March 23rd, 2014
2014 Qatar MotoGP Saturday Round Up - Marquez' Miracle, Espargaro Under Pressure, And Honda Back In Moto3 Business
On Thursday night, it looked like a revolution had been unleashed in MotoGP. After qualifying on Saturday, that revolution has been postponed. Three Spaniards on pole, two Spaniards on the front row for both MotoGP and Moto3. No prizes for guessing the names of any of the polesitters, all three were hotly tipped favorites at the beginning of the year.
So what has changed to restore order to the proceedings? In a word, track time. When the riders took to the track on Thursday, the factory riders had a lot of catching up to do. They had been down at Phillip Island, a track which has lots of grip and puts plenty of load into the tires. The heat resistant layer added to the 2013 tires really comes into its own, the track imbuing the riders with confidence. Qatar is a low grip track, thanks in part to the cooler temperatures at night, but the sand which continuously blows onto the track also makes it extremely abrasive, posing a double challenge to tire makers. Use rubber which is too soft, and the tire is gone in a couple of laps. Make it hard enough to withstand the abrasion, and it's hard to get the tire up to temperature.
Coming to Qatar is always tricky, riders needing time to build confidence and learn to trust the tires. Coming to Qatar from Phillip Island is a culture shock, and takes a while to get your head around. Riders need to throw away everything they have just learned, and start again. That, Bradley Smith explained, was one of the reasons he was on the front row – his first in MotoGP, a significant achievement for the young Briton – and the factory Movistar Yamaha riders weren't. 'Australia wasn't great for the factory guys, because they got to ride a tire which isn't this one,' he told the press conference. Smith and the other satellite riders had come from Sepang, another low-grip track, and spent three more days on the same tire and in similar grip conditions. 'Testing here ten days ago has helped a lot,' Smith concluded.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after qualifying at Qatar:
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after qualifying at Qatar:
None of the times matched the fastest times from Friday. The riders have qualifying practice coming up.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after the second day of practice at Qatar:
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after practice at Qatar on Friday :
When was the last time a non-factory rider won a MotoGP race? Any MotoGP fan worth their salt will be able to give you year, track and rider: 2006, Estoril, Toni Elias. Ask them why he won and they will give you all sorts of answers – Dani Pedrosa taking out Nicky Hayden in the early laps, Colin Edwards not being able to maintain his pace to the end of the race, Kenny Roberts Jr misjudging the number of laps left in the race, or, as Valentino Rossi put it, because 'Toni ride like the devil' – but none they can be sure of.
There is a less well-known explanation for Elias' performance, though. Ahead of the Estoril race, Elias was given a set of the overnight special tires shipped in especially for Michelin factory riders. In this case, Elias was handed a set of 'Saturday night specials' destined for Dani Pedrosa, but which Pedrosa had elected not to use, and so were going spare. Elias liked the same kind of soft carcass tire which Pedrosa was being offered, and went on to exploit the advantage it offered.
What does that have to do with Friday at Qatar? Two things. Firstly, it highlights exactly how important tires are in motorcycle racing. Tires dictate a huge amount of the performance of a motorcycle. They are the connection between the bike and the track, but that is a very full and complex function. Tires determine how far a bike can be leaned, how much drive the bikes can get out of a corner, how well the power delivery of an engine transfers to the tarmac, how hard the bike can brake, they provide a certain amount of suspension, and they pass information about track surface, grip conditions and where the limits of braking and turning are for a motorcycle. And that's just the beginning. Tires are (quite literally) a black art. Their complexity cannot be underestimated.
Aleix Espargaro extended his long-term lease at the top of the Free Practice timesheet Friday with fast lap of 1'54.773, a time that left him nearly half of a second clear of the field. The satellite bikes of Andrea Iannone (Ducati, 2nd) and Alvaro Bautista (Honda, 3rd) rounded out the top three during a qualifying session that saw both a brief sprinkle of rain and a five-time Qatar winner languishing until late.
Factory Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso finished the free practice as the top factory rider with a fourth-fastest time. Current world champion Marc Marquez continued his improving form with a fifth. Bradley Smith, who suffered a massive highside in the middle of the session, managed a sixth followed by the factory Yamaha of Jorge Lorenzo.
Lorenzo, a five-time winner here, lingered in 11th for much of the session until he made a strong run with three minutes remaining to put him into seventh place. Stefan Bradl, Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa completed the top ten and now can wait for the second qualifying practice and a chance at the pole position.
Sandro Cortese, on his final lap of FP3, clipped what had been a dominant run by Tito Rabat to take the top practice spot Friday in Qatar. Cortese, at 2'00.579, wasn't the only rider to make a late move. Dominique Aegerter also put in a fast final lap to grab second, leaving Rabat suddenly dropped to third at the end of the final free practice before Saturday's qualifying. Last year's Moto3 champion, Maverick Vinales began to find extra speed on his new Moto2 bike and jumped into fourth with his fastest time of the weekend. Takaaki Nakagami, also quick all weekend, rounded out the top five, two-tenths shy of the leader.
Romano Fenati set the new fastest-ever Moto3 lap at the Losail Circuit to top the timesheet with a 2'06.121 in Friday's third free practice. Second-fastest Alex Rins battled Fenati for much of the session and swapped the top spot before finishing six-hundredths of a second behind. Alex Marquez finished third, another one-tenth back. The news is initially good for Honda which placed two riders in the top three after enduring a 2013 season of KTM domination. Qualifying practice will begin Saturday.
In the second MotoGP practice, open class rider Aleix Espargaro accomplished much of what he did in the first session at the Losail Circuit: Top of the timesheet and well clear of the field. And while Andrea Dovisioso (2nd) closed within three-tenths of a second, he did that lap on a soft tire which he is unlikely to use in the race. Alvaro Bautista rounded out the top three with a 1'55.446, a lap time he consistently ran for much of the session.
The factory Hondas lurk in fourth and fifth. Dani Pedrosa, the quickest factory bke in FP1, managed to close within half a second of the elder Espargaro. World Champion Marc Marquez greatly improved from the first practice session, to claim fifth. Pass through another strata of satellite riders -- Bradley Smith (Yamaha), Stefan Bradl (Honda), Pol Espargaro (Yamaha) -- and there you will find the factory Yamaha of Valentino Rossi (9th) almost exactly a second slower than the open class Yamaha at the top of the charts. Andrea Iannone, just over a second off the pace, rounded out the top ten. Rossi's factory Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo was slower still in 11th.
The rider will practice again on Friday (FP3) to determine who goes straight to Qualifying Practice 2.