Rossi’s cornering technique

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Rossi's cornering technique

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Rossi’s cornering technique

Rossi’s cornering technique
Consultation with the doctor

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Valentino Rossi chats about his personal cornering techniques. How does he brake, how does he manage this incredible cornering speed and how has the electronics changed his driving style? The whole example of the Coppice Corner in Donington Park.

Mat Oxley


He is one of the greatest motorcycle racers ever: Valentino Rossi (30). In almost fifteen years of Grand Prix sport, he was able to accumulate eight world championship titles and an unbelievable wealth of experience, in which he now also allows normal mortals to participate. In PS he explains his cornering technique and on the occasion of the very last Grand Prix in Donington Park takes us back to the most demanding corner of the traditional English circuit: Coppice Corner.

As one of the longest-serving racing drivers, Rossi knows how technology and electronics have developed since the two-stroke times and transformed current GP bikes into a kind of fly-by-wire rocket. Instead of fighting with the motorcycle in the corner, the driver tries today to achieve the highest possible cornering speed. Sensitivity and artistic skill count. In PS he explains his cornering technique and takes us to the most demanding corner in Donington Park: Coppice Corner.

And there’s no doubt Rossi misses the old days when the only traction control was his right hand: “Today everything is much more linear, much less aggressive than the 990s and 500s”, he tells. “The three sections of a curve, braking, rolling, accelerating, have almost merged into one. The transitions are very important now and you have to be very, very sensitive when moving from one section to the next”, summarizes Rossi.


“The hardest thing about Coppice Corner is that the corner is approached blindly. You will only see the right bend when you are already in the middle of it. Due to the performance of a MotoGP bike, you have to pay attention to whether a curve is uphill or downhill. In Coppice it is very uphill, which allows very late braking points. Before I brake, I slide a bit off the seat to the inside. I do this very early so as not to make the motorcycle nervous during the braking phase and at the entrance to the bend due to the movement”, explains Rossi.

“For some time now, I’ve also been taking the foot on the inside of the curve off the peg. I have the impression that I can brake harder that way. I brake 95 percent at the front. On the 990s and 500s, I used the rear brake to stabilize the bike – today, this part is done by the electronics. So you really only use the rear brake for deceleration. That doesn’t really help much, but five percent is better than nothing. Incidentally, I brake at the front with three fingers, I don’t feel safe with two fingers”, reveals the doc.

“At the beginning of the braking process, the big task is to brake the motorcycle as hard as possible. To do this, you delay as hard as possible and also use your body by spreading your arms and legs. You also slide backwards on the seat to stabilize the motorcycle. The arms are fully extended for the first 20 meters. Then you start to prepare the motorcycle for the curve and release the brake a little. You have to find a point where you can still decelerate hard without losing the front wheel”, Rossi explains the processes when braking.

“With the 800, you can’t slide over the front wheel at the entrance to a corner to reduce speed, as we did earlier. On the 800, you generally don’t brake so deep into the curve, otherwise you will lose too much cornering speed. The moment you release the brake is extremely important. If you brake only ten meters longer, you will lose cornering speed. You must therefore make sure to let go of the brakes as early as possible. On the 990 you could brake further, as acceleration was more important than cornering speed back then. On the 800, it’s all about more speed in an inclined position.”

“Your arms are relaxed at the entrance to the curve. You give in and try to find the right line. The moment you put on the 800 decides the line and is extremely important. To get the first part of Coppice right, you mustn’t turn too early, otherwise you get too far out and don’t get the right radius. In the curve itself, I mainly work with my body and knees to keep the line.”

Play with the limit

“There are two vertices in Coppice. The first is the more important: There I release the brake and immediately accelerate very early. Not really hard, just a little to prepare the bike for the acceleration phase. The speed depends on the curve, in Coppice I accelerate at 12,500 or 13,000 rpm. From this point on I keep pulling the tap up to the second part”, explains Valentino Rossi and adds: “The traction control has increased the speed extremely at the limit. Accelerating on the edge of the tire used to be very risky. It’s much easier today with electronic helpers.”

“After the first part you let yourself be carried outwards a little and then pull back in to the second part. However, the bike and tires are now so good that you can drive a much closer line than before.” Rossi further reveals: “I have long legs and use the knee sliders a lot. I use new knee sliders for every training session, every warm-up, every race. Often we now use harder and thicker grinders than before, otherwise they won’t last long enough. I guess we’re about 30 percent more knee dragging on the 800s than on the 990s. We used to drive like this: corner entry, whoaaaa, lean, knees and acceleration”, tells Valentino, miming how he slips over the front wheel into the curve and catches the breaking rear wheel again. “With the 800 it works like this: corner entry, knee, knee, knee, acceleration.”

