Trackside Tuesday: Dani Pedrosa’s Misano Nightmare

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It is a tribute to the skill of MotoGP mechanics how easily we can forget that motorbike racing truly is a team sport. Though the rider is the most visible member of the team, the one who captures the hearts of fans and the one whose talents are most likely to inspire us, without top level support from a team, the rider is helpless. On the rare occasion that the team fails their rider, only then are we likely to recognize how good a job they do the rest of the time.

Dani Pedrosa’s nightmare in Misano was a painful example of this. On pole position, 13 points behind Jorge Lorenzo, having finished every race so far this season, and with his best chance ever finally to win a premiere class title, Pedrosa was forced to start from the back of the grid after his team couldn’t free the front tire warmer and had to move his bike from the grid to pit lane. From outside HRC, we don’t know exactly what happened.

The theories currently moving through the paddock are that a brake problem locked the front wheel, the tire warmer locked against the mud guard, or that the tire warmer stuck to the carbon brakes because it touched them and melted. The only things we know for sure are that there were 21 bikes in the same situation, including three other Hondas, and that something happened to Dani’s bike that his team was not able to sort out in time to allow him to start from pole.

We may never know exactly why they couldn’t get the tire warmer off. TV coverage shows them frantically pulling and trying to free it, and being unable to do so before the officials cleared the grid. Once the bike was off the stand in pit lane, the warmer came loose and the mechanics returned the bike to its former spot, but the damage was done, the rule infringed, and Dani had to start from the back.

He may still have reached the front of the pack, but moving past the slower bikes put him in Hector Barbera’s line of fire, the Pramac Ducati rider missing a braking point and taking Pedrosa out on the first lap. If he’d started from pole as he should’ve, Dani would likely have been in first place at this point, given his rocket starts, and the championship might easily look much different than it does now.

Of course the chain of events started with Karel Abraham’s clutch problem forcing the yellow lights and restart. Dani’s team had done everything perfectly until then, as they usually do, as all of the teams usually do. But even these professionals operating at the highest form of motorbike racing are human, and for humans, things don’t always go to plan. Mechanics install and remove tire warmers many, many times each race weekend. So why couldn’t they get this one off at such a crucial time?

All they could do after the initial problem was move on with their usual efficiency, and having to start their rider from pit lane, one mechanic appears to have had the presence of mind to switch Dani’s pit lane limiter on. This was an example of their usual proficiency in remembering something crucial under pressure. Had this not been done, and Dani had to join the pack from pit lane, he’d likely have sped off in frustration and incurred a pit lane speed violation.

But once the bike was moved back onto the grid, that switch was not turned off, leaving Dani doing the pit lane speed limit on the re-grid lap. An already frazzled rider gestured his frustration and confusion to his mechanics as the other riders sped past on the second warm up lap.

He finally sorted out what had happened and got back up to speed, but there’s no telling what shape his head was in after so many things going apart from the plan. He may have been about to give us a fantastic display of strength in adversity by charging to the front, or perhaps just to salvage some valuable points after problems not his own fault. But Barbera cheated us of finding out which.

Each rider in the grid had to manage the distraction of Abraham’s clutch problem, and every other team managed to re-grid their rider for the restart. That a top team like Repsol Honda can suffer this type of problem just shows that no rider is immune to the possibility of things outside his control affecting his chances for a championship. Since no lives were lost, it’s perhaps not right to refer to a tire warmer being involved in such a disastrous weekend for a title contender as ‘tragic.’ But we may look back on Misano as being the fatal blow to Dani’s best shot at being world champion in the premiere class.

Some might use this as an opportunity to heap blame on HRC, but I expect Dani’s team are doing all that’s required along those lines as they hold themselves accountable for Sunday. I think it’s better to see this as a perspective from which to recognize how good these people are almost without exception. For it is this exception that reminds us of how in human endeavors, things can and will go wrong.

The fact that we so rarely see something like this in MotoGP shows us, with the reminder supplied by Dani’s Misano Nightmare, that most situations like this are avoided in the first place by the teams’ methodical preparation. From pit lane I see them disassembling and reassembling down the the smallest parts, observing ritualistic warm-up procedures to check for fluid leaks and other problems before those problems can affect the weekend’s result.

Day in and day out they follow the same procedures with the same attention to detail that have delivered each of them to the highest level of competition. Dani’s guys are as good as any team in the paddock, and if this kind of thing can happen to Dani, it can happen to any rider, to any team. Each rider who wins a title owes a great deal to the individuals who put him on the grid and in position to succeed.

This is what I think of when I see a rider come across the line as victor, cheered on by his team as they hang out over the wall. They have the right to celebrate their own contributions to that victory, which would not have been possible without them.

Scott Jones is a professional photographer who covers MotoGP and WSBK for racing industry clients as well as racing websites and publications in the U.S. and Europe. His online archive is available at Photo.GP, and you can find him on his blogTwitter, & Facebook.

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Photo: © 2012 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved