Archive - Race Story
So we're back in Europe. Despite the eerie beauty of the night race at Qatar, despite the magnificent splendor of the Circuit of the America's facilities, Jerez still feels like the first proper race of the MotoGP season. The paddock is set up in its full regalia, and all of the hospitality trucks present; the fans will be out in full force - or at least much fuller force than in the previous two races, despite the entirely respectable attendance figures at Austin - and everyone knows the score: where the track entrance is, where the truck park is, where the media center is, what the schedule is. Things have now returned to normal, and we are about to embark on the meat and potatoes section of the championship.
And here we highlight precisely where the weakness of MotoGP lies: Jerez feels like home, and everyone in the paddock immediately feels much more comfortable here than at the previous two races. It is symptomatic of the Eurocentric (and Iberocentric) nature of MotoGP and world championship racing in general that the paddock is so very far inside its comfort zone here. If MotoGP is to expand to the world, this is one thing which urgently needs addressing.
Yet it is hard not to feel comfortable at Jerez. The city still has much of its old world charm, and sports a veneer of wealth from its former role at the center of the trade with the New World, at the height of Spain's conquest of South and Central America. There are also signs of decay; one of the largest motorcycle dealerships on the main drag into town from the circuit has a 'for rent' sign up, though it is still open for business. Downtown, the beggars on the street have changed: no longer is it just those who have clearly always struggled on the fringes of society; now, ordinary men and women ejected from their homes in the wake of mass unemployment and the crisis in Spain's banking system stand, heads down, throwing themselves upon the mercy of passers by. It is a hard sight to bear, in one of the most beautiful places the MotoGP circus visits all year.
"I thought Laguna Seca was a tough track to learn, and then I came here." Bradley Smith's verdict on the Circuit of The Americas at Austin, Texas, after six laps on the scooter around the track. Smith's words sum up the general feeling about the newest addition to the MotoGP calendar, mind-boggling sequences of decreasing and increasing radius turns, with blind entrances, complex combinations and a few hard-braking hairpins with tough entrance points. Even the long back straight undulates, the huge, slightly bowed, 1200 meter length of tarmac rising and falling, leaving you wondering where you are along it.
The setting is beautiful, in the rolling low hills to the east of Austin, just beyond the airport, and the facilities are quite simply overwhelming: modern, well-equipped, brightly lit, attractively designed. Indeed, both the factory and Tech 3 Yamaha teams are delighted with the facility: after a battery fire at 1am, it was only the circuit's outstanding sprinkler system and alert response by the fire service which prevented the fire spreading out of control, destroying maybe eight or twelve MotoGP machines, and causing upwards of $50 million of damage.
And yet the track is far from perfect. "The track is better to look at than to ride," Valentino Rossi described it to the Italian press. The track has a number of outstanding sections, the fast sweeper of Turn 2 and the three consecutive right handers of Turns 16 through 18 standing out above all. It has some extremely challenging and technical sections, especially the Esses of Turns 3 through 5. Getting it right in each section is crucial: end up wide in one place, miss the apex by a foot somewhere, and you are off line for the next section, which means you'll also miss the entry for the corner after that, and before you know it, you've lost half a second and can throw away your lap. Many of these corners demand precision, and above all, knowing where you need to be on the circuit for the next corner, and the one after that, and the one after that.
With the season about to start, Phillip Island will soon be home to World Superbikes. Testing is getting underway and line-ups have been finalised, so what can we expect from the series now it’s owned by Dorna? So far, it looks very familiar, with the promised 17” wheels and headlight stickers, but the reigning champion has left while Ducati have a new bike to unleash upon the grid. The six kilos that plagued the 1098R have been consigned to history as Ducati bring back their factory team to challenge for the title with the new Panigale 1199R. When the world champion leaves a series, it leaves a vacuum that needs filling and both nature and motorcycle racers abhor a vacuum. Max Biaggi has left the series with at least half a dozen riders that think they can challenge for the crown.
