One of the great pleasures in watching Casey Stoner ride a MotoGP machine is the controlled way in which he manages to slide the bike through the corners. In an era when the spectacular slides once so beloved by fans have been tamed by electronic intervention, Stoner has managed to convince his engineers to limit the electronics sufficiently to give him enough control to slide the bike to help get it turned.
His ability has fascinated both fans and journalists around the world, and many have tried to get him to explain how he does it, but Stoner himself has always found it very hard to say exactly what he is doing. At Qatar, a group of journalists - including MotoMatters.com - pressed the Repsol Honda rider again to explain exactly where and when he chooses to slide the rear, and what benefits it provides. Though he protested it was hard - "It's really difficult to explain, so many people have asked me," he said - he went on to talk at length about what he does and why.
The most important distinction to make, Stoner emphasized, was between sliding the bike under control and finding it sliding when you hadn't planned to. "Normally, when you're sliding the bike under control, it means you're in control of it," Stoner said. "It means that you're mentally doing it on purpose, you're not just going into a corner and it's starting to slide." But it was not something that works everywhere. "It's something that only works in certain corners in this type of racing, it doesn't work in all the corners. When it does work, sometimes it can be a bit scary; you can go into the corner, and if you make a small mistake when you are sliding, the finish of it can be a catastrophe. When your heart beats really hard is when you slide when you don't really want to," he explained
The key to sliding a bike was confidence, Stoner told us. "It's basically about confidence going into the corner, knowing exactly what you're doing, what the bike's doing and then having the will to either go into the corner harder or get on the gas harder to try and break the rear." That was not without risks, however: "Most of the time when you break the rear it means you're going to highside. So there's a fine point between breaking it and keeping it, and breaking it and ending up flying through the air."
So how do you know when to try to slide the rear and when not to, Stoner was asked. "It's really difficult to explain," Stoner responded. "You know when you can and when you can't and not many riders are able to do it and to do it well, especially to be faster. Anyone can slide a bike, but to slide and be fastest is something more complex, to try to minimize the amount of spin."
One of the reasons explaining how he slid the rear was so difficult is because there was not a single method to achieve it, and each corner required a different approach, Stoner explained. "It's more or less impossible [to give one answer], because every situation is different, every corner you must slide through is different to the others," Stoner said. "The system to make the bike slide is completely different. Sometimes you have to really go in, push the front hard, and close the gas to make the front want to turn, then the rear will come round more easily, as you get the weight off the rear. Then another time, you have to go into the corner and basically slowly break it away, though if you break it away too quickly, it's just going to want to highside," Stoner said. "It's not just like, you go into a corner and you slide, it's very, very different."
What was the most important part of the process? "The process for me is commitment. In Turn 3 at Valencia, Turn 3 at Phillip Island, it's the same sort of commitment," Stoner said. "You have to go into the corner with a lot of aggression - both corners are very similar, both of them are left handers, medium fast left. You have to go in there a lot harder, weight the front, take the weight off the rear, and then get on the gas very quickly, but to a certain point that it doesn't want to come around too quick. But you have to get on the gas quicker to break the rear, because there's a lot of grip in these two points, it doesn't want to come around. Valencia there's a lot of grip, in Phillip Island, you're in 5th gear, there's not a lot of power in 5th, so you have to really push it hard to make it break away, and then from that point you need to keep the corner speed. If you slide and you're sliding too much, then you're losing all your corner speed. If you're sliding and not sliding enough, then the grip will come back and when the grip comes back, you'll push the front and fold it. It's really difficult to explain."
Was this a conscious process, or something he did intuitively? Stoner was emphatic: "You have to consciously do it," he said. "Some corners call for picking the bike up and driving it out hard, but these couple of corners in particular, Turn 3 at Phillip Island and Turn 3 at Valencia, these are corners that after the left, there's a right that you have to get it back for. So most people go through there, roll through the corner, and they're rolling going wide and they have to get back for the next one. While I'm sliding it, keeping it tight, keeping the corner speed, and then I'm already ready for the right. That's how I use that corner."
Was that similar to Turn 3 at Sepang, Stoner was asked, a corner where he - and many other MotoGP riders - are noted for sliding the rear round? He disagreed. "Turn 3 in Sepang is completely different," Stoner said. "Because you're carrying corner speed on the side, the bike immediately wants to spin, and you can spin all the way to the kerb on the way out. But you're losing that drive for up the hill, so basically it will start to come round, it comes round a lot slower, but you want it to come round a little bit, so that when it's pointing in the right direction, you can pick the bike up and drive across the kerb." In the end, this was an illustration of how you needed to tailor your approach for each different corner. "There's different techniques to different corners and when they should be used, depending on grip levels, and a lot of different things. Unfortunately, most of the time these days, sliding is not the fastest way, there's only some corners where it can still work."