Just by chance I bumped into Jerry Burgess (Valentino Rossi’s Aussie Crew Chief and mastermind behind the Italian rider's six premier title wins) while I took a breather from the media office on the walk-way outside that overlooks the Le Mans paddock. I was thinking about the crazy MotoGP race that got turned on it’s head by the weather yet again!
Jerry Burgess has the demanding job of keeping Rossi sorted.
“That was a weird one, JB?”
JB smirking “We messed up today.”
“But it’s great for the Championship, eh?”
“I guess that’s one way of looking at it! I’d like to be ahead by a bit more than we are now, but hey-ho.”
“I can’t see VR getting beaten at Mugello though. He owns the place!”
I got a look above his spectacles, a raise of the eyebrows and his trademark grin that suggested when we roll into the Tuscan hills in a few weeks time, into Valentinoland, anything could (and probably would) happen.
Reigning World Champion Valentino Rossi was the first man to change to slick tyres, but with the track still damp in places he crashed during his out lap.
One minute and twenty two seconds is all it took for Rossi’s 11-point championship lead to evaporate into a one point deficit. That was the time from Rossi first entering the pits to change to his dry set-up bike, to crashing on the first left hand corner (Musee) at race pace.
“I knew that I had to warm the tires up a little bit but I crashed in that corner because at that point the track was still wet and I just didn’t ride into it in a calm enough manner,” said the defending champ.
Rossi hadn’t been happy with his wet bike from the start, saying, “I had difficulties from the start today and I really could not ride my bike to its best. Already by the fourth lap I felt that I was quite slow and I couldn’t ride as I wanted. I decided to change bikes early because usually this strategy, being amongst the first to change the bikes, pays off.”
So the pendulum of momentum swings back again across the dividing wall of the Fiat Yamaha pit box to his teammate Gorgeous George, ala Jorge Lorenzo.
Normally you would have expected the number 46 to be romping away at the front and Lorenzo to have made the error given their relative experience. I wonder if ‘The Ego’ is planning on gate crashing the Italian party in the park at Mugello and planting a Lorenzo Land flag in Turn 3 at the behest of the sea of yellow that makes up the Official Valentino Rossi Fan Club? Would he have the guts? This kid is here for keeps!
Most observers thought that Jorge had been extremely canny in pitting much later than Rossi and waiting until the track had a total dry line before coming in and switching to slicks on his dry bike. But the reason was much simpler: “I didn’t see my pit board until Lap 12. I want to thank my team because they were very clever today.”
Following an impressive fifth in Spain, Marco Melandri powered to an even more incredible second in Le Mans after starting ninth on the grid. The only Kawasaki rider in the paddock now sits fifth in the points standings.
Feel good moment of the weekend – Seeing Marco Melandri’s Hayate Racing Team truck still parked up against his empty pit box when I left the media office at half past midnight, long after most of the team trucks had packed up and left. No doubt Marco and the team were out on the razz in downtown Le Mans celebrating a fairytale and feel-good second place.
Even Ducati team chief Livio Suppo said he was “really happy” for his former employee. Before the weekend Marco had voiced how frustrated he was getting from the lack of support from Kawasaki in updating the bike. Let's wait and see if there are any FedEx crates arriving at Mugello now from Kanagawa, Japan?
If Sete Gibernau was a duck, he would probably sink; such is his luck, particularly with shoulder injuries that have blighted his career. Originally forced out of the sport due to a huge accident at Turn 1 at the start of the Catalunya GP in 2006 while riding the factory Ducati, he again re-broke his troublesome collarbone in practice after a first turn highside, ruling him out until at least (ironically) his home GP in Catalunya in a month's time. He was due to be operated on yesterday in Barcelona by bone specialist Dr. Xavier Mir, having a titanium plate fitted to the new break.
Sete has never been a rider that bounces well and always seems to break something after a crash, normally one of his collarbones! But as you get older it always takes longer and more effort to recover. Let’s hope the ‘fun’ Sete cites as his main reason and motivation to return to MotoGP comes back soon for the former Championship runner-up.
"Overall it’s not a great result but it has been a weekend where me and Juan have been able to work a lot together for the first time, we’ve tried to build an understanding and hopefully we can go forward from here.” - Nicky Hayden
The nightmare of former World Champion Nicky Hayden’s ‘dream move’ to the factory Ducati team continued at soggy Le Mans. Nick had a new Crew Chief in his corner for the French round. Juan Martinez, a former Kawasaki employee, had been rescued from gardening leave to improve communication and fortunes for the Kentucky Kid.
Luck deserted Nicky again during the race. After being embroiled in a battle for a top-10 position, he was side-swiped by fellow Ducati rookie Mika Kallio after an over ambitious move that ended with Kallio in the French dirt and leaving most of his Pramac livery on the leg of Nicky’s leathers.
Nick’s former crew chief, Cristhian Pupulin, has moved back to his former data technician role, but after a shake-up amongst all Ducati riders, is now sharing information with all the teams in an effort to get everyone up to speed or try and close the chasm on lead Ducati starlet Casey Stoner.
Retired former multiple WSB Champion Troy Bayliss has been dusted off and thrown onto a Ducati GP09 test at Mugello this week to try and help with feedback in order to get the other struggling non-Aussie Ducati riders (which is all of them) up to speed. The penny seems to have dropped with the Bologna factory that if they lose Stoner, their remaining riders will be fighting to fill the last four places on current form. How long then would Philip Morris stick around and continue to write blank checks under the current global financial meltdown?
One rumor that was circulating around the red garage was that Stoner doesn't rely on as many electronics to sort out his aggressive throttle action as first thought. Indeed, Stoner has rejected the 2009 electronics package, instead sticking with an older, more refined version that allows the rider more input. Food for thought…
250cc rider Gabor Talmacsi’s press release about the former 125 World Champ's decision to split with his 250cc team on the eve of Le Mans caused the biggest laugh in the press center. In typically bad Hungarian-English translation his release started: “The Hungarian rider and his management got into a time of necessity”... Consequently, the smart money is on the former World Champ getting re-hired and NOT the press officer!