Strictly speaking, all races are equal. Every race scores 25 points for the winner, 20 points for 2nd place, 16 points for 3rd, so in purely mathematical terms, they are all of equal importance.
Of course, some mathematicians would probably refute that, pointing out that 25 points in the first race of the season count for a whole lot less than 25 points in the final race of the season. After all, a win in the first race is usually little more than a sign that you've got your season off to a good start, while 25 points - or less - at the last race can be the difference between going down in the history books as World Champion and the chump who came up short. Taking these factors into account, you can be pretty sure that someone, somewhere has created a mathematical formula which perfectly encapsulates the relative importance of the points scored in each race.
But the MotoGP championship, like all motorcycle racing, is more than just a statistical exercise. Though the number of points scored may not change from one race to the next, the impact one race can have be worth double or even triple the points on offer. For example, though the difference between 1st and 2nd at the season opener is only 5 points, the race can sometimes set the tone for the rest of the season. Take 2007, when Casey Stoner and the Ducati turned up at Qatar and showed the world that what Honda and Yamaha had pinpointed as key factors in building an 800cc MotoGP bike were completely wrong, and that horsepower was still king.
The Numbers Game
It's not just early races which are important, though. Races at the end of the season can be important too. Nicky Hayden was leading the 2006 championship comfortably, until his team mate crashed into him at the penultimate round in Portugal, and seemed to gift the title to Valentino Rossi. The next race, the last of the season, Rossi returned the favor, succumbing to the pressure of a poor start and the accumulated woes of a troubled season.
The 2006 season also shows that races in mid-season can have a huge impact, far beyond the actual points available. At Laguna Seca, the final race before the summer break, Rossi suffered a broken engine, putting him out of the race which Hayden went on to win. His title hopes looked over, but 4 weeks later at Brno, the first race after the summer break, Rossi was back on the podium and back in contention, after Hayden finished off the podium for the first time in what was to become a string of difficult races.
The Agony And The Ecstacy
And some races become pivotal, the point at which a season, sometimes even an entire career, can change. Sete Gibernau, grandson of the man who founded the famous Spanish motorcycle manufacturer Bultaco, had a racing career littered with such moments. Gibernau's transformation from fancied outsider to title challenger began after the death of his team mate, Daijiro Katoh from injuries sustained in a crash in Japan. At the next race, which Gibernau won, he was a changed man, with no sign of the erratic nature which had held him back. That season, Gibernau became a focused, dedicated racer, and pushed Rossi hard for the title.
Two years later, another race changed Gibernau's season, this time for the worse. At the 2005 season opener at Jerez, after a tense battle throughout the race, Valentino Rossi dived up the inside of Gibernau into the final corner. Gibernau tried to slam the door, but it was too late. The Spaniard clashed fairings with the Italian, and ran off into the gravel. Robbed of victory in front of his home fans, and despite finishing with just 5 points fewer than Rossi, Gibernau became bitter and obsessed and was never competitive again. Sete Gibernau lost not just the race that day, he also lost the title, and started on the downhill slide which ended with his retirement.
The previous race of the 2008 season seemed to be one of those pivotal moments. It certainly had all the key ingredients: Casey Stoner had been on an intimidating run of poles and victories, and slowly gaining ground on championship leader Valentino Rossi; and Laguna Seca was the last race before the summer break, meaning that whoever came out victorious there would carry momentum into the summer, and have the advantage once the racing resumed.
The race delivered. Casey Stoner may only have given away 5 points to Valentino Rossi, but the manner of Rossi's victory, forcing Stoner into an error after a scintillating duel for 23 laps of mortal combat, swung the season back around again. Suddenly, the unstoppable Stoner had been stopped in his tracks, and Mr Perfect had been shown to be fallible. Stoner's outburst about Rossi's tactics in parc ferme, in the press conference, and in the press afterwards all contributed to the impression that the US Grand Prix had been worth a lot more to Valentino Rossi than just the 5 points he extended his lead by.
