Thursday, December 8, 2011

Rossi & Stoner: when the gods fall

Once upon a time there was "Rolling Stoner”, a blisteringly fast rider prone to crashing, and "Doctor" Rossi, famous for his surgical precision while riding on the edge.  The two were seen as complete opposites, the Yin and Yang of MotoGP, if you will.  A description that fit right up until the Australian made his return to Honda, and Rossi filled the empty seat he left behind at Ducati.  Suddenly it was Stoner who was finishing upright in every race of the season - except for Jerez where his crash was caused by Valentino - and Rossi frequently ending up in the gravel, shaking his head in disbelief.

The common thread for both riders was their blame of the Desmosedici, and more specifically its front-end. For reasons that aren't easily understood, especially by Ducati, the bike simply didn't allow the rider to perceive the limit with the front wheel.  It simply didn't give them the "feeling" that they were looking for.  In Rossi's case it would even chatter slightly before suddenly giving way, a condition he would eventually dub, "The fucking vibration."

Taking a look at the numbers from the 2010 and 2011 seasons, we see that Stoner and Rossi actually suffered a very similar number of crashes on the 800cc Ducati (in the tables at left, Gara=Race, Qualifiche=Qualifying, Libere=Practice, Anteriore=Front End, Gomme Fredde=Cold Tires).  Going beyond the numbers themselves, we even heard similar explanations from the riders. After going down at Jerez last season, Casey said: "the crash was similar to the one from Qatar; I entered the corner with less pressure on the front end, and then I low sided." This lead Ducati and Stoner to start looking into an area that Rossi has mentioned often this season: weight distribution.

It's true that the Australian has fairly particular riding style, which is said to be more oriented towards the rear wheel, but all of Rossi's attempts to adapt his own riding style to the Desmosedici fell short.  The 9 time world champion is very front-end oriented, and there was simply no way for him to feel sufficiently confident with the GP11 as it was constructed.  This realization ultimately set Ducati down it's path toward trying more drastic measures for putting more weight over the front wheel, bringing us to the most recent design from Filippo Preziosi seen at the Valencia test.  The prototype for the 2012 machine did away with the carbon fiber "monocoque" chassis, seemingly because it didn't allow for enough in-season experimentation under the currently MotoGP rules package, to make way for a more traditional aluminum twin-spar design.

What's more, there is even talk of Ducati abandoning the long used 90 degree angle of their V-4, as it didn't allow for the engine's mass to be placed far enough toward the front.  And so, two world champions and many crashes later, Ducati are racing their way down a decidedly different path, working on a new project that we wont really get to see until the Sepang test session in late January.  Let's hope for the best.

source: GP One

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