2013 Monza World Superbike Sunday Roundup: A Love Letter To Fast Tracks

Motor racing has been described as drag racing between corners. Never is this adage truer than at Monza. Speed out of corners is paramount, especially out of the Parabolica, the fast last corner that leads on to the equally fast start/finish straight. The faster you exit a corner, the sooner you reach your top speed. Monza has two long straights, both with fast corners leading onto them; this is what makes it different from other tracks with long straights. Fuel limits and tyres come into play in a different way here than any other track on the calendar. The other unique aspect of Monza is the controversies that arise from its uniqueness, and this weekend was no different in that respect.

Last year, rain made racing impossible as the speed of the track destroyed wet tyres and slicks are lethal coming from fast straights into aquaplanable puddles. The weather this year was more forgiving, allowing a day of racing without interruptions caused by weather. This weekend's interruptions were a different matter altogether, but they only affected the World Supersport race.

The controversy in the World Superbike races was a different controversy, generated equally by the track's unique personality. In an effort to make racing safer, chicanes have been added over the years. Monza used to have seven corners, two of which were only considered corners because of the speeds they were taken at. On a normal track, only five of the corners are slow enough to be counted, three of these corners, Lesmos 1 and 2 and the Parabolica, remain effectively unchanged, but three of them have been replaced by chicanes, Prima Variante (formerly Retiffilo), Variante Della Roggio and the famous Variante Ascari.

It is the fast nature of the track, and the inevitability that riders will run off that has led to the run off areas behind Monza's brutally fast approaches not dangerously slowing down the riders, allowing riders to leave the track and rejoin while actually gaining speed and places. Rules are in place that say riders should never gain an advantage from using these safety features, and in the case of Prima Variante, there is a system of soft walls that the rider has to negotiate before rejoining the track through a channel designated by painted white lines on the exit, lines that Max Biaggi famously missed and earned himself a ride-through penalty that turned a dominant clear lead into an eleventh place. This weekend, Jules Cluzel fell foul of the same rule, costing him a promising charge to eighth place.

But the controversy this weekend was at Della Roggia on the last lap, where Tom Sykes was duelling in the top four, clawing his way on the brakes from fourth place, the back of the pack, to a charge on second place. His charge was too fast and, instead of ploughing into the back of Marco Melandri, he chose the safe path off the track, cutting out the chicane, as many had done all day, and rejoining the track without gaining an advantage. Unfortunately, he had just passed Sylvain Guintoli, pushing the Frenchman back to fourth, and he rejoined the track in front of him, but off to the side of the track. Guintoli met Sykes at the entrance to Lesmo 1 where there is only one apex, not letting him fight back to the leading pair who were on a charge to the flag. Sykes and Guintoli both thought they were in third place at the end of the race and Race Direction were left to sort it out, with Aprilia appealing and Kawasaki counter appealing, resulting in a reversal of positions after Aprilia's appeal and a re-reversal after the appeal of the appeal.

As it currently stands, Tom Sykes was awarded the place he finished in and Sylvain Guintoli is left three points worse off than he'd hoped.

Prima Variente was also a factor in the second restart of the World Supersport and the scene of the race's third red flag. When a field of over thirty hungry angry berserkers on 600cc bikes charge into what has been described as a "noddy chicane", if those riders are already twitchy from two previous red flags, it's inevitable that there may be a coming together. The chicane is dangerous on the first lap, and one common suggestion is that exceptions should be granted to Monza and the race should be run in a chicaneless first lap, letting the riders string out before meeting the tight flip-flop, as the sheer volume of metal and biomass trying to pipe through the tight restrictive u-bend can cause blockages that result in pile-ups and red flags. Whether that is a workable solution, or if it even allowed under FIM rules, is much less likely than Dorna simply pulling Monza from the calendar.

Every year, Monza appears to be on the list for cancellation the following year, but luckily, every year, as is the case this year, the track is signed for the next season.

After today's entertaining races, controversies aside, it would be a provable shame if Monza were axed. The heroics of Sam Lowes in World Supersport, the three-abreast exits from the Parabolica, the constant changing of laps, the testing of the limits of machinery, the outright maniacal speeds on the straights, the dirt-tracking on the fast line out of the Ascari chicane, all these things would be taken away from us if Monza were removed from the calendar. After losing the fast jaunts through the forests of Hockenheim, Monza is the only proper fast track left on the calendar, and motorcycle racing would be worse off without at least one track you need to set your gearing past your engine's power limit just for the twenty metre slipstream.

On a weekend where we should be talking about Marco Melandri's return to form, we are instead eulogising a track that isn't even dead yet.

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..... love letter Jared.

Monza has one of those "feelings" about it.

Great racings, many thanks for your reports and info today.

I love this track like many others, but there should be more of a penalty for going off track this like. Much as I really like Tom Sykes he should have been forced to give up a position -- as any rider should who exits through there like he did. I mean a position each time they run through there, not just giving it up to avoid an advantage as the rules currently state.

Again, I hope they never get rid of this track. It's one of the races I look forward to every year and that I hope to visit someday.

