It is the Spanish MotoGP round at Jerez in 2011 that comes to mind right now. Valentino Rossi, aboard the nearly unrideable Ducati, dove to the inside of Casey Stoner and his Honda, hard on the brakes into the first turn. What would have been a spectacular pass resulted in Rossi tucking the front, lowsiding and taking the Australian out in the process.
Later in the pits Rossi walks into Stoner’s garage, helmet still strapped to his head, to offer an apology. This exchange I won’t soon forget:
Stoner: “How’s your shoulder? Is it okay?”
Rossi: “I’m very sorry.”
Stoner: “Okay. You have some problem with your shoulder?”
Rossi: “I make a mistake”
Stoner: “Yeah. Obviously your ambition outweighed your talent.”
Stoner: “Ambition is more than the talent.”
Rossi: “I’m very sorry.”
Stoner: “No problem.”
“Obviously your ambition outweighs your talent.” How brilliant a line, and how appropriate for the situation I faced during the track portion of our 2015 Literbike Shootout testing, performed at the iconic Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Aboard the 2016 Aprilia RSV4 RF, number 54 of 200, I went out for my stint. By mid session, I’m well in my groove and simply flowing with both the bike and the track.
Life is all good until, as I’m tipping in to Turn 11, the sharp 90-degree left leading onto the front straight – BAM! Out of nowhere I’m sliding on the ground, the result of an overzealous rider completely blowing the turn and using me as a human berm. Like Rossi, he walked over and apologized to me, and though I wanted to give my best Stoner impression and tell him his ambition outweighed his talent, I kept my cool. Other than a bruise on my hip and a sore neck the next morning, I was fine. The bike suffered some road rash and a bent shifter, but even it was up and running in a few hours.
The point of all this is to drive home a reminder: there are no trophies at the end of a trackday. If you’ve ever been to one before, then you’ve probably heard a few simple rules put in place to protect yourself and those around you. One of which is to pass others safely, keeping in mind it is the passer’s responsibility to execute a safe pass on the passee. Second, and important enough to mention again, is to remember there are no trophies at the end of a trackday.
These two simple guidelines seem so simple to follow, but once the tires get warm, the body gets loose and the mind gets focused, sometimes it’s all too easy to throw caution to the wind and get the red mist in the eyes. Suddenly, one has the courage to lean a little farther, twist the throttle a little longer, brake a little later and ultimately skirt right up to the limits of their skill. By all means, I encourage all of you to (slowly) edge closer and closer to your personal limits at the track – that’s what trackdays are meant for – but also be aware of the fine line between pushing your limits and riding recklessly. Crashing sucks, but being responsible for an innocent bystander getting taken out because of your mistake feels even worse.
There are times, however, when one’s ambition outweighs their talent. That’s when things go south. Unfortunately, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time this particular occasion. The funny coincidence here is that the other rider was aboard a 2015 Yamaha R1. We mention shootouts being real battles all the time, but this is ridiculous.
Anyway, ride hard, ride fast, and above all else, don’t let your ambition outweigh your talent.