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GP Week : Issue 84A
IN another change of policy from a newly aggressive Honda, lead satellite-team rider Marco Melandri and his Fausto Gresini-owned squad have been given permission to pursue major new lines of development, independent of the factory. As reported last week, the team's first move was from the Öhlins suspension now used by all Hondas to the in-house Showa suspension, rejected by the factory team for this year. There were other changes under the skin, with chassis modifications that adjusted stiffness ratios, as well as a significantly stiffer swing-arm. The consequence was sixth place, Melandri's best result of the season so far, as well as the acknowledgement that "we still have a lot of work to do to make the bike as I like it." Melandri is on the bounce after a disastrous 2008 with Ducati, then a move to a Kawasaki team crippled by the withdrawal of factory support. The ex-250 champion claimed all his five premier-class race wins with the Gresini team, which has long had a special relationship with HRC. Giving official approval to these changes represents a major shift of policy for Honda, which generally keeps development strictly in-house, and monitors satellite teams closely. Paddock observers see it as part of a revitalised effort after years of relative failure for Honda, with new HRC vice-president Shuhei Nakamoto -- late of Honda's cancelled F1 project -- bringing a more ruthless approach. This has included the hiring of top electronic staff from the factory Yamaha team, and of Ducati project manager Livio Suppo. Melandri leads Honda experiments "Stoner can come back" -- Hayden MULTIPLE crash victim Casey Stoner will be able to fight back from his current position, according to his team-mate Nicky Hayden. The American insists that Casey is not about to be fazed by the series of crashes that have blighted his performance at three of the last four races. "Casey has a real short memory," said Hayden. "I've seen him go out after crashing, and he's straight on the red helmets [denoting fastest section times] pretty much from his out lap." Stoner was not so sure: "I've made the championship pretty hard for myself ... maybe impossible," he said, after explaining his Le Mans crash. With 15 rounds remaining, Stoner already trails points leader Lorenzo by 59, and Rossi by 50. A couple of no-scores by either would change the position, but Stoner will need not only to be consistent but to defeat both of the Yamaha riders at almost every race. Footnote: Stoner's luck remained bad at Le Mans. He was unable to restart at Qatar because a handlebar had broken off. Ducati revised the handlebar/triple-clamp arrangement to prevent this happening, and at Le Mans the handlebars remained intact: "But because it went end over end, everything else was broken," said Stoner, with a wry grin. 18