November 8th, 2012
In an ideal world, championships are settled in a straight fight between the main contenders in the final race of the season. Unfortunately, the world we live in is far from ideal - as the ever-dwindling stock of prototype machines on the grid testifies - and so the last race of the year can be a bit of a formality. In 2012, with the champions in all three classes securing their titles during the flyaways, there is not much more at stake at Valencia.
Except pride. And given that pride is what motivates a motorcycle racer above all else, that means that there is every reason to hope for a real treat at Valencia on Sunday. This is the last race of the season, the last chance to prove your worth, to silence your doubters, to settle those scores before the long winter begins. No need to be conservative here, no need to calculate the odds. You can take that chance, take a risk and crash out trying. At the last race of the season, you go all in, as Nicky Hayden's leathers proclaimed at Valencia in 2006, when it looked like he might miss out on his first ever MotoGP title.
So MotoGP heads back to Spain for the third time this year, rolling into the Motorland Aragon circuit as the series enters its final stretch. Despite there being still five races left to go, the three different classes all look pretty much settled, after the races at Misano. Jorge Lorenzo benefited from Dani Pedrosa's misfortune at Misano to lead the MotoGP race by 38 points, Marc Marquez beat Pol Espargaro to the line in a do-or-die move in Moto2 to extend his lead to 53 points, and Sandro Cortese rode a brilliant race in Moto3 to enlarge his lead to 46 points. In reality, only misfortune or gross rider error stands in between titles for the three men, and in his studio in Barcelona, Marc Garcia is starting to pencil in the names on the trophy.
That doesn't mean there is no interest left in the series, however. If you had been thinking of skipping the Moto2 races for the rest of the year, then you haven't been paying attention; the life-and-death racing between Pol Espargaro and Marc Marquez, the result of the fiercest and most bitterly contested rivalry in Grand Prix at the moment, continues to be breathtaking. Moto3 is seeing the rise of a generation who will sound in the end of Spanish domination in MotoGP, though many fast and promising Spanish youngsters remain.
The first Moto2 round held at Misano under its new name, the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli, left us a clear idea of Marc Marquez’s intentions to become world champion by the end of this season, before he will join one of the toughest groups of riders ever in the MotoGP class in 2013.
Márquez’s seventh win of the season at Misano last weekend –third in a row- over Pol Espargaró and Andrea Iannone takes the Spaniard further ahead in the point standings with 238, while Espargaró stands second with 185. Iannone is third with 165 points and Luthi fourth with 161. Far behind, the young British rider Scott Redding stands fifth with 115 points.
With five rounds still to go and even Redding still in with a mathematical chances of becoming champion, the 2012 Moto2 season seems to be in Marquez’s hands. In fact, if Márquez wins in Aragon and Japan too, with Espargaró or Iannone finishing second, the Spaniard could even become champion in Malaysia with two rounds still to go. It could happen even earlier: in the case that Márquez wins the next round at Aragon and Espargaró DNFs, the Cataluyna Caixa Suter rider could celebrate his Moto2 world title on the following round at Motegi.
There is no doubt that the 2012 season summer break has given some riders like the Spaniard Luis Salom and German rider Jonas Folger just what they needed – plus machinery in Folger’s case - to believe in themselves as genuine Moto3 winners.
After finishing sixth in the standings last year, this year's winner of the Czech Moto3 Grand Prix Jonas Folger trusted his instincts very unsuccessfully at the start of 2012 season. Riding the all new Ioda Moto3 machine, the winner of the soaking wet 2011 British GP finished just one single race out of nine in the current season. This poor performance mainly came from the Ioda suffering from mechanical failures with terrifying frequencey, making a nightmare of what should have been a challenging season for the German rider.
Folger was nowhere near the front, in deep contrast indeed to some better results from less experienced new winners like Romano Fenati or Louis Rossi. It seemed there was no way out of such a frustrating situation, not until Spanish Moto3 Mapfre Aspar team decided to look for a new rider in the middle of the season.
