The intense television coverage and the swarm of websites that write about MotoGP generate an avalanche of images and reports that can allow someone sitting at home 500, 1000 or 10,000 miles feel they have the same information as if they were right there at the track… But it’s not the same; it can’t be the same.
There are many things that will never be seen or understood if you are not right where the action is taking place. What’s more, there are things that even the sophisticated data collection systems mounted on the bikes are not capable of capturing. Why else do you think that track coaches are installed at the edge of the track? Luca Cadalora, Wilco Zeelenberg, Davide Tardozzi … What can these mere humans add to a technically saturated environment like MotoGP, where everything is measured and analyzed with sophisticated computer programs?
As it happens, the engineers have had to surrender to the evidence that having someone trackside observing and llistening to what happens is an essential component to get the most out of all the sophisticated technology. And in this regard, going trackside in Sepang was especially revealing as to the behavior of the different bikes and paying attention to the body language of the riders… Let’s look at what we saw.
Jorge Lorenzo has already understood that he has to take full advantage of the superior power of the Ducati engine. How? By minimizing the time in in the corners.
For example, installed at the edge of the track in Sepang, it was possible to observe Jorge Lorenzo’s daily evolution aboard his new motorcycle. The fiasco of the first day forced him to stop and analyze what happened. The help of Michele Pirro and Casey Stoner was certainly key in his metamorphosis that took place over the final two days.
The second day, it was clear how he began to explore different options, trying various positions on the bike, moving on it in a different way each time he went out. Little by little he attempted to understand how to get the most out of the Ducati’s advantages, and realized that with the Desmosedici, he needed to be much more aggressive. After eight years braking early on a Yamaha, cornering in long, rounded arcs, Jorge needs to overhaul his riding style.
The approach is simple…in theory. Jorge needs to exploit to the maximum the Desmosedici’s biggest strength: its engine. And how does one do that? Easy: by minimizing the time navigating through the corners. If the Ducati engine is the most powerful and fastest in the category, the longer it “works” the better.
Trackside, it was clear how Lorenzo, while lapping on his new bike, was evolving his manner of riding. His corner entrances on the third day looked nothing like those of the first day. But his corner entry, the transition from upright motorcycle to hard lean angle in search of the apex is still not natural. What he did instinctively with the Yamaha he still has to think about with the Ducati.
His body language, which reveals so much about how a rider feels on the bike, betrayed that he still does not feel that the maneuver save. However at each successive exit from the box, you could see how Lorenzo was taking a step forward; Jorge knows his trade.
It’s no coincidence that two rookies like Zarco and Folger were so competitive at Sepang.
Hours on foot at Sepang under a scorching sun is uncomfortable, but it allowed me to understand, for example, why two rookies like Zarco and Folger did so well there. It was certainly not a coincidence. Yes, both had been there with Yamaha in November, but that wasn’t the reason why. Because after three days of testing, every team had had time enough to set their bikes up as best as possible. Again, from the edge of the track it appeared that there is something about the Yamaha M1 that facilitates rider adaptation.
And much of that has to do with Yamaha being the bike that keeps the wheels aligned the best when braking and accelerating. The front and rear wheel stay on the same axis, meaning the motorcycle’s two points of support work in the same direction. Does that make sense? To fully understand, just remember the behavior of the HRC RCV, the true antonym to the M1.
The image of Marc Márquez with a misaligned rear wheel entering or exiting a corner is something we have seen a lot of. A “misalignment” that happens in critical moments like under braking, when the front and rear of Honda to move forward in different axes. You have to do nothing more than compare the braking of Marquez and Rossi to visualize what we are trying to explain.
Both are hard brakers (though Crutchlow is probably the hardest braker in the field). But while the Spaniard brakes with his rear wheel skidding side to side in the braking zone, the Italian does it with his bike solidly “fixed” to the front wheel axis. So, having two points of support working in the same direction instead of separately is much easier on less experienced riders like Zarco and Folger.
The engineers have realized that telemetry does not explain everything, that there are many things that can only be seen trackside; hence the important role of track coaches.
Another interesting detail that could be seen trackside—in this case heard—is the different characteristics of the engines during the acceleration phase. Let’s compare Honda and Suzuki at the first crack of the throttle, when the traction phase begins.
Suppose that Andrea Iannone’s GSX RR has a scale of 0 to 20 when opening the gas before the acceleration goes into crisis and the traction control and / or antiwheelie goes into action to reduce power. This same scale for the Honda would be five points, that is, its margin would go from 0 to 5. What happens on this smaller scale? While opening the gas a bit too hard on the Suzuki creates no drama, the same error with the Honda, because of its smaller margin, can hinder the acceleration and / or the beginning of the traction phase.
This was only comprehensible while standing trackside, listening to the different motorcycles pass the same point again and again. As I said, neither the telemetry nor the television captures that. And the same goes for explaining the next concept, as you will next read.
We will build on the comparison of the Honda and Suzuki engines. The character of each serves to explain the difference between a bike that is actively ridden and another that requires a reactive riding style. In Sepang Marc’s Honda was clearly a reactive bike, that is, a bike in which the rider follows what the bike does and is constantly correcting it. This type of motorcycle demands a lot from the rider, both physically and mentally, and to be effective the bike needs aggressive riders.
Active bikes are those that allow the rider to take the initiative. It is the rider who dictates the times and puts the bike where he wants. The Suzuki is an example, but the Yamaha M1 is an especially good representative. They are predictable bikes which can be ridden to their limits and forced to respond to the rider’s will. To do the same with a reactive bike, you need the skills and determination of Marc Marquez or the bravery of Cal Crutchlow.