by dean adams
Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Rathwell. This face saved a certain rider from a certain Japanese jail cell. 'You see, I'm an engineer and sometimes large plate glass like that just breaks ... it's something we engineers like to call 'stress load' ...'
image by Big Daddy
Canadian Dale Rathwell worked in the AMA Superbike and WSBK paddock in the 1990s as a highly respected suspension engineer. Rathwell worked for a variety of teams, including Vance and Hines Yamaha, Muzzy Kawasaki, Yoshimura Suzuki and the Harley-Davidson VR 1000 effort. Rathwell worked with many of the great AMA riders of the era: Jamie James, Tom Kipp, Pascal Picotte, Doug Chandler and others. With demand from Europe for his services, he then headed to the old country and worked for Team Roberts in GP, following that position up with several consultancy gigs as the class morphed into MotoGP. Now married with children Rathwell returned to Canada to run the Kawasaki Superbike team.

Rathwell came to the motorcycle race paddock from the world of academia. His "real job" was at a Canadian university where he spent years mired in the world of citations, supporting documents and not just accepted, but proven, facts.

Dale was known for a number of things. His ability to go all night if you let him when discussing motorcycle suspension and dynamics; and being unafraid to sing the Canadian national anthem seemingly anywhere, even though no one ever asked him to sing, anything, let alone "O Canada."

"The day these guys realize that they can die, their careers are over,"
-- Dale Rathwell .
As an engineer with an academic background, Rathwell could boil every racetrack situation down to spring rates and shock linkages in a cold and calculating manner. On one level he saw racing as an engineering exercise—the racing business was basically hydraulics in a fight with internal combustion. In other words, what happened in turn nine at Brainerd was just another semi-related example of Isaac Newton's apple incident.

However, what separated Rathwell from many of his engineering counterparts was his recognition that bike racing wasn't just having the right hydraulics and source of internal combustion, especially when it came to winning. Winning in motorcycle racing is, quite often, more attributable to the human spirit involved rather than a magic chassis offset number or torque curve on a dyno. And he knew that in a sport like motorcycle racing, human spirit is not a limitless resource.

"The day these guys realize that they can die, their careers are over," Rathwell said of riders, boiling the sport of motorcycle racing down to the undeniable truth.

The 2014 Assen MotoGP race--eight wins in a row for Marquez--was actually a notable event for a reason other than being another notch on young Marc's amazing canon. It was the race where one of the best racers in the world, a two-time MotoGP world champion and a fierce rider known for his ability to lap fast, throw a motorbike to the clouds, glance at an x-ray and then leave the garage and lap even faster, saw something in himself he might not have seen previously. It's where Jorge Lorenzo thought, maybe this time, maybe for the first time, caution over bravado.

"In future if something happens like this I hope to be more confident and less scared of crashing."-- Lorenzo
To be fair, a year ago, Assen 2013 set in motion a chain of events so bad that if Lorenzo were a simple street rider or club racer he might have considered never riding, let alone racing, ever again. At Assen or anywhere else.

The Dutch TT '13 is where Lorenzo crashed and broke his collarbone, had it surgically fixed and still took part in the race, finishing a heroic fifth. However, a crash at the next round, at Sachsenring, re-broke the collarbone, an injury that was still healing as the 2014 MotoGP season began. Pinned and plated human bone does not flex very well, and when it suffers an impact, it can be potentially lethal and is certainly very painful.

To a young rider, pain is but a pesky irritation. But to a rider of a certain age, massive, clarifying pain is a situation best avoided.

Lorenzo said after the recent Dutch TT:

"I would like to apologize (to) my team, the engineers and my fans because they all did their best but today it was definitely my worst race ever. In the dry I'm confident and not afraid of crashing but when it's spitting maybe I have the memory of last year and I didn't have things clear in my mind. In future if something happens like this I hope to be more confident and less scared of crashing."


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