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GP Week : Issue 5
THERE are two schools of thought as to the best way to become a MotoGP star. One favours the modern route: talent is harvested young via schemes like the Red Bull Rookies and the Dorna Academy, nurtured through the 125 and 250 classes, and then finally promoted to the Big Time. The grid is full of them, from old hands like Rossi and Capirossi to defending champ Stoner to bright- and-shiny rookies Lorenzo and Dovizioso. The other route holds to an older racing truth: that it matters little what you ride, because talent will win out in the end. It is this view that opens a side door into the top class – for riders who, for geographical or other reasons, missed that particular train, and were diverted instead into World Superbikes. Here, numbers have been reinforced by the latest graduate from SBK: Briton James Toseland. The double SBK champion (left, and above) joins another two-timer Colin Edwards and ex-Supersport champ and SBK star Chris Vermeulen. Toseland’s results in the first two races (a fighting sixth in both Qatar and Jerez) plus his ability and willingness to mix it with the big names have given this faction quite a boost. The advantage of coming from the smaller classes is learning how to work with a fully adjustable racing bike. Gearing, suspension and steering are all items to be fine- tuned. Riders also learn the circuits, and the GP milieu. “It’s the best way to get noticed,” explained one team manager. Those who have made the move from the production-based series to prototype GP racing have a patchy history. Serial SBK champion Troy Bayliss made a strong debut in 2003 on the Ducati, three times on the rostrum; but then his results got worse. It took a triumphant one- race return in 2006 (Ducati again), with victory at Valencia to erase the memory of a dreadful final Honda season in 2005. He is still the only ex-World Superbiker to win a GP. The goal has remained tantalisingly out of reach for Edwards, who has been in the top class continuously since 2003. He came within yards of it at Assen in 2006, only to fall within sight of the flag, giving victory to his fellow- American Hayden. But Hayden is himself an ex-Superbike graduate, albeit from the AMA series in the USA rather than SBK. Edwards actually recommended Superbike experience, back in the 990 days, “to get used to spinning it up out of every corner. Learn to deal with it.” But he also allowed that there was a jump from the production-based bikes to GP level machines: “Superbikes are so heavy that you get accustomed to a certain amount of force in a corner. You know that’s the limit. All of a sudden on a GP bike you’ve got 30 percent more force on your body, but you’re still in the old ways. You’ve done it so long. Then you realise – I can go in so much deeper, and carry more force in the front, and the rear.” The bikes are different now, with 800cc, higher corner speeds and less sliding. Toseland found the major adjustment was to “carbon brakes, lighter weight and stiffer chassis”, and appears to have adapted quickly. He gives a great deal of credit to his team – the experienced France- base Tech 3 outfit running satellite Yamahas. “They’ve given me quite a few tips and hints as to how these bikes really like to be ridden,” he said. He is still learning, of course. But if he keeps going like this, and if his team-mate Edwards can finally gain that long-deferred race win, it proves the side door is very much still open. There’s more than one way to get into MotoGP, as MICHAEL SCOTT explains Coming in the side door M oto GP Insight >> 41