View our column profiling Yamaha's 50 years of involvement in racing. Vol.32Innovation in the pit system and heightened concentration
The day was September 23, 2007, and the scene was the Japan GP. Here, any remaining chance of Valentino Rossi becoming champion was washed away by the fickle rain that had fallen during the morning and left the track still wet at the start. It was officially declared a wet race and all machines lined up on the grid were fitted with rain tires. Once the rain stopped just prior to the race, however, the track quickly started to dry off.
Valentino Rossi was slow to get away at the start and sat in 7th place on the first lap with Colin Edwards behind him in 8th. Rossi chased the leaders, closed the five second gap that separated him from the top group and emerged in front by the14th lap.
But by this time the lines through the turns were virtually dry and the riders behind Rossi had all successively made the change to slick tires. Having a decent lead, Rossi also pulled into the pit one lap later than the others and returned to the track in 2nd place behind Loris Capirossi (Ducati). It looked as if grabbing back the lead was only a matter of time for Rossi.
This was when an unexpected error in calculation occurred. Rossi'smachine developed trouble with the front tire and he was forced to make another pit stop. Returning to the track he had dropped back to 15th place, and despite overtaking two riders, he could finish no better than 13th. Amongst the Yamaha riders, Sylvain Guintoli, who had made his tire change early in the race, fought to take 4th place. However, the ranking leader, Casey Stoner (Ducati), was able to clinch the championship title by finishing 6th. Rossi and Yamaha had lost the title for the second year in a row.
Immediately after the race the Yamaha engineering team included Rossi in a meeting to discuss recapturing the title. Rossi proposed changing the tires used. The YZR-M1 had been fitted with Michelin tires right from the first generation and that was also the predetermined plan for the following year. Regardless, Rossi said he wanted to face on Bridgestone tires.
Tires are one of the most critical elements in motorcycle development. So critical, in fact, that during the GP500 era it was said that machine development could not start until the tires had been selected. Naturally, as happened in 1987, there was the precedent of Team Lucky Strike Roberts using Dunlop tire and the Marlboro Yamaha Team using Michelin tire in the same season, so using different tire brands wasn't totally unheard of for the MotoGP. That, however, was a case where the teams had different management bodies. It was a different story entirely for a two-machine team to have two riders using different tires.
The difference between manufacturers is manifested in their design philosophy and in the differences in tire characteristics and performance. If their tires differ, riders lose the ability to exchange views on riding style and settings and the team race plan also changes. There is also concern that technical information might be leaked within the tire manufacturer. The method adopted to allay those fears was to create a one-rider/one-pit system which was implemented from the early testing phase of the 2008 season, much to the astonishment of all.
All team members were assigned to just one rider, from the Team Manager down, and each team had a dedicated data control server. The pit lane box, called a canopy, was extended sideways and a partition set up in the middle. There was a single team but the pit was divided and each had separate entrances. Some engineers commented on this unprecedented pit format, saying that initially there were some cumbersome aspects. For example, when they wanted to talk to a rider they had to go out of one door and through another to the pit next door. They also said that it was effective, though, from the perspective of maintaining the focus of rider and team staff. Previously there had been a lot of chatting between staff members who were preparing machines for two riders in the same pit. And while conversation is important, when you consider concentrating on readying a machine in a limited time frame, the divided pit was effective.
The Yamaha Team Director also commented, "It's like converting a dormitory room for two into two single rooms. The riders can totally relax alone, and when they do meet they can interact without strain. Who knows, this "single room" style of pit might just catch on." Above all, it was a system that enabled the riders to relax and helped them concentrate when necessary.
In 2008, while there were some races when adjustments for the Bridgestone tires could not be fully completed in time, Rossi brilliantly recaptured the title nonetheless. The rookie Jorge Lorenzo, who raced on Michelin tires, also performed well, winning pole position at three consecutive races starting with the season opener. He recorded an early first win at round three in Portugal and finished the season ranked 4th. As a result, the individual pit system continued, even after Bridgestone became the sole supplier from 2009. And it spread to other teams as well. It was a quiet trend that came to be known as the Yamaha Pit System.