Interview: Veteran Crew Chief Gilles Bigot, Part 3 - On Giving The Rider The Bike They Need To Go Fast

In the final part of our mammoth interview with Gilles Bigot, crew chief to Tom Lüthi, the Frenchman takes a deep dive into the process of adapting to riding in MotoGP, and some of the problems Lüthi has had in making the switch. The greatest task for a crew chief, Bigot explains, is finding the right setup to give the rider what they need to go fast, and convincing the rider of the best way to get the most out of the bike they are riding.

Through his explanation Bigot meanders through a range of fascinating subjects. From the effect of exhaust valves on two-stroke 500s, via riding a MotoGP bike with the front rather than the rear, to helping Tom Lüthi adapt to the extremely aggressive Honda, and perhaps the mistakes made along the way.

Taken together with the other two parts of this interview – part 1, where Bigot discusses seeing a young Valentino Rossi adapt to four-stroke MotoGP machines faster than his rivals, and how patience can be a key part of adapting from one class to the next, and part 2, detailing Lüthi's specific problems in adapting to MotoGP – a clear and informative picture emerges of the many and varied details which go into the process of switching from one class to the next.

Q: Does the complexity of a modern MotoGP bike make it more difficult for the rider than an old two stroke? The 500s were a razor. You were either right or you were wrong?

Gilles Bigot: Yeah, but the 500 was a razor in 1994, 1995. I think we were the first with Crivillé to play with the exhaust valve. We did this in Assen. With the exhaust valve, you could control the power delivery. At that time, I did a blind test with him. He didn’t know, but he come and say, “Wow, this bike today, the suspension feels better, more traction.” Okay, let’s go this direction. But it was not as crucial as now. The difference that I see in the 500 was the weight. The bikes were lighter but also you were carrying 32 liters of fuels. So from the first lap to the last lap, the bike was different. It was difficult.

Q: The fuel wasn’t where it is now?

GB: No, it was on the top. That was a different story. Even the MotoGP, I worked in MotoGP in 2003, 2004, and I was saying the other day, this last corner [in Jerez] is famous. When you watch the video [from 2015] of Sete [Gibernau] and Vale [Rossi], and you say, this is the real speed? They look slow. Today you see and it’s like, pow. They go at the speed that’s like amazing. So everything changes.

And also going back to this, you need also in MotoGP to go fast. You need to be able to lean the bike. You need to take a lot of banking. The more lean angle you’ve got, the better turning you got. The old process, it takes a bit more time. Franky [Morbidelli], at the beginning I think he struggled a little bit more in Austin, but Franky is younger [than Tom Lüthi], first of all. He rides quite often. He’s training a lot with Valentino. He rides the bike quite with the front. Where with Tom, we are on the other side. We are more riding on the rear. So for him it was maybe at the beginning a bit easier to get used to because he could load the front tire. For us, it was a bit difficult and the beginning Tom did not have any information from the front tire.

Q: Can you explain the difference between? You say riding from the back and riding from the front?

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Interesting thing is that crew chief is onsure about if he'd better detuned the bike somewhat to ease the learning curve and solve manageble issues first. That is exactly what Honda did in the extreme in the first stage by offering a lower spec and slower production bike. The only fault was that it was somewhat slower then the Yamaha and Ducati sattelites. The teams just got what they asked for: a machine that is similar to the real thing, but where only a few riders can shine on. Judgement day for every newcomer and probably not even a real opportunity for most of them, but a nightmare instead. Maybe Zarco realised that the bike is not suited to his style, since I think he will not be doing much better then Dani on the bike. I think Dani got the maximum of it given his smooth style. I wonder how Lorenzo will do next year, since the Honda is not the fastest in the ' point and shoot'  way of riding he just adapted for the Ducati, neither the rounded corner style he mastered on the 250's and the Yamaha.