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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2011 Jerez MotoGP Race Day Round Up: The Feeding Frenzy

I'm sure I can take a pretty good guess at what you'd all like me to write about, but with your permission, I'll come to that in a minute. Valentino Rossi's excessively optimistic dive up the inside of Casey Stoner, and the ensuing fallout in its many varied forms will generate many millions of words in the future. It may even end up being the decisive moment in the championship, though we won't know that until November. But that crash will overshadow a few stories which deserve a little limelight of their own.

The rain at Jerez was the worst kind, the kind that makes the track greasy and wet, without providing a nice layer of water to help keep tires cool. The rain started early, a few spots appearing at around 8am, becoming gradually heavier over the course of the day, only stopping once the racing was done.

The conditions made the already slippery track absolutely treacherous, and though it produced a bizarre crashfest spectacular, those conditions also revealed an intriguing insight into the art of motorcycle racing. Grip was minimal, tires - especially the soft-compound Bridgestone wets - ran hot and stripped rubber, and mistakes and arrogance were punished mercilessly, intelligence, tire management and racecraft rewarded all the more.

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2011 MotoGP Jerez Saturday Roundup - On A Lighter Note ...

If there are two facts that you need to know about the Jerez circuit - apart from its wonderful setting in one of the nicest parts of the world - it is these: The track is difficult in terms of grip, and the circuit demands a lot of the front end of motorcycle races. If you were unaware of those two facts, then watching qualifying - for any of the three classes that race in the MotoGP series - would be enough to acquaint you with them.

In the MotoGP class, Valentino Rossi crashed, Hiroshi Aoyama crashed, Ben Spies crashed, Randy de Puniet crashed. It would be quicker to sum up who didn't crash rather than who didn't end up on the floor. Even Casey Stoner managed to topple over in the gravel trap, though the Australian's incident was the least serious of the session, and had more to do with misjudging the tire rather than pushing the front beyond the limits of endurance.

Not so for both Ben Spies and Valentino Rossi, both men confessing to having asked too much of their tires. Spies admitted to getting into Turn 1 just far too hot, and his hope of being able to save the situation turning out to be far too optimistic. Spies laid it down and slid off, acknowledging that his luck had lost out to physics.

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2011 MotoGP Jerez Friday Round Up - The Slippery Slope

It's Friday, the bikes have been out on track, and very much as expected, the Repsol Hondas are a class apart. Or rather, two of them are, Casey Stoner going fastest in the morning, while Dani Pedrosa topped the timesheets in the afternoon. The third member of the Repsol Honda team had a day to forget: after a crash in the morning, Andrea Dovizioso lost all confidence in the front end of his RC212V, and struggled for the rest of the day. "We don't need to study what happened," Dovizioso said, "we just need to stop and forget all about it."

Dovizioso did not suffer alone: everyone complained of the same thing, that the track had a lot less grip than in previous years. What that came down to was a combination of track temperature and the wind, the gusts making the track easier in some parts, harder in others. Every rider I spoke to complained of a lack of confidence in the front end, and both sessions were marred by crashes, especially in the tricky section including turns 11 and 12, which are both very fast and very bumpy, and require confidence in the front end and a healthy dollop of courage to keep pinned.

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2011 MotoGP Jerez Thursday Round Up - Patience, Patients And Parts

In the heart of Spain, all talk is naturally of Spanish riders, and the man who has been at the center of a veritable media - and medical - whirlwind is Dani Pedrosa. Since the numbness and weakness in his arm reappeared at the race in Qatar, a result of the broken collarbone he suffered at Motegi last year, the Spaniard has undergone a series of tests and examinations to try and get to the root cause of the problem. And as a result, has faced enormous media scrutiny about the issue as well.

The Repsol Honda team has tried to ease the media pressure on Pedrosa by issuing press releases every couple of days with updates on his condition, but the problem has been that those press release have contained conflicting information. That in itself is because the cause of Pedrosa's medical complaint has been so very difficult to pin down.

The mixed messages coming out of the Repsol camp has actually ended up being counter-productive, and Pedrosa has faced even more questioning than usual over the problem. In the end, the normally polite and well-mannered Pedrosa snapped when asked by one veteran reporter in the pre-event press conference to clarify the cause of his problems. "Did you read the press release?" he barked at the reporter, then back-tracked and added he was so tired of the whole issue. "It's already been one-and-a-half weeks for me about this issue," he said, looking utterly fed up, "I am tired of it. I just want to talk about the Grand Prix."

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2011 WSBK Donington Race Round Up - Changing Codes Pays Off

What a strange and interesting weekend the World Superbike round at Donington has given us. That Carlos Checa should win at least one race at Donington was to be expected, but the strong results from the Yamaha camp - in both Superbikes and Supersport - was a bit of a surprise, while the complete meltdown by Max Biaggi was shocking.

To Biaggi first. The Alitalia Aprilia rider started off well, sitting on provisional pole after the first qualifying session on Friday, and joking about how it was both unusual and nice to have people talking about him on a Friday. It all went downhill from there: an on-track run-in with Marco Melandri saw a furious Biaggi stalk into the Yamaha garage, issue a couple of comedy slaps on Melandri's cheek (both meant and received as an insult), getting himself hauled in front of Race Direction and issued a fine (for the slap) and a warning (for blocking Melandri on track, a punishment Melandri also received).

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2011 WSBK Donington Day 2 Round Up - The Handbags Edition

After the second day of practice at Donington Park, we should be talking about the way that Carlos Checa blew everyone away on the Althea Ducati. About the way that Checa got perilously close to posting a lap of 1'27 round the revised Donington track. About Leon Haslam's strong 2nd spot on the grid after qualifying, or Tom Sykes' outstanding 3rd fastest time. Maybe we should even be talking about Eugene Laverty's narrow escape when he had a huge crash at Craner, writing off his Yamaha R1. But we're not.

Tonight, all the talk is of a minor scuffle in the Yamaha pitbox, when Max Biaggi strode in to complain about being balked by Melandri during superpole and issued his fellow Italian with a light double tap, before stalking back to the Aprilia garage:

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