2011 Monza WSBK Post-Race Roundup - Balls Win Races, Brains Win Titles

Winning a world championship requires several key ingredients: talent, skill, hard work, intelligence, courage, and a little bit of luck along the way. The ratio of each of those ingredients may vary for each individual champion - with the exception of hard work, the level of dedication to the sport remaining the same for everyone - but the factors involved are always the same.

That skill, talent and bravery are necessary is obvious to even the most casual observer. But the most underestimated of all these qualities is surely intelligence. Yet intelligence is the difference between a race winner and a champion: bravery, skill and luck may win you the odd race, but only intelligence applied over the course of a season will secure you a championship.

The necessity of intelligence in motorcycle racing was manifest during the Monza World Superbike round. For in both the Superbike and the Supersport races, decisions were made which could end up having a profound effect on the championships, and in both cases, the question boils down to a lapse of judgment, and a lack of intelligence used in the decision making process.

The role of intelligence and poor decision making was clearest in the World Superbike races. In race one, Eugene Laverty leveraged his strengths to overcome the faster and more powerful opposition of the Aprilia RSV4. For much of the race, Laverty was engaged in a battle with Max Biaggi, passing Biaggi on the brakes (and thereby preventing the Italian from making a break) while getting passed again by the Aprilia on acceleration. Half a race of this kind of maltreatment was all that Biaggi could take, the Italian eventually making a mistake that saw him give just enough ground to Laverty for the Yamaha rider to get clear and go on to take the win.

The key to the second race revolved around an incident that took place on Thursday. Monza's first chicane is always a problem at the classic Italian track, and the organizers are continually looking for solutions to two problems the chicane presents. The first is the first-lap collision, almost inevitable given that 20+ riders are trying to squeeze into a very tight chicane that has only one line through it. The solution - or rather, the way that the danger is mitigated - is by ensuring an escape route straight on, allowing riders to pick the bike up and skip the chicane entirely, rather than attempting to squeeze in where there is no room, and potentially causing a crash. That strategy often fails - as it did during race two, when Carlos Checa slammed his Althea Ducati into Jonathan Rea's Castrol Honda, bringing the Ulsterman down, taking Leon Haslam and Jakub Smrz along with him.

It also creates a secondary problem: that first chicane is so tight, and is approached at such high speed (over 320km/h, or some 200mph) that running straight on at the chicane almost automatically confers an advantage. Any obstacles placed in the way (such as straw bales) would present a danger to anyone hitting them in the event of a crash, and could also be knocked into the path of other riders exiting the chicane if a rider were to hit them by running straight on.

And so the Monza circuit and the event organizers came up with a solution, a chicane consisting of white lines on the run off area, then a narrow path delineated by more white lines serving as the entrance to the track. The riders were told during the briefing on Thursday afternoon about the situation at chicane, and the rules which were to be observed should they find themselves going straight on at the chicane. Any rider going straight on three times during the race would be penalized with a ride-through penalty, a punishment applied to Noriyuki Haga during race one. Additionally, any rider not returning to the track via the appointed path (by following the white lines) would also be given a ride-through penalty.

One rider had not attended the briefing, however. That rider was Max Biaggi, and so when the Italian found himself running straight on at the chicane - despite sitting on a comfortable lead of nearly six seconds - he compounded the simple error (not braking in time) with a much more severe one (rejoining the race without following the correct procedure). Despite the fact that Biaggi gained little or no advantage, Race Direction had to apply the rules, and imposed a ride-through on the Italian, turning his 6-second lead into a 20-second deficit, and dropping him 11 places in the process. Biaggi had the opportunity at Monza to rake back 32 points from the championship leader Carlos Checa, but his lack of foresight in attending the rider briefing meant that he got less than half that.

In effect, Biaggi's lapse of judgment cost the reigning World Champion 17 points, and it could have been more if he hadn't had a little help from a mechanical problem for Checa in the final laps of race two. 17 points can be a lot, and the title has been settled by less than that four times in the past ten years. Max Biaggi is a five-time world champion, four times in 250s and once in World Superbikes. He really should have known better.

