Monday Addendum at Sachsenring: Sometimes, The Winner Gets Overlooked

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There was one glaring omission from the post-Sachsenring roundup I wrote on Sunday night. Well, two actually, but the biggest was that I neglected to give Dani Pedrosa the attention he deserved for a fantastic win, his first in over nine months. Pedrosa managed the race brilliantly, starting on a bike which had seen massive changes ahead of the race, and which he took a few laps to get accustomed to.

He did so by dropping behind Stoner, and following in the wake of the reigning World Champion, until he was comfortable enough to make a pass. He accomplished this with ease, and the pair engaged in some synchronized drifting until the end of the race, when Pedrosa upped his pace and forced Stoner into an error. The Australian may have believed that he had the pace and the moves to beat Pedrosa, but the fact that he crashed would suggest that Pedrosa was forcing Stoner much closer to the limit than the champion realized.

The win was important to Pedrosa, not just because he has not yet put pen to paper on the two-year extension of his Repsol Honda deal, but also because he felt he owed it to his team for all the hard work they have put in, he said. This year, he had felt very comfortable on the bike – chatter notwithstanding, from both the rear with the existing tire and from the front with new ’33’ spec tire – and he felt he had the pace to win. But every time there was always someone else who was faster on the day. Until Sunday.

“When you do 2nd or 3rd, always is a good feeling,” Pedrosa told the media on Sunday, “but winning is the best feeling for the rider. When you win it’s extra, you feel just perfect. Not only for me, but also for the people that work for you. They push hard, and maybe in a race it looks like you will win, but in the end you don’t. This is so frustrating also for the mechanics, from my point of view. They give 100%, and if you can’t win it’s a little bit disappointing for the team, so I really want win always to give back something for all the support they give to me.”

When Stoner crashed, there were some who thought that the rain might have had something to do with it. The rain did not really start to fall until after Pedrosa crossed the line, though the Spaniard said he knew it was coming, because of the sudden mass of flies splattered across his visor. In my ignorance, I asked him about the flies on his visor, never having realized that this was the case. “Sometimes you get one fly, two flies, and at the end of the race you have many flies,” Pedrosa explained patiently, “but when they come so quickly this means the rain is coming.”

Thomas Baujard, French journalist for Moto Journal and ex-racer, explained the phenomenon further: when the pressure drops suddenly, the moisture increases in the air, and both flies and birds start flying a lot lower due to the air pressure. “Obviously, when you are riding at 300 km/h it’s not such a good idea to start looking up to see where the birds are flying,” Baujard commented wryly, but the mass appearance of flies on your visor was a hint that it is about to get very wet.

This kind of attention to detail is what marks out the very elite among racers. Riders will often speak of looking at the jumbo screens around the circuit to see what is going on, despite being engaged in hard battles at speeds that make most mortals tremble. Pedrosa once commented that he had been extremely concerned about the state of his tire, after seeing a shot of it on a jumbo screen during a race.

He had recognized the orange wheel as belonging to a Repsol Honda, and his bike from the camera angle. The human mind is an incredible instrument, and racers at this level use their minds just as much as their bodies, picking up details wherever they can.

Speaking of tires, that was my other omission from Sunday. Despite taking a comfortable lead in the championship, and despite taking 2nd in the race, it was a highly irritated Jorge Lorenzo who appeared at the post-race press conference. He had known from the start of the race that he would not be able to match the pace of the Hondas, having no feeling at all with the harder of the two options.

His own preference would have been to run the softer tire – “I was one and a half seconds faster with it in the morning warm up,” he told the press – but Bridgestone had told him they could not guarantee the soft tire would last. Big problems were expected from the halfway point, Bridgestone had told both Yamaha riders, and though the tire would not have been dangerous, they were uncertain of the performance of the tire.

It worked OK for Alvaro Bautista. The Spaniard rode an outstanding race on the softer option to finish in 7th, after starting dead last on the grid. Jorge Lorenzo’s team boss Wilco Zeelenberg was on Lorenzo’s side, and had wanted to take a chance on the softer tire. “I would have gambled on the softer tire, but then I like a gamble,” he told me.

Lorenzo and his team had not had enough dry time to get the harder tire to work with the bike, with only Friday’s FP1 and Sunday’s warm up run in the dry. Their hand forced by Bridgestone, both Lorenzo and Spies had struggled, whatever the results sheet said. Zeelenberg summed it up succinctly: “Shit race, good result.”

Bridgestone’s advice had been based on the much higher temperatures that appeared during the race, but the PR disaster at Assen, where Valentino Rossi and Ben Spies had lost massive chunks from their rear tires, must surely also have played a role. Bridgestone is now playing it more conservatively once again, after having found themselves in deep trouble while listening to the requests of the Safety Commission and the riders for a softer tire that warms up more quickly.

Bridgestone have reaped the rewards of being the sole-tire supplier, but for the past couple of years, they have also suffered the disadvantages too. They took massive criticism when riders were suffering cold-tire highsides and hurting themselves badly; they fixed that this year, and now they are copping criticism for excessive tire wear and dangerous heat build up in the tires.

Whether the criticism is justified or not, or at least the amount of criticism they have faced is justified or not, there is a quick and deeply cynical fix, as employed in most other series which use a spec tire. In those series, riders are forbidden by contract from criticizing the tires, facing massive fines – five figures, it is said, in one championship – if they do speak out about it. That makes the tires look great in those other series, though former WSBK rider Cal Crutchlow has spoken more freely since moving to MotoGP.

“Sometimes you would have five identical tires,” the Brit told reporters recently, “and each one would feel completely different.” At the time, he couldn’t complain about it publicly, but no such constraints exist in MotoGP. If Bridgestone – or Dorna – wanted to remove the illusion that results are determined by tires, then imposing a fine on speaking out would be quick fix. It would be fundamentally wrong, just as it is fundamentally wrong in other series, but it would be effective. Let’s hope they can rise above the situation and the temptation.

Photo: HRC

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.