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MOTOGP: BRADLEY SMITH

Date :

April 20, 2015

MOTOGP: BRADLEY SMITH

British superstar Bradley Smith, who rides for the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 MotoGP team, looked comfortable and collected while running a close fourth during the first five laps of the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas at COTA before fading slightly to an eventual sixth.

“Yeah, it was good,” he said. “I could actually breathe and think! That’s not always been the case, but it’s a sign that I’ve got more brain space while running with those guys.”

A few specific items have given Smith that “brain space.” The first is following Jorge Lorenzo’s advice to not fall off, stay healthy and make more laps. The other two items are more exact.

“We have the auto-blip downshift working well and that system takes my left hand out of the job of downshifting. Think about it. Riding a bike is left hand, right hand, left foot, right foot, and you’ve only got so much brain space to work all that out at the pace we run. The auto blip lets me work on brake pressure and grip going in.

“And the electronics. The electronics help handle the power. Most people think the electronics are there for safety, but they’re also there to give the rider a chance to think about things other than the throttle. You can still high-side these things for sure, but the electronics allow me to focus on other aspects of my riding.”

British superstar Bradley Smith, who rides for the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 MotoGP team, looked comfortable and collected while running a close fourth during the first five laps of the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas at COTA before fading slightly to an eventual sixth.

“Yeah, it was good,” he said. “I could actually breathe and think! That’s not always been the case, but it’s a sign that I’ve got more brain space while running with those guys.”

A few specific items have given Smith that “brain space.” The first is following Jorge Lorenzo’s advice to not fall off, stay healthy and make more laps. The other two items are more exact.

“We have the auto-blip downshift working well and that system takes my left hand out of the job of downshifting. Think about it. Riding a bike is left hand, right hand, left foot, right foot, and you’ve only got so much brain space to work all that out at the pace we run. The auto blip lets me work on brake pressure and grip going in.

“And the electronics. The electronics help handle the power. Most people think the electronics are there for safety, but they’re also there to give the rider a chance to think about things other than the throttle. You can still high-side these things for sure, but the electronics allow me to focus on other aspects of my riding.”

As the pace of Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovisioso and Valentino Rossi picked up, Smith slid out of the draft and gave away two spots to Andrea Iannone and Lorenzo.

“Yes, a few things happened,” said Smith. “First, I stayed in my Traction Control map five laps too long. The grip on the first two laps of COTA is the best you’ll have, so I had a light TC map in. As the grip went away, I didn’t dial in more TC and that heated the rear tire way too much. For every lap you overheat the tire, it takes another three laps to cool it back down.

“The next struggle I am working on is the exit of tight, first-gear turns. I get it on the edge of the tire, it spins so I stand it up off the edge onto the shoulder [of the tire] and then it wheelies. I either have to back off the throttle or go to the rear brake, and Rossi jumps away a few bike-lengths.

“So at Qatar, we turned my TC completely off for the initial five percent of throttle! I had to know if it was me—my physical ability to turn the throttle slightly enough—or if it was electronic settings. We saw that I probably couldn’t be more gentle with the throttle, so it’s a setting we’re chasing. COTA has a couple of first-gear corners and I lost time there.

“They jump away four bike-lengths and the natural inclination is to run it hard into the next corner and the front tire is so deformed [with brake pressure] that it doesn’t want to turn into the corner. The tire isn’t going to miraculously come back into shape. You’ve got to let the bike slow and get the pressure off it. It’s all about the last 50 meters of the brake zone.”

Smith’s learning curve is constant and ongoing with some surprising twists in lines versus lap times versus energy stored in the tires and chassis. Specifically, the young Brit was over-preparing his bike for the exits of combination corners. But that sounds smart, right?

“Yeah, I’ve never gotten in trouble for over-preparing my bike for exits before, but it hurt me today. In a right/left for instance, I was holding my bike to the right longer than those guys in order to set up the drive off the left. But by holding it to the right harder and longer, I had so much energy in the chassis and would have to turn it harder when I turned it, that it would wiggle. That wiggle delays everything and hurts grip. They would run off the right wider, lower into the left, which allowed an easier transition…and then TC takes over and makes all our exits the same anyway. I lost time in the transition and couldn’t gain it back on the exit.”

All the front-runners struggled with front-tire grip.

“It’s the edge grip that goes away…two laps at COTA…but the shoulders of the tires stay strong. [Smith defines the edge as about 55 degrees of lean angle and the shoulder between 35 and 45 degrees.] That’s why it would spin on the edge of the tire and then wheelie as the shoulder took over. You can really work the shoulders and I’m doing my best to use the edge of the tire for as little time as possible.”

Bradley Smith’s mind constantly works on the nuances he needs to run at the front all race. His best lap at COTA was within three-tenths of the fastest lap of the race and he accomplished something he’s been working on for years: Getting away with the leaders.

“At this level, the pace is full-on from the start and that’s something I’ve been working on. I’ll get on my motocross bike, take a warmup lap and then try to be at full race-pace on the next lap. It doesn’t help to say you can run the same lap time as the leaders if they gap you four seconds in the first two laps. All during the weekend we’re practicing with a full tank of fuel, pushing hard right away even in the first practice.”

One of the main things Smith works on is how he moves on the bike, how he transitions his weight across the bike.

“This is something I recognized last year and am working hard on. There’s so much grip and energy in the bike that I learned to smooth my movements across the bike. Of course, that’s hard to remember when you’re in the wheel tracks of someone like Rossi, but it’s almost like I’m holding my breath, easing around the bike through the esses.”

The No. 38 rider is all consumed with the puzzle that few riders in the world can solve: How to win in MotoGP.

 

“It hurts my head! I’ve got to work on me, on my fitness, my ability to feel the bike, talk to the engineers, be the leader of the team. There’s no data sensor for the rider. Now it’s a case of spending time with the team and my biggest priority is getting the electronics right so I can have more brain space.”

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