While the MotoGP teams have packed up and finished for the year - with the exception of a couple of Open class teams, who will be testing at Jerez at the end of the month - the Moto2 and Moto3 have headed to Jerez for the first test of their 2014 season. The first test sees a host of new faces making their debuts. A gaggle of champions enter Moto2, with World Supersport champ Sam Lowes, Moto3 champion Maverick Viñales and AMA Superbike champion Josh Herrin entering the fray. In Moto3, Red Bull Rookies Cup winner Karel Hanika makes his first appearance in the world championship.
At the end of the first day, Thomas Luthi led the Moto2 class, though it was tight as ever at the front, with just over a tenth of a second covering the top three of Luthi, Jordi Torres and Mika Kallio. Sam Lowes made a very impressive debut, just four tenths off the time of Luthi. Herrin had a little more trouble adapting, ending the day 2.2 seconds slower than the fastest man of the day. Moto3 champion Viñales ended his first session under two seconds behind Luthi, but well ahead of the man he spent the year fighting the Moto3 championship with, Luis Salom, who was 3.4 seconds off the pace of Luthi.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after Sunday's races at Valencia:
I knew it was going to be a big day at Valencia when I found myself taking two hours to get into the circuit on Sunday morning instead of twenty minutes. After years of relatively light traffic on the back roads, I took a wrong turning and found myself on the main motorway going from Valencia to Madrid, which was packed with cars and motorcycles heading to the circuit near Cheste. The sun was shining, two titles were to be decided between five Spaniards, and that had brought the fans out in force. I was stuck in the middle of them, reminding myself once again that the best way - the only way - to visit a motorcycle race is on a motorcycle. These were big, big crowds who had come to see a show.
And what a show they got. The Moto3 race took a while to come alight, but once it did it was explosive. The first casualty was Luis Salom, the championship leader falling shortly after the halfway mark. It was his second unforced error in consecutive races, surprising given that Salom is the oldest and most experienced of the three men in the running for the Moto3 title. That left Alex Rins and Maverick Viñales, and with four laps to go, the battle started hotting up in earnest. Viñales was pushing, getting past Rins only to run wide and let the Estrella Galicia rider back through. He looked wild, off line, barely in control, and liable to crash out at any time. But he didn't, he held on, diving past Rins in the final corner to take the lead and leaving him nowhere to go. At Saturday's qualifying press conference, Rins predicted the Moto3 title would be decided in the last corner. He was right, though he had probably hoped that it would be him deciding it in his favor.
Viñales was the first deserved winner of the day, and the first title to be settled. Despite having the fewest wins of the three title contenders, the Team Calvo rider held his nerve, profited from the mistakes of Salom and Rins, and when it counted, pushed home his advantage. Before Motegi, he had given up on winning the Moto3 title, he said after the race. But when Salom and Rins crashed out, he believed it was possible. He had complained about his bike all season, that it didn't have enough power and he couldn't keep up with his two main rivals. At Valencia, his team had given him the best bike of the year, and Viñales had repaid them with a win and a title. After Viñales tantrums at the end of 2012, when he refused to race and walked out of his then team, he had looked to be more trouble than he was worth. But team manager Pablo Nieto had decided he was worth a second chance. At Valencia, Nieto's faith was repaid with interest.
2013 Valencia MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Of Pressure, Mistakes, Engines, And How To Win A Championship
After all the drama, the talk stops tomorrow. Two titles on the line, and five men to fight over them. On Sunday, there will be no talk of crew chiefs being sacked, of team bosses appealing for penalty points, of teams concocting dubious plans, of teammates, team strategies or team orders. When the red lights go out, and the thunderous roar of four-stroke racing motorcycles fills the natural bowl which cradles the tightly wound ribbon of tarmac that is the Circuit Ricardo Tormo, it is every man and woman for themselves, and the devil take the hindmost. Nearly a hundred young men and one young woman will take to the track on Sunday. Most have already had their dreams of glory shattered; three more will share that disappointment; only two will etch their names permanently into the history books.
Both the Moto3 and the MotoGP titles are still undecided, the winner of each race likely to be crowned champion. The Moto2 title is already decided, and going on the evidence of practice and qualifying, the race could be over within a couple of laps, Pol Espargaro hoping to top off his championship with a win in the final race in front of his home crowd. The HP Tuenti Pons rider has been fastest in every session so far, usually by a comfortable margin, so his objective looks well within his grasp. Others may try to prevent an Espargaro victory march, but it doesn't look like either Tito Rabat, Jordi Torres or Nico Terol will be able to do much about it. Espargaro has deserved his title, repaying the faith Yamaha put in him when they signed him to the Tech 3 MotoGP team at Qatar, before the very first race of the year.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after qualifying at Valencia on Saturday:
In Saturday’s FP3, Luis Salom did what he does best: Stalk the leaders for the better part of a contest and then pounce at the end. And that is the way in went Valencia, Spain on Saturday with Salom putting a blistering final lap to take the top time with a 1’39.879 -- the fastest Moto3 time of the weekend so far. Maverick Vinales also put in a late, fast lap to set the second-fastest FP3 time, 75 thousandths back. Jack Miller and his FTR Honda spoiled the KTM party with a third-fastest time.