Biaggi will now need a lot more help from the competition if he is to depose Checa from the lead in the title race. Fortunately - or perhaps not, for this is a sword which cuts two ways - that competition is arriving in the shape of faster Yamahas, an improved BMW package for Leon Haslam, and the beginnings of a return to form for Johnny Rea. Melandri has shown he can be a threat since the start of the season, the Italian already having taken one win in his debut season in the series. But Eugene Laverty's double at Monza - and especially the icily calm way in which he collected it - sees the Irishman also get his first wins in the World Superbike class, and gives him the momentum that he was missing in the first three meetings of the season. Laverty's racecraft - keeping the raw power of Biaggi's Aprilia in check during race one, then first fighting his way through the field in race two, only to wait until the final corner to pass his teammate Marco Melandri for the win, despite having clear chances to pass the Italian earlier - mark the Yamaha man out as a significant threat, and Laverty will be a man to take into account for the rest of the season.

The World Superbike class now heads across the ocean to race at Miller Motorsports Park, set against the breathtaking backdrop of the Oquirrh Mountains in Utah. That is a track that Carlos Checa rides brilliantly at, the Spaniard taking the double on the series' first visit to the track in 2008, and looking on course for a repeat in 2010, only to be thwarted by an electronics problem and a transmission issue which scored a double DNF instead of a double win. Checa will be hard to beat in Utah, leaving the competition falling yet further behind.

The World Supersport class do not cross the Atlantic to race at Miller this year, an attempt to cut the costs of the series. Their next meeting is at Misano in five weeks' time, but that meeting will also be dominated by a lapse of judgment. For the joint championship leader Luca Scassa looks set to be be disqualified from taking part there, after the ParkinGO Yamaha rider rode at the track in breach of the World Superbike rules. Misano is not the team's officially designated test circuit, but Scassa has twice held the riding school he also runs at the circuit, and despite Scassa riding on a Yamaha R1 rather than the R6 he races on, the rules clearly state that any such activity must be punished by exclusion from participating in the event in question.

The rules are simple, and publicly available on the FIM website. The team, or Scassa himself, would have done well to check before taking part at the riding school. And indeed, as several other riders are involved in riding schools - including BMW's Leon Haslam, who helps out at his father Ron's riding school - this issue could affect more riders later in the year.

If Scassa is prevented from riding at Misano, that will give Chaz Davies a huge boost towards the championship. The Yamahas are looking on course to take the title this season, with the R6 having taken victory in all four races so far this year, with two a piece for Davies and Scassa. The bike is strong, and both Scassa and Davies have improved a good deal this season, aided to an extent by the weakness of the competition. Sam Lowes has shown a huge amount of promise, as befits a rider for the Parkalgar squad, but the young Englishman is in his first season in World Supersport and is further hampered by having broken his collarbone at Assen three weeks ago. The other competition comes from Broc Parkes on the Motocard.com Kawasaki and Fabien Foret on the Ten Kate Honda, but Parkes does not look capable of challenging for wins, while Foret is getting a little long in the tooth and has been held back by a finger injury.

The stars are aligning for a ParkinGO Yamaha championship this season. Since his win at Assen, Davies has been transformed, the Welshman dominating the weekend at Monza, topping the timesheets in every single session and taking a win that was as tedious to watch as it was impressive in its execution. By violating the rules on testing, Luca Scassa may have settled the championship in Davies' favor, simply by not paying sufficient attention to detail, exactly as Biaggi did by not attending the rider briefing. Intelligence, the intelligence to anticipate such situations and to ensure you are in a situation to cope with them when they arise, looks set to be the decisive factor in the 2011 World Superbike series. Which is as it should be; there is more to racing than raw speed.

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Brains, balls, race craft, luck; they need it all. Checa hasn't only been the fastest, he has been the smartest.

This should be printed and delivered to all WSBK, WSS and MotoGP riders.

Who has the #1 plate again?

I'm sure that didn't take any brains or balls because it's Biaggi and most writers have a hard-on for him.

I heard about Scassa's infringement but also heard that his expulsion from the race hasn't yet been confirmed. If that is the case then Chaz could really capitalize.

Another interesting tidbit to come out of Monza - Giuliano Rovelli is interested in taking a team to WSBK, though it's only interest at this point. Should Chaz win the title this year it would be great if he could step up to WSBK with such a solid team around him.

