Tag Archives: Valentino Rossi

A Herd Of Goats

Valentino Rossi on his way to pole position at Jerez.

Valentino Rossi about to claim pole position at Jerez.

The recent return to form by Valentino Rossi since re-joining his former team at Yamaha has been quite extraordinary. After two seasons in the wilderness with Ducati (2012-2013) and a change of crew chief from Jeremy Burgess to fellow Italian Silvan Galbusera, Rossi is back once more to his winning ways. A single win and four third-place podiums helped Valentino clinch fourth place in the 2014 MotoGP World Championship, which by anyone’s standards was a great achievement. The momentum continued into the 2015 season with four wins and Rossi finishing off the podium only three times to take second place in the championship by a mere 5 points, in what became a contentious world title win for Jorge Lorenzo.

What makes Rossi’s performance even more remarkable is his age. Valentino turned 37 years old earlier this year showing his hunger for victory and love of the sport has not waned.   Yamaha must think so as they have agreed to a two-year extension of Rossi’s contract keeping him with the factory team until 2018.

Nonetheless, Rossi’s renewed competitiveness has swung the spotlight of public attention once more onto the subject of who is the greatest of all time (G.O.A.T.) in the sport of Grand Prix motorcycle racing.

Giacomo Agostini on his way to winning German GP at the Nurburgring.

Giacomo Agostini on his way to winning German GP at the Nurburgring.

There are of course the cold facts that statistics tend to present. The great Giacomo Agostini is still the most prolific Grand Prix winner with 122 wins to his credit while Rossi is still chipping away on 114 with the potential to equal or beat this record. Agostini has also won 8 MotoGP (formerly 500cc) world titles to Rossi’s 7 so far. “Ago” has also won 7 350cc world championships giving him a total of 15 world titles to Valentino’s 9 (a 125cc title in 1997 and 250cc title in 1999 with Aprilia). Agostini has also won 10 Isle of Mann TT’s, the only non-British rider to do so. Rossi though has won world titles in three capacity classes to ‘”Ago’s” two.

Detractors of Agostini’s accomplishments like to point out that during his domination of the Grand Prix that he had superior multi-cylinder four-stroke machinery of the MV Agusta factory team at his disposal with mainly outdated British four-stroke singles to contend with. That is to a degree is true but ‘Ago” still had to deal with the likes of Mike Hailwood, Jim Redman and Phil Read as either teammates or factory supported Honda riders along the way as well as the ever-improving Japanese two-strokes that were gaining traction in both the 350cc and 500cc class during his career. And indeed it was Agostini in 1974 that won the first MotoGP (500cc) riders title on a four-cylinder two-stroke; a first also for Yamaha and Japan. Interestingly it was Rossi that won the last two-stroke World Championship and the first for the new 990cc four-strokes with Honda in 2001 and 2002.

Both “Ago” and Valentino have similarly won championships in the premier class with two different manufacturers and are part of an elite group of five that have done so in the sixty-seven-year history of the championship. The others are Geoff Duke, Eddie Lawson and Casey Stoner.

Five times World Champion Geoff Duke on the Gilera.

Five times World Champion Geoff Duke on the Gilera.

It should also be pointed out that Giacomo’s 122 Grand Prix wins were accrued over thirteen years from 186 starts, while Rossi has been in the Grand Prix for twenty years and accumulated his 114 (as this is written) wins from 341 starts.

Another relevant point is the danger factor. Grand Prix motorcycle racing has always been a hazardous sport, and even this year the paddock grieved another fatality when Luis Salom suffered a fatal crash in free practice for the Moto2 race in Catalunya. But during Agostini’s career in the 1960’s and early 1970’s fatalities were commonplace and many of the circuits were considered deadly. Surprisingly “Ago” was quoted as saying that his favourite tracks were the Isle of Man TT, the old Nurburgring, the old Spa, Opatija and the old Brno circuit, the five most deadly tracks in Grand Prix motorcycle racing history. Remember too, that it was during this period that the “pudding basin” helmet was considered standard “safety equipment”.

