Blog: Sepang over

By Matthew birt -

MotoGP

 02 February 2007 13:50

Howdy folks, sorry I didn't blog last night but I didn't get back from the track until 10pm, grabbed some room service and crashed out in a crumpled heap.

Firstly a quick update on the sunburn, which seems to have grabbed a few people's attention.

Thanks for the tips and the mickey taking, much appreciated.

Anyway, today I was doing the stereotypical Brit abroad. Having been bright red and in agony all week, finally went a nice golden brown last night and the tan lasted for all of 18 hours as I'm peeling already.

So what's all this no pain, no gain crap eh?

So, back to the real reason why you read these ramblings. Well it's all done and dusted here in Sepang so what did we learn?

Make no mistake that Valentino Rossi is more motivated than at any other time in his career to win that title back.

Finishing fastest was an early boost to get rid of any '06 defeat hangover that might still have been lingering around, and from observing him this week I'd stick my hard earned quids on him right now to win the title.

And I'm not just saying that because the guy we all think will run him close in Dani Pedrosa is struggling.

A feature of this test too has been the continuing resurgence for the Suzuki team.

John Hopkins and Chris Vermeulen were right in the thick of it again at the top of the timesheets and with only three tests left before it all kicks off, you've got to think that those two will be fighting for the podium in Qatar.

I certainly hope so, because the more competition at the front then the better the racing is going to be. And there's a lot to be lived up to after last season's drama.

Suzuki is just about in dreamland at the moment. Their new 800 so far been a phenomenal success, but it's the riders that fascinate me about the whole scenario.

In Hopkins Suzuki have always had a bit of an uncut diamond. He's clearly got the speed, but hasn't had the bike under him to show his true potential.

John seems to be a completely different beast these days to what he was a couple of years ago.

I think he really embraced the responsibility of being the lead rider in terms of developing the bike, and he seems to have matured a hell of a lot.

He was a bit of a throw back to the good old days when he first arrived with a work hard, play hard attitude. He got a bit of a reputation as a hell raiser and why not?

The guy was getting paid good money to race motorbikes all around the world. I think in those early days, and I stand to be corrected, but John appeared to enjoy the lifestyle just as much as he did the racing.

As I said I could be wrong. But in the last couple of years I think he's worked out for himself the effort and commitment it takes if you want to go all the way to the top in MotoGP.

He's become obsessive about training and his fitness, and from talking to him a lot this winter you can see the hunger inside him.

I think part of that is because he hated seeing Nicky Hayden win the world title.

I don't think it's a personal thing, but John just believes he's a better rider than Nicky, and he thinks Nicky got fast tracked to the top and had a bit of the silver spoon treatment with Honda.

And as he said to me recently in a telephone interview in the States, 'seeing Nicky win has really put a fire in his ass'.

The sport badly needs riders like John to be running at the front. He's got personality, speaks his mind and he's spectacular to watch.

I doubt he will be bothered about ruffling Valentino's feathers if he gets to race with him more in 2007.

I think what also raised his game to another level was the arrival of a certain talented young Aussie on the other side of the garage.

The first person you want to beat is your team-mate and Vermeulen's arrival I think stoked the fire in John even more.

Your team-mate is the person first and foremost who you will be gauged against.

In some ways Verrmeulen overshadowed John a little bit last season with two pole positions and a podium, and its clear that Vermeulen made the right choice in chasing his MotoGP dream rather than hanging around in World Superbikes.

He's carving a reputation for himself in the paddock, and Valentino gave him a big up here in Sepang the other day.

   I remember when MCN exclusively revealed that Vermeulen was coming to Suzuki, I sounded out our WSB reporter Michael Guy to see what Vermeulen was like to work with.

It all sounded too good to be true but he is the journalists dream. He speaks regardless of how good or bad things are going, is always honest and co-operative.

You can't ask for anything other than that from my side of the fence.

I'd say that behind Rossi, Vermeulen is probably the most switched on rider in the paddock. And behind that genuine nice guy is a fierce determination to succeed.

I hope they do, just to add a bit more spice to the championship.

So what of those Honda boys languishing down the timesheets then? Complaints about the new 800 were close to deafening in Sepang.

Nicky said yesterday he was shocked that they were so far off, and I don't know anybody who isn't. When the rules changed to 800cc, Honda was the driving force in implementing the switch.

And HRC doesn't do anything unless it is of benefit to them. The last time the rules changed Honda swept all before them, and people were worried that it could happen again.

But this time round I think Honda are missing a couple of key ingredients. When the RCV 990cc bike was born, HRC had Valentino and Jerry Burgess telling them how to develop it.

Now those two form a pretty potent partnership when you look at the number of race and championship wins on their CV. Is Honda now lacking that leadership and direction, or have they just made a bad call in how they've designed the RC212V?

Well at the moment it’s down on power and the electronic engine braking system is all over the shop. I was grabbing a bite to eat in the hotel today and a well-known Honda crew chief stopped for a chat. He was baffled by what Honda had done.

Now if Honda did build the bike for Dani Pedrosa as is widely believed, then that's fine as long as it works for Dani and he's fighting for the championship. But then you render information and data from five other riders totally useless.

I had to laugh the other day when we spoke to the RC212V project leaders Takanori Okuma. He was asked if the bike was so small because it had been built with Pedrosa in mind.

He said the bike had been built around a standard size rider. So who is the standard size rider?

Nicky Hayden apparently, yet he went on to say the final bike fits a rider a little smaller than Nicky. So Dani Pedrosa then.

One man who is finding the going tough is Carlos Checa. Carlos is one of the tallest riders in the paddock, and he's not happy.

Apparently the bike is so low at the front it feels like riding a camel. And with hardly any fairing to speak of, most of his body is exposed to the wind on the straight.

This is a problem for Nicky too. He said last night that Honda had taken pictures of him to see how much of his body was screwing up the aerodynamics and he said it wasn't pretty.

He's losing most of his time at the end of the straights because he can't get tucked in. And this was after Honda had flown in a new supposedly bigger and more protective fairing.

Carlos is apparently so big for the bike that his shoulders ache like hell at the end of the day because of the buffeting off the wind. I've also heard it said that he's told people that the electronics are not in the same league as the Yamaha he rode last season.

I thought the sunstroke had finally got the better of me yesterday when I saw Kenny Roberts Junior riding Checa's bike. It all became clear though as they swapped bikes.

It was all agreed in Valencia last season in a bid to help Kenny get up to speed faster having missed the pre-Christmas tests.

Apparently his comments were the same as Carlos's on the Honda, yet the more interesting aspect for me was what Checa though of Kenny's bike.

I heard Carlos say the riding position was much better, he was protected by the fairing, the engine braking was better and so was the power delivery.

I hasten to add this didn't come directly from Carlos, but it came from somebody pretty close to him.

Now Team Roberts design their own air intake system and exhausts, so it seems that for now the Banbury boys have done a better job than the huge resources available at HRC.

You've got to think that Honda will get it right soon or later, but for the time being the complaints are making for some bloody good copy.

Right, I'm off to pack for Australia.

   Laters, M.