‘BIAGGI PREDICTED I’D BE ON POLE JUST FROM WATCHING AT ONE CORNER – HE WAS RIGHT’

‘BIAGGI PREDICTED I’D BE ON POLE JUST FROM WATCHING AT ONE CORNER – HE WAS RIGHT’

by Bauer Xcel |
‘BIAGGI PREDICTED I’D BE ON POLE JUST FROM WATCHING AT ONE CORNER – HE WAS RIGHT’

I’ve been trackside at MotoGP for much of this year doing a bit of ‘spotting’ for wee John McPhee in Moto3 – it was his last race for the British Talent Team at Valencia (he’s moving to CIP KTM), and the team are moving to the Junior World Championship in Spain, which is essentially the feeder for the main Moto3 series and every bit as competitive. We’ll be fielding British Moto3 champ Tom Booth-Amos and Charlie Nesbitt, with my help trackside and in the garage, and hopefully put them in the frame for a ride in the full world championship in 2019. I get asked what my role as a spotter is about, and why so many riders are now using them. They’ve been about for years – Kenny Roberts used to watch us from trackside and usually got it bang-on. He would spot when I was trying too hard or staying on the side of the tyre for too long, I knew he was right but I’d shrug it off and tell him it wasn’t 1979! Biaggi would always watch 250cc practice before he went out in his 500 session to learn from other riders which lines worked best. He came into our pit box in Phillip Island when I was riding for Aprilia and told the boys that I’d be on pole that weekend just from watching me in free practice.

They told me, putting me under pressure, but luckily I pulled it off. And then crashed out of the race while I was leading... D’oh! I stand at different parts of the track during every session making notes, then listen to the conversation between rider and crew chief around each session. I then give feedback on areas that could be improved based on my observations combined with their discussion. I’m watching lines, timing small sectors, listening to gear changes and rpm. If the rider can’t attack it is usually pretty obvious – looking for lost fractions on the brakes, the bike’s stability under braking/acceleration, turning in too early or just using too much track on the exit. Sitting talking to the rider afterwards with a track map usually reminds him where he has issues if they’ve forgotten under the pressure of a short session. Most riders will take advice if the spotter is constructive with it. We can also help riders prepare mentally for sessions and races. ‘Try harder, full gas’ doesn’t work – you need to put a bit more thought into it than that. Data and rider feedback helps a crew chief to improve the bike – but some are better at interpreting data than others. Some MotoGP teams are now using an extra team of technicians to study data in great detail as the MotoGP sessions on Saturday don’t give the crew chief enough time to study everything in depth. If a rider is struggling in a certain section, the crew chief might not necessarily see this, particularly if the time lost is minimal. The team can easily spot when the rider loses time in sectors from the screen or timing sheets, but not turn by turn. If the rider believes that he is on the ideal line he may not recognise that he may be losing time unless this is pointed out, or he sees a faster rider taking a different approach and pulling away. Riders have plenty of self-belief so won’t always copy what other riders do unless that rider is topping the time sheets.

Crew chiefs keep libraries of data and usually compare sectors from data that they’ve built up over the years from different riders and teams. Before a session, they’ll discuss things like hesitation on the throttle – not opening cleanly or closing small percentages in areas where the rider should be using more, braking early or braking so late that corner entry is screwed up. All these are compared to suspension travel and changes made, plus the rider’s comments. For example, the average/maximum fork stroke may be in the ballpark on the data but riders only pull the brake as hard as they are comfortable with up to the point where the rear gets too light and upsets the bike. The travel data may show that the fork is not at maximum travel, but he could be losing 10/15 metres in one braking zone. If the rear suspension is soft, then the bike squats under acceleration and runs wide – the rider isn’t able to keep accelerating as he struggles to keep turning. If the rear is too hard, the rider loses time as he is unable to get on the throttle early because the grip is low. The numbers on the data give the team an indication where they need to improve. Numbers on a screen tell you a lot, and riders have a huge understanding of what’s going on – but sometimes, a keen pair of eyes trackside can provide the missing link when trying to find those last fractions of a second.

JOHN MCPHEE

John had a difficult tail end of the season, crashing in Australia, salvaging a fifth in Malaysia and needing a good result in Valencia before he moved on. An eighth from 22nd on the grid was a great way for him and the team to finish the year. I support him as a spotter right until the moment the grid is cleared for the race.

‘BIAGGI PREDICTED I’D BE ON POLE JUST FROM WATCHING AT ONE CORNER – HE WAS RIGHT’

SPYING ON THE SPIES

The Milan show is special, but it’s difficult to concentrate on bikes with all those beautiful Italian models perched on top of them. Some really stood out (bikes, that is...). The V4 Ducati was nice to see, while we at KTM launched the 790 Adventure and the 790 Duke. My next job is working on a track version – a 790 Duke R - and I can’t wait to show you the pics of this extreme thing as it missed the launch. I spotted Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali with five of his top brass taking notes. Manufacturers really take each other’s new products seriously.

‘BIAGGI PREDICTED I’D BE ON POLE JUST FROM WATCHING AT ONE CORNER – HE WAS RIGHT’

END OF SEASON BLOW-OUT

I crammed in three days at Jerez coaching at a Tracksense event on my new Super Duke 1290R. If you’ve ridden one you’ll know how much fun they are: it’s a pure beast in track mode. These events are a good way to get together at the end of a season and let some steam off in sunny Spain. A little thanks to FWR for keeping me in tyres while I was there...

‘BIAGGI PREDICTED I’D BE ON POLE JUST FROM WATCHING AT ONE CORNER – HE WAS RIGHT’
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