Passing The Torch

Since the rumblings began emanating from the machinations of Colin Edwards’, Hervé Poncharal’s, and Lin Jarvis’ closed-door meetings to figure out how to get Ben Spies and Tom Houseworth into MotoGP in 2010, and the subsequent announcement last Fall, one of the most popular ways to cast the story (and indeed, one of the few speculative avenues that doesn’t automatically involve Silly Season 2011) is to suggest that the tensions between Colin Edwards and James Toseland will somehow be amplified in the arrival of the superior abilities of Ben Spies. I realize magazines and newspapers need to manufacture material in the off-season to sell copies, and we who post on The Web need to draw traffic when potential advertisers don’t care that the sport is on hiatus. But I am here to tell you that this particular road is a dead end street. Headlines of “Tension at Tech 3”, “Monster Battle Brewing”, and “Trouble in Paradise” (a city in Texas, but not home to either rider), can be summarily ignored.

Consider that, though he has no wins in his 7 years of not missing a start in MotoGP, Colin Edwards has an enduring career because it was quickly realized he provides useful data for bike and tire engineers. He is a developer who brings home the equipment and can communicate intelligently about it. Every team needs at least one of those and having two is a godsend, especially if the information is somewhat transferable between the riders.

At the beginning of the 2008 season, Edwards took a demotion, of sorts.  He was installed at Tech 3 by Yamaha and Michelin, if for no other reason, to keep his development abilities on retainer and out of any competitor team's garage. He was partnered with James Toseland, and the two often ran in tandem all season long. At the end of that season, after the announcement of Bridgestone as the only tire supplier, some of his support departed with Michelin. The pair of riders stayed, based in part on what was thought to be successful teamwork, and a paucity of better talent available to Hervé Poncharal’s checkbook.

However, in the off-season, James Toseland insisted that he be allowed to work with Edwards’ crew chief, Gary Reynders - forcing Edwards to start anew with Guy Coulon - and so a grudge was installed. After the first pre-season ’09 test at Sepang, Edwards was widely quoted as saying he figured out a “trick” or “secret” to riding the (new-to-him) specification Bridgestone tires. He clearly chose not to let that information cross over the new wall separating the team garages, and the two riders went on to have drastically differing fortunes in the ensuing season (Edwards improved to 5th, Toseland sank to 14th). I would not claim to know any insider details, but from the outside, it would appear that the success of the team is linked to Edwards (his 5th place standing being the best ever for a Tech 3 rider). Achieving that success with Toseland’s “discarded” crew chief, must surely have been a generous heap of salt in JT’s substantial wounds, and vindication for both Edwards and Coulon.

Sibling rivalries can go in two basic directions: good or bad. Sometimes a familial rivalry starts out as friendly competition, but at some point, one of the parties doesn’t take kindly to being beaten and a grudge develops. That person may feel they were cheated by the victor, or worse, may in fact be the victim of a cheating family member. Or, he or she may simply be a sore loser and fails to accept the opportunities to work together as a family. This path will lead to a bitter split which can often not be reconciled. Occasionally, in that process, the quarreling parties push each other to achievements neither would have accomplished if left to simply battle the rest of the world; the grudge providing additional fuel for the passions. Inevitably, the emotional tanks run dry, and the days of battle must end, leaving the begrudged to assess if they really got what they wanted, while the family suffers in mourning and split loyalties.

Thankfully, the majority of sibling rivalries - though usually less dramatic - are of the familial unity variety, where the members eagerly push and challenge each other and encourage success. No one is particularly happy to lose, but the family bonds in their collective achievements. At some point, one develops into the front-runner, and another must accept that he or she will usually be outclassed. The runner-up chooses to make the leader work their hardest to stay in front, and the leader realizes they are both improving in the challenge. The one being beaten takes on the attitude that his or her role is to make sure that no one from the “outside” bests anyone in the family, and accepts that if they have to lose to someone, at least it is a family member. The winner is pushed by the knowledge that if a mistake is made, the sibling will be right there to exploit it. 

