2011 Estoril MotoGP Sunday Round Up - Racing Relieves The Parts Other Activities Just Can't Reach

We're finally racing again, and the deafening roar of the MotoGP bikes has silenced the whining that has been emanating from the paddock over the past few days, at least for the moment. Instead of sniping about who had said what about whom, there was an actual contest at Estoril. Even the weather didn't intervene, at least, not once the warmup was finished.

The race was hardly a thriller - the electronics necessitated by the combination of highly-strung 800cc engines and meager 21 liters of fuel have been fatal to racing excitement, for the most part - but it was certainly a fascinating intellectual exercise, and there was much to be learned from Portuguese Grand Prix. The trouble is, of course, that those lessons are most rewarding to the committed student of the sport, the sterile racing now rather too esoteric for the casual fan.

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2011 Estoril MotoGP Saturday Round Up - We Need A Race, Already

Four weeks between races this early in the season is clearly far too long. Since arriving at Estoril, the various members of the paddock have been behaving like sailors on shore leave, getting drunk, chasing women and picking fights with everyone in their vicinity. Well, the getting drunk and chasing women part I made up, but the mood in the paddock is deeply pugnacious, as witnessed by the verbal scraps breaking out everywhere.

On Friday, we had round one of Valentino Rossi in the red corner vs Casey Stoner in the blue corner, with Jorge Lorenzo throwing in some trash talking of Marco Simoncelli as he prepared to face off with the San Carlo Gresini Honda rider. Saturday saw Rossi vs Stoner briefly revisited, while Lorenzo and Simoncelli erupted into a full-scale verbal conflict during the post-qualifying press conference.

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2011 Estoril MotoGP Friday Roundup: Of Insults, Shoulders, And Thunderstorms

"It's like kindergarten." That was how one journalist described the spate of complaints, insults and snide comments that filled the rider debriefs after the first day of free practice at Estoril. Casey Stoner accused Valentino Rossi of following him, then went on to talk again about Rossi's mistake at Jerez; Rossi launched a diatribe against Stoner, accusing him of saying a lot of things which were untrue about his move to Ducati; and then Jorge Lorenzo joined in the fun by attacking Marco Simoncelli, complaining that the Italian was a liability and a danger to others.

Apparently there were some bikes on track too, but in the interests of getting the fluff out of the way first, we'll walk through another day of WWE-style trash talk and petty bickering.

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2011 Estoril MotoGP Thursday Roundup - Of Injuries, Incidents And Electronics

After a month's enforced rest, the MotoGP paddock has reassembled once again at Estoril, and at the press conference, the assembled riders - with one exception - looked as if they hadn't missed the media attention one single bit. The exception was Alvaro Bautista, the Rizla Suzuki rider barely able to believe his luck being back and with a chance of riding, just 41 days after breaking his femur in a horrific practice crash at Qatar.

Bautista positively beamed, speaking enthusiastically about the chance to start riding again, though still only cautiously optimistic he would be able to ride properly, the fracture still a little painful and without full motion in his leg. However, anyone who has followed Bautista's recovery process - driving to Madrid almost every day from his home in Talavera to spend time in a hyperbaric chamber. Sitting still is the one thing that motorcycle racers are not very good at, so spending a couple of hours doing nothing while getting a headache from too much oxygen is just about the worst thing you can do to a rider.

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The Troubles With Fuel Limits, Part 1: The Perfect Storm at Estoril, 2010

(This is the first installment in a, as yet undetermined-length, series examining the available data for the 800cc era MotoGP seasons to date: 2007-2010. )

New Rules in 2010, The Storm's Pre-cursors:

As the 2009 MotoGP season came to a close, the prelude to the longer-life engine rules had been put into place. The teams came to Valencia with 2010-specification engines for the post-race test. Each team, essentially, began with the same premise to make their 6 allotted engines last the entire season: cut RPM. As a consequence of the introduction of the 21-liter fuel limit in 2007, all of the teams struggled with methods for maximizing power and control under braking while limiting consumption. A de facto rev-limit would serve, in a small way, to bring a little more fuel into usable powerbands. However, Ducati arrived with a parallel strategy; an uneven-firing "long bang" motor. Both of their riders strongly preferred the feel and power delivery of this engine, so it became the center of development plans for the 2010 season.

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2011 WSBK Assen Sunday Roundup - Of Heartstopping Spectacle, And Champions

Assen always provides spectacle, whatever the classes are racing here, but today, there was perhaps a little too much of a good thing. The World Supersport race saw two horrific-looking crashes, and required two restarts before the race finally got done. The crashes were truly gut-wrenching, the kind of incident that makes you fear another Shoya Tomizawa or Craig Jones, but amazingly, everyone came away relatively unscathed.

