Lorenzo’s crew chief Ramon Forcada (right) says that his rider has a new maturity that has him focused and ready the minute he arrives at the track
Up to the Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix, Lorenzo had not finished lower than second in 11 races, except for being taken out in the first corner of the Dutch TT at Assen by fellow Spaniard Alvaro Bautista.
Unlike his teammate Ben Spies, Lorenzo voraciously devours and analyzes data with the team, including the post race debriefs, which has endeared him to the factory Japanese engineers who are just as hungry to win.
Lorenzo feels that the 1000cc M1 is much more competitive with the Hondas than the previous 800cc version. “I can be more relaxed, I can be more constant, I can finish more races, because I don’t need to push more than 100 percent every race to stay with the Hondas.”
In 2011, Jorge Lorenzo was good but Casey Stoner was better. This season the roles are reversed. Stoner is struggling while the Majorcan who now makes his home in Barcelona is having a dream season. Through the Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix, Lorenzo had been either first or second in every race except one; in the early summer Dutch TT he was taken out by fellow Spaniard Alvaro Bautista in the first corner. That gave Stoner an opening to claw back points, but he threw away those points with a crash two corners from the end of the following weekend’s German Grand Prix.
Ramon Forcada is Lorenzo’s longtime crew chief. What Forcada has seen from his charge is a new maturity. From the minute he gets to the track he’s focused and ready. Unlike his teammate, Ben Spies, Lorenzo voraciously devours and analyzes data. Also unlike Spies, he’s ready to go from the start, though he still can’t match the fast-starting Pedrosa.
“Well, I always try to improve every time,” Lorenzo said in the Yamaha office at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he’d go on to finish a distant second to Pedrosa a few days later after his choice of the soft rear Bridgestone proved unwise. “Was not good as a rider. Before I didn’t make any good starts, so probably in the last two years I was improving. All the starts this year I made almost every race a good start. Also riding on the wet was not one of my best skills in the past, but I improve a lot.” Then he added, “I don’t think it’s so much difference between this year compared to last year. I think the main difference is the bike. It’s much more competitive. So like this I can be more relaxed, I can be more constant, I can finish more races, because I don’t need to push more than 100 percent every race to stay with the Hondas.”
Where the Yamaha YZR-M1 is better “in some type of corners, my bike is more stable. For example, in the two corners before the last one at Jerez, the fast rights, was more stable, I think. The medium speed corners or even a little faster corners, my bike is more stable. Also in the entry of the corners, probably it’s a little easier to enter.”
That final comment is a crucial. Stoner and Pedrosa believe the newest generation Bridgestone fronts are causing chatter. Pinning down and removing chatter is difficult, especially since this year’s rear tires warm up faster, but also degrade more quickly.
“Maybe the tires from this year are much better for warm-up, the first two laps. This avoids a lot of crashes of riders,” Lorenzo said. “This year almost not any crashes about cold tires. But for the opposite the rear tire is dropping a lot at the end of the race. So in some races we have more problems than the Honda with the rear tire, but maybe for the opposite the front tire, the 33, is more adapted to our bike. So for one side the rear tire is some races for us. For the Honda maybe the 33 was a problem. So you can never have the perfect bike, the perfect tires. Is difficult to find it.”
On the other side of the ledger, “the Honda, maybe it turns a little bit more and in some stop-and-go tracks have a little advantage. This year, to be honest, we are very equal. Maybe Honda is improving. Every three or four races they have more pieces. Yamaha is a little bit more slow. And probably the Honda of now is a little better than the Honda in the first part of the championship. But anyway, I’m very happy this year because at least I’m able to fight.”
Fighting is what got Lorenzo into trouble earlier in his career. The firebrand that got himself in trouble during his 250 days is much more calm, more Zen-like. He keeps his emotions under control and is unfailingly polite. When he’s critical of another rider or racetrack, he speaks in measured tones. Coming through the ranks his nickname was “Por Fuera,” a Spanish phrase meaning “on the outside,” which is how he often passed others and not always cleanly. Now he’s in better control of everything, including his emotions. A seminal event in 2005 at Motegi changed his career.
Lorenzo was battling with Alex de Angelis when de Angelis ran wide on the final lap. Fourth at the time, Lorenzo tried passing both de Angelis and Dani Pedrosa, but ran into de Angelis. Lorenzo didn’t finish the race, de Angelis was seventh, and Hiroshi Aoyama scored his historic first win at his home track. Lorenzo was penalized one race for the incident, which he thought was harsh at the time, but on reflection now believes was fair.