Folger meets Aspar
2012 is Stefan Bradl's rookie season in MotoGP, and as such, he faces many challenges. There's the difficulties of dealing with the power of a MotoGP bike, the complications of handling the sophisticated electronics used in the class, and there's the Bridgestone tires to master. Another problem that is sometimes overlooked for MotoGP rookies is having to learn a new and demanding circuit, the complex layout of the Laguna Seca track. As the junior classes (now Moto2 and Moto3, previously 125cc and 250cc) do not visit Laguna Seca due to space and noise constraints, rookies face the double challenge of learning the circuit and finding a way to manhandle a MotoGP bike around it. The the track is featured on many MotoGP computer games, the elevation changes and camber of the track make it much harder to learn.
To alleviate some of the problems of learning the circuit, Stefan Bradl decided to use a public trackday to learn his way around. Adam Silver, keen racing fan and trackday enthusiast, learned that Bradl would be riding at Laguna, and went along to join the fun. Below is his account of the day Stefan Bradl followed him around Laguna.
Andrea Iannone started the 2012 season being as fast as he was in the first two seasons of Moto2, but the Italian rider was also close to disaster too often and was left with no chances of winning the title against Toni Elías in 2010 or Stefan Bradl in 2011.
Despite unpromising results in the past, the flying Italian is showing a different attitude in 2012. Different enough to be finishing every race this current season until the last Grand Prix in Germany, where the Speed Up rider crashed but rejoined the race to finish 17th with no points.
Back in 2010, Iannone’s superlative first victory on the Speed UP at Mugello even cast the shadow of cheating over his Speed Up bike, but telemetry data clearly showed then that Iannone was in fact impressively faster in corner speed than the rest.
After a nightmare season in 2011 riding a Suter, Iannone was back on the Speed Up for 2012, and part of his success may be found in his growing riding control on the limit, but also in getting better at calculating a racing strategy and the help of a bike he looks very comfortable racing on. Coming to Mugello, it was to be expected to see Iannone in front.
After Sandro Cortese had won the Moto3 race in Germany the week before, it was logical to expect more of the same from the championship leader at the ultra fast racetrack of Mugello. Even more so if you believe the not yet fully proven myth of KTM's supersonic engines, as they have appeared to be at some tracks this in this first season of Moto3.
After Viñales' wet nightmare at the Sachsenring just a few days ago - unable to gain even a single point in the race, something very difficult to understand for such a road racing talent as Viñales has already demonstrated he is-, the Spaniard on the FTR Honda looked to be ready to fight for victory again at a dry Mugello.
Viñales was the fastest rider on the track during the free practice sessions, gradually getting closer to Bradley Smith's best pole position in 2009 with the Aprilia 125 two stroke. The British rider's fastest lap time back in 2009 -1'58.134- was finally beaten by Viñales' 1'57.980 during qualifying.
2012 Assen Moto2 Race Report: Triple Victory At Assen For Márquez, Massive Disappointment For Esparagó
Watching how Marc Márquez was totally eclipsed by Pol Espargaró and Briton Scott Redding at the British Grand Prix, it was to be expected that the Catalunya Caixa rider would make a fast return two weeks later at the Dutch TT. However, Moto2 started at Assen as it finished at Silverstone, with Espargaró the fastest man on the track from the start of free practice one to the end of FP3 in Holland.
While all this was happening Márquez was already taking an unusual first win of the weekend, when the FIM finally confirmed the Spaniard’s controversial 16 points earned in Barcelona.
We recently wrote at Motomatters.com about how baffling this Moto2 season could become because of the two possible outcomes of the FIM’s decision. Actually, this had already happened in Barcelona when the FIM Stewards decided to uphold the Catalunya Caixa Team’s appeal against the one minute penalty imposed on Márquez by Race Direction’s for his dangerous move on Espargaró that ended with the Kalex rider literally eating the dust.
Marquez’s win # 1
The FIM decision was Marquez’s first victory of the weekend at Assen, because sixteen points mean much more of an advantage over Espargaró in such a highly competitive Moto2 class, as the 2012 season has turned out to be until now. On the other hand, giving Márquez sixteen points he could possibly have lost, and you can be sure that it will have a profound affect on the fight for the title – even if Marquez wins the title at the end of the season by more than those same sixteen points. Clearly, it is not exactly the same as giving sixteen points to Elena Rosell.
Though it is hard to see Assen without remembering the old a painful reminder of the old six kilometre long layout, we’ll still be glad to watch the Moto3 bikes racing for first time at Dutch TT this weekend. Especially if you are still thrilled by the action seen at Silverstone a couple of weeks ago -with up to eleven riders fighting for a place on the rostrum-, you just can’t wait to watch a new chapter of these young lions racing and writing Moto3 history in its debut season.
Maverick Viñales is the new leader in the standings after the British Grand Prix (105 points) with Sandro Cortese in second place (103). Luis Salom stands third (75 points) thanks to his fighting spirit and getting best out of his Kalex KTM, exactly the same bike Aspar riders Héctor Faubel (28 points) and Alberto Moncayo (36) are riding nowhere near the front at this moment of the season. Kalex riders have been progressively provided with a new frame since the Barcelona race, but Faubel and Moncayo still have problems in finding the speed the new class demands. It’s a hard situation for a team which dominated the series in four of the last six seasons of 125 class history, until its end in 2011.
Pol Espargaró came back from darkness into the winner’s spotlight in a matter of days, thanks to his lonely and extraordinary Moto2 win at Silverstone. «Smart» Pol –do not confuse with Ducati rider Paul Smart- left Barcelona injured, with no points and witnessing how arch rival Marc Márquez was leaving with the same 16 points that Pol was fighting for when he crashed at Montmeló.
Espargaro may not be the most technical rider on the grid, neither does he speak the best English. However, you can be sure he has the strongest spirit among riders in the intermediate class. It would have been natural to be furious after being taken out by Marquez in Barcelona. But Espargaró was very well advised by HP Tuenti team Boss Sito Pons and chose the opposite and toughest way of overcoming his setback. Just dedicating a few nice words to his Catalunya Caixa rival and then focusing on proving at Silverstone he is as quick as the fastest rider on the track. Watching Espargaró in the last few seasons brings to my mind that old racing cliché: You can't teach a slow rider to produce a talent he does not have, but fortunately you can teach a skilled rider to be smarter or avoid mistakes. That’s what Espargaró and the HP Tuenti team have achieved this season.
After the announcement of Casey Stoner's retirement a few weeks ago and Jorge Lorenzo’s confirmation recently that he will be staying with Yamaha for the next two seasons, everybody is trying to guess the answer to the million--dollar question: which factory will Valentino Rossi be riding for next season?.
But none of this has anything to do with the real interest of the World Championship, where Moto2 and Moto3 classes show the real thrilling action on the track, and we all expect more of the same from a new edition of British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
Even though the Silverstone racetrack has a great tradition and long history in British Grand Prix racing, I must confess that I still miss the technical and demanding layout of Donington Park. But business is stronger than passion or any other influence in motorsport in recent times, just as it is everywhere else. With Donington gone since 2009 -after hosting 22 rounds of the British Grand Prix-, at least the speedy Silverstone is still a great place for racing, as we will all enjoy this weekend.
On a sunny and pleasant Thursday, the day before the MotoGP riders are to take to the track at Silverstone for the first day of free practice, the questions ahead of this weekend should be obvious: Have the Hondas really found something at the Barcelona test to fix the chatter that has plagued them this season? How will Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa get on with the new "33" spec front tire, now that the old construction has been withdrawn from the allocation? Does Jorge Lorenzo's new two-year contract with Yamaha mean he eases up or he pushes harder to extend his impressive lead in the championship? And just how much more progress can the Ducatis make in the dry without any major updates? Are Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi any nearer to closing in on the Tech 3 Yamahas, their first port of call on the way to the podium fight?