2013 Le Mans MotoGP Friday Round Up: Of Four Fast Men, Improved Ducatis, Redding's Reign, And A Quota On Spaniards
So far, so good. That seems to be the story from the first day of practice at Le Mans. A full day of dry weather - except for the last few minutes of FP2 for the Moto3 class, where the rain turned briefly to hail, only to blow out again as quickly as it came - means that everyone had a chance to work on their race set up. With the top four separated by just 0.166 seconds, the top five are within a quarter of a second, and Alvaro Bautista, the man in ninth, is just over seven tenths from the fastest man Dani Pedrosa.
A good day too for the Hondas. Dani Pedrosa was immediately up to speed, as expected. Marc Marquez was also quick in the afternoon, which was less expected. Unlike Jerez and Austin, this was the first time he rode a MotoGP machine at Le Mans, and getting used to hauling a 260 hp, 160kg bike around the tight layout of the French track is a different proposition to riding a Moto2 bike with half the horsepower here. He took a morning to get used to the track, asked for a few changes to the base set up inherited from Casey Stoner, and then went and blitzed to second in the afternoon, 0.134 seconds off his teammate.
More important than Marquez' speed is his consistency, however. In the afternoon, he posted seven laps of 1'34, which looks to be the pace to expect for a dry race. Only two men did more, Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo having posted nine laps at that pace, with both men also consistently a tenth or two quicker than the Spanish rookie.
Silly Season has hit full swing in Germany, not just for the MotoGP class but for the support classes as well. And while movements in MotoGP are mainly about what is happening next year, in Moto2 and Moto3 - and even among the CRT machines - there is some serious rider swapping going on for the rest of this season.
In MotoGP, the next two key movements just got a lot closer. Dani Pedrosa is now very close to staying with the Repsol Honda team, telling Spanish journalists that he would sign a new two-year contract with HRC either here in the Sachsenring or at Mugello at the latest. His priority had been to stay on a bike he felt he could win with, telling the Spanish newspaper ABC earlier this week that Honda and Yamaha had been his only realistic options. The Ducati, he said rather pointedly, was more something a rider might consider before their retirement.
With Pedrosa just days away from signing with Repsol Honda, and Marc Marquez almost certain to be placed alongside him, options are starting to close up for those still seeking a seat. But Pedrosa's signing would make no difference to Valentino Rossi, the former World Champion told the Italian media. "I never had any contact with HRC, so going there was never a possibility for me," Rossi said, despite rumors in the English-language media that placed the Italian in the Repsol team.
The FIM today released the provisional entry lists for all three Grand Prix classes, and the grids are looking remarkably healthy. Some 21 riders will line up in the MotoGP class, the Moto2 grid has been shrunk to a more manageable 33 entries, and 32 riders will be at the start for the inaugural season of racing in the Moto3 class, the grid the same size as it was for last year's 125cc class, which Moto3 replaces.
There are no surprises in the MotoGP class. As expected, there are 21 entries: 12 factory prototype entries and 9 CRT entries. Of the factory prototypes (which includes satellite machines), the three factory teams remain unchanged with the exception of the reduction of the Repsol Honda squad from three riders to two, Andrea Dovizioso having been dropped, despite finishing 3rd in the championship in 2011 ahead of Dani Pedrosa, who retains his seat. Dovizioso joins Cal Crutchlow at Monster Tech 3, Yamaha maintaining its commitment at 4 YZR-M1 machines. Both Honda and Ducati have cut back to just two satellite bikes apiece, with the bikes spread over four different teams. Stefan Bradl, whose usual number, 65, was retired in honor of Loris Capirossi, has elected to use the number 6.
The latest provisional entry list of Moto2 riders for the 2012 season:
The two-year contracts that all four of the MotoGP Aliens signed during 2010 have made for a very quiet silly season, with speculation on who will be riding where next season taking a very long time to get started. There are a number of reasons for this - talks about contracts have been lost in the general commotion surrounding the two big topics of 2011: Rossi's struggle with the Ducati Desmosedici and the controversy over whether to race at Motegi or not, and the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami has badly hit motorcycle racing budgets as well - but as we approach the final few races of the 2011 MotoGP season, some movement is starting to be visible on the riders market. So let's take a stroll through what we know for certain, have a look what we think is likely and glance into the crystal ball of MotoGP's future, which comes in the shape of the Claiming Rule Teams.
What We Know
Another race, another rider meeting with Race Direction. After Marco Simoncelli being called to speak to Race Direction after the crash in Le Mans, this time it was the turn of Kenan Sofuoglu and Julian Simon. Sofuoglu had run into the back of Simon at Catalunya, causing the Spaniard to crash and causing a very nasty multiple fracture.
The meeting had been contentious, especially as the Spanish press had been baying for Sofuoglu's blood. But while Sofuoglu had immediately run over to apologize after the crash, and had indeed contacted Simon personally to express his sympathy for putting Simon into the predicament he had, Sofuoglu and the team were keen to point out that Sofuoglu had not entered that corner any faster than normal. The cause of the problem, Sofuoglu and his team had said, was that Simon was entering the corner a little slower than normal, and on a slightly different line. Sofuoglu's error, the Technomag CIP rider conceded, was to find himself too close to Simon to be able to take evasive action.
