By Peter McLaren

Despite the recent 'bike swap' compromise, the new for 2005 'flag-to-flag' racing rule - which spells an end to dry MotoGP races being stopped for rain - continues to cause some concern, and appears to contain a potential loophole.

During Thursday's UK MotoGP launch, canvassed opinion on the no stopping for rain directive, which most seemed to feel strayed a little too far from putting the needs of the rider first.

"I think it'll be quite exciting, in a way, but it could be quite... I won't say dangerous, as such, but I think it takes two totally different styles of riding to ride in the wet and ride in the dry," commented Team Roberts rider Shane Byrne.

"If you're riding in the dry and then all of a sudden the wet comes and you've got to go and jump on a wet bike then I think there's gonna be a few people tipping off. Everybody is going to be mad keen to get out of the pits and back into the race and it's going to cause a few little hiccups that's for sure," 'Shakey' added.

"I don't know what to think about that (rule) to be honest, it's a bit of strange one," said WCM's James Ellison. "I mean obviously it's there for the spectators - it's not there for our safety.

"The thing I don't like is the fact that they (race direction) get to say when it's too dangerous to keep going and when to put the white flags (needed if the race has not been declared wet at the start) out. That should be our decision and nobody else's; we're the ones risking our necks at the end of the day," explained James.

Motocourse editor Michael Scott, who has covered Motorcycle Grand Prix racing since 1984, made his objections to flag-to-flag racing clear - and revealed how teams could potentially exploit the rule to gain an advantage.

"This sport is run by morons. Now that's not my quote - although I may or may not agree with it - that came from Jerry Burgess, Rossi's crew chief," began Scott. "I can't understand why they've been doing this 'rain dance' since, I think, '91. They can't settle on a regulation, they keep changing their minds.

"Now they've created this situation where they go flag-to-flag and so people are going to be racing in pit lane - and the mechanics are going to be racing each other in pit lane," he continued. "Obviously this is a perilous business; it can lead to mechanics' mistakes, it could lead to collisions in pit lane, so they had to introduce a 60km/h speed limit. The more daft rules you make, the more daft rules you have to make to make those rules workable."

But it's the blanket ban on overtaking in the pit lane that has created a potential loophole:

"Now they've got a situation where the speed limit in pit lane is 60km/h, and nobody is allowed to overtake. So, one example could be that team-mates could play tactics here; one of them could go out at 60km/h and his mate could go down the pit lane at 20km/h and keep everyone behind," Scott explained.

The FIM road racing rules regarding MotoGP state that: "Overtaking is not permitted in the pit lane from where the sign 60 km/h is placed up to where the sign 60 km/h crossed out is placed... Any rider who overtakes in the pit lane during a race will be penalised with a ride through." Speeding in pit lane during a race is also punished by a ride through.

No exception to the overtaking rule is apparently made for passing a competitor riding significantly below the speed limit, for whatever reason, meaning that a rider could potentially slow rivals in the way Scott describes - and do it not only on the way out of the pits, but also on the way in.

A possible solution to this problem would be to have a 'two lane' pit lane, with riders travelling slower than 60km/h - whether due to a 'problem' or because they are braking for their pit garage - on an inside lane and riders who are fully up to speed in an outside lane.

Meanwhile, Scott underlined that, as far as he is concerned, the whole rule is unnecessary: "I mean, what's racing about?" he asked. "For god's sake, they had a perfectly workable system before - where they stopped the race - and now they're allowed to change bikes so they could (instead) just stop the race, change bikes, get back on the grid and do another race. Give half points for each race - why not do that?"

However, Suzuki team manager Paul Denning believes the rule is now as close as it'll get to being acceptable to all parties: "The situation with flag-to-flag has gone through a lot of changes and I think it's got to a point now where it's the best compromise we're going to get and (most people are) happy. I think in terms of safety it's not a bad balance."

The opening round of the 2005 MotoGP World Championship, the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez - a wet race one year ago - starts on Friday.



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