2014 Moto2 And Moto3 Valencia Test, Day 3 Notes: High Winds, Of Fast Rookies, And Unpaid Bills
Rising temperatures may have dispelled the arctic chill that held sway at Valencia for the beginning of the Moto2 and Moto3 test, conditions were still far from ideal on the final day. High winds set in, causing problems for riders in both classes, though especially for the bantamweight Moto3 class, and causing a spate of crashes. Niccolo Antonelli, fastest man over all three days, was one of many to go down, the list also including Dutchman Scott Deroue, Danny Kent and Enea Bastianini. Unlike previous days, nobody was injured, and all continued to ride, though Bastianini complained of headaches and Deroue suffered back pain. They weren't the only people riding with injury: Gino Rea soldiered bravely on despite having broken a foot on Wednesday, relieving the pain by sticking his ankle in a bucket of ice water between stints.
The winds meant that very few riders improved their times in the Moto3 class, Niccolo Antonelli remaining the fastest over all three days, though Jack Miller took the honors for the fastest man on the last day. Antonelli has been impressive throughout all three days of testing, having adapted to the KTM very quickly. Miller, likewise, was still getting used to the KTM, enjoying the added power, while adjusting to the handling of the Austrian Moto3 bike, which does not corner as well as his old FTR Honda. The excess power more than compensated, but Miller spent the day working through various linkages and set up options in an attempt to get the bike to turn a little bit better.
The Hondas, on the other hand, have the opposite problem. Despite the engine being radically revised since 2013, the Honda NSF250RW is still lacking top end compared to the KTMs, Alex Rins said. The Estrella Galicia team had made big strides forward with the Honda, Rins improving his time by over a second and a half from Tuesday to Thursday, but there is still a lot of work left to do. Rins gave up over three quarters of a second to Antonelli, a gap too large to close on handling alone. HRC will have to find yet more power before the season begins, or team boss Emilio Alzamora's gamble will have backfired.
In the Moto2 class, Maverick Viñales' astonishing debut continues. The step from the lightweight Moto3 bikes to the porky 600cc Moto2 bikes is reckoned by riders and insiders alike to be a large one, meaning newcomers to the class need a lengthy period of adapation. Nobody appears to have told the reigning Moto3 champion, however, Viñales topping the timesheets on the final day of the test, and ending 2nd overall, 0.147 behind Tito Rabat. With teammate Luis Salom in 10th, the Moto2 class has gained a couple of very promising talents from Moto3.
The measure of Viñales' progress is clear from the position of Sandro Cortese. The 2012 Moto3 champion took all of his first year in the Moto2 class to adapt, but starts his second season much closer to the front. The German ended the test as 5th fastest, behind Rabat, Viñales, Takaaki Nakagami (now switched to the Japanese Idemitsu team) and Thomas Luthi. With Jordi Torres, Mika Kallio and Nico Terol, there is a nice mixture of nationalities at the top of Moto2.
Viñales isn't the only champion to switch to Moto2. World Supersport champion Sam Lowes has joined Speed Up, and reigning AMA Superbike champion Josh Herrin has moved to the Caterham Moto2 team, and both continue their learning process in the middleweight class. After a strong start at the end of last year, Lowes' progress has slowed somewhat, though he remains well in touch with the leaders, ending under a second behind Rabat. Herrin has struggled in this first official test, though most of his problems have come through illness rather than anything else. Herrin showed good progress, cutting his deficit to the leaders by nearly two seconds. Yet Moto2 is proving to be a tricky class for both Lowes and Herrin, with tires and electronics a very different kettle of fish from the situation in World Supersport and the AMA.
While the on track action held much of interest, there was plenty of intrigue going on behind the scenes as well. That centered around the NGM Forward team, and their absence from the test. It emerged that the reason for their absence was a lack of bikes to ride, after FTR had refused to supply them with Moto2 machinery. German language website Speedweek broke the story, reporting from FTR sources that Forward had failed to pay their bills, and that as a result, FTR was keeping the Moto2 machines in their factory in Buckingham. The story prompted a denial from the Forward team, issued to the Italian website GPOne.com, saying that they had decided to follow the example of their MotoGP team, and produce their own project, based around a Kalex chassis to be purchased from the Avintia team. Kalex was reportedly furious, refusing to offer technical support to the Forward team, as they had already agreed with their existing teams not to support any more teams in Moto2 this year.
Where does the truth lie? What is certain is that Forward had agreed a deal with FTR to race the British firm's chassis in both MotoGP and Moto2. The switch to Kalex - which Forward is branding 'KLX' as it is unsupported by the German engineering firm - comes out of the blue, as the team was expected to be testing at Valencia this week. Their absence is strange and unexpected, and suggests there is more to the situation than just a last-minute change of heart over which chassis to use. Speedweek isn't the only source to claim that Forward have not paid their bills, with secondary sources confirming the situation to MotoMatters.com. Forward's MotoGP project is as yet unaffected, but MotoMatters.com understands that delivery of the FTR chassis to be used by Aleix Espargaro and Colin Edwards could be delayed if Forward do not pay their bills on time.
Whatever the truth of the situation - and Speedweek reports that Forward has only recently reached a settlement with Suter for the chassis used in 2012 - the issue exposes a depressingly familiar situation in the Grand Prix paddock. It is worryingly common for teams not to pay suppliers, or even sometimes team staff. Appeals to Dorna or IRTA tend to fall on deaf ears, leaving legal action as the only recourse. What is even more depressing is that this situation is accepted as perfectly normal inside the paddock, and far from turning the culprits into pariahs, and leaving them untouchable inside the paddock, other teams and suppliers continue to do business with them. Racing remains a difficult and risky business, but that is no excuse why a person's word should not be his bond. When contracts are not worth the paper they are written on, it casts a shadow over the entire endeavor of Grand Prix racing.
This is the dark side of motorcycle racing that nobody likes to talk about. Behind the surface glamour lurks a shady world of seedy deals, broken promises and unpaid bills. It is the ugly side of racing, and one which Dorna would do well to try to clean up as soon as possible.