If Davies wins a championship, I'd wonder if he wouldn't mind being part of the new crop of CRT riders? It will be interesting to see who goes for those rides. I don't know if front runners in Moto2 or even WSBK will find the opportunities all that attractive. Maybe Smrz, Guintoli, Camier, Byrne, Kiyonari and Hopefully some Japanese riders will find it worth the risk.

Chaz said on the weekend that Superbikes is where he wants to be and in a competitive team at that. I think he knows all too well that GP's can be a black hole career-wise if you don't end up in a top team.

He also said he is more than happy to stay in WSS until the right opportunity comes along.

I think his stance illustrates the risk a rider will take in this new range of teams in MotoGP. I'd just think that with a WSS championship under ones belt, it could make it easier to give CRTs a shot and not reduce your chances to get a competitive WSBK ride one day. Chaz is still 'young' and men are fast in WSBK well towards 40. I think the same would go for who ever wins the WSS title this year.

My fear as a rider would be that the career path laid out by every rider not on a factory bike: relegated to a second rate WSBK team. At this point, there is no evidence that putting flame to wick in MotoGP on a non-factory bike has improved one's career prospects.

Nice summation of a strange day. After watching on TV, it was pretty obvious that Melandri had missed the set-up he needed. During the dying laps of race 2, he was suffering some pretty big head shakes trying to drive out of the turns. I haven't seen that kind of ill-handling in recent years. I was surprised he could hang on as well as he did. Meanwhile Laverty was pure silk and amazingly tactical.

there's an undertone of biaggi being arrogant in missing the rider's meetings. the reality is that riders skip those meetings from time to time. i don't know for sure but i would guess he wasn't the only one.

and how many tracks are so terribly designed for motorcycle racing that they have to have such bizarre and one-off rules!?

monza is great for cars, one of my favourite F1 tracks. but it needs to be taken off the WSBK calendar. i hope it does not take a fatality before that is realized.

Any decent calendar should have different enough circuits. If not for it, Checa would most likely have an even greater lead and the championship be entirely one sided.

And maybe it's the one circuit where drivers really should NOT miss the debriefs.

Long live Monza. MotoGP should visit it, IMO.

I've attended a couple of WSBK meetings there. One of my all time favourite aural moments in motorcycling involved Fogarty alone on the track in practice stomping down through the 'box on the 916 Duke into the first chicane. A magical sound. And a magical racing atmosphere at Monza in the forest. Don't ever take it away.

Yes, no sympathy for Biaggi on missing a riders brief. Yes they are generally very dull affairs, but they primarily exist for safety purposes and are mandatory. A dumb thing to do by one of my favourite riders. You just know he's kicking himself.

You'd think that a team would always have SOMEONE at the meeting to take notes if not the rider.

Anyway I don't like Biaggi, but the punishment didn't seem to fit the crime... he was so far ahead.

Doesn't the race director always have discretion in applying the rules?

From my very first club race it was drummed into me: riders' briefing is obligatory. At national level meetings in Australia you must sign on every morning to show you attended... aside from being the channel for conveying special information of this type, it is also a legal and insurance requirement.

So yes, not going is arrogant. It happens from time to time (ie at the time it is called you still have your gearbox spread over a tarpaulin), but then the onus is absolutely on you as a rider to find out if there was anything important discussed. And in the case of Biaggi... I doubt he rebuilds his own motors :)

Finally, suppose he hadn't been given the penalty, which was announced in advance. That would give grounds to every rider who finished behind him to appeal all the way up to the FIM: race direction would have clearly breached their own rules in favour of one rider.

It's basically the last of the "proper" old European circuits that's still used for WC racing, it's an awesome spectacle even on TV. The fact that it is still in reasonably unmolested form is the icing on the cake, I wince when I see what they've done to Assen and Hockenheim, such beautiful and unique venues destroyed.

Forza Monza! With the top speeds of WSBK and MGP within a few kmh of one another, why is it that MGP doesn't go there again? Ah, that's right... pussies! :-)

Mugello is a modern classic and well deserves the Italian GP, but the same cannot be said for Misano. I vote to move the 2nd Italian round to Monza!

i like watching the back section too of Misano

I don't think Biaggi deserved that penalty - yeah rules are rules but come on! He was way ahead.

