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The Melandri transformation

The Melandri transformation

The Melandri transformation

Marco Melandri has experienced his fair share of frustration on the racetrack. It would be fair to say that the 22-year-old Italian rider has had a, somewhat, turbulent career. However, since being signed and taken under the wing of Fausto Gresini in the Movistar Honda MotoGP team, Melandri seems to have undergone an important transformation and the rider's potential has become apparent.

So far this season, with just two races having been contested in the MotoGP World Championship, Melandri has already scored more points than he did in the final ten races of 2004. Under the guidance of Fausto Gresini he has been nurtured, turned around and pointed in the right direction. Melandri´s positive start to this season, including a third place on the Jerez podium, has left his team breathless and introspective about the rider's turnaround.

Fausto Gresini explains the philosophy of how to project a rider onto the right track, "In my opinion Marco has a chance to enjoy a good experience with us in MotoGP. At 22 he is a very young rider, and with one 250cc title to his credit, he obviously has a lot of potential. But right now what is most important is that he can have a team that is like a family for him. In my team, it is like family."

Gresini ascribes a lot of the success to a collaborated team effort, driven by long-standing team members like Fabrizio Cecchini, "The keys to Marco's development are many," says Gresini. "Fabrizio Cecchini, who worked at the top level with Daijiro Kato, for example. He is a very good chief mechanic and controls everything for Marco. I have known Fabrizio for 20 years, he has been with me since the very beginning."

Fabrizio Cecchini, chief mechanic, believes that the key to the Meladri turnaround lies not just in a good bike, but in a focused and confident rider. "When Marco arrived in our team he had two difficult years in MotoGP, losing confidence in himself and his team. Our plan was to put him under no pressure, to explain everything I know about the bike to him step-by-step.

"Engine, electronics, tyres. Then we got him to evaluate just one thing at a time, concentrated only on that. We wanted to understand what he said. Marco appreciated our approach and he grew in confidence. We needed to get him to trust us when he was out on the track."

Melandri was quick to accept the guidance of the team and acknowledges what the team have done for him, "When I arrived in the Gresini team it was just after what had probably been the worst period of my career and my life. I was very sad inside because nothing was good last year.

"Thinking about racing, I had completely lost confidence and everything was so difficult for me. For me it was important to have good relationship with the team. They understood my situation and really it was like I was a very young baby.

"The first things they did were to give me confidence and try to make me smile. When I started to smile, to understand, we talked together about the plan for the tests through the whole winter. At that time it was impossible for me to think that I could be on the podium at the first race in Jerez. But even after the first test I was very happy because when I stopped at the garage I saw on people's faces that they were smiling, happy to work with me. This gave me a lot of confidence.

"The 2004 season was difficult to forget but the new team helped me to enjoy myself again. When you forget what you did before, only then can you start again to rebuild something new and better."

Melandri has now ridden a large variety of two-stroke bikes and now has two years of experience on four-strokes. Therefore, the Italian knows good bike when he sees it and is quick to pay homage to the part played by the RC211V in his recent turnaround.

"The balance of the Honda is simpler and it is good because you cannot move so many things. You cannot change a lot of geometry on the bike. Sometimes you have some problems but you see some of the other Honda riders are fast. And you think inside yourself 'they can go fast with the same bike that you have.' I think this gives you a big motivation. My Yamaha last year was very different from Valentino's bike. You could change every kind of geometry of the bike. When you lost your way, it was so difficult to come back."

According to Gresini, the young rider was making the mistake of trying to push the bike to the limit before really knowing the bike. "The first things that Marco wanted to see were the times, so one of the first things I did was to cover the display on the bike and the displays on the computers in the pit box, with sheets of paper. Marco could not see any times. He asked about them and I said, 'don't worry about that, how do you feel.' There was an immediate change when he covered the times up. He was only three tenths slower than Sete, without realizing what times he did, just by not pushing to match a certain lap time.

"Before covering the times Marco had said, "tomorrow I will go faster, definitely faster" - and he went half a second slower. He was only obsessed with pushing, not working with the bike. The other thing I realized was that if there was another rider in front of Marco, and then he would try to catch him. Even if Marco did not have a good feeling with the bike, he was just thinking about catching the rider in front. So he made a lot of mistakes, and when he came back into the pits he would complain about the bike in certain sections.

"But it was only so that he could go faster than the other rider through that section. So every time he came up behind another rider we put out his pitboard and brought him into the pits! At the first few winter tests he was lapping always alone! All we wanted to do was to get him used to the bike. Only when we felt he was prepared, did we let him lap quickly on the bike with other riders."

In Cecchini´s opinion, Melandri has been a willing and able student, who has passed all the important first hurdles – and then some. Even Marco's podium placing in round one came not through aggression but a cool head and attention to the job in hand.

"The first race is like an examination of all the winter tests, so it is important not to try and exceed the limit – otherwise you crash and destroy all the work you have done over the winter. At Jerez, when we saw Marco was at the limit, we put out the board to say 'OK, slow down', because he had a good gap to fifth. Marco listened to us, responded by slowing down just a little and that was a victory for us. So when the rider in front crashed, and Marco got the podium well, that was just the final prize to cap it all."

MotoGP, 2005, TAOBAO.COM GRAND PRIX OF CHINA, Marco Melandri

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