On Thursday at the US GP, a day before the general public and non-MotoGP press could get into Laguna Seca, Yamaha unveiled its 50th Anniversary team livery, with a special cadre of legendary Yamaha riders. Eddie Lawson, Kel Carruthers, Kenny Roberts Sr., and Wayne Rainey joined current Yamaha riders Ben Spies, Cal Crutchlow, Colin Edwards, Jorge Lorenzo in the pit lane of the famous American track to commemorate Yamaha’s half-century of motorcycle Grand Prix involvement. After the presentation, a scrum of journalists got a chance to talk to King Kenny about his experience riding the YZR-M1 around Laguna Seca, as Yamaha had built a special GP bike for the American GP Champion, though it did not have a full electronics package.
A&R also got to eavesdrop in on the conversation between Roberts, Edwards, Spies, and Crutchlow, as the foursome exchanged notes on how GP racing has progressed, and what riding the M1 was like coming from different disciplines outside of the usual GP career track. Perhaps most interesting in that discussion was how precise riding a MotoGP motorcycle has become, as the tires, electronics, and suspension all demand a very particular riding style, racing line, and motorcycle setup to achieve maximum performance.
Roberts lamented to the current GP riders because of the precision required, it was easy to run afoul of the M1. Saying in his day, a rider could be 10 feet off the ideal line, fight the bike through the corner, and finish the lap none the slower; but on the current MotoGP equipment, being 10cm off the line can mean seconds missing on the lap time because of how exacting the sport has become.
This sentiment can perhaps best be confirmed by Ben Bostrom’s performance throughout the weekend, as the American Superbike rider easily eclipses most of the GP filed on his track knowledge of Laguna Seca, but when it comes to heating up the Bridgestone tires and carbon fiber Brembo brakes, along with the sophisticated riding style required on the Honda RC212V, Bostrom’s times were seriously lacking compared to the other riders, and even to those of teammate Toni Elias, who has fought a similar battle all season.
Once King Kenny had finished comparing notes with Yamaha’s MotoGP riders, he was barraged by a small group of foreign journalists and one internet blogger who didn’t know any better. The following is an excerpt of relevant discussion from the ensuing conversation about the M1, electronics, and the current state of MotoGP machinery. Big thanks to David Emmett at MotoMatters for helping transcribe the conversation from a recording that had the Pramac Ducati team warming up next door.
“These things are so rigid and so precise, they’re not near as fun to ride in my opinion. I think you can go round a corner as fast as you want, until you crash. In my day, you could go into the corner a little fast and you’d push the front, or the back would come around, but on that thing, you just go…BOOM! That fast, and you’re down. The tires, suspension, and chassis are so much better to do that exact corner, but if you don’t do that exact corner exactly, it doesn’t work.”
“Mine [The Yamaha YZR-M1 that was prepared for Kenny Roberts Sr. --Ed.] doesn’t have all those electronic devices on it and it’s wheelying everywhere. I don’t know how they ride it. It wheelies everywhere, it doesn’t have anti-wheelie. If you wheelie it more than two seconds, it blows up because it’s missing oil. So, they said don’t wheelie for more than two seconds. Why would you make a motorcycle that you can’t wheelie, but that wheelies everywhere? And you can’t wheelie it for more than 2 seconds. So it’s, 1…2…ok…bullshit. I wouldn’t like that.”
“I rode the old 500 a week ago in England, and I liked it a lot better than I like this. “
Q: You don’t enjoy this?
No. The 500s are better.
Q: Someone said in the past a rider needed to have more imagination to ride the bike because you could push over the limit of the bike.
“Yeah, yeah. The guys that could win were the guys that were physically stronger, that helped a lot, because the bikes wobbled so much and the tires went off. So every four laps the whole system change. It was the guys that had the muscles and the power that made a big difference. This is isn’t going to make any difference to that. This thing’s so much more complicated, you can’t over-ride it.”
Q: You mean you need more physical power before or with this bike?
“No, because this bike is so much more precise, you’re never going to get into the positions that we could get our bikes in. You know, we could over-ride our bikes, we could make it move around, we could slide it and make it turn, and two-strokes had a lot different powerband. This thing isn’t going to do that, it’s not going to slide going in, and set it up coming out. It aint’ going to do that.
It wants to go round the corner as fast as it’s possible to go, and if you don’t hit that spot, exactly, you’re out of the line, it doesn’t like it. I can imagine going out and being very frustrated on this, because you’re not fast enough and you don’t know why. Whereas in our day, it was well, you know what, if we steepen the steering head up a little bit, I can get through the Esses better and that’s going to make me faster, but this thing, no.”
Q: You prefer two-strokes or four-strokes?
“I like four strokes. I think the 1000 will be a lot better. I tested the V5 Honda I raced with Little Kenny around Valencia, and it was a much, much nicer, funner bike. I think the 1000s are going to help everybody out. These things [800cc MotoGP bikes] are like a big 250 with 300 horsepower. The riders are going to like the 1000 much better, because it’s going to have more torque, these things only have RPM.”
“We raced the 700 here, the Daytona bike here, and it was an animal, a complete animal. That was my 1980 bike, it would flex so much, and down the the back straightaway is a big 2nd gear corner. I could go so fast, it would go BOING, like a big spring. So actually you could go round a corner faster than the bike could. But with this one, no way, it ain’t gonna go like that.”
Photo: © 2011 Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved