Coaching the gods (Part 1)

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‘We are looking for thousandths of a second’

ider coaches are now omnipresent in MotoGP, but what do they do – and does Valentino Rossi really need a tutor to teach an old GOAT new tricks? 


Luca Cadalora’s new job as coach to Valentino Rossi started vice-versa, with the nine-time world champion teaching the 52-year-old.

Last year three-time world champion Cadalora got a new R1, which he rode at Modena, his local racetrack, alongside former 250 world champ Marco Melandri. But Cadalora wasn’t happy because Melandri kept leaving him for dust.

Cadalora also rode his R1 at Misano, where he shared the track with Rossi, riding his own R1 as part of his MotoGP training programme. The pair got talking and Rossi offered advice about how to ride a modern sportsbike. Cadalora had retired in 2000 after a lacklustre WSB ride on a factory Ducati 996, a very different machine from a 2015 R1, so he needed help. Rossi’s advice worked: next time out at Modena, Cadalora went a second faster. Melandri was stunned!

So the working relationship had been established. The pair met again at Misano and a plan was hatched to reverse the master/pupil association.

But why does Rossi, arguably the greatest bike racer of all time, need a teacher? Because MotoGP is closer than it’s ever been.

“We are looking for thousandths of a second per corner,” affirms Randy Mamola, coach to Bradley Smith and several others. 

Deeper than datalogging

Many MotoGP riders now have coaches, or spotters as they tend to be called. Rossi has Cadalora, Smith has Mamola, Jorge Lorenzo has Wilco Zeelenberg, Marc Marquez has Emilio Alzamora and Eugene Laverty has his brother John. All these men have one thing in common: they are ex-racers, like the man who started it all, King Kenny Roberts, who imparted his encyclopaedic racing knowledge to Mamola, Cadalora, Wayne Rainey and others.

The spotter’s job is to help his rider go faster, usually by watching at a sequence of corners where his rider is struggling. Nowadays riders have gigabytes of data to analyse in the pits, but the computer doesn’t see everything.

“I try to see things you can’t see on the data,” says Cadalora. “For example, the data doesn’t show the rider’s exact position on the track, but I can see if he is a metre wider or a metre tighter.

“I’m trying to help in any way I can. I feel some pressure because to do this job well, it’s a bit like being on the bike. I have to use my passion to do the job as I did when I was racing.

“The bikes have changed a lot since I raced, especially with the electronics, but in the end I don’t think they’ve changed so much because they are still bikes that react mostly in the same way.

“When we go to a track, Vale shows me the parts that are most important and the areas where he struggled last year, then I concentrate on those areas.”

Cadalora’s rival spotters do the exact same thing. “When I’m watching I use the MotoGP app, so I can see in which splits Jorge is lacking compared to the others,” says former 250 GP winner Zeelenberg, whose official job title is Rider Performance Analyst. “So I go to that split and watch at the two or three corners where he needs help. I don’t go to the splits where he’s fastest; I only need to go those where he is slower, because that means he’s not on the limit.”

“I can give Jorge ideas about lines, short-shifting, using different gears to make the bike stop better and so on. Also, Yamaha know Valentino is very technical and he remembers stuff, but they could see Jorge needed extra support in those areas. Using an ex-rider is the best way to help, because you know exactly what small things to pay attention to, which are usually different at every race: remember this, don’t forget that. Also, we watch every practice session and race afterwards: look at this, look at that. Sometimes I can help, sometimes not.”

Words: Max Oxley Photos: Gold and Goose

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