If you’ve ever watched a WSB race and thought, ‘I could do that,’ these crew chiefs' stories, from 2012, should put you straight.
Bayliss is a man who doesn’t know when to say no. His three WSB crowns and 52 race wins were the result of unbelievable talent and a determination to win verging on bloody-mindedness. A prime example of what you’re up against if you want to take on Bayliss came at Donington 2007 when he crashed heavily in race one while fighting for the lead with Toseland. Bayliss was brought to the circuit medical centre where the doctor informed him that his little finger was mangled. Medical staff started treating the injury so that he could be taken to hospital for emergency surgery, but Bayliss was having none of it. “I want to go out in race two,” he said. “Chop it off.”
Actually, that’s quite a famous Bayliss tale. But there are dozens more. And few people are better placed to tell them than Ernesto Marinelli, Bayliss’ long-time crew chief at Ducati.
“It was first qualifying on Friday, but because it was supposed to rain on Saturday we knew it was going to be the session to determine the grid. Troy went out, and on his second lap with an old tyre he crashed. He ran back to the pits, got on his spare bike with a new race tyre, went out of the pits and, still on his out lap, crashed that as well.
“He ran back to the pits but neither bike was back so we couldn’t do anything. We waited for a while and then they brought his first bike back. It was pretty badly damaged but we put everyone to it to try and get it ready. It was going to be very tight to get back on track and we were there just seeing his qualifying position go down from inside the top five to outside the top ten.
“Then the second bike arrived back and it wasn’t that bad – just a lowside: handlebar and fairings. We moved all the mechanics onto that and got it finished with five minutes to spare. I spoke to Troy and reminded him that we were only going to have one shot at this. We put a new tyre on the front and a qualifier on the rear. He went out, completed the out lap with a few seconds to spare, and then set pole.
“So having crashed twice with seconds to spare, he got out, had one lap and he set pole.”
“It was the first year I worked with Troy. We were at Daytona, which is a very particular race track, and the first time he saw it we sent him out to do one lap, just to check the engine. He came in saying that it was a cool track. We sent him out again and on his first flying lap he went through the fastest, most banked corner on the track completely flat out – 100 per cent throttle.
“In all my years at Daytona I’ve never seen that before. Normally it takes riders so many laps to go through there flat, and most of the time they’ll run through it at 60 per cent throttle. Troy was flat on his first flying lap.”
“There were a few minutes to go in qualifying and Troy went out with his qualifying tyre and set pole. But while he was on his in lap, Corser went faster. There were two minutes to go when he pulled up outside the garage and asked us where he was. When we told him he was second he just shut his visor and went straight back out on track. He had a used qualifier which shouldn’t have worked but he dropped half a second to retake pole.
“When he came back to the pits I couldn’t believe he’d done it and I asked him how. He just said: ‘When you want it, you want it.’ Troy is definitely one of a kind.”
You don’t have to be a highly-strung fitness fanatic with meticulous attention to detail to be successful in bike racing – just ask Scott Russell. He was so chilled out at the biggest race of the year that he forgot to turn up for qualifying.
“One of the first races I did with Scott was Daytona," says Silvano Galbusera. "He was an American rider racing at their biggest race, so you would have expected him to be super-focussed. In fact it was the complete opposite: he was so relaxed, he forgot about final qualifying! We were there waiting for him, ready to go, but he just didn’t turn up. The team manager Davide Brivio kept trying to call him and finally after about 40 minutes of the session had passed he showed up.
“ He had been out with his friends having lunch and maybe a couple of beers when he remembered. He arrived in the box and within three laps he was on pole!
“Needless to say he won the race too. He really was something special, he loved his racing and treated everyone he met the same. It din’t matter if you were a big sponsor, a mechanic or a fan – you always got the real Scott.”
Philip Island 2012
“In the two years I worked with Leon he has shown me many times how he is brave and how he is strong," says Giacomo Guidotti. "But Phillip Island was something special.
“When he crashed and then decided he wanted to race the situation was sad, scary, dangerous. The emotion was very high. He required surgery on a broken tibia just one day before he had to have his medical check, and other broken bones in his feet. I went with him where he had to show he could stand on his broken leg and do a few squats. For sure, I thought this was impossible, but he did it. He did it with a smile on his face, but sweat on his forehead and tears in his eyes. It was painful for me to watch, so I cannot imagine how it would have been for him.
“On that day we only did one short run in qualifying. On Saturday we did a little bit more. At the end of the day I asked him if he wanted to race, because for me it was too risky, too dangerous. He just looked at me and did his debrief like normal, told me not to worry and that a top five was possible. I laughed at him because I could not believe what he was saying. That was the last he spoke about the injury all weekend – to him it wasn’t important. And of course he did get a top five in the second race.”
Having been exiled from the MotoGP paddock at the end of 2005, Max Biaggi spent the whole of 2006 – bar the occasional outing on his supermoto – sat on the couch. One year later the four-time 250 world champion started a new chapter, signing for Francis Batta and his Alstare Suzuki squad.
But he’d been out of world championship racing for a season. Few people imagined he could still fight the likes of Bayliss, Toseland, Haga and Corser at the peak of their powers – never mind win his first ever race. But Biaggi’s vast experience was more than enough. And, after a bit of characteristic petulance, he employed that experience to devastating effect, as Giacomo Guidotti saw for himself.
“We’d done a fair amount of testing, but all weekend in Qatar he was complaining about the handling of the bike, saying that it was big, it was heavy and that he could not do what he wanted compared with the bikes in MotoGP.
