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GP Week : Issue 130
Looking forwards, not backwards GPWEEK OPINION >> For a spell, quite a long spell, if you hadn’t perfected your craft on US or Australian dirt tracks, you needn’t apply for a chance of winning the 500cc World Championship. The cross-over started with the recently departed and sadly missed Gary Nixon, Kenny Roberts and a couple of others. Roberts became the only rookie World Champion in the premier class in 1978, and won the next two years straight. The next generation took over completely from 1984 (four-time champion Eddie Lawson) until the end of Mick Doohan’s reign in 1998. Only Kevin Schwantz (1993) came to GPs via a different route. Things are so different now. Rossi and the older riders came in mainly via Italian mini-bike racing round go-kart tracks; Pedrosa and the rest have climbed Dorna’s riders’ ladder: via rookie cups and the Spanish national championships. The technique imprinted on them from pre-teen years is what works best with modern bikes and tyres. Stoner is the exception. He cut his teeth on Oz pre-teen dirt-tracks before going to Spain. It explains a lot. The technical explanation is clear enough. Dirt-trackers learn how to ride with too much power and not enough grip. The rise of the two-stroke in the 500 class meant the same conditions applied: chassis were flimsy and tyres even more so. You had to go out of control to keep control. It could hardly be different with the 800cc MotoGP bikes. A modern rider has instead to cut the finest edge on a precisely defined limit. Some hope for a return to knockabout racing with next year’s 1000cc bikes. And a new generation of dirt-track heroes? Sadly, I think not. Unless they bring back the same tyres and chassis they had in 1980. And switch off all those electronics. With the season beginning to draw to a close, next weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix offers Paul a fantastic opportunity to prove his talent. All-too- often in recent races luck has conspired against him to deny him a points-scoring finish. At his home race in Silverstone, a superb sixth on the grid was lost to a fumbled pitstop, and then in Germany, while team- mate Sutil was wowing all and sundry with a drive to sixth, di Resta was battling his way through from last having been tapped into a spin early in the first lap. In Belgium though, di Resta returns to a happy stomping ground for Force India. Since 2009 when the new regulations came in, Force India have been on top of their game there. In 2009, Giancarlo Fisichella took pole and was only denied victory by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, while last year, Adrian Sutil came home in fifth place to record his team’s joint- best finish of the year. There’s no denying that di Resta has shown solid potential so far this year, with top ten finishes in his first two races and a 7-4 qualifying lead over team-mate Sutil. In Belgium however, he has a chance to be fighting with the main Mercedes team, and has a great chance to show Mercedes’ bosses that he’s the man for the job. Any lingering doubts they may have about Schumacher’s commitment or Rosberg’s killer instinct could bring an eye-catching drive by di Resta further into focus. One final push of encouragement is all it might take. Beating your team-mate and scoring the odd point here or there is all well and good, but a top-five finish in a midfield Force India is sure to catch the attention of top Mercedes executives. Sentimental journey 21