Former 500cc World Champion Wayne Gardner will be offering his GP insights on a regular basis to cyclenews.com readers and we're happy to have him. For more from the Wollongong Wonder, visit his website at www.waynegardnerapproved.com.au.WHO HASN'T DONE THEIR HOMEWORK?
The first round of the 2011 World Superbike Championship at Phillip Island was a great weekend and a pretty interesting affair. Watching the action from trackside, I actually came to the conclusion that a lot of bikes were very badly prepared. It came as a big surprise as all the teams have had the benefit of considerable testing time and really should have had it together. Yet there were still machines, some from major factory teams, that were looking very difficult to ride and very out of shape. While Carlos Checa put in a pair of amazing rides to snatch a double victory, the fact he was able to stick it to everyone while riding what is essentially a private entry again highlights the poor preparation of everyone else. It almost looks like the bikes haven't really advanced since last year. Still, huge congratulations to Carlos. He showed just what he's capable of when he stays on the bike. If he takes the same approach, I think he will win more races this year. And even though Ducati no longer has an official involvement in the championship, expect the veteran Spaniard to receive some backdoor support from the factory as a result of Sunday's efforts.As for everyone else, I thought Marco Melandri did a fantastic job in his first race for Yamaha, and I thought Max Biaggi did an okay job on the Aprilia - a bike so good that it should be winning by a mile. I was also really disappointed with the performance of the Hondas, but talking to the team, it seems Johnny Rea was losing feeling in his hands due to wrist swelling caused by crashes in practice and testing and couldn't use his front brake properly. Not a good start for the team. Over at BMW, it was Leon Haslam showing the way just as I predicted. I'm still really surprised by that bike. It steers very well, but loses grip from mid-corner to the exit. This is fine for short qualifying runs on fresh rubber, but as the race goes on the rear tire performance drops off dramatically. Both Leon and Troy Corser told me that the team keep working on the electronics to solve the issue, but I think the problem runs much deeper. My personal opinion is that the weight balance is wrong. There's too much weight on the front, meaning that when rear tires wear out, the lack of weight over the rear makes it extremely difficult to generate grip. All this is not helped by the close firing order of BMW's multi-cylinder engine, which tends to spin the rear and wear it out very quickly. To counter the effect, I think they need to move some of that weight towards the rear. BMW have known about this problem for some time and I'm amazed that they haven't jumped onto it earlier.
Another thing that really surprised me on the weekend was the poor performance of the Pirelli tires used by both Superbike and Supersport teams. I almost lost count of the times I noticed bikes from both classes limping back to the pits with flat tires - front and rear. Not surprisingly, a lot of the teams I spoke to were very upset with the Pirellis. Phillip Island is notoriously hard on tires, and you'd think after so much experience Pirelli would have their act together. Maybe the problem is that Pirelli are now just too stretched. They've recently entered Formula One as that category's sole tire supplier and I just wonder if they've taken too much on. Are their resources taxed to such an extent that their bike commitments are suffering? Let's hope it's only a Phillip Island issue and that things will improve from here on in.
RINGING THE ALARM BELLS
2011 is quickly shaping up as something of a disaster for Ducati's MotoGP aspirations. Amazingly, Valentino Rossi finished last week's final Sepang test nearly two-seconds from the top of the time sheets with just one official test remaining until the first race of the season. While I didn't expect them to have everything sorted by this stage of the year, I think the fact that they're this far back indicates a fair degree of confusion within the factory. I've always thought Ducatis have had a fundamental geometry problem, and I think they're only just now starting to realize it. I can't believe it's taken this long.As things stand, I don't believe they're even close to sorting the bike and are going to have to work extremely hard to come up with a solution. It must be a major concern for Ducati. I've said previously that I thought Vale wouldn't be happy with the bike until mid-year, but maybe that timeframe is now overly optimistic. For the first time we might have to consider the possibility that he may not even win a race this year. That's something that would have been unthinkable as little as three months ago. Still, if anyone can get to the bottom of the problem, it's Jerry and Vale. Interestingly, I've also noticed a fair bit of online theorizing stating that the bike's problems are all down to its carbon fiber chassis. I don't think this is the case. Yes, carbon fiber is stiffer and offers less flex. But flex can be built into any frame made of any material. The real problem is that Ducati just don't know what they need yet.Over at Honda, meanwhile, there appear to be no such problems. The arrival of Casey Stoner has encouraged everyone in the team to lift their game significantly while the new RCV itself looks extremely formidable. More and more, 2011 is shaping as a battle between Casey and Jorge. I can't wait.