Exclusive: The chain comes off and back on again


Interview: Kaido Soorsk

A glimpse behind the scenes of motorsport is always interesting 😊, and if you manage to corner a top-level rider, you could share what you hear with others. We will meet Hannes Soomer, who is taking part in the Supersport class at the World Championships, before the seventh or penultimate round to talk about the everyday life of the WC round weekend. In other words, the work that is behind the brief "searching for settings" described in press releases to understand how many variables there are in one fast lap and a successful race. Hannes is more thoughtful than usual during the interview because the outbreak of the virus has significantly shuffled the cards even in racing, and his chain seems to have come off a bit as they say in racing. Neither of us knows that on the weekend after the chat, Hannes will be on the podium twice and the seventh race will put his chain back in place, and much more firmly than at the beginning of the season. But now let the thoughtful man speak …

What do you start your race with when you get on your feet at the destination?

It depends on whether I arrive on Wednesday or Thursday. If on Wednesday, there will be time to unpack and help the team, but if later, we will start looking for speed, ie preparing an action plan for Friday. Before the first practice session, we need to set a plan for which motorcycle, which transmission, and which tires we will start with. Sometimes you also need to monitor the resource of the engines and leave the freshest one for the races on the weekend.

And what do you start with?

It depends on the previous race. If I have a good feeling from the previous round, we will start with the same or a similar setting. However, if the track requires a change in the transmission, we will make the necessary changes and smooth over the consequences. When selecting a slower / shorter transmission, the wheelbase of the motorcycle must also be shortened, which in turn requires new settings, as the rear of the cycle becomes stiffer by shortening the wheelbase. The initial settings of the motorcycle must be made before Friday, and if at the previous stage there are any ideas left hanging after the second race, the implementation of which could benefit the behavior of the machine, then we will start trying them out.

Who do you make your plans with?

I am currently making them with Vesa Kallio. My father and Andres — Tõnu Soomer and Andres Kaabel — are in an advisory role, but at home, we have to manage on our own. The outbreak of the virus puts restrictions on the movement of the necessary people and therefore Vesa took over the role of the race engineer because it is more than important that both parties remember where things were left last time.

Let’s come back to Thursday, are there any more tasks except planning?

On Thursday, both the bike and the rider's equipment will be checked, and in addition to the settings, the tire plan must be discussed, because Friday's practice schedule is so tight that you can only act on it. On Thursday we will find out what mixture of tires we will be given (ten rear and nine front tires) and I will usually start my first free practice with a second or third preference to save the six best tires for qualifying and racing. On Thursday afternoon you can also get acquainted with the track, but only on foot or on a bicycle.

What will Friday bring?

There will be one free practice on Friday morning and evening, each lasting 45 minutes. If I feel good about the previous round, I will start with harder tires, not one of the first preferences, in order to learn the racing line for a fast lap. I do 7-8 laps and then go to the pit to make the necessary changes to the suspension, frame, and electronics. Then I go out again and when the settings go in the desired direction, I go to the pit one more time to change for the fresh / softer compound tires and go out again to check the behavior of the bike with those tires.

What if you don’t have such luck?

Then we have to make a U-turn and try something different. It has happened that the bike is already 80% good, but by polishing the last twenty percent, we can turn all the settings back to mediocre. This means you have to start from scratch again and you have less time to get a fast lap as well as set up the bike. Also, the weather is shuffling the cards, as what works in the rain does not work in the sun and vice versa, and the weather can be radically different over the weekend.

What is the hardest in setting up the bike for you?

I have to learn to listen to myself again. Going to the top team, the newcomer looks at everything with awe, and you don't have the courage to stick to your opinion where there would have been no shadow of a doubt before. Also, you have to adapt to the new race engineer in order to understand each other correctly in the pit. Fortunately, we are moving in the desired direction, which has also been greatly helped by the fact that I can now ride at home on the same bike that I use at the World Championships. We've ridden it very fast (Hannes now also owns the unofficial track record of Audruring with a time of 1.13.6) but I still don't have the courage to consider myself the smartest in the pit.

When did you make that realization?

For the first time on the Audru circuit. We started the home test with what left a good impression in Australia, but the times fell far short of the goal, although by telemetry everything looked great. We agreed that if we did not get a time under "fourteen seconds" for 500 kilometers, we would return the bike to Vesa. After more than 300 kilometers, I started to change the settings not according to the computer, but according to my gut feeling, which resulted in significantly faster times. But based on telemetry, it would not have been possible to ride so fast, because, with the changed settings, part of the suspension travel was not used.

What will happen next on Friday and Saturday?

The first free practice is spent adapting to the track and getting an idea of what needs to be done with the bike, the rest goes to refine your thoughts. If you do not get the settings right on Friday, it will be difficult to get a very good result on Saturday as well. Saturday is also mentally tiring because you have to give 100% in both the qualification and the first race, which is why you are completely worn out in the evening.

What else do you have to consider while looking for the best setting?

It has also happened that you already feel good and confident riding the bike, but suddenly during practice, you will find a much faster way to go through a sector, in which the existing setting is no longer suitable for because it is too slow. And so you find yourself in a situation where you have to start from scratch again late Friday night or Saturday morning. But at that time you can't save much, because Saturday's free practice lasts only 20 minutes, so you can only come to the pit once.

How much help do you get from your teammate, do you share each other's settings?

Yes, we can do it, but it doesn't help much. Our style is too different and I have a much stiffer setting for the bike than him. There is also no reason to share, because thanks to tests at home, I have an idea of how a motorcycle should behave, and solutions have to be found on other tracks in order to get the same feeling again. As long as we can't translate my wishes into the language of numbers, we'll get better results based on intuition.

What is it that gives you fuel 😊, what is your motivation and keeps you moving?

The desire to win, supporters, and fans. Both supporters and friends/acquaintances, whose support is still felt if we study for the future and do not come home with medals every time. I am very grateful to them and I believe that I can offer them more and more positive emotions.

At this point, it seemed appropriate to put the interviewee out of his misery. In conclusion, Hannes seems to be on the right track. The two podiums in Magny-Cours were achieved by the setting, which was found in Spain at the beginning of the year at a test that was ruined by the weather. In our November-like weather, Hannes used the settings "that were unsuitable on a dry track, but which would allow you to drive very fast in the rain," which was proved in practice in France at the beginning of October.