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LOOK AHEAD PORTUGUESE GRAND PRIX - 17/04/05 ESTORIL

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Posted on: Thursday, Apr 14 2005



Riding a 200bhp, 350kph motorcycle with just 23mm contact with mother earth in two places when the surface is dry is well beyond both the capability and certainly comprehension of most sane people. When that surface changes from dry to wet and those two places of contact are slick rubber, then it's time to stop.

When and how to stop a MotoGP race and what to do afterwards is one of those no win situations for both riders and organisers. What ever solution they sort out there is always bound to be a situation that just does not fit. Safety has got to be the first consideration but
after that and especially on the subject of what to do afterwards, becomes as grey as some of those rain laden clouds.

This year the rules had already be changed twice even before the first wheels were turned in serious anger at Jerez last week. The riders were unhappy with a new ruling which would have meant tyre changing could have become part of the MotoGP culture. Races being decided in the pits and complicated strategies might suit some branches of international
motorsport but surely not MotoGP. The 45 minutes of action and noise is enough to satisfy the appetite of the most critical observer without the artificial inclusion of who can change the tyres quickest when the rain starts to fall.

So the riders were not happy with the new rule and also with old rules which were. complicated and caused journalists and certainly television commentators, a nightmare.

Originally if the race was declared dry at the start by the Race Director all riders would start on slick tyres. If rain started to fall and the race was stopped it got very complicated. If the race had run over two thirds of its distance then the result stood and that was that. If not, the riders went out again and completed the remaining
number of laps to reach the original race distance. The times of both these races were added together to find the race winner. Often the rider who won the second was not the overall winner which certainly did not make good television for the more casual observer.

In 2003 with those television viewers in mind, the rules changed again. When the race was stopped and there was five laps or more remaining, the original results were scrapped and the results were taken from the second race which could be as short as five laps. The Italian Grand
Prix at Mugello last year turned into a six lap, speedway style dash for the line. The riders were not happy and one international television station gave out the result of the first race and then
switched its attention to other sports. Fortunately for the organisers Valentino Rossi won both races to spark off some very serious partying.

After the lead changed 35 times in the first race, one imagined they would not have been so happy if he'd not won the six lap sprint after so much work in the first encounter counted for absolutely nothing, not even a world championship point.

So the rules changed again at the start of this year but the riders were still not happy. After a meeting at the IRTA test in Barcelona, just three weeks before the start of the season, a new phenomena was written into MotoGP folklore - change of machine.

Riders will now be allowed to come in to pit lane to change machines during a race. In practical terms if they start a dry race on slick tyres and the rain starts to fall, they will be permitted to come into pit lane to change to a machine fitted with intermediate or wet tyres. The same rule applies if the race is declared wet at the start but then the track dries while the race is in progress. Riders will be allowed to come in and change to a machine fitted with slick tyres.

It sounds pretty simple and practical and should certainly erase any problems about who is winning or who has won the race. The race will not be stopped apart from a serious accident or weather that makes
riding on any tyres totally impossible.

Of course it's not going to be as simple as that. Pit lane will now become part of the race track. Overtaking is not permitted and a 60kph speed limit has been imposed. Also because of the increased danger in pit lane, the number of team personnel allowed into such a sensitive area has been reduced.

There is one solution to the problem. Pray for no rain at any of this year's 17 grands prix. The chances of that happening are pretty slim. After all they told us in Qatar last year at the MotoGP race they had not seen serious rain for around seven years. The World Superbike teams arrive this year for the opening round of their Championship to be greeted with a wet track. With the likes of Assen, Donington, Sachsenring and Phillip Island on this year's schedule my advice is pack your umbrella, waterproof jacket
and rule book.


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