“I suggested a few changes we could make to get the bike to change direction faster and turning easier, but he said he didn’t want this. It got to a point where it became a little but more than a discussion – and when, on Sunday morning after warm-up, he complained again about the same things, I told him that it was too late to make a change. We were about to go out for race one and we couldn’t go into it blind.
“He told me not to change anything, but to keep an eye out at turn four, turn five and turn nine, because this would be the key to his race. He didn’t want to improve the steering of the bike because it was so stable under braking, and that was what he needed. This was his strategy – he knew that there were only certain places he could pass if he wanted to win. He did three overtakes at these three places to win his first ever WSB race.
“On the podium he asked me what I thought of his strategy.”
When ‘Goey’ was in the mood to race his fire burned bright. The precociously talented Aussie could do things on a motorbike even his peers never dreamed of. His approach wasn’t always conventional but he was probably the most gifted racer of his generation.
Laguna Seca 1998
“It was second qualifying," remembers Ernesto Marinelli. "There were seven minutes left so after he left the box I decided to do something I never do, take the scooter and go and have a look out on track. I went to watch him down the hill from the Corkscrew between turns nine and ten, a tricky part of the track. I was on the scooter so I wasn’t right up against the fence. There are also trees there, and other people. It was clearly his hot lap and he came into view sliding all the way out of nine. On the brakes for turn ten the rear was sliding as well, then he was really deep into 11 completely sideways.
“I was honestly shocked with the way he was riding. I went straight back to the box before he arrived and saw that he’d got pole and set a circuit lap record. When he came into the box it was the usual high fives and then we sat down to start the debrief. Mid-way through he just looked at me and said, ‘Yeah mate, what were you doing out on track? I saw you – fuck, did you see that big slide?’
“I was just thinking, fuck! After riding the bike like that he still had time to look at me!”
“At Daytona you practice on a Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Nothing happens on Saturday, then you race on Sunday. We tested on Wednesday and he was about 1.5s off the pace of the leaders. When he came in I asked him what he wanted to change. He said the bike was fine, he was feeling ok – don’t worry. But he kept doing the same lap times and was down in 11th place.
“On Thursday it was exactly the same, and then we had final qualifying on Friday. He went out, did a very, very slow lap and then came back to the pits and asked for a qualifier. We were like, ‘What the hell are you talking about? We’ve still got an hour of qualifying to go.’ But he insisted, ‘I said I wanted a qualifier, now give me a fucking qualifier!”' So we gave him a qualifier and he went out, did one lap and it was a 1.49.0 – easily good enough for pole. Straight away he came back in and said, ‘Give me another one!’ His next lap was a 1.48.5, which was a new circuit record that stood for three years.
“There were 46 minutes of the session to go. He came in, sat down, took his helmet off and relaxed – he didn’t have to go out again!”
When Lavilla arrived in BSB he’d already raced for factory teams in WSB and his pedigree oversplilled into the Airwaves Ducati team where he showed them things they didn’t think were possible.
Thruxton BSB 2006
As reigning BSB champion Gregorio Lavilla started 2006 in the zone: he won six of the first eight races. At Thruxton he stepped up another level with pole position, two wins and a lap record that still stands five years on. But that wasn’t enough; the in-form Spaniard had something extra to show.
Frankie Carcheddi says: “When a rider like Gregorio was on it and completely focussed he could feel the smallest difference on the bike. We were at Thruxton and made a change to the primary gear because we wanted to have a different swing arm length.
“Because of the change there was 0.01km/h difference at full revs in top gear. It was well under 50rpm difference. We sent him out and he didn’t even complete the lap – he came straight back into the pits.
“Before he’d gone out we’d told him that the gearing was the same, because as far as we were concerned it was – but when he returned to the box he told me to check the gearing. I told him again that it was the same, but he said, ‘It’s not, it’s lower. Not a lot lower, but I can feel a difference.
“I remember it so well because it was the first session of the weekend and Greg was in and out of the pits. We had about five minutes to go and he’d only done about three laps. Colin (Wright – team manager – ed) gave me one of his looks which meant we were going to be hauled into a meeting straight after the session.
“I went over to Greg and told him he needed to pull a lap out the bag here. He did: he went to pole (with the lower gearing) but we both still got dragged into a meeting to get a bollocking from Colin for leaving it so late!”
Whose stories are these?
Leon Haslam's crew chief
Worked for the factory Aprilia GP team before switching to WSB with Alstare Suzuki. Won the 2005 WSB crown with Troy Corser, then went on to work with Biaggi and Haslam. Left Alstare at the end of 2010 to join BMW and rejoin Haslam.
Marco Melandri's crew chief
Veteran of the racing paddock, Galbusera has played a big part in the careers of some of the best riders in the world. After working as a mechanic for John Kocinski he became crew chief for Scott Russell, Noriyuki Haga, Ben Spies and Marco Melandri – to name a few.
Leon Camier's crew chief
Started in GSE Racing under the expert guidance of Colin Wright. Won the 2009 BSB title with Leon Camier before graduating to the factory Yamaha WSB team in 2010 to work with Toseland and then Eugene Laverty. Now back with Camier at Crescent Suzuki.
Troy Bayliss's crew chief
Not only is Marinelli one of Ducati’s most regarded engineers, having helped develop the 999, 1098 and 1199; he’s also an acclaimed crew chief. His long relationship with Bayliss netted them titles and countless wins. Bayliss once famously said, “Without Ernesto I won’t race”.
Photos Gold and Goose