The first crash was doubly disconcerting, involving Sam Lowes of the Parkalgar Honda team. It was the same team that Craig Jones was riding for when he died in a crash at Brands Hatch. The Parkalgar team boss Simon Buckmaster has an uncanny ability to spot young talent, Lowes just the latest in a line of promising riders, and seeing Lowes tumbling end-over-end through the gravel after an inexplicable highside was a sickening sight.

But medics responded immediately and effectively, and Lowes was quickly conscious again. The young Englishman suffered a concussion and a broken collarbone, and the whole paddock breathed a collective sigh of relief when World Superbike press officer Julian Thomas passed on the news that Lowes was OK.

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2011 WSBK Assen Saturday Roundup - A Man In Control

After Friday practice at Assen, and even after the morning session, having a Ducati on pole seemed like a pretty safe bet. After all, Jakub Smrz had ended every session before Superpole in either first or second. The Effenbert Liberty rider looked just about unstoppable at Assen, but once the dust settled after Superpole it was a different Ducati on pole, the Althea machine of Carlos Checa.

That can hardly come as a surprise: Checa has started from pole for every World Superbike race of the year so far, so extending his reign to Assen should come as no surprise at all. Checa was clinical in his approach, scraping through Superpole 1 on a race tire, before dropping the hammer in Superpole 2 and 3. He secured pole on just his second flying lap in the final session, and returned to the pits to rest on his laurels. Nobody had the measure of the Spaniard.

Smrz still managed to bag 2nd spot on the grid, but the Effenbert Liberty rider was disappointed not to have taken pole. The team lost their collective nerve during SP1, with Smrz languishing dangerously close to the cutoff point, and so they stuck in one of the two qualifying tires each rider has for the three Superpole sessions and ensured their progression to Superpole 2. The penalty for that gamble left Smrz without a qualifier for the final session, but the softer race tire was still good enough for 2nd.

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2011 WSBK Assen Friday Round Up: Youth Assault On Assen

Just going by the timesheets from the first day of the Assen World Superbike weekend, the situation looks pretty clear-cut. Jakub Smrz was fastest during the first qualifying session on the Effenbert Liberty Ducati, finishing a couple of tenths ahead of Alitalia Aprilia's Max Biaggi, Yamaha's Marco Melandri and Alstare Suzuki's Michel Fabrizio.

During the session, however, qualifying felt anything but clear cut. The last 10 minutes felt like a full-on dash for pole, with top spot swapping hands several times before Smrz settled the pole race in his favor. It was a curious case of leapfrogging: first, the BMW pair of Corser and Haslam led; then they were overtaken by the Yamaha duo of Melandri and Laverty; and in the final moments, Smrz leapt to the forefront, with Max Biaggi, Michel Fabrizio and Tom Sykes following in his wake.

The strangeness of the session was probably down to the conditions: The day was a typical Dutch spring afternoon: a stiff breeze, sunshine interspersed with clouds, and decidedly moderate temperatures. The clouds passing over kept the track temperature down, but the disappearance of the clouds towards the end of the session warmed the track and saw the times start to tumble. In the end, Smrz' time was very respectable, a 36 flat being faster than the race lap record, but a little over a second off Johnny Rea's pole record from last year.

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Number Crunching: How Much Of A Factor Is Weight In MotoGP?

The debate has been rumbling under the surface for some time, but at Jerez it finally burst to the surface. It emerged that Marco Simoncelli and Valentino Rossi had submitted an informal proposal to the Safety Commission to examine having a combined minimum weight for both bike and rider in MotoGP, just as there currently is in the 125cc class. Their argument was that lighter riders had an unfair advantage, and that by setting a minimum weight, the larger riders would have a better chance of competing.

The main advantage, it was said, was one of fuel consumption, especially since the introduction of the 800cc bikes, which also saw the fuel limit reduced to just 21 liters. Nicky Hayden related that while he was at Honda, his was forced to run a much leaner setup than his erstwhile teammate, Dani Pedrosa. Rossi agreed with Hayden's assessment, but admitted that taller riders did have more leverage over the machines. 

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2011 Jerez MotoGP Race Day Round Up Part 2: Strategy Begets Tragedy

Race days like Sunday, full of incident and intrigue, leave MotoGP writers such as myself feeling starkly inadequate. So much happened at Jerez, in every single class, both during and after the race that it is impossible to do the weekend justice and give a comprehensive account of events without collapsing from exhaustion at about five in the morning. This weekend also made it clear to me that my fitness is not up to scratch, as I did not make it much past 1:30 am.

Fortunately, there is a four-week gap between the race at Jerez and the following round at Estoril. The riders may not much like it ("too long!" Andrea Dovizioso exclaimed), but that does leave plenty of time to fill out the stories that emerged at Jerez.

Rather unsurprisingly, many of those stories revolve around the incident involving Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner. Debate on the issue is already extraordinarily heated, as was to be expected given that the riders who were party to the incident are the undisputed lord and master of MotoGP, and the rider who most polarizes opinion among racing fans.

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