Sometimes, the runner-up will get out of the competition and use their resources to work directly for the front-running family member. And, often that person is the older sibling who finds an opportune time to “pass the torch” to the up-and-coming successful youngster. In this scenario, the senior family member considers it a legacy to unify around the successor; realizing that any other approach would probably do more harm than good. And so begins the 2010 MotoGP season for the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team of Hervé Poncharal…

Colin Edwards has known Ben Spies for years (this is to say that they were not pushed together by mere coincidence of economics). Both men openly consider the other to be a good friend and inspiration. With Spies being 10 years younger than Edwards – and for all of that difference, Edwards has been on the World’s stages of motorcycle racing – there is no question about seniority. Yet, there is also no question that young Elbowz is the superior raw talent, is home to considerable analytical prowess, and is a bit more determined. But no one succeeds in a vacuum, so everyone involved in making the deal (and most of us on the outside) clearly saw the potential of a wily veteran development rider cast as mentor for the conquering machine that is the Spies & House package, who also happen to be friends and compatriots. That Edwards can test, develop, and help set up a baseline for a team mate’s bike should be beyond doubt, at this point, but when said team mate is also of a similar build and riding background, the potential is that much more lucrative.

Perhaps it is because I am an elder sibling that I come by this perspective naturally, but there is no doubt in my mind that Colin Edwards is as excited to be in the position he is in now as any 36 year-old motorcycle racer could be about anything in his career’s future. Whether or not he has fully reconciled with the likelihood that he will probably not defeat Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo, and Dani Pedrosa through natural means in a season-long points championship, he is keenly aware that he has been partnered with someone who maybe could. Any older sibling in that scenario will not spend much time laboring over whether he can maintain a position at the front of his family, reminding everyone who got there first. Rather, he will do his best to set the fiercest pace he can and hand over all the information available to ensure that the younger sibling can keep up with, and eventually surpass, the elder one.

Both men have been regularly quoted on this topic since the deal to pair them up was made public. My favorite comes from Edwards himself, in his “Texas Tornado” column in the December 2009 issue of Road Racer X:

            “At the end of the day, we still have to race each other, but it should be fun. Naturally, I'm getting asked about the wall in the garage coming down, and I don't see any reason why it shouldn't; Ben and I get along and share everything anyway...
I think I'm probably one of the only guys in the paddock who adapts really well to having a high-profile team mate...
            “Colin is a great guy and he’s somebody I’ve looked up to through all my career. I still do and it will be good working with him and learning from him. He’s got a lot of experience and is willing to help, so that is a big bonus for me.”

Colin Edwards voluntarily re-structured his contract to arrange for this exact situation. There would be no upside for Edwards to attempt an alpha-dog role and make life difficult for Spies. And, there is no downside in helping Spies reach top form as soon as possible, because it will always be credited as his legacy, at the very least. More than likely, he will be able to learn and improve his own performance along the way. This, it seems to me, would also bode well for him in 2011, and open doors beyond, whenever he does finally stop racing. From this point in his life and career, it would be difficult to imagine a better scenario for him. And, I doubt anyone had to convince him of that; he’s a smart guy and I’m sure his own excitement is more than sufficient motivation.

So, unless there is video of Ben Spies repeating the Repsol Corner maneuver at Estoril in 2006, do NOT believe any story that claims to illuminate a contentious atmosphere in the Tech 3 garage. It just won’t be true.

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Good read RBUSA. If beautiful matches are made in Heaven this must surely be one (in a racing sense anyway)...

It says something about Yamaha that they recognized Edwards' value when Honda had no idea what to do with him.

To sharpen one of the points, Edwards not only bring the ability to get the bike where Spies will need it but he also brings the abilit to get Spies where the bike needs him to be. Since a development rider is only useful if they can understand what it takes to get the most out of the bike as well as the more obvious what the bike needs, the ability to communicate that to Spies must be an extraordinary bonus.

Spies is coming into this game really late similar to both Edwards and Bayliss and while both riders were more successful than average, neither could capitalize on the transition. While this is not a prediction, it appears fromt he outside that Spies is still at a "developmental" stage - still a learning rider.

All of this comes back to Yamaha again - talent development seems to be something the other factories have lost sight of. It almost seems as though they expect ready-made riders to simply come to them and it is just a matter of whether they negotiate contracts well. Yamaha seesm to have a different approach - think long term, who is going to be your next rider? Who has the most potential? While Rossi would be likely to overstate the importance of the rider and nuturing talent (as well, perhaps, to take credit for the state of things at Yamaha), it must be at least recognized that Yamaha's approach has worked. Worked beyond all expectation.

c'mon, the whole toseland stealing edwards crew chief was BS and overblown (mostly by edwards himself). toseland could not have taken edwards crew chief without poncharals' permission! i used to be a big edwards fan but i've never seen someone open their mouth so much and accomplish so little as him (in motoGP).