Times set during the post-race test at Brno, courtesy of GPOne.com:
Final times. Stoner's lap was set on a race tire, and just 0.1 seconds shy of the pole record held by Valentino Rossi.
|1||Casey Stoner||Ducati||1'56.261||52 laps|
|2||Valentino Rossi||Yamaha||1'57.332||28 laps|
|3||Toni Elias||Ducati||1'57.457||49 laps|
|4||Shinya Nakano||Honda||1'57.652||33 laps|
|5||Chris Vermeulen||Suzuki||1'57.742||79 laps|
|6||Colin Edwards||Yamaha||1'57.742||59 laps|
|7||Alex de Angelis||Honda||1'57.826||68 laps|
|8||Sylvain Guintoli||Ducati||1'57.859||54 laps|
|9||Jorge Lorenzo||Yamaha||1'57.979||65 laps|
|10||Loris Capirossi||Suzuki||1'58.177||17 laps|
|11||Niccolo Canepa||Ducati||1'58.204||60 laps|
|12||Marco Melandri||Ducati||1'58.325||69 laps|
|13||Randy de Puniet||Honda||1'58.568||56 laps|
|14||Dani Pedrosa||Honda||1'59.067||5 laps|
|15||Olivier Jacque||Kawasaki||1'59.130||8 laps|
|16||Andrea Dovizioso||Honda||1'59.172||21 laps|
|17||James Toseland||Yamaha||1'59.228||45 laps|
|18||John Hopkins||Kawasaki||2'00.414||4 laps|
|19||Tady Okada||Honda||2'00.735||62 laps|
Times as of 2pm local time
Full results of the 2008 MotoGP Grand Prix of the Czech Republic at Brno:
Yesterday, we reported that all 17 current MotoGP riders had held a meeting to discuss safety with Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta. That meeting took place behind closed doors, and so the exact details of what was discussed were not made public, although it was an open secret that the riders had asked for a single tire rule.
Fortunately for us, the Spanish sports daily AS.com is very well connected, and has managed to find out just what the ideas were that the riders presented to Dorna. The riders had 5 proposals to improve safety:
With so few bikes on the grid, you would think it would be relatively easy to get into MotoGP. All it would really take is a sponsor with deep enough pockets to fund a bike, a decent rider and the team - with the costs for the team probably being the least significant part of the entire package. But the saga of Jorge Martinez tells quite a different tale.
Jorge Aspar Martinez, the owner of the Aspar team which dominates both the 125cc and the 250cc classes, has been trying to get into MotoGP for quite some time now. At the end of last year, Martinez seemed to have the whole deal sewn up: Suzuki would provide him with a factory machine, and either Ben Spies or Alvaro Bautista would ride it. It was just a matter of tidying up a few loose ends, and preparing for 2009.
It didn't quite work out that way, though. Suzuki's interest in providing a bike quickly cooled, after the Rizla Suzuki team failed to continue the progression they had shown in 2007, leaving Aspar without a bike. Aspar then turned to Ducati for equipment, but rumors emerged in the Spanish press that though Ducati appeared to be willing, Alvaro Bautista, the man Aspar wanted on the bike, had refused point blank to ride a Ducati, pointing to the examples of Marco Melandri, Toni Elias and Sylvain Guintoli. Discussions with Yamaha were also held, but proved fruitless.
|Pos.||No.||Rider||Manufacturer||Fast Lap||Diff||Diff Previous|
|8||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||1'59.422||2.218||0.088|
|11||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||1'59.687||2.483||0.164|
Just a quick reminder for all our US-based readers: The MotoGP race from Brno is due to be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, not Speed. The race is due to be shown as a same-day delay broadcast at 2pm EDT. For more details, check your local CBS affiliate, or the TV Racer website.
Be sure to check your DVRs, and don't miss the race. It could well be another classic.
Some unusual reports are coming out of Brno this evening. On Friday evening, there was a scheduled meeting of the riders' safety comission, but at that meeting, Valentino Rossi and Loris Capirossi arranged for another meeting, between all 17 of the current MotoGP riders and the CEO of Dorna, Carmelo Ezpeleta. The subject of that meeting was the dangers presented by the rapidly increasing corner speeds in MotoGP, and ideas were presented and discussed to tackle the problem.
Or at least, that's the official version, according to MotoGP.com, the website owned and operated by Dorna, the organizers of the MotoGP series. Respected motorcycle racing journalist Julian Ryder, however, is reporting over on Superbikeplanet.com that the main idea discussed was the institution of a single tire rule.
