Thursday, November 22, 2007

MotoGP: Texas Tornado Trashes Chinny Cheat

Formula 1's most famous convicted cheat, Michael Schumacher (I'm assuming he's more famous than Ron Dennis) had a go on the Ducati MotoGP bike at the Valencia test, supposedly setting a time just 5 seconds off the pace. Now Colin Edwards has explained how the large-chinned German managed to set such a fast time.

According an interview with the Texan on, the electronics are so good on the current generation of 800cc MotoGP bikes that if you turn them up full, a half-decent rider can get within 5 seconds of the pace without the bike spitting him down the road in a shower of sparks and carbon fibre. (Remember that 5 seconds around Valencia's twisty amphitheatre is more like 8 seconds on a track like Brno). However, the law of diminishing returns then kicks in. Having the electronics cranked up that far will make the bike safe but slow. Turning the electronics all the way off would make the bike fundamentally quick, but suicidally unstable. A balance has to be found somewhere in the middle, resulting in a bike that is quick, fairly safe and relatively easy on the tyres and fuel consumption. Nicky Hayden suddenly found a lot of pace on his Repsol Honda when he turned down the electrickery and let his right paw do the talking, just like it did on the dirt tracks of Kentucky, y'all, but he certainly didn't turn the traction control off altogether.

The last couple of tenths are where the top riders really earn the cash. That is the area where Rossi beats Edwards, or Stoner beats Capirossi on an identical bike.

Of course, Schumacher also had the benefit of some one-to-one tuition from Californian 500GP star Randy Mamola, who finished 2nd in the championship a few times and won a load of races. Mamola is now found as a commentator and pitlane reporter for British Eurosport, where he gives us the benefit of his knowledge and experience in his charmingly mangled U.S. English, and also rides the 2-seater Ducati to terrify the rich and famous. While Schumacher's excellent lap time might be down to electronics in the mid-corner and corner exit, there was nothing to help him on the brakes, handlebars and footpegs, where Mamola's coaching would have been focussed.

So, it was still a great lap from a man better known for his 4-wheeled exploits, such as ramming people off the road, nearly slamming his own brother into a pitwall and parking in the middle of the track during qualifying. However, it also shows that MotoGP electronics have advanced massively in recent years, to the great annoyance of fans everywhere. Any amateur playing with Mick Doohan's 500cc 2-stroke Honda in the pre-unleaded fuel era would almost certainly have been killed when he touched the throttle on the exit of turn one and highsided into a fatal collision with the Moon. Electronics make it easier on the slow and talentless, and, more irritatingly, keep the wheels in line. The best riders will always have a tenth or two advantage, but it would be nice to see the tyres smoking along the way.

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