Friday, September 16, 2005

Another Strange Job Description

Onto happier things.

This saucy fella is Italian Valentino Rossi, and he is arguably the most talented motorcycle racer ever. Really. Ever.

I’m aroused from my usual sloth by any tactical form of racing--America’s Cup sailboat racing, Formula One, Champ Car, World Superbike; anything that doesn’t involve steady speeds and ovals (e.g. Nascar--a car race where the drivers are not called upon to steer, shift or brake is like, say, a wrestling match where the participants only play athletes on TV).

Motorcycle racing is to me the greatest of all forms of motor racing, and MotoGP is unquestionably the greatest road motorcycle racing series. It most densely presents everything racing is about: the machines are technically cutting-edge, the products of huge (and hugely expensive) engineering and research programs; the speeds are incredibly high--200 mph and above; the tracks are far-flung and the sport deliciously international; the competition is close both in riding talent and mechanical prowess. (Well, pretty close after Rossi.) And best of all, the talent of the individual riders is nakedly on display.

The control of a motorcycle, especially a racing bike, is achieved both by manipulation of a small number of totally visible controls, and also by a rider’s constantly-shifting position on the motorcycle (since he represents about 30% of the total weight of the racing unit, his shifting weight hugely influences the kamakazi cornering and also traction for acceleration and braking). So the rider’s influence is greater than in any form of car racing, and his efforts are completely visible. Indeed, he is hanging right out in the windstream at those 200 mph speeds, which is like watching a circus high wire act. Without all the aerodynamics of modern wing cars (like in F1), the racing is incredibly close, and the narrowness of the bikes enables 3- and 4-wide racing thru corners, and the choice of a large number of viable racing lines. This is all really good stuff.

So back to Valentino Rossi. Rossi’s domination of every series he has competed in has been absolute, and he has demonstrated again and again the ability to put any other rider in the shade pretty much at will. This year’s trick was, after a couple championship-winning seasons with Honda (demonstrably the team with the deepest pockets and, therefore, the best machinery), to capriciously decide to move over to Yamaha, and to try to win on what is widely thought to be an inferior machine. And he’s walking away with it again this year.

The man’s a racing genius.

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