Michael Scott Column - Mar 10

Savage and sensible cuts in pre-season testing suit old-timers but not rookies. An early return to a 1000cc gathers pace and Rossi eyes Ago’s 122 win record

It’s an easy life for a modern racer. Once testing went on all year round. The schedule was whittled back, and then radically slashed when the cost-cutting imperative struck last year.

They will only recently have emerged en masse from compulsory hibernation, lean and hungry (alternatively bloated and hung-over) for a restricted series of gallops at Sepang and Qatar.

One casualty of the need to scrimp was the pre-season Jerez test, which Dorna had built up into a hoopla affair with live TV and a concocted fastest-lap contest to kick-start the year with a prize, one BMW car. The entire GP circus would pack up in Qatar to come to Spain, then pack up again to go back to Qatar. Stupid, really. Especially since they would be back in Spain in a few weeks anyway, with warmer weather, to race for real.

Some riders, and Stoner is one, welcome the cut in testing. He sees little point in going round and round and round. If you can’t work it out in a lap or two, you shouldn’t be doing the job, in his opinion. Like most of his comments on anything, it’s just another way of saying: ‘Get off my race-track’

His Ducati team-mate Nicky Hayden is the opposite. Relying on learned reflexes and determination more than raw talent, he likes to plug away at it forever.

In fact, with current engine-life restrictions, power-down bikes should be generally easier to ride and to set-up. And back in the old days, most of the testing was of tyres rather than engines or suspension. As one veteran team manager explained: “We had to keep the bike settings always the same, to show the differences between the tyres.” That’s over, thanks to everyone using the same control Bridgestones.

The only guys who really do need more testing are the rookies, especially the ex-250 top four: Simoncelli, Barbera, Bautista and run-out champion Aoyama. They asked for it, and they got it: extra days were laid on.

Rossi spoke for many of the veterans with his throwaway line: “If they want to have more laps, they should have come to MotoGP five years ago.”

But these guys will all be on familiar circuits. There’s that other rookie who doesn’t even have that advantage. But that didn’t slow Ben Spies down in World Superbikes.

Let them test all they like. Ben’s Pies are coming anyway.

The best news of winter was that (as Bull has been growling for a while) the one-litre MotoGP bikes are coming back. Factories are still free to build prototypes, as long as they have only four cylinders and a maximum bore size of 81mm. This eliminates ultra-short-stroke high-rev F1-type motors: the very essence of the unloved 800cc protos. This is what dictates the need for the  electronics needed to make the bikes vaguely rideable.

The class will be open also to production-based engines. Interestingly, they will start at a disadvantage, or by needing expensive modification. Current bore sizes for the Honda CBR1000RR and Yamaha YZF-R1 are 76 and 78 mm respectively. To get to 81mm would require a new crankshaft with a shorter stroke.

Or perhaps it won’t be a drawback. We’re looking at a new generation of Grand Prix bike, with the emphasis on mid-range torque rather than the peak figures required from the relatively gutless 800s. And as any fule kno, lots of horsepower is not much value unless you can actually use it.

With 1000cc, riders will again have controllable wheel-spinning grunt at will. This gives the better ones something else to play with and adds an extra dimension.

Consider this: at Phillip Island this year a Honda Superbike, on Dunlop tyres and in a race, set a faster lap time on the same afternoon than Chris Vermeulen’s 800cc MotoGP bike in qualifying, in spite of the Suzuki’s advantage of soft dual-compound tyres, carbon brakes and prototype chassis. It just shows what another 200cc can do for you.

The 250s were hustled off the stage one year earlier than expected. Let’s do the same to the 800s. They’re supposed to go on until the end of 2011, but everyone’s had more than enough of them already.

Some predictions for the season ahead. Stoner will lead the championship, but maybe not until the end. Lorenzo will beat Rossi, but maybe not until the end. Or maybe not at the end, in both cases. And Pedrosa will beat everybody to the first corner at every race.

In other words, more of the same... and none the worse for it either.

And the final question: will Rossi sign for Ducati? Or will he retire. My bet is he’s most likely to stay one more year with Yamaha, whether or not they keep Lorenzo. He has 103 wins now: Agostini’s record total of 122 is within sight. Knowing Rossi, he won’t be able to resist.

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