There is good reason to think that this is the case. With Michelin on course for their third hiding in a row, the Michelin riders are getting decidedly restive. According to Alberto Cani over at GPOne.com, the atmosphere in the Repsol Honda pit is very poor, with all of the anger directed at anyone wearing a blue and yellow Micheliin shirt. When asked by a Spanish journalist about what the relationship was like with the Michelin technicians, he replied: "I'd like to answer that question, but it would probably be better if I waited until another day."
The announcement that Team Scot and the JiR team of Luca Montiron were to split up has raised questions in the paddock about what effect this will have on the size of the grid, and how the spoils would be divided. It was generally assumed that Montiron's role in MotoGP was finished, and that Team Scot, having turned the worst team in the paddock into a model of efficiency, would stay in MotoGP, most likely with Yuki Takahashi, their current 250cc rider, taking the seat Andrea Dovizioso will vacate when he leaves for Repsol Honda.
But in an interview with GPOne.com's Alberto Cani, Montiron claimed that he will have a Honda, a title sponsor, and either Alex de Angelis or Nicky Hayden as a rider for next year. Montiron told GPOne.com that he has already presented his plans to Honda, and that these plans would include a big-name rider. Montiron confirmed that Alex de Angelis is one of the riders he is interested in. The other "big name " is believed to be Nicky Hayden, but Hayden is almost certain to sign with Ducati for 2009.
At the end of the first day of practice at Brno, it was clear that there were two men a long way clear of the rest of the field. Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi were over half a second ahead of the man in 3rd, and the only riders capable of cracking into the 1'57s. The timing sheets seemed to tell a fairly clear-cut story of two fast men, a pack of riders all very close to each other, and another disastrous failure by Michelin. The grid seemed to be shaping up nicely.
The problem was, Saturday's weather threw not so much a fly as a whale into the ointment, after a storm front unleashed torrential rain over the Czech track, leaving the circuit completely drenched, though still ridable. With more rain coming in during the day, the grid was going to reflect a slightly different reality than Friday's practice had revealed, and confusing the picture even more, the forecast for Sunday is for the usual warm, bone dry conditions we have come to expect from Brno over the years.
During the morning's free practice session, Casey Stoner had already proved quite emphatically that he is probably the best wet-weather rider in the world, by stomping all over the competition. And as qualifying started in a light drizzle, he continued in the same vein. On just his 2nd flying lap, the Australian took a 5 second lead over the rest of the field, leaving his rivals gasping for breath.
Full times from the official Qualifying Practice session at the Brno MotoGP round:
Casey Stoner was quickest once again in damp and miserable conditions. Rizla Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen was the only man to get close, though still over half a second down. Valentino Rossi was well off the pace for much of the session, only leaping into the top 5 in the last few minutes of the session.
The Michelins continue to struggle. First Michelin rider is Dani Pedrosa in 8th, and Michelin shod men are propping up the bottom of the table.
|Pos.||No.||Rider||Manufacturer||Fast Lap||Diff||Diff Previous|
|3||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||2'10.941||1.332||0.773|
|14||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||2'13.885||4.276||1.609|
Casey Stoner took revenge in this afternoon's session of free practice, taking back the top spot that Valentino Rossi had taken in the morning. Stoner was quickest all session, taking a comfortable lead of well over half a second at one point. But on his last couple of laps, Rossi clawed back some time, getting to within 2/10ths of a second. It's hard to say at the moment, but it looks like Rossi is at least close to Stoner's pace. it was clear that Stoner was really pushing, though, as the Australian ran off track, and was forced to get off his Ducati to get the bike facing in the right direction.
Stoner wasn't the only rider to have off-track excursions. Randy de Puniet, Alex de Angelis, John Hopkins and James Toseland all suffered crashes. Toseland's was at very slow speed, tipping over in the gravel, but de Puniet managed to crash twice in the 60 minute session.
The Bridgestone's dominated once again, taking the top 6, and 9 of the top 10 places. Only Colin Edwards seemed to have some pace, at one point cracking into the top 3. After the drama at the Sachsenring and Laguna Seca, Michelin look to be in for a third disaster in a row, despite having tested on the new surface in June.
While Stoner and Rossi dominated, the good news for the rest of the field is that they managed to closte the gap. From over a second down, the rider in 3rd place is now just over three quarters of a second off Casey Stoner's pace. But that's still a long way from closing the gap.