Greatness though is not necessarily statistics but perhaps the perception of the groups of fans who love the sport and have lived through different eras. Take Geoff Duke, for example, a six-time World Champion (two 350cc and four 500cc titles) during the sports infancy in the 1950’s, notching up a number of firsts. He was the first man to win two titles (350cc and 500cc) in the same season (1951), the first to win 3 consecutive 500cc titles (1953, 1954 and 1955) and also the first to win MotoGP (500c) titles with two different manufacturers (Norton and Gilera).

And what of John Surtees? Surtees won the premier 500cc Grand Prix crown on four occasions, (1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960) and the 350cc G.P. title on three times (1958, 1959 and 1960) for a total of seven championships on two wheels. Surtees then clinched the Formula One car title at the last race in Mexico in 1964, the only person ever to win the premier class on two wheels and four.

John Surtees rides his MV Agusta to victory at the 1958 Isle of Man TT.

Surtees rides his MV Augusta to victory at the Isle of Man.

But to many Mike Hailwood remains a true icon of Grand Prix motorcycle racing. Equal to Rossi with 9 world championships in three different classes (three 250cc, two 350cc and four 500cc) during a ten-year career with 76 wins from 152 starts in the late 1950’s and 1960’s that included 14 Isle of Man TT victories. Remarkably after an 11-year break from motorcycle racing, Hailwood returned to the Island and won the F1 TT in 1978 and the Senior TT in 1979.

The list goes on with names like Phil Read. A 7 times world champion in three classes (the 125cc in 1968, the 250cc in 1964, 65, 68 and 1971, and the 500cc 1973 and 1974) he accumulated 52 wins from 152 starts, again during the dangerous days of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

But if dominance was the criteria for being a G.O.A.T., then one needs to look no further than Mick Doohan. During a 10-year career between 1989 and 1999, Doohan won 54 500cc Grand Prix and achieved 95 podiums from 137 starts with five consecutive World Championships (equalled only by Rossi).  In 1997 Doohan amassed an astounding 12 wins and 2-second places from 15 races. This has only been surpassed by the youngest rider to win a MotoGP World Championship, Marq Marquez, with 13 wins, but from 18 races, on the way to his second World title in 2014. Add to this the fact that Doohan’s superiority occurred after he had sustained debilitating injuries to his left leg during practice for the Dutch TT at Assen during what should have been a dominant season and a convincing first world title.

So indeed the argument for the greatest of all time will continue between fans and journalists alike, on the Internet, in pubs and at racetracks around the world, revealing the genuine passion we all have for what is the greatest of all motorsports.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2016 Images courtesy http://www.crash.net, http://www.metzeler.com, http://www.theguardian.com.

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50 Years of Grand Prix Legacy

Left to right: Masahiko Nakajima (President of Yamaha Motor Racing) Phil Read and Marco Riva (General Manager of Yamaha Motor Racing)

Left to right: Masahiko Nakajima President of Yamaha Motor Racing, Phil Read and Marco Riva General Manager of Yamaha Motor Racing.

Saturday the 13th of September represented a significant milestone for Yamaha Factory Racing. Precisely fifty years had passed since the Iwata based company attained its first world championship with the two-stroke 250cc RD56 when English motorcycle legend Phil Read won the Nations Grand Prix at Monza.

Read was on hand at the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli to present Masahiko Nakajima (President of Yamaha Motor Racing) and Marco Riva (General Manager of Yamaha Motor Racing) with his original 1964 F.I.M. World Championship certificate. The certificate will now take pride of place at Yamaha’s Hall Of Fame in Japan. A copy of the document has been made that will be signed by all those present to mark the occasion and in return will be presented to Read.

Phil Read went on to win a total of eight world titles across four classes, 125GP, 250GP, 500GP and TTF1. His career is littered with impressive achievements, including eight IOM TT race, wins, 121 Grand Prix podiums and four 250cc world titles which have only ever been equalled by Max Biaggi. Alongside Mike Hailwood and fellow Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi, Phil is one of only three riders to have won road-racing world championships in three or more classes.