The world champion also has a tip for tricky situations: “If you lose the front wheel, you can try using your knee to push the bike up again. But with the Bridgestones you just don’t lose the front wheel. In the beginning it is very difficult to get along with the Bridgestones. The most important thing is to keep pressure on the tires. The slicks have to work. Since the tire is very stiff, it quickly reverts to its original shape when there is little load. This makes the contact surface smaller and you lose grip. There should therefore be no neutral point in the curve. From the moment you take off the brakes, you have to try to put weight on the tires by leaning and using your body. Even when accelerating, it’s important to shift your weight forward to stay in line. To achieve this, I brake at the back and lean far forward”, Rossi summarizes the problems of Bridgestone.

Full throttle

“As soon as I open the gas, I control the bike with both body and foot. I put pressure on the inner or outer notch to get more or less grip as needed. When I open the gas, the weight shifts backwards and I have to do something like this to straighten the bike, get more rubber on the ground, and accelerate harder”, explains Valentino and demonstrates how he erects the motorcycle and tries to generate as much grip as possible. “We are now at around 14,000 rpm. I straighten the bike over the handlebar ends, shifting weight and putting pressure on the outer footrest. Doohan was the first to make this move on the 500.”

“At the second part you give full throttle. In Coppice we use strong traction control to protect the tire. You mustn’t give full throttle too early, otherwise it will carry you too far outwards. On the other hand, if you wind up late, you don’t use the whole route and you lose time. The trick is to find the right moment to open the gas and use the full width of the track. The outer notch in Coppice is very bumpy, and you have to be careful not to make a mistake there”, reveals Rossi.

“With the 800s, you don’t change direction at the exit of a curve as you used to with the gas. Today you have to drive much more linearly through the corners. If you give too much gas, you lose time”, notes Rossi and adds with a serious look: “Unfortunately, thanks to traction control, we don’t slide as much as we did in the past. Instead of being able to drive like this (he mimics a wildly erupting rear wheel), we slide like this today: brrrr, brrrr, brrrr (Rossi uses his butt to illustrate several small slides controlled by traction control).”

“When the rear wheel starts to slip, I try to shift my weight. This helps to find a good balance and more traction and keeps the motorcycle on the right line. Sometimes I also lean forward to increase wheelspin. If you’ve done everything right, you’ll be right on the curb at the exit of the curve. There you shift into fourth gear, the bike wobbles slightly. You switch to fifth, then comes the jump and immediately afterwards you are already in the braking phase for the chicane. There is hardly any time to rest in this part of Donington”, concludes Rossi. He will miss the track.

Curve technology from 500 to 990 cm³

Rossi's cornering technique


Valentino Rossi in a 500cc GP

Valentino Rossi has been driving GP since 1996 and can thus draw unique comparisons between the various displacement classes and their characteristics. Which bike rides the fastest through Doningtons hub Coppice Corner: 500, 990 or 800??

Coppice was tricky on the 500: there was no engine brake and the pilots had to try to get everything regulated on the brakes before turning into the first vertex. In addition, there was the hard-to-control power development of the 500, which made Coppice Corner a high-side hotspot in two-stroke times. No problem for Rossi: he only drove the half-liter rocket twice in Donington Park and won both times.

Rossi's cornering technique


Valentino Rossi in a 990.

The main difference on the 990 was the immense four-stroke power and electronics. The engine brake and traction control gave the pilot more control when entering and exiting corners, which meant that the fastest lap time when switching from the 500 fell by a whopping 4.3 seconds. In four Donington GPs, Rossi was only beaten once on the Thousand.

Rossi's cornering technique


Valentino Rossi in an 800 cc.

Everything changed with the 800. The drivers can now fully open the gas right at the second vertex – the traction control does the rest. The driving style is more geared towards efficiency than on the 990. The cornering speeds are significantly higher, and the perfect line counts more than the top-end power at the corner exit.

Wayne Rainey on cornering

Rossi's cornering technique


Wayne Rainey, 500cc world champion in 1990, 1991 and 1992.

There is no engine brake on the 500. I only slide over the front wheel into the curve when I’m too fast at the entrance to the curve. Basically it works like this: You roll over and try to get a good feel for the front wheel. When you feel the front moving and the tire becoming slightly unstable, lean in a little further. The front wheel begins to slip and reduces speed. Catching a sliding front wheel is pretty tricky. I have to use everything: the rear brake, my knee and my upper body.

When you drive through the apex of the curve, you have to brace yourself really hard against the pegs and press the bike against the ground. If you don’t, you fall. When the moment comes when you hit the gas, everything has to work together perfectly. On a right-hand bend, you use the right side to feel the traction, the left side to control the traction. With the right knee and the right peg you have a good feeling for the grip from behind and when the rear starts to break out, the bike can be controlled via the left peg.

We use rear wheel slides to get the bike on the right line. When you see the course of the route at a certain point and you know that you won’t be able to get around the bend in this way, you pull the gas. All you have to do is get the bike around a little bit. As soon as the rear wheel spins, you slip in the right line. However, you have to be careful: If the bike suddenly kicks in at a maximum lean angle, there is a terrible highsider. That’s why I try not to accelerate in the middle of the curve. I wait, wait, straighten the bike, bring it on course and then give it full throttle.

