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GP Week : Issue 161
Cal Crutchlow GETTING STARTED ONCE YOU’VE STOPPED TEST RIDERS AND REAL RIDERS: THE DIFFERENCE COUNTS Casey Stoner was livid. Not because he’d crashed (well, perhaps that too). It was because he hadn’t been able to restart again. The leaders’ gap to the rest meant that with his bike basically undamaged, had he got going again, he might conceivably have managed to save a top-10 finish, maybe better. But the marshals wouldn’t let him. “I’m frustrated I wasn’t allowed to try and score some points,” he said. “The bike was perfect, but the marshals pushed me away.” Actually, it’s a moot point whether he would have been able to go, but he’s right to be cross and the marshals were wrong to stand in his way. MotoGP policy is that as long as there is no obvious danger then riders should be allowed and even helped to get going again. The difficulty was that his engine had stopped, and his bike was a long way into the gravel. It was quite a push back to the track, and then a difficult task to push-start a 1000cc MotoGP bike with a slipper clutch. Especially uphill. Honda modified their clutch to make it easier after a similar incident at Jerez last year. Stoner was knocked off by Rossi. Both fell. Rossi’s Ducati was push-started and he continued. Marshals (eventually) came to help Casey as well, but they couldn’t get the engine going. Why had the engine stopped? An HRC official described that the cut-out switch reads many parameters. Other manufacturers have simpler systems. In practice they stop the motor as soon as the bike goes down ... but in a race a delay is programmed in to give the rider a chance to jump back on. Not in this case. On the other hand, it could have been worse. Lorenzo’s engine kept running when he was knocked down at Assen, which would have been okay for a short time if it was only idling. Instead it was jammed at full throttle, and it was rapidly destroyed because of no oil pressure. Stoner may have lost some points, but at least he didn’t lose one of his six precious engines. Ducati’s test rider Franco Battaini made a return to grand prix racing at the Sachsenring, taking the place of injured satellite Ducati rider Karel Abraham. On a bike he helped develop and should know intimately, he did his reputation no favours. He qualified last, and finished third from last, behind all but two of the humble production-engined CRT bikes. It might seem more than a little unfair to criticise a race-rusty rider who retired from active service several years ago – his last grand prix was at this same circuit in the 250 class in 2006. Nonetheless, his lack of pace was a serious worry to the Ducati riders of this season. And it highlights a problem that is far from exclusively Ducati’s ... that test riders in general simply don’t go fast enough to be of much use for anything except clocking up the miles to check the endurance of components. Bikes start to behave differently when you push them to their very limits. The same syndrome explains why Stoner and Pedrosa suffer tyre chatter problems while the other Honda riders don’t. They’re riding that much harder. It may only be a few tenths in lap time, but it’s a world of difference to the guy in the saddle. It’s certainly also an explanation of Ducati’s current difficulties with understeer and excessive tyre wear. Nobody except current racers go fast enough to bring the problems out ... and although it’s a bit freer this year than last, their opportunities to test remain limited. They’re left to iron out imperfections at race weekends. But who can you find who is fast enough to take the testing process further? If Nicky Hayden is pushed out of Ducati next year, as seems possible, he would surely be the guy for them. Or for Suzuki, working on developing their own entry for 2014. Trouble is, if riders are still fast enough to race, that’s what they prefer to do. 40 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: MOTOGP >>> SACHSENRING