A long time ago, when I worked at a software company, we had a timekeeping system that consumed hours of our productive time as we tried to keep track of the projects we had worked on every week. One member of our team was smarter than the rest of us, however. He figured he knew roughly what projects he would be working on for the next couple of months, and would fill in his timesheets about 6 weeks in advance. He saved himself a whole heap of time doing that, while we struggled.
Compare and contrast the lot of a MotoGP headline writer. The way things are looking so far, we could fill in the headlines for all of the practice sessions and races for the next three or four MotoGP rounds well in advance, and get about 90% of them absolutely spot on. Put the following words in any order: Stoner, Repsol Honda, Pedrosa, Dominate, Clean Sweep. Throw in a couple of conjunctions, and you are set to go for quite some time.
The Moto2 rider line-up for 2011 is slowly starting to take something resembling its final shape, with more and more riders signing contracts to ride next year. Kenan Sofuoglu's signing for the Technomag CIP squad provided one catalyst, provoking a spate of moves to secure the known quantities for next season at the Valencia test. The prime mover in that chase was the team that Sofuoglu turned down, with Gresini securing former Tech 3 rider Yuki Takahashi to take the place of the departing Moto2 champion Toni Elias, with Sofuoglu's former Ten Kate Honda World Supersport teammate Michele Pirro taking the second seat in the biggest team in Moto2.
The Tech 3 team had earlier announced the signing of Bradley Smith and Frenchman Mike di Meglio to take the place of the departing Yuki Takahashi and the disappointing Raffaele de Rosa - the Italian being tipped for a return to the 125cc class, along with Hector Faubel (signed for Bancaja Aspar), Joan Olive and Sergio Gadea. Meanwhile, the other hottest seat in Moto2 - the one left vacant by Di Meglio - has been filled by one of the two riders making the jump from the Spanish CEV Moto2 championship, Xavi Fores signing with the Mapfre Aspar team for 2011, joining his CEV Moto2 rival Kev Coghlan on the world stage.
With the 2011 MotoGP rider lineup very near to being settled, attention is turning to Moto2 and the 125cc class. And two of the hottest seats in the junior classes are held by the Aspar team, the Spanish powerhouse that has produced multiple champions over the years. Today at Phillip Island, the Aspar team announced part of their future plans for next season, re-signing current 125cc rider Nico Terol and current Moto2 rider Julian Simon to new contracts with the team.
Both men are to remain in their current classes for another season, with Simon signed up for another year in Moto2, while Terol has been offered a two-year deal, spending 2011 in the 125cc class. Beyond 2011, Terol could either move up to Moto2, or could stay on to try to win the brand new Moto3 class, the 250cc four-stroke single class that is to replace the two-stroke 125s from 2012. That decision will depend in part on whether Terol manages to win the 125cc title next year. Terol is still very much in contention for the 2010 125cc title as well, trailing championship leader Marc Marquez by just 3 points with another 3 races left to go.
The text of the Aspar press release appears below:
MODERATOR: Ben, quite a weekend for you. Up and down, as it has been for I think most people here at Indianapolis. First of all, congratulations, pole position. Two weeks ago was the first front row, and now you've gone one better in pole.
BEN SPIES: Yeah, it's a dream, I mean to have a pole position at any time in MotoGP and to be able to do it in the first season on the Monster Tech 3 bike in front of the American crowd, it's great and add Indianapolis to it. It's kind of ticked all the boxes this weekend. We just got to, you know, not get ahead of ourselves, so it gives us some common edge for tomorrow but got to kind of live the moment right now. You know, it kind of took the pressure off the announcement on Friday and just knowing what's going on and am I'm really wanting to repay the Tech 3 team because they've helped put me in a place to be there and, you know, to be able to get a pole for them and hopefully can end the season good and keep being consistent and progress. But, you know, today we'll just savor the moment right now and go in tomorrow and try to put a hard 45 minutes and see what happens.
MODERATOR: It's been an interesting weekends, I think, for everybody in MotoGP, grip level has been a problem. You've crashed yourself, and the weather conditions also seem to be getting a little bit hotter.
Julian Simon came into the Moto2 championship as the reigning 125cc World Champion, but championships mean nothing in a brand new class. But the Mapfre Aspar rider has started the season well, despite the team switching chassis - from the Italian RSV frame to the Swiss Suter chassis - after just two races, currently 7th in the Moto2 title chase. MotoMatters.com caught up with Simon on Saturday evening at Mugello, and asked him about the differences between 125s, 250s and Moto2, and whether Moto2 provides a good preparation for the MotoGP class.
MotoMatters: You came in as 125cc champion, into a completely new class. How is that different?
Julian Simon: The biggest difference is the weight. The Moto2 bike is much more heavy compared to 125s. But the engine is easier. It's not difficult because it's a four stroke. It's very easy to open the gas in the middle of the corner, so it's not bad. But the biggest difference is the weight. Also compared to the 250, this is different.
MM: How does it compare to a 250? Is it similar, or nothing like it?