Read receives the trophies and takes the 1964 250cc World Championship.

Read receives the trophies and takes the 1964 250cc World Championship.

Read was quoted as saying, “This special evening to celebrate my bringing Yamaha’s first world title to them after 50 years is like coming home to the happy team, the reception has been fantastic, it’s overwhelming for me to see I get this recognition. I’m lucky to be here after fifty years of racing! It’s also thrilling to be here in Misano with Jorge on pole and Valentino so close on the front row too. It’s a little different now, from 1964; I came to Monza with two factory 250 Yamaha RD56s in the back of my car with one English mechanic and a Japanese mechanic who came over for the race in Monza. I think we had our carburettor settings written on a postcard! I still feel as much part of the Yamaha family today as I did then, and feel privileged to have started a run of world championship success that has continued to this day.”

Marco Riva, Yamaha Motor Racing, General Manager responded, “Our success with the RD56 wrote a page in motorcycle history. It was very competitive for many years and is still, in my opinion, the best race bike. Our aim has always been to have the rider at the centre of our racing project, Phil and other Yamaha icons such as Giacomo Agostini, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo are all still the most important factor. We are the only manufacturer that raced from the beginning of the world championship to now, we’ve never stopped, and this is something very special. We are honoured to have Phil here with us to celebrate this anniversary. He is an icon in motorcycle racing, fourth in the all-time world rankings with eight world titles. We hold riders such as Phil in a special place in our hearts over these years for allowing us to win these titles together.”

Yamaha followed Japanese rivals Honda and Suzuki into the World Championship Motorcycle Road Racing Grands Prix in 1961. Since the inception of the F.I.M. World Championship Grands Prix in 1949, Yamaha has won 38 manufacturers titles and 37 riders titles that cover 125cc, 250cc, 350cc, 500cc and MotoGP.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2014. Images courtesy Movistar Yamaha Factory Racing.

The Changing Of An Era For MotoGP ?

Honda’s new “Open Class” production racer the RCV1000R.

The final MotoGP of the 2013 season at Valencia brought with it a remarkable conclusion to the championship, with Marc Marquez clinching the title to become the youngest ever MotoGP World Champion and the first “rookie” to do so in 35years.

There were, however, a number of other events surrounding the race that also announced the changing of an era.

Honda unveiled its RCV1000R “Open Class” racer (formerly CRT), and it is the first production racer to be sold to private teams by Honda since the NSR 500V two-stroke V-twin in 2001.  That in itself is a boost for the category, but when HRC revealed that Casey Stoner tested both bikes at Motegi on the same day, on the same tyres, and the difference between the production racer and full factory RC213V was only 0.3s,  it shone a spotlight onto what may be the future of MotoGP. More significant though, was the time set on the softer compound rear tyre only available to the ‘open’ class riders, dropping the gap down to just 0.17s!

Hiroshi Aoyama on the RCV1000R at the Valencia tests.

The production racer is a “toned down” version of the full factory RC213V. The main differences being steel sprung rather than pneumatically operated valves, and a conventional rather than seamless shift gearbox. The 1000cc 90 degree V4 engine will still produce ‘over 175KW’ (235hp) at 16,000rpm with Öhlins suspension and Nissin brakes fitted as standard.

The price tag to buy the Honda is believed to be around 1.2million euros. However, an upgrade package for 2015 means that the cost, when spread over two seasons, is likely to be approximately 800,000 euros a year, which is more in keeping with Dorna’s policy on pricing for the newly named category.

Four machines so far have been purchased; two earmarked for the Aspar Team to be ridden by 2006 World Champion Nicky Hayden and Hiroshi Aoyama. MotoGP rookie Scott Redding at the Gresini Team and Karel Abraham of the Cardion AB Team will ride the other two machines.

