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GP Week : Issue 168
T he man responsible for sending Casey Stoner out on the most competitive machine is his longtime crew chief Christian Gabbarini. The Italian worked with him early in his career and throughout his years with both Ducati and now Honda. His insight into Stoner’s genius in unparalleled, especially at Phillip Island which Stoner is hopeful of winning for a record sixth time. Stoner is aiming for the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi to make his return. The two-time world champion has been sidelined for several weeks following surgery to correct the damage done to his right foot and ankle in a vicious high-side at the Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix. If he makes it back for Japan, he’ll have that race and Malaysia to get race fit before his last assault on ‘The Island’, one of the great race tracks of the world. Gabbarini believes the reason Stoner goes so well at the seaside circuit is “because Phillip Island is a crazy track. Very fast corners. You must believe in everything to go in so fast. If you think about the first corner or exiting Turn 3, you exit, if I remember, third, and you put fourth and fifth. And I remember he touched the limiter in fifth gear around 60 degree lean, so you must be crazy to go fast in this part.” Crew chiefs spend most of their time in the garage or on the pit wall. Stoner thought it would be instructive for Gabbarini to watch him ride, so he had him venture out to Phillip Island’s Turn 3. The Italian’s reaction: “In that point I was scared. I stayed three laps and then went away, because it was impossible for me” to continue watching. “Sure, you must be good. You must have a very good technique when you ride the bike, but in general this track is special for him. He can do, it looks like, everything.” And he does much of it on his own without the assistance of electronic aids, exhibiting throttle control learned over years of racing dirt track. One measure of this is slip control, which determines when the traction control kicks in. Honda Racing Corporation (HRC) boss Shuhei Nakamoto has said Stoner’s slip ratio-the difference between the speed of the front wheel and the rear wheel-is 20%. A slip ratio of 10% is most common. Nakamoto said he “controls the bike without using traction control.” “We know that there is an ideal slip ratio, you can have the maximum of acceleration, and usually we can help the rider by the system,” Gabbarini explained. “With Casey it’s completely different, because Casey can feel really well which is the best slip ratio to have the maximum of acceleration. And this slip ratio changes lap by lap during the race. So we usually set the traction control quite high and keep him free to manage by the throttle. He can open the throttle more or less to stay over the best slip ratio in that part of the race.” Of the riders whose data Gabbarini has had access to, all use more electronics than Stoner. The list includes Nicky Hayden, Dani Pedrosa, and Andrea Dovizioso: “Sure, a lot less than the others,” he said. “I think it comes from dirt track. So you must be really good to manage the throttle from the beginning and you must be very quick to pick up the bike and find a bigger contact patch and good traction, good drive. So I think it’s in his DNA, this one. “And, yeah, in general he can open the throttle a little bit earlier than the others. I saw him also when he was in 125 with Lucio Cecchinello and he’s also able to manage it very well.” Stoner, Gabbarini said, is “really good at managing the throttle in the middle corner position and corner exit. So for him it’s very important he can manage by himself the throttle and not by all the electronic systems we now find in a bike. 40 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: MOTOGP >>> FEATURE