Full disclosure: I love Sykes, I bleed green but I'm also very happy for Guintoli to finally get a shot on a proper factory bike.
To me the move is not that controversial: Sykes gets by Guintoli on the brakes then overcooks it, never makes the turn (whether it was to avoid Melandri or not is not really the point), goes straight cutting the chicane and rejoins in front of Guintoli.
First it seems "hey, fairplay, he does not have any position to give back since he was in front of Guintoli before he cut the chicane." That is absolutely true.
But in fact it's more like he was in front of Guintoli right before he cut the chicane.
So if he's not penalized it means that it's ok to make a move and never make the corner as long as you were in front of the guy a fraction of a second before you cut the chicane.
That does not seem fair to me.
It's racing, there's no evil or any wrongdoing in it, but one should not be allowed to gain anything (keep the position) from passing a rider without being able to make the incoming corner.

What happened in Jerez was fight (hard as it may have been) for a position within the limits of the track. Sykes essentially got an advantage by going off track.

Completely chickenshit move on Sykes and Kawasaki's part and stupid decision by the race officials.

I guess the new rule is to just blow past everyone going into Variante del Rettifilo with no intention of making the chicane, cut the course and as long as you were in the lead going into the corner, you get to keep the position.

Pathetic, but not the only instance of poor race officiating this weekend. Fabrizio cut the first chicane and was clearly outside of the white line marking the re-entry point onto the racing circuit. Such a violation got Biaggi a ride-through penalty in 2011. This time, no action.


It is sad that two riders who were probably quite friendly may now become enemies because of what appears to be a lack of clear guidelines as to what is, and what is not, acceptable in the case of the chicanes at Monza. After Sykes took evasive action to avoid ramming Melandri and went off-track on the tarmac inside the chicane, he regained the track, took a quick look to see that Guintoli was still behind him, then got his head down to charge after Melandri and Laverty. Guintoli in contrast, appeared to slow down and cruise to the finish.

If we look at their last four laps, this is the picture:

Sykes 1m 43.151s Guintoli 1m 43.118s
1m 43.162ss 1m 42.937s
1m 42.703s 1m 43.149s
1m 42.596s 1m 43.788s

This shows that Sylvain's last lap was more than a second slower than Tom's. Had he maintained his pace, he may very well have re-passed Tom before the chequered flag. The rule is that you don't back off until the chequered flag is displayed, (and as young Marquez forgot two years ago, once the chequers are waved, you definitely cease racing).

Shame about the end of race 2. I can see how the officials might have felt they had to abide by the letter of the rules but I wish they could have found a way to give Guintoli the place he really deserved. I'm a big fan of both riders so I'd feel bad whichever way it worked out. Perhaps I'll just look on this as karma after the way Sykes was short-changed last year at Monza...

Great ride by Laverty in race 2. But it would be nice if he showed a little emotion afterwards! The Mr. Spock of superbike racing behaves the same when he wins as when he crashes out. C'mon Eugene, live a little! ;-)

Chaz Davies crashed trying to make up ground on the leaders after starting 9th on the grid. If (when) he gets the hang of qualifying he'll win the championship.

Here in NASCAR-land, the AMA series has visited a fair number of "roval" circuits. Policing course cuts has always been a total friggin' headache, with no one happy with any outcome, so it's probably a relief that the only one the AMA still visits is Daytona.

That is where this story takes place.

A good friend of mine is a former AMA 250 GP racer; excellent wrench, very good rider, self-financed privateer machine vs the factory stuff. He was usually a top-10 guy, and one of the highlights of his life was getting on a 250 GP podium.

One year, he is at Daytona. At that circuit, the point where you leave the oval and cut into the infield is not far from the point where the infield circuit re-joins the oval. During practice, he barrels into Turn One, realizes he's not going to make it, and stands it up. He doesn't bother turning around and taking the infield; it's just practice. He just cruises across to the point where the infield circuit re-joins the oval and gets back on the gas.

The automated timing system does not realize that he's cut the course. And the combination of a slower rider cutting that whole pesky infield thing out of his lap added up to a lap time that was almost exactly what the factory guys were turning!

Because the lap time was close to what other people - the factory riders - were doing, the manual scorers couldn't just eliminate it out of hand. So the lap time stood for a few moments. Once my friend saw what had happened, he went and straightened the situation out.

But for a brief shining moment, the official timing and scoring pylon at Day-freaking-tona had his bike number right at the top, next to Rich-friggin-Oliver.

He still giggles every time he tells that story. I smile every time I hear it.

It would be fairly easy to calculate the time taken for such bikes to stop from the typical dry corner entry speed and then to accelerate back to that speed. Deduct that from their overall time. If they obstruct/delay another rider on re-entry double the penalty. If they collide with/take-out another rider, disqualify them.

That way a rider doesn't have to think too much, still needs his brain 'in', knows a run-off is not a no-penalty option for a late over-optimistic overtake, and isn't required to actually stop or ride around 'soft' or other obstructions to slow him/her down.

Riders/ex-riders seems to be saying that the best solution to the first corner crash-fest is to ride straight through on the first lap. The above would permit an 'open' escape road to allow that and penalise anyone who runs straight-on during the remainder of the race (and remove the need to know which is the correct piece of tarmac to ride through on!).

These chicanes get a lot of criticism - but they did provide for a brilliant piece of riding from Lowes in the WSS race (eventually).

I think Guintoli has the edge on the claim to the podium here.

I somehow doubt that Sykes or Guintoli are the sort of characters to hate each other after this - both are nice guys. However, as Sykes well knows, every point counts and their teams will be pursuing every opportunity they can.

Monza produces good racing, tension, and excitement. If its popular with the fans and teams, why push against that?

If Dorna drops it, it will be a sad day.