990s Too Fast for Suzuka?



Though over-shadowed by Daijiro Kato’s terrible crash, the MotoGP season began with a resounding Honda victory as Valentino Rossi won by the length of the home straight over Max Biaggi on yet another RC211V Honda. The clear dominance of Honda in the opening round of the FIM MotoGP Championship three weeks ago at Suzuka, Japan, was achieved at a track where all teams had logged many hours and hundreds of laps of pre-season private training.

On April 27th at round two in Welkom, South Africa, Ducati will be running at the first of many tracks where they have not practiced and where Bayliss has not ridden. Capirossi knows the track but Ducati will have to do a lot of things right in just four fours of practice to set the Desmosedici up for the dusty and very bumpy Welkom circuit.

In Japan Ducati riders Loris Capirossi and Troy Bayliss were inconvenienced by afternoon rain on Friday and Saturday that deprived them of invaluable set-up time and relegated them both to fourth row starts. With another hour of dry qualifying they would both have started at the front and might not have had to work their tires so hard on the opening laps as they battled their way forward. Capirossi’s leap from 15th to first was startling, but it soon became clear that Rossi had the situation well under control and was able to pull away at will.

In Suzuka we began to hear that riders feel that current circuits, like Suzuka itself, are no longer safe enough. At Suzuka bikes that are now lapping in 5 seconds less and running 15 miles per hour faster than the 500 two strokes did in 1995. (There have been insignificant changes in circuit length since 1995.)

Sete Gibernau, Daijiro Kato’s team mate, was one of the most outspoken critics of the Japanese track. “We cannot continue to race at tracks with the walls so close to the racing surface. This place was dangerous when bikes were slower and accelerated less, but now we can’t keep coming here. I’m not racing here again.”

Valentino Rossi has also said, in the emotion of the moment, that he will not race in Suzuka again.

Traditionally riders’ protests are easily defused. There has not been a rider boycott of a GP since the 1989 Grand Prix of the Nations at Misano, Italy, but it would be ironic indeed of the increased performance of the MotoGP four strokes, a change motivated primarily by Yamaha and Honda, were to result in the refusal of top riders to ride at Suzuka in 2004.
Already there is talk among teams of the need to introduce new regulations to limit performance ands cost. When asked if Honda would support such changes, Kanazawa said, “We do not agree. If we impose technical restrictions, MotoGP racing will be less interesting for the public and for the press.”

There seems to be no turning back now. Increased performance, in spite of improvements in tires, suspension and brakes, will place new emphasis upon circuit safety and create some complicated problems for Honda, owners of the Suzuki circuit.
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