Also - I am chuckling when I see posters declare "I don't like Biaggi" - do you even know the guy? I'm not saying he 's the greatest guy ever or even a nice person, but why declare "you don't like him" if you don't even know him. I'm just interested in the racing - if Biaggi is clearly the best out there - good for him!

Were you really confused as to why someone was making a personal judgement as if we were just hanging out with them at dinner? Or was it just the vague nature of the word 'like'? In American English it's used to express satisfaction in a variety of ways.

seems pretty clear cut to me.

Be that as it may, we all to a greater or lesser degree make personality judgements on riders we do not know personally which reflect in the results we wish them to achieve or otherwise. It's what defines a fan I suppose.

Although Aprilia deny it in their press release. Biaggi also gained time on the lap he went straight on in the first chicance.

I replayed the 2nd race yesterday. His lead was 5.1s on the finish line just before. Followed by a 5.4s lead.

Great article with some real news about why Biaggi did what he did and Scassa. Thx!

Scassa's suspension for Misano has been confirmed.

Cal Crutchlow won the 2009 title with two DNF's, but this is a huge blow to Luca's chances.

Speaking for myself, I find Biaggi arrogant for a variety of other reasons -- maybe others agree.

But forgetting the arrogance remarks, the facts are pretty simple. Biaggi cut the chicane in a manner that was specifically forbidden. Rider X breaks that breaks rule Y will receive punishment Z. No consideration should be given otherwise. Ignorance does not often mean innocence.

That is a fact, regardless of who else was or wasn't there or why and how he missed the briefing. He missed it and made an expensive mistake.
Personally I can't imagine nobody told him about the rule change. He must have forgotten about it in the heat of the moment.

I don't mind, I make money off you with every visit (three times every time you make a post), but I just find it confusing that someone would spend a lot of time on a site they appear not to like.

I suggest a rule that if a rider blows the chicane they must come to a full and complete stop and put their foot down before rejoining the track. Same as riders entering the pits at the IOM TT.
I haven't actually timed it, but it seems that coming to a complete stop and touching the ground would be fairly easy to police, and if it's not done properly THEN they get a ride-through. I believe the time taken to execute the maneuver would ensure that (a) the rider would lose any advantage gained by not navigating the chicane, and (b) would obviate the need for any of these white line type rules which seem over-complicated.
The whole 'did he get an advantage or not' seems too subjective, and I feel for riders who have to try and judge whether they've rejoined correctly; it must be a big distraction for everyone.
I believe my suggestion will take enough time to negate any advantage but won't so overly penalize riders that their whole race is ruined either.

It is definitely simple and it stops riders from abusing the runoff, but it could be dangerous. If someone chucks it down the road under breaking (especially in the wet), they could end up bowling for riders who've overshot. The start would also be a melee b/c a half dozen people are usually forced down the sliproad. Do you really want to penalize a half dozen guys b/c someone on the inside was riding like a desperate idiot?

It is definitely simple, and I like it a lot better than the honor system and the white line, but it has too many safety issues, imo.

How about if a rider goes straight at the chicane they have rejoin behind the following rider or at least let this rider past by the next corner. doesnt matter if its a .1sec lead or half a lap. if a rider is out by half a lap and they make that sort of mistake it serves them right anyway!
as for stopping and putting your foot down, having bikes stopped on a race track is never a good idea. especially in a 'run off' area

reconfigure it for motorcycles.

I assume this design was determined to best(?) reduce the chances of an F1 car from going off the Curve Grande at 210mph+. The thought being that if the car's speed is reduced to 20-30mph they won't reach 200 before having to slow for the next chicane.

Motorcycles don't accelerate as fast as F1 cars so the need to reduce their speed isn't as great. If this chicane were reconfigured into say a 50mph left/right flick, the desired effect would be had & all the mayhem would be avoided.

What they now have is a classic case of unintended consequences. A poorly designed solution(?) to the questionable problem of motorcycles going off a wide sweeper being replaced with the definite problem of slowing from 200+ to 20. Sounds like something the Italian gov't came up with.