Poncharal has said he made the decision to swap crew chiefs and let Edwards know afterward. It was clear that he did it as a challenge to Toseland and expected Edwards to be just fine but it was definitely done without any input or knowledge from Edwards.

you can't blame a teammate for wanting the best... he should have been pissed at poncharal! but ohhh, he signs the paychecks, so i'm gonna displace my anger at the new guy! ...weak!

Perhaps you cannot blame him but scheming to take your teammates crew members without some sort of agreement is underhanded and one can certainly blame a rider for resenting underhanded behavior. Toseland wasn't the new guy at that point and Edwards' irritation wasn't discplaced: Poncheral didn't hatch the scheme, Toseland did. Additionally, I am certain that Edwards let Poncheral know full well how he felt.

However, this is all way off topic.

Actually Poncheral went into quite a lot of detail regarding that situation in the interview he did with this website. It was a great read...

Spies will do better than Bayliss as there is a control tyre..
Remeber guys dont forget the onlt reason Rossi won so many world titles ( not saying he is not fantastic) but he had the V5 honda who would do any thing to win and the had the golden bullet tyres.. Bayliss could keep up for half the race and even pass rossi. This is how Rosssi got his style, take it easy at the start hang around the front then when everyone elses tyres go off his where comming to the party.

So, of Rossi's 9 championships, 2 on dunlops, 5 on michelins and 2 on bridgestones (tyre wise), respectively on Aprilia, Honda & Yamaha bikes, they are all down to the RC211V and overnight special tyres?
Your argument does not stack up at all.
Spies will succeed through talent and determination, help from Edwards may just get him there a little quicker.

Good article Rusty, I enjoyed reading it.
Interesting analogy as well. I hadn't heard any stories of trouble in the Tech3 garage, but it's good to know that they'll most likely work well together. It will be great to watch Edwards and Spies progress through this season. Bring on April 11!

I can't point to a specific story suggesting there is any trouble in Tech 3, but I have sensed there is foundation being set up among (some) journalists to hope for it.  They want to be able to manufacture a story that, if repeated and embellished enough, will be better fodder than last year was.

I just felt like nuking the premise before it could take shape.  Feel free to refer back to this all season...  ;-)

I wonder if Spies success can in any way diminish Lorenzo's bargaining strength when silly season comes.

Think about it. Lorenzo will enter the season having done very little testing. In any normal scenario, it will take time for him to return to full strength. And by then it might be too late. Going by the testing results, Rossi will be either romping away with win after win or in the midst of a huge fight with Stoner. Either way, Lorenzo just will have no leverage except being the younger off the 4 aliens. And it could become even worse if Spies suddenly gets close to the Aliens.

Of course it'll be a whole different picture if Lorenzo overcomes his injures quickly. But he should still be wary that he isn't the only young gun aboard a Yamaha. And everyone except Stoner would probably sign a blank contract to ride one in 2011.

I highly doubt Spies' rookie season will be enough to have any measurable affect on Lozeno's bargaining strength. Jorge has clearly demonstrated he can win and I don't think too many people doubt it. Now, I'm expecting Spies to demonstrate his skill, but he won't ever be a factor in the championship or anything like that. I also doubt Lorenzo & Rossi will be together in the 2011 factory Yamaha team. One of those guys will be switching teams... but only time will tell which. So... one could speculate that as long as Ben shows he's got what it takes, he'll be replacing the guy switching.

reading!- Thanks that´s why I love this site!
Its not just news....we feel what you write.

And yes, I also think that with the injury, Lorenzo will have a very dificult start this year. In he´s body by the lack of training, and in he´s head because i really belive that Spies will be "right on he´s tail".

In my opinion it´s all shaping up for another good year for Rossi....if he keeps the advantage shown in the tests.

It should indeed be a fascinating season. My personal feeling is that Spies will probably replace Colin as the 'best of the rest', but won't make the transition to alien-hood. Only time will tell, and I'll be happy to be proved wrong. He certainly has shown exactly the right approach so far, and appears a smart and analytical racer.

Edwards seems to have an open mind toward helping Spies. Spies will probably surprise many. More than one person of level thinks Spies might be able to win one race this year. The way he improves on his times and understanding of the bike reminds me of the way Lorenzo came in and sliced down his times in each Test before his first year racing. Only Spies has done it with less tests at a Track he has not been to on a bike that is not the full factory ride.

Love all the updates and articles. This site makes the off-season bearable. Keep it coming!

Maybe Edwards will end up sticking around for a longer while. He'll be a valuable asset to any 1000cc privateer. As long as he's fit and feels fine.