Miller actually hit the top of the timesheet with six minutes remaining in the practice. He was the first rider to dip under the 1’40 mark with a 1’39.963. But within four minutes, Vinales grabbed the top spot again. And it looked to be the top time until points-leader Salom nipped him with at the very end. Both Luis Salom and Alex Rins were slowed briefly by a technical problems that kept the bikes in the pits for short stretches. Maverick Vinales, second in the championship, led most of the session. Alex Rins and Jonas Folger rounded out the top five. Three riders -- Salom, Vinales and Rins -- are separated by only five points in the championship so any of them could claim the title on the season's final race Sunday.
MotoGP fans have been rubbing their hands in anticipation of this weekend's final round of the championship. The race has everything: a mental Moto3 race to be decided outright by the rider who wins, with just five points separating Luis Salom, Maverick Viñales and Alex Rins; a triumphant homecoming for a newly crowned Moto2 champion, Pol Espargaro wearing a positively regal helmet to celebrate, while his title rival Scott Redding wears special leathers and helmet thanking the Marc VDS Racing team who have stood behind him for the past four seasons; and a shootout for the MotoGP championship, between Jorge Lorenzo, a man with nothing to lose, and Marc Marquez, who has to balance between riding hard enough to keep the bike working properly and not taking any unnecessary risks, while ensuring he comes home in fourth, something which sounds easier than it is. There were even a couple of sideshows: the presentation of the Honda RCV1000R production racer, and Yamaha's annual technical presentation, in which they brief the media on how they have developed the bike to be so competitive.
All that is forgotten. Valentino Rossi's shock announcement on Thursday that he had told long-term crew chief Jeremy Burgess that he wanted to replace him with someone else has dominated the headlines, as well as the hearts and minds of almost everyone in the paddock. In the search for the elusive last couple of tenths of a second which separate Rossi from the three Spanish superstars who have dominated the 2013 season, the Italian is leaving no stone unturned. Even the most revered of institutions - Burgess is held in extremely high regard throughout the paddock, even by his fiercest rivals - are no longer sacred. Rossi still wants to win, and so far, he has failed. 'We've been chasing rainbows for four years,' as Burgess so succinctly put it, but to no avail. 'We haven’t nailed anything decent in those four years. These are long periods in racing and it becomes more and more difficult.'
As it turns out, Alex Rins had a response to Luis Salom's dominance at FP1. Later Friday in FP2 at the Valencia circuit, Rins set the fastest lap of the session with a 1'40.489 with Salom in second and Maverick Vinales in third, not quite one tenth of a second behind the leader. The fact that the three riders who have a shot at the championship set the three fastest practice times does nothing to dispell the notion that the Moto3 race could be the race of the weekend among the three classes. Jonas Folger and Jack Miller rounded out the top five. The top ten riders finished FP2 separated by a single second.
The championship leaders all wanted to make a statement in the first free practice at the Valencia circuit in Spain. Luis Salom, current points leader, spoke the loudest with a fast lap of 1'40.403, a time that puts him two-tenths of a second clear of second fastest and second in the championship Maverick Vinales. Jonas Folger ended FP1 as third fastest, one tenth ahead of Alex Rins. Rookie Rins, third in the championship, sits six-tenths behind Salom in what should prove to be an exciting and likely hard-fought final race of 2013. A mere five points separates the top three riders going into the 17th Moto3 race of the season.
There have been an awful lot of good Moto3 races this year. So many, in fact, that it's hard to pick out a single one for particular praise. But the final round at Valencia could very well be the best of the year. Moto3 riders are not known for riding conservatively or with undue caution at the best of times, but with the championship up for grabs at Valencia and the top three riders involved in a three-way winner-takes-all shootout for the title, this could be a real heart stopper. Cardiologists around the world will be rubbing their hands with glee at the amount of extra business they are about to generate.
The mathematics of the situation is simple. Just five points separate Luis Salom, who leads the championship, from Alex Rins, who is third, while Maverick Viñales is two points behind Salom and three ahead of Rins. If either Salom or Viñales win, they take the title with an outright points advantage; if Rins wins and Salom is second, the two men are tied on points and on the number of wins, but Rins is crowned champion based on the number of second place finishes he has scored. If none of the three men leading the championship win, then it all gets a lot more complicated - see the full breakdown here - but it comes down to the fact that the first of the three across the line will take the championship.
The chances of one of Luis Salom, Maverick Viñales or Alex Rins not winning is surprisingly slim. Between them, the three men who have dominated the Moto3 series in 2013 have won 16 of the 17 races, and occupying 39 of the 48 podium positions so far. Only three other men have joined the leading trio on the podium, with Alex Marquez, Jonas Folger and Miguel Oliviera the awkward interlopers. Marquez is the only rider to win a race, and even then, he was assisted by Rins and Salom taking themselves out of contention.