“I think it was correct,” he said. “I made a big mistake in this corner trying to overtake Dani (Pedrosa) and also Alex (de Angelis) going so far from them. Of course I was only 17 and in this period I thought it was not fair the penalty, but now with 25-years-old I think this penalty change my mind completely and made me be a much more conscious rider, a much more safe rider. Without this penalty probably I would not change so much my mind and my behavior.”
The incident was revisited when Bautista took out Lorenzo in Assen. Lorenzo believes the FIM Sporting Regulation 1.21.2 which says, “Riders must ride in a responsible manner which does not cause danger to other competitors or participants, either on the track or in the pit-lane,” should have specific penalties for specific infractions.
“Yeah, I think this will be fair,” he said. “For example in basketball, any touch (while the opposing player is shooting) is a foul. In soccer, if you don’t touch the ball and you touch the other people it’s a yellow card or red card. The motorcycle world is much more dangerous and …there is not any penalty described. We must have this, no? In the Formula 1 every little touch is one penalty for the next race or you have to pay a lot of thousands of euros. In the motorcycle, no? And who is more dangerous, the Formula 1 or the motorcycle? Who is more dangerous, soccer or basketball or the motorcycle? The answer is clear.” Talk like this rankles some of those who came before him, who believe that too many MotoGP riders are too soft and not up to the cut-and-thrust of their era.
“I think the motorcycle is already very dangerous without touching, without contact, for not having any penalty when there is some contact, no?” Lorenzo said. “We can’t avoid the slide and the crashes when you are alone, but we can avoid to make the riders be more conscious of the risk.” He added. “You must be conscious about the risk.”
Lorenzo also feels the speed of the 1000s is an unnecessary risk. The highest top speed so far this season was at Mugello where Rossi hit 215.564 mph on his Desmosedici GP12.
“I think so, I think so,” Lorenzo answered when asked if he thought the 1000s were too fast. “It’s very difficult that some incidents happen on the straight. Normally it happens in the corner. In the corners, I must say, the electronics is some reason is not good, maybe for the show is not good, but for safety of the riders in the last years have helped a lot, no? Because now it’s very difficult to see a rider crashing opening the throttle.” Lorenzo made his comments before Stoner, Spies, and Ducati Marlboro’s Nicky Hayden all had horrifying high-sides in qualifying at the Indy GP. “Save a lot of crashes. But for me it’s too fast on the straight…350 kilometers per hour is too fast and I think Dorna is thinking about changing this, so I would be happy if this happens.”
Wayne Rainey and his fellow three-time 500cc World Champion Kenny Roberts believe the electronics could be removed. When told that the riders insisted they were necessary, Roberts answered with a blunt, “Bullshit.” Lorenzo’s only experience riding without electronics was at Laguna Seca last year. While practicing a start, Lorenzo didn’t follow the sequence necessary to trigger the launch control. He went barreling into Turn 5 and was high-sided.
“I crashed because I didn’t have electronics. Was not a very comfortable experience,” Lorenzo said. “So maybe it happened because I didn’t know it wasn’t electronics. Maybe if I knew it, maybe I open the throttle in a different way. But for sure without the electronics we will see much more crashes than we see now, because in 250 category, there was a lot of high-sides, but the bikes were only 100 horsepower, no? Now we have 250 horsepower. Imagine what can happen without electronics. Maybe an (intermediate solution) would be the best thing. But even with (an intermediate solution) we will see more crashes than now. So I would say (an intermediate solution) is the best option.
“Without the traction control, 260 horsepower is a crazy thing. Maybe Kenny would like to try my bike with traction control. Maybe he will change his opinion. One thing is anti-wheelie, maybe we will change. Would be better to take away. Anti-wheelie’s not a problem. Traction control to take completely would be dangerous.”
Earlier in the season, Lorenzo thought he needed more power. “Now we are quite good,” he says. “In acceleration and on top speed we don’t lose so much compared to the Hondas. We are quite well. Maybe we need a little bit more traction in some tracks. But about the speed, about the acceleration we are OK this year. Last year was so much difference.”
The difference now is between the CRT machines and the prototypes. Lorenzo’s solution would be for the factories to lease the current prototypes to satellite teams next year, a proposal that’s on the drawing board. The deciding factor will be the lease price. Lorenzo believes it should be in the area of 1-1.5 million euros. “Three and a half million,” the lease price for an 800, “is too much. I think from one year to another it doesn’t change so much and it will be much better for the show. We will have much more bikes and we won’t need the CRT.”
Others have said the CRTs are dangerous because of the difference in closing speeds. “Yeah, in the straight is unbelievable. Too much difference. Maybe 25 kph (16 mph).”
