between Rossi and himself and take extra points away from the reigning champ, allowing the young pretender to get closer to snatching Rossi’s crown. With Dani Pedrosa back to full health and rapidly regaining fitness, Lorenzo had two potential allies capable of stealing points from his championship rival.
Of course, that’s a sword that cuts both ways. With Valentino Rossi in the rampant form he is in and a resurgent Dani Pedrosa, Lorenzo could just as easily find himself losing 9 points to Rossi instead of just 5. At the Sachsenring, and again at Donington, Lorenzo saw the title slip away from him while Rossi extended his advantage. Lorenzo needs to break that trend right now.