Noyes Notebook: Why Rossi Was Slowest？
（2010.4.28 | Dennis Noyes ‧ SPEEDtv.com）
Valentino Rossi won in Qatar despite ranking last on the top-speed chart. Dennis Noyes explains what happened while also looking ahead to Jerez.
As we wait for the start of this weekend’s Grand Prix of Spain at Jerez de la Frontera, let’s take a look at something that has gotten a lot of attention in the European press — the fact that Rossi’s winning Yamaha was dead last in top speed at the Grand Prix of Qatar. The postponement of the Japanese Grand Prix has given us a lot of free time to ponder the anomaly of Losail where Rossi won on the slowest MotoGP bike on the grid.
It is unusual for the winner of a Grand Prix to record the slowest top speeds of all competitors, but that was the case when Valentino Rossi won the Grand Prix of Qatar on his FIAT Yamaha on April 11.
However, speeds recorded by eighth-place finisher, Colin Edwards on the satellite Monster Yamaha team Tech3 do not support the theory that the 2010 Yamahas are drastically short on power. Jorge Lorenzo, Rossi’s teammate, on his virtually identical Yamaha M1, was ninth fastest of the 17 riders but managed to finish second while American rookie Ben Spies was 14th fastest in a straight line en route to finishing a strong fifth.
A quick comparison for the top speeds down the Qatar straight shows that Rossi’s Yamaha was slower than the other three Yamahas in the race and a nearly 10 kmh (6.2 mph) slower than the fastest of the Ducati Desmosedici and Honda RC212V machines. Here are the fastest five and other top finishers:
2. Andrea Dovizioso (Honda) 202.05
3. Nicky Hayden (Ducati) 200.62
4. Casey Stoner (Ducati) 200.31
5. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) 199.94
6. Colin Edwards (Yamaha) 199.94
9. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) 199.50
14. Ben Spies (Yamaha) 197.33
17. (and last) Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) 196.89
Rossi’s team explained after the win that the Italian’s Yamaha had been over-geared in preparation for a likely battle with Australian Casey Stoner, starting from pole on the powerful Ducati Desmosedici. The idea was that the only way Rossi could stay in touch with Stoner would be by slipstreaming.
A look at Rossi’s top speed in relation to circumstances on track indicate that this was the case. On lap 1 Rossi took the lead on the back section and led onto the home straight but was passed very easily by Pedrosa on the Repsol Honda after the start/finish line. Rossi’s Yamaha running at the front went through the speed trap just before braking for Turn 1 at only 192.6 mph with Pedrosa blasting past and posting a speed of 198.3 mph, while Stoner, running in the slipstream of Hayden on his identical Ducati, was fastest of the leaders with a speed of 199.9 mph.
On the next three laps Rossi, always sitting in the slipstream of Pedrosa ran quicker top speeds in the 196-mph range, always losing about 3 mph to the Spaniard at the end of the straight.
On laps two, three, four, and five, before Stoner crashed out while leading, Rossi was in the slipstream of the Honda. However, when the Australian crashed his Ducati, Rossi had broken free of Pedrosa who, in turn was passed by Hayden. At the start of lap 6 Rossi’s M1, with no draft, ran 194.4 mph. Hayden closed the gap dramatically with a run of 200.7 mph, but from that point on Rossi used his advantage around the rest of the circuit to hold off all challenges from Hayden, Andrea Dovizoso (Reposl Honda), and eventually his teammate Lorenzo.
Rossi’s Yamaha was, as the team said, clearly over-geared. Lorenzo, as he pushed past both Hayden and Dovizioso on laps 20 and 21, turned top speeds of 198.8 and 199.5 mph and lap times of 1´56.295 and 1’56.426, but Rossi, now leading by almost two seconds, actually turned quicker lap times of 1’56.043 and 1’56.228 in spite of running top speeds of only 193.7 and 194.4 mph on those two laps before backing off slightly on the last lap to take his first win of the season.
Stoner was a huge favorite going into the race at Losail where he had won the season opener each of last three years. He had been fastest at Qatar at the preseason and had dominated practice and qualifying.
The situation going into the Sunday night race was reminiscent of the situation at Laguna Seca in 2008 when Stoner seemed to have a huge advantage. On that occasion Rossi rode an extremely aggressive race, throwing the Yamaha in front of Stoner’s Ducati at every opportunity in a desperate attempt not to let the Australian gain enough breathing room to be able to administer the Ducati’s advantage in acceleration. That race is most famous for Rossi’s dangerous overtaking at the Corkscrew when the Italian put both wheels in the sand but managed (with more than a little luck) not to crash and take Stoner out with him.
On lap 24 of 32 Stoner had a soft crash at turn 11 when Rossi braked a bit early with Stoner right up his pipes. He managed to remount and finish, but well back (13 seconds) and the loss was demoralizing for Stoner and his team because it was, and he readily admits this, a race he should have won.