The difference among the prototypes is much less. Pedrosa and Lorenzo tied for top speed honors in qualifying at IMS with a trap speed of 208.480 mph. There was a chance earlier this season after Stoner announced his retirement that the two Spaniards might have been teammates. It wasn’t the first time Lorenzo had been courted by Honda. Or Ducati.
“Yeah, I have the opportunity for riding both bikes in 2009,” he said, at the end of the season when Stoner missed a few races with lactose intolerance. “To be honest, I was closer to be in Ducati. For some days I imagined me looking red, but I think I made the right choice to stay in Yamaha. It wasn’t the right moment to change. Still I didn’t become world champion. Yamaha was my better option to be world champion.” Lorenzo won the title the next year.
Now he’s being asked about his teammate for the next two years, Valentino Rossi. Both riders have said all the right things, but others aren’t so sure. The exit of Yamaha’s Ben Spies is making room for Rossi. Said Spies with a smile, “I think it’s going to be a big fight, for sure. As much as they say that it’s going to be OK, they both don’t get along.” Spies doesn’t draw the sort of heat that Rossi does. Lorenzo claims he’s prepared.
“Well, maybe Valentino is more like a rock star, no?” Lorenzo said. “Ben is more quiet, he’s more shy. He’s a different character. So of course Ben’s year has been not very good, so both parts needed to change. Also Ducati with Valentino’s year has been not good, so they had to change.”
When Rossi switched to Bridgestone tires in 2008, and Lorenzo was on Michelins, a wall went up in the garage to preserve tire secrecy. But the following year when Bridgestone became the control tire, the wall stayed up, though not at Lorenzo’s insistence.
“I think the situation is a little bit different than it was in 2008, 2009,” Lorenzo said. “And now Valentino is not the first rider in the championship, also maybe in the team he admits that he couldn’t go fast with the Ducati, so he must reach to the Yamaha. Is a different situation, but anyway for me has been not any problem, never to be partners with any riders. So it’s fun, it’s fun to be with him. It’s interesting. We are going to have fun.” sr
Without the traction control, 260 horsepower is a crazy thing. Maybe Kenny would like to try my bike with traction control. Maybe he will change his opinion.
Wayne Rainey is Yamaha’s unofficial ambassador to the MotoGP class. Until Valentino Rossi won the 2004 MotoGP World Championship for Yamaha, the company hadn’t won a title since Rainey won the last of his three crowns in 1992.
Rainey hosts an annual party prior to the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix which a number of riders attend. This year Lorenzo was there along with Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso. Monster Energy Graves Yamaha’s Josh Herrin and Josh Hayes also attended, as did Y.E.S. Graves Yamaha’s Tommy Hayden. Ben Spies, who’d announced his departure from Yamaha days earlier, was notably absent.
Here, then, a few of Rainey’s thoughts.
He’s an interesting rider. I have a lot of time for Jorge. He’s just, in all aspects of sport he takes part in he’s curious. Guys like that, I think they’re the guys always trying to improve and look around and ask questions. Kinda reminds me of myself a lot. I would look at other sports, guys succeed in other sports, whether it’s bike racing, tennis, auto racing, other stuff, you read about and something in that article gets you thinking in certain ways you hadn’t thought of before. Curiosity, I think. They’re never satisfied. You always think you can improve. You never know where that can come from. I think he thinks like that.
On the need for electronics:
They’re getting there so quick now because the bikes…they have these aids that help them get to velocity at the end of the straight. Maybe before if you didn’t have the technical aids you wouldn’t have the acceleration, the speed that you have right now. You’re always kinda battling the bike trying to lay power down without spinning or wheelying; now they have help there. I don’t believe you need traction control. You would ride them differently than what you’re riding them now. Using the power of the bike to get it to turn. Where now you use the lean angle to get it to turn. At maximum lean angle with help from the electronics and every millimeter you pick the bike up the electronics are adjusting. Where if there were no electronics, you would be using the power to adjust. I don’t think it’d be too much, not at all. I think you could take electronics off and just the characteristics of the four-strokes, the torque range is so long and it’s more of a flat torque that that’s much more easier to work with. Like riding a 250 two-stroke motocross bike compared to a 250 four-stroke. I think they would have a wonderful time riding without the electronics.
On how to limit the electronics:
There could be rev limits, things like that, ECU or something that everybody has. It’s kind of like they do in F1 and that’s what the engine can rev to and they can adjust to. They would have to work with the power, get it to work harder, sooner because of less revs. I think it’d be a better show. I think the bikes are so sophisticated, such awesome weapons, it’s just, it’s all artificial. It’s not really reality. If you have a glitch in your software the thing might not even start. We saw that when Lorenzo was qualifying at Mugello. Bike thought it was somewhere else.