Kevin Schwantz on cornering

Rossi's cornering technique


Kevin Schwantz, 500cc world champion in 1993

I mainly learned how to build traction on a street race bike as a kid when I was doing my first trials competitions. On a trial bike, you lean into the curve so that the tires grip the asphalt as well as possible. It’s almost the same with a race bike: you shift your weight onto the outer peg when you throw the bike into the curve. This will reduce the risk of the rear wheel breaking off. So you hang on the inside of the motorcycle, but shift your weight to the outer peg. So you can better control the rear if it does break out.

Mick Doohan on cornering

Rossi's cornering technique


Mick Doohan, 500cc world champion in 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998

Some of the guys simply knock over their machines at the entrance to the curve without actually turning and just keep going straight on despite the lean angle. On the 500, you tend to slide backwards rather than in front. If you do slip forward, you push yourself off your knee and try to stay cool. In order to keep the right line, you have to pull the handlebars and counter-steer all the time when you are inclined. You also steer with pressure on the pegs. I guess the ratio between hands and feet is 50 to 50.

Rear wheel drifts are also one of the few ways to steer the bike, especially in fast corners. You need the slide to get around the curve. I play with the gas and try to find the right level of power. As soon as the rear wheel starts to slip, you straighten the bike, get more grip and pull even harder on the gas to keep the tire drifting. When I need more spin, I lean forward and take the pressure off the rear wheel. Sometimes it’s quicker to put in more power to increase spin and then upshift instead of turning down the throttle.

Tips for hobby drivers

Rossi's cornering technique


Ruben Xaus is also one of the experts in his field, as demonstrated here on the Ducati Hypermotard.

It’s easy for Rossi to talk; just like Ducati drifter Ruben Xaus, he is gifted with talent and has already raced motorcycle at an age when normal kids don’t even think about their moped driving license. But what can a late-career amateur pilot do in order to develop further in driving on the racetrack? PS gives tuition and reveals how to get faster on the slopes without falling.

What Rossi and Co. do with their machines when braking, cornering and accelerating borders on the unbelievable. Slopes around 60 degrees, bold black lines at the exit of the curve, the full program. But while excuses such as hand-baked tires, unlimited budgets for developing a perfect chassis and electronic aids at every nook and cranny can still be found in the premier class, arguments run out in the less elaborate classes. Because despite a manageable budget, Arne Todes Datarecording, for example, regularly spits out inclines at MotoGP level – on a motorcycle that is based on a series Fireblade. So what is the difference compared to an average hobby racer? Talent? Tire? landing gear?

Probably a little bit of everything. The key points, however, are confidence and practice. It starts with braking. It is simply difficult to trust that two fingers wide of tire rubber can withstand these immense forces with which the inertia pulls the body forward during hard anchoring, with which the arms have to brace against the handlebars. And yet the tire holds up, provided that the track conditions are good. How much is really possible can only be determined safely on a motorcycle with ABS. First tip: if you have the opportunity to ride a motorcycle with sporty ABS on the racetrack, use it. Even PS was surprised in tests with an ABS Fireblade at how late you can brake if you don’t have to worry about a locking front wheel.

If you don’t have a motorcycle with an anti-lock braking system, you have no choice but to feel your way forward continuously. The prerequisites for this are optimal, consistent track conditions, a curve with a lot of run-off zone and good safety clothing. You look for a certain point on the route that you can use to orient yourself when braking, for example a stone, a bridge, a sign or the like (shadows are not suitable as a fixed point, by the way, as they move during the day). From this point you can feel your way forward by trying to brake a few meters later on each subsequent lap. Most of the time compared to a professional racer, however, the amateur pilot loses at entering and exiting corners.

Unfortunately, braking into corners is difficult to practice on the racetrack. To get the right cornering speed, everything has to fit perfectly from the braking point: braking point, choice of line, speed. An extremely complex driving maneuver in which chattering or other chassis unrest can generate additional stress. Braking in an inclined position can therefore be practiced much more relaxed on a circular path, an empty parking lot or the like. Important: The grip level of the surface must be good and constant, the asphalt surface must be level. So you can turn in circles in peace and quiet and apply the brakes again and again and develop a feeling for the front wheel grip. There are basically three techniques to cornering at all: press, hanging-off and the classic style with the knees on the tank.

On the racetrack, only hanging-off makes sense to achieve high cornering speeds. The most important rules in great inclination are: no hectic movements, not even on the throttle or brake lever; no contortions to get the knee on the floor; do not cramp; Guided view of the curve exit! When exiting a curve, it is primarily important to mediate between the throttle hand and rear wheel grip. To do this, leave your body on the inside, straighten the motorcycle and apply a lot of pressure to the outer notch. Don’t frantically pull the gas, slowly approach it. This point can be trained very well on the racetrack, as there is enough space there to switch to another line in the event of a rear wheel slide. In general, a rear tire that breaks away is easier to catch than a front wheel that slips. Nevertheless, caution is advised, otherwise a highsider threatens – and even the heroes of MotoGP are afraid of that.

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