On a brightly lit stage, the magician pulls a rabbit from the hat, wowing an audience that struggles to understand the trick. The latest two-wheeled version of this sleight-of-hand features Valentino Rossi’s Qatar win as the rabbit and his “uninspiring” practice times as the standard black hat.
Acting as co-magician is Vale’s crew chief, Silvano Galbusera, a man proving to be as cunningly successful as the genius he replaced, Jeremy Burgess. I caught up with a harried Galbusera at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin during the Sunday lunch break. Despite the pressure and time crunch, there was a smile in his eye and obvious enjoyment of his place in the GP world.
“At Qatar, what we did was maybe not so risky, more of an option,” said Galbusera with a smile that lets us know it was a sizeable roll of the dice. “We made a big change for qualifying and followed it with another change in the same direction after morning warm-up.”
And what direction was it that helped Rossi charge from eighth place?
“Ah, it could be described as 90-percent a geometry change.”
Based on data or based on Vale’s input?
“It is never that easy. We have many inputs for changes. Vale, our data man Matteo Flamigni, tire choices, weather. We have so much experience on the team and we tried many things last year, learned many things.”
The team employs four mechanics for the 46 bike, plus suspension engineers, Bridgestone engineers, and Yamaha engineers. That’s a huge body of knowledge that can provide strong reasoning for a bike change. Add in Galbusera’s racing experience that began in 1979 with Gilera, with the last 18 years in World Superbike (16 years with Yamaha and the last two with BMW) and you can bet the huddles around the computer are more than educated guesses. The COTA changes were less drastic.
“We ran the rain bike on Friday and it’s about 10 percent different than the dry bike. We call it the ‘flat bike.’ The geometry takes pressure off the front tire. We have changed a gear ratio on the dry bike and tried setups to improve front grip.
“We usually install a new chain on Saturday. Brake rotors according to the mileage and track. At Sepang or Mugello, we will change brake pieces more often. Pieces like the exhaust all have kilometer maximums and we change them depending upon those distances.”
What about engines?
Galbusera laughed and shook his head. “We have five for 18 races. We try to take good care of them!”
Galbusera is self-deprecating and humble, a common trait at this level. When asked what he has brought to the team, he said “nothing.”
But when pushed, he replied: “If anything, I try to tell Vale and the team that we have no “good” or “bad” tracks. That our job is to find the best setting for every track. That is our challenge.”