So was Qatar, but Stoner seemed upbeat after the race when he spoke to the press. He believes that he crashed because he started to let up and unloaded the front a bit when he realized he had over a two second lead. In the T1 sector of that lap he set his quickest time for the sector, but, having had a couple of moments when the front had tucked, he had decided to take wider lines. I recall a similar and very plausible explanation for a similar crash by Rubén Xaus on the factory 999 at the World Superbike race of 2003 at Laguna Seca. Xaus had broken away from all comers and was on his own — then decided to let off just a bit and lost temperature in the front tire and crashed at turn 11.
Whatever the reason for the crash, Stoner was clearly pushing to keep Rossi out of striking distance and, until the crash, it looked as if he had the pace to do it, helped by the long straight and high-speed corners.
How would that all have played out if Stoner had not crashed? The answer to that question is impossible to know, but, as we look at the top speed data, it seems that Rossi and his crew, led by Jeremy Burgess, had a strategy. And Stoner and his crew (led by Christian Gabarini) must have known that Rossi would be dangerous if he could stay in the slipstream of the Ducati.
A look at the data from Losail indicates that, while the factory Honda RC211Vs and the Ducati Desmosedici were faster than the Yamaha M1s, the fact that Rossi’s bike was the slowest of 17 bikes was due to a gearing decision rather than a lack of power.
Besides, how important is top speed in MotoGP? The bikes certainly spend a lot more time in getting through corners than the final 200 yards of the home straight.
Huge Home Track Advantage For Spanish Riders
And now, Jerez de la Frontera, a track where the crowd sits so close to the action that the riders can hear the shouts and the air horns — especially at the Nieto-Peluki linked right-handers where thousands of flag-waving fans cheer Spanish riders on.
Nothing, no experience that I have ever known in over forty years of following this sport, matches the electric charge in the air when a Spanish rider battles a rider of any other nationality for the win at a Spanish track. Over recent years Rossi’s huge popularity has created a strong fan base even in Jerez. It took a couple of years for the boo-birds to fade away after that violent, last-lap, last-corner collision between Rossi and Sete Gibernau back in 2005, but whether it is Lorenzo or Pedrosa who ends up fighting Rossi for the win this year, the vast majority of the home crowd will be with the local boys.
Spanish riders have won there six times in the premier class. The first Spaniard to do so was Alberto Puig, currently Pedrosa’s manager, back in 1995. Spain’s only premier class World Champion, Alex Crivillé won three years in a row (’97, ’98 and ’99) but only two Spanish riders, Sete Gibernau in 2004 and Dani Pedrosa in 2008, have won on four strokes.
If I had to pick a winner for this year’s race it would be Lorenzo. And if I had to say which of the riders who ran at the front in Qatar would struggle in Jerez, I’d say Stoner. The Australian finished 6th in 2006 on a Honda, then, on the Ducati 800 he has been fifth, eleventh, and third in the last three years. His third place was a big improvement, but he was 10.5 seconds back of Rossi who beat Pedrosa by 2.7 seconds.
If Stoner does battle for the win in Jerez it will not be due to any significant advantage in top speed. The short (600 meter), downhill back-straight at Jerez produces top speeds in the 168 to 172-mph range compared to the 195 to 201-mph speeds seen at the end of the 1068-meter Losail straight, but getting a good drive out of the Sito Pons right-hander at the top of the hill is vital to setting up a pass on the inside for the Dry Sack right-hand hairpin.
Lorenzo, runner-up in points last year, wants to take the battle to Rossi all season long and felt that his second place in Qatar, riding with a broken bone in his throttle hand, was “better that some of my wins.”
Pedrosa should never be counted out. He struggled with chassis rigidity problems in Qatar and was very disappointed when the Japanese GP was postponed because he hoped to have a new chassis and swing-arm there at a track where Honda’s testers have been working to try and solve the problems that dropped the two-times 250 World Champion back to a dismal seventh in Losail.
On Monday after the race the MotoGP teams will have one valuable day for testing. Only two days of extra practice are allowed this year. The first will be on May 3 at Jerez and the second at Brno (Czech Republic) on August 16. The team most in need of this first practice day is Honda. The RC212V is very strong on power this year, but the power delivery is said to be harsh. Obviously Honda uses electronics to deal with this issue and many in the paddock believe that software programmer Andrea Zugna, who wrote the Magneti Marelli programs that are credited with softening the hit of last year’s Yamaha M1 engines, has already improved the Honda power delivery. And, in fairness to Honda HRC, Dovizioso has not had the problems that Pedrosa complains of.
Fiat Yamaha only used two engines, one for Rossi and one for Lorenzo, in Qatar. They are bringing engines of a different spec for testing in Jerez and these improved engines may be used over the remainder of the season.
With only two free practice sessions before the official qualifying session at GP events, the Monday practice at Jerez will be the last chance for any extended testing by the contracted GP riders until mid-summer.