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This is the year of Honda´s revenge

This is the year of Honda´s revenge

The last time Valentino Rossi kissed his bike was four years since. He gave it to his Aprilia 125 on the day he won the title after winning eleven of the fifteen races. Overcome by the passion, he repeated the scene last Sunday, after his fifth win of the season, which bolstered his position in the 500cc Championship which he leads by 26 points over Max Biaggi.

It isn´t a casual gesture: If Biaggi hadn´t been doing his stuff, Rossi would already have practically won this title, after only 8 races. His lead is much more accentuated than the one that he allowed Roberts to have last year, on his way to winning his first World Championship.

In 2000, halfway through the season, the Californian Suzuki rider was the leader of the main class, with 125 points, 36 less than Rossi has got so far thanks to his five victories. In the same period, Junior had only won three Grands Prix, and Biaggi himself, in comparison to Roberts´ total, would have a ten-point advantage over the American.

There´s many different ways to read these figures. One is that the confrontation between two champions of the calibre of Rossi and Biaggi, augmented by the rivalry between them, has raised the level of the game somewhat, placing it outside the realms of the other aspirants. The second, the more rational, says that motorcycling is no longer a battle between riders, but also of mechanics, and that Honda has made a huge effort this year after their first ever defeat in all three cylinders last year. Aprilia took the 125, Yamaha the 250 and Suzuki snatched the 500, the category in which it also lost the Constructers´ Championship to Yamaha.

A crushing defeat whose consequences the whole world can now see. The biggest motorcycle house has pulled out all the stops to make sure this doesn´t happen again and now they are completely dominating the 250cc category with Daijiro Katoh (six victories from eight races), contesting admirably through the near rookie Toni Elias in 125, and laying down the law in 500. Is that just pure coincidence?

It isn´t. Above all because the current regulations play into the hands of such a mechanical pyramid. The single cylinder 125 is copied and becomes the bi-cylinder 250, which in turn is converted into the four cylinder 500. The thermal part, such as the engine head, cylinders and exhaust are all developed in parallel and are then adjusted into the needs of each cylinder capacity. It´s no mystery that the V4 500, the NSR 500 2001 of Rossi included, made their first roars as single cylinder engines. In the same way that in F1 the first experiments are done with two cylinder machines.

For the rest of the time the statistics speak for themselves. Since the beginning of the season, in the official post race reports, Honda has always been at the top of the Top Speed tables. In all the races. It was also the case at Donington, where the NSR 2001 beat the YZR500, 256.7km/h to 251.9. That´s 4.8 km/h difference. A lot? A little? If you think that in motorcycling you don´t suffer from the lack of competition from the bikes behind, like in Formula One; and if you suppose that you can beat that on the brakes, just think. Five kilometres over an hour, nearly a race, that´s a healthy advantage. However that´s without taking into account the acceleration, and how quickly you do it. It´s on this point that Biaggi relies, commenting also on the smoothness of this delivery. Something which Schumacher battled against when he first started his adventure at Ferrari.

Roberts Junior calls it ´connection´, the connection between the twist of the throttle and the response of the engine. Something which helps to explain the problems he has on top of his Suzuki. Pushed along by a particularly nervous engine he accuses it of a really late response, especially once the tyres have started to go, because the power isn´t delivered regularly. That is to say, you lose ´connection´ between the accelerator and the rear tyre and the result is that the bike´s strengths are weakened.

500cc, 2001

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