Practice continues tomorrow, but the forecast is for cold, wet conditions, so the data is unlikely to be any use for the race on Sunday, which is expected to be warm and dry.
|Pos.||No.||Rider||Manufacturer||Fast Lap||Diff||Diff Previous|
|5||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||1'58.264||1.033||0.036|
|14||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||1'59.405||2.174||0.077|
Both Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner are well under lap record pace, and over a second faster than the rest of the field. So far, it looks like Michelin got it badly wrong again, with Colin Edwards the first non-Bridgestone runner down in 9th place. Dani Pedrosa is clearly not fully recovered, and bringing up the rear of the field. Practice continues this afternoon.
|Pos.||No.||Rider||Manufacturer||Fast Lap||Diff||Diff Previous|
|4||15||Alex DE ANGELIS||HONDA||1'59.134||1.352||0.113|
|14||14||Randy DE PUNIET||HONDA||2'00.496||2.714||0.049|
The gloves are off. Neither Valentino Rossi nor Casey Stoner were taking any prisoners during their enthralling and almost terrifying battle at Laguna Seca, and since leaving the track, the atmosphere has only gotten worse.
It started with complaints in parc ferme by Casey Stoner that some of Rossi's passes were too hard and too dangerous. The complaints continued in the post-race press conference and in the media immediately after the race. Valentino Rossi then poured oil onto the fire by dismissing the incidents as the kind of thing that happens during a close race, and nothing to get particularly upset about. He summed it up in two words which are well on their way to achieving legendary status: "That's racing!"
Stoner parried swiftly. "That's racing, is it? We'll see...." Part threat, part promise, it was clear the young Australian was not about to let it lie. In the weeks that followed the race, he stepped up the war of words, telling the Spanish press that he had lost all respect for Rossi, a man he once regarded as a hero. He even suggested that Rossi's fears that he couldn't match Stoner's pace had forced him to overreach himself, saying "I believe that I can be faster than Rossi. He knows that too and it worries to him. I probably shouldn't say it but I think that it was because of that in Laguna he let his ambition to win take control over his technique."
In turn, Valentino Rossi has made no secret of the fact that he intends to pursue the same tactics for the rest of the season. In the run up to the Brno race, Rossi set out his stall quite bluntly: "We have seven races left and I am dreaming of them all being as fun as Laguna Seca!" The message could not be clearer: If Casey Stoner didn't like the passes Rossi put on him in the US, then that's exactly what Rossi is going to serve up for Stoner at every race to come.
All In The Mind
The war of words reveals a deeper truth about motorcycle racing: Though the focus is almost always on the physical aspects of the sport, the speed of the machines, and the delicate balance, subtle throttle control and sheer skill of the riders, a very large part of racing takes place between the ears.
It's not hard to understand why. Roaring towards a corner at close to 200mph, waiting for the very last inch to go from full throttle to full brake while getting ready to find the exact fastest speed you can pitch the bike through without crashing requires incredible concentration. The slightest distraction means braking a foot later, which means carrying a fraction more corner speed, which is so often the difference between exiting the corner ready to fire off towards the next turn, and exiting the corner in a jumble of gravel, tumbling limbs, and expensively destroyed motorcycle parts.
So it's unsurprising to find that mental tactics can be just as effective as extra horsepower. If you can get your opponent to spend a few percentage points of his attention on worrying about you, where you are on the track and what you are likely to do, that's less focus on getting the most out of the bike. A little intimidation can get you a few fractions of a second, time you won't find as easily through suspension adjustments and traction control settings.
Valentino Rossi is an acknowledged master of this trade. Rossi broke both Max Biaggi and Sete Gibernau with his mental pressure, turning them from championship contenders to also-rans, forcing them both out of MotoGP. His modus operandi was simple: get in behind his rivals, and breathe down their neck until their concentration broke and they made a mistake. All Rossi had to so was to show them a wheel now and again, and bide his time until they ran off the track, or ran wide, or crashed out. It worked often enough to make Rossi's 5 premier class titles if not a walk in the park, then at least a jog around the block.
Are You Talking To Me?
Then, two young riders came up from the 250 class, and to Rossi's horror, they were impervious to his pressure. Both Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner were perfectly happy to let Rossi sit on their tail, as it allowed them to get on with the job at hand: pushing the bike to its absolute maximum every lap of the race. That strategy gave Pedrosa 6 race wins, and handed Casey Stoner a world title. Clearly, another tactic was required.