Sunday, May 20, 2012

Monday Morning Crew Chief: How does Rossi feel about lapped traffic now?

Over the winter break, most factory riders in MotoGP were openly critical of the prospect of encountering lapped traffic (again) in the premier class in 2012. The tone of discussion ranged from assuming that fans would be aghast at the sight of backmarkers (no relation) being lapped, to implications that speed differentials would create major safety hazards.

Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden were almost the only two factory riders who didn't decry the CRT rules. The two Ducati riders were far from enthusiastic  about the prospect of sharing the track with riders and motorcycles turning significantly slower lap times, but at least they were open to trying the new rules on for size.

I guess Rossi may now be one of the few factory riders actively supporting the CRT rules, after one of the CRT bikes, getting lapped at the end of the race, slowed Casey Stoner just enough to allow Rossi to close the gap to second place. Rossi would never have caught and passed Stoner otherwise.

I doubt Stoner was philosophical about the presence of the lapper -- and I suppose I have to admit that I jumped the gun a little in assuming the FIM would force him to race by himself as early as yesterday. Now that he's shown a bit of vulnerability, I guess they may put the SuperLeague on hold.

But seriously, folks...

Where did the idea even come from, that no one should ever encounter lapped traffic in the premier class? Dealing with lapped traffic has long been a part of racecraft; there were lappers in almost every 500GP race ever held. Hailwood and Agostini used to just about lap everyone but each other.

The AMA's tightened Q standards in recent years with an eye to reducing lapped traffic here in the U.S., and the races have been great -- but the credit for that goes towards ever-more-restricted technical rules and spec tires -- not cleaning up the back of the grid*. Miguel Duhamel, for one, would have a much smaller win total if it hadn't been for his skillful use of backmarkers -- I often saw him deftly catch and pass riders on better machinery, when they caught up to rolling chicanes in the second half of AMA nationals.

I think most people would say that the rapid evolution of the four-stroke bikes in the MotoGP era, particularly in the area of electronics, has reduced the amount of passing and dicing at a time when the problem of processional races is compounded by shrinking grids. Predictability is a great thing if you're the best rider on the best bike, but it sucks for the fans and the mid-grid. Lapped traffic is, if nothing else, a randomizing factor that re-emphasizes the rider's racecraft, and de-emphasizes the black boxes.

Lappers aren't necessarily bad for the show. Just ask Rossi.

*And, to the absence of Spies and Mladin. I'm just sayin'...

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