Nicly Hayden on the RCV1000R production racer in testing at Velencia.

Nicky Hayden on the RCV1000R production racer testing at Valencia.

Yamaha will also supply “Open Class” machinery to the NGM Forward Racing Team for both Colin Edwards and Aleix Espargaro.  This is the first time since the early 1990’s that Yamaha has offered competitive machinery for sale to private teams in MotoGP.  At that time Yamaha supplied complete engines and technical information to specialist chassis manufacturers Harris and ROC.  For the new “Open Class” Yamaha is supplying the MI engine, frame and swingarm.

Not to be left out, Ducati will also supply a complete “Open Class “ machine to the Pramac Ducati Team.

Aleix Espargro on the Yamaha production racer at the Valencia test.

Aleix Espargro on the Yamaha production racer at the Valencia test.

All of these production racers will have the benefit of 12 engines per season as opposed to 5 for the full factory prototypes and four litres more fuel, 24 compared to 20 for 2014, and there is also a greater choice of tyres for the riders as well.  All of these machines will use the officially supplied MotoGP ECU and software.

The other major event at Valencia was the “sacking” by Valentino Rossi of long-serving Crew Chief Jeremy Burgess.  The announcement was made at a press conference held on the Thursday before the Valencia MotoGP at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo.

Valentino Rossi' Crew Chief, Jeremy Burgess, talks about their parting of ways.

Valentino Rossi’ Crew Chief, Jeremy Burgess, talks about their parting of ways.

“It was my decision because we had already spoken with the team about next year,” explained Rossi. “Jeremy said that he wanted to stay. [But] Jeremy had some question marks for the future [beyond 2014], and he didn’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, just that he wanted to wait for next year [to decide].

“I also want to wait until next year, and I will decide after the first races if I want to continue. So it was more my decision and yesterday we spoke together to explain that I needed to make a change and try something different. It’s a new boost to get more motivation, so we decided to do this.

“The level now has raised a lot with the top three riders, and they are able to ride these bikes very fast and the lap time has improved a lot. It’s a great challenge for me and for us, and we know that it is difficult, but I don’t have any regrets or problems with how the team has worked and especially with Jeremy.

I know that this is a key moment because I have in mind that I want to try one time in another way and that this is the moment for that.”

After Rossi had given his reasons for the parting of ways the 60-year-old Burgess commented, “It blindsided me, and I didn’t expect it whatsoever,” he said. “I knew yesterday afternoon when Valentino invited me into his trailer that we weren’t going in there for the Christmas bonus!”

“I haven’t made any plans for the future at this stage. My intention originally was to continue next year and depending on results and desire I would make a call. We’ve been chasing rainbows for four years and haven’t nailed anything decent, and these are long periods in racing, and it becomes more difficult [to win].

“I’ve read many sports biographies, and quite often the top sportsman in the latter part of his career will have a change of caddy or a change of coach, and this is what we’re working on. We worked on fixing the problem for four years, and this is part of that fix, and this is the next step to try and get Valentino back on top.

“Obviously I’m disappointed, but I understand that some change was necessary and only history will determine the outcome of this adjustment. It’s an adjustment to improve the package for Valentino and if this does it then it’s been a success.”

Burgess added: “I prefer how this happened and think that it was a far better way to do it rather than showing up on Sunday night and just saying ‘Ciao it’s all over’.”

During their 14 seasons together Rossi and Burgess have won a record 80 Grand Prix races, using 500cc Honda, 990cc Honda, 990cc Yamaha, 800cc Yamaha and 1000cc Yamaha machinery. As a Crew Chief Burgess has won 13 MotoGP World Championships, 1 with Wayne Gardner, 5 with Mick Doohan, and 7 with Valentino Rossi since starting his career as a mechanic in the 500cc Grand Prix class with Heron Suzuki in 1980.

Indeed the end of an era.

