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GP Week : Issue 187
25 GPWEEK.com // 25 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: Last week I had to make a close study of the 1988 French GP at Paul Ricard. In retrospect, it turned out to be a landmark. The top three finished within half a second. That hadn’t happened for years. There was another, a bit more spread, At Brno later that same season. It was the start of what it is impossible to avoid calling “the Golden Age”. That particular race was in a way a false start: defending champion Wayne Gardner had it won, only for his 500 two-stroke Honda to expire on the last lap. Eddie Lawson, Christian Sarron and Kevin Schwantz had been battling over second. Never mind. The years that followed, with Wayne Rainey, Kevin Magee, Randy Mamola and later Mick Doohan all involved remain the example by which all other racing must be judged. It will inevitably be found wanting, for technical reasons. Chassis, suspension and tyres may have been cutting edge in 1988, but by today’s standards – primitive. Frame engineers had yet to start thinking about the controlled flex that is so important today. And the engines, wildly powerful for the time at 160-plus bhp, were untamed throttle-monsters, requiring the most sensitive control of their brutal power curves. This meant that the rider could make a difference. A creative approach could turn weaknesses into strengths; rivals could be intimidated by displays of out-of-control mastery. And all the while guys who’d learned their craft riding fast and loose on the dirt-tracks prospered and won. Today’s bikes, as we know, are knife-edge accurate. The class leaders, all of them, have come through from 125s and 250s. They’re used to high lean angles, getting the maximum out of the grippy tyres, and when the power-slide starts, the electronics are there to rescue the foolhardy. It’s harder for the rider to make a difference: his job is to try and get it close to perfect every time. Vide Jorge Lorenzo, the perfect example. The Golden Age had quite gradually turned into the Age of Exaggerated Perfection. Marquez’s Laguna Seca ride was hugely refreshing. Riding the wheels off his bike at a track that has caught out many a fine rider, he out-Doctored Rossi, pulling off one of the Italian’s most famous passes on the old master (right). To Rossi’s credit, he was more exulted than dismayed. He thoroughly enjoyed the audaciousness, and promised to return the favour as soon as possible. Marquez had already duplicated another of Rossi’s famous attacks (on Gibernau) when he used Lorenzo’s Yamaha as an emergency brake to steal second off him at Jerez. There are a couple more he hasn’t tried yet. Just wait. What makes the difference? Unlike the older riders, Marc came through Moto2. The lessons are plain to see. Overtake, at all costs. Any old how. The bikes are overweight and gutless. The rider has to find a way to make the difference. There is much more to learn switching to MotoGP: electronics, Bridgestone tyres, double the horsepower. Marquez is obviously an exceptionally fast learner, but other Moto2 recruits have not been unimpressive. Stefan Bradl got a first rostrum in the USA; Bradley Smith has been unobtrusively improving. Moto2 is mildly despised by those who miss the purebred 250 racers it replaced. On the evidence so far, maybe it’s not such a bad training school after all. GETTING FAST AND LOOSE WITH PERFECTION OPINION OPINION MICHAEL SCOTT MotoGP Editor