Words Geoff Dawes (C) 2013. Photographs courtesy of Repsol Honda and MotoGp.com

Going Seamless

When Casey Stoner won the final 800cc MotoGP World Championship for Honda in 2011, many a finger was pointed at the seamless gearbox Honda had developed as being a significant factor in the RC212V’s reinvigorated performance.  Shuhei Nakamoto, vice-president of Honda Racing Corporation,  believed it was more a matter of refinement in many areas of RC212V that had brought about the championship winning performance.

HRC Vice-President Shuhei Nakamoto

HRC Vice-President Shuhei Nakamoto.

But the seamless gearbox did raise the ire of the MotoGP commercial rights holder Dorna, who with the FIM, was on a crusade to cut costs and to close the performance inequity between the CRT teams and the factory prototypes.

Yamaha, however, is the last of the factory teams to adopt the technology as Ducati had already introduced their version of the seamless gearbox in late 2011. To the delight of its Grand Prix World Champions Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, the M1 went seamless at Misano for the San Marino Grand Prix. It was a concerted effort by Yamaha to try and bridge the technology gap to Honda and to help Jorge Lorenzo claw back lost ground in the MotoGP World Championship battle.

So what are the benefits of this new technology? According to Valentino Rossi, “The bike is more stable in acceleration so it’s less demanding, so you can be more consistent and more precise, with less effort,” he added. “The only difference in setup is the electronics: you get less wheelie, so you need less wheelie control [which means more horsepower and more acceleration].”

Rossi and Lorenzo were glad to have the seamless gearbox at Misano

Rossi and Lorenzo were delighted to have the seamless gearbox at Misano.

The fact that gears can be shifted without the split second loss of torque through the transmission that occurs with a racing speed shifter,  which momentarily cuts the ignition as another gear is engaged,  is the primary benefit.  With a conventional gearbox when the torque is reintroduced, it can load up the rear tyre and cause wheelspin or wheelies. which may also unsettle the front end of the bike. Also with a seamless gearbox down, changes are smoother helping engine braking with a more controlled front end under brakes.  Greater stability while changing gears mid-corner is another big benefit of the system.

How does it work? To put it in simple terms two gears are engaged simultaneously.  The torque is transmitted through the lower ratio, but as engine torque rises, the higher gear ratio is gradually engaged. When the higher gear is selected, the torque is transferred seamlessly to it.  The reverse is true of down changes. There are many subtle benefits of the gearbox.  Shorter gear change time, Improved tyre wear, more precise handling and less fatigue on the rider.

Yamaha managed to close the technology gap at Misano

Yamaha managed to close the technology gap at Misano.

The cost of developing the seamless gearbox is a mute point with Dorna who thought that they had all the bases covered when they outlawed automatic, CVT and twin-clutch transmissions, which is also the case in F1.  There is a certain amount of irony here concerning F1 which I will refer to shortly.

Lin Jarvis Managing Director of Yamaha Factory Racing towed the Dorna line initially saying that Yamaha would not have invested in the technology if Honda had not.  This in some ways is a strange approach as most manufacturers justification to go racing is to develop new technology that can eventually filter down to their production motorcycles.

Yamaha Factory Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis.

Yamaha Factory Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis.

Honda has quite openly been accused of spending a vast amount of money on their seamless system. But is this purely speculation?  This brings us back to Formula One.  The FIA outlawed automatic, CVT and twin clutch transmissions in the 1990’s, but for the 2005 season, the governing body deemed seamless gearboxes legal. One of the first cabs of the rank was the BAR Honda Formula One team who promptly announced they had developed such a gearbox for an introduction that season.

So seamless gearbox technology is not new to Honda having introduced it in F1 some six years before it appeared on the RC212V of the Repsol Honda Team in 2011.  It would, therefore, be safe to suggest that the cost to Honda for using existing technology would not have been as extreme as some would have us believe.

Considering Dorna’s close links with F1, it’s a surprising oversight that the move to seamless technology by Honda was not anticipated.

Words Geoff Dawes (C) 2013. Photographs courtesy of Repsol Honda Team and Yamaha Factory Racing.