Why do we keep watching motorcycle racing? Because sometimes magic happens. Today was one of those days. Two riders took their sport to the known limits in qualifying at Silverstone on Saturday, and then pushed at the edges to see what was beyond. What happened then took the breath of the crowd away, and left the press room sitting in stunned silence. And shutting the media up takes some doing.
Veteran broadcaster Dennis Noyes described the atmosphere in Parc Ferme after qualifying like being in a church. There was an air of awed reverence, quietness almost, as the teams of all three riders on the front row showed their respect for what they had just seen happen. Jorge Lorenzo had put on a display of as near perfect riding as it is humanly possible to achieve, destroying the lap record in the process. And then Marc Marquez had gone faster still, with almost effortless ease.
As Lorenzo stopped in Parc Ferme after qualifying, he gave a little shake of his head. He knew what he had just done - afterwards, he would say the lap was one of the best of his career, and that there was really only one sector where he could have found more time - and it had not been enough. It doesn't really matter what Lorenzo tries, matching Marc Marquez seems to be impossible.
2013 Silverstone MotoGP Friday Round Up: Nicky Hayden Issues A Retraction, Some Intimidation, And Pedrosa Cheers The Media
The media duties are one of the more difficult parts of a MotoGP rider's job. Every day they spend at a racetrack, they have to spend 10 to 15 minutes answering a barrage of questions from the assembled press. The questions range from stating the obvious, to inane ramblings, to blatant provocation chasing a printable quote, and even, on the odd very rare occasion, to sensible questions provoking subtle and thoughtful answers. In terms of time, the scope of the questions can range from what happened five minutes ago to events of five or ten years ago.
So it is hardly surprising that from time to time, the facts of relatively ancient history get confused. Such was the case at Silverstone, when on Thursday, Nicky Hayden said he would have liked to test the carbon fiber frame he tried at Jerez back in late 2011. On Friday, Hayden made a retraction, or a clarification, or call it what you will. He explained that what he had actually tested was the aluminium monocoque frame which was the intermediate chassis between the old carbon fiber frame and the aluminium perimeter beam chassis of which the current bike is an iteration. He had not, he said, called for a return to the carbon fiber frame, he had merely stated he would have liked to give that aluminium frameless front chassis one more try, but he was thwarted when he broke his hand in a first-corner crash with Alvaro Bautista at Valencia, and was forced to miss the test.
2013 Silverstone MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Of Frayed Nerves, Stopping Marc Marquez, and Hayden's Quest For CF
As the last of three back-to-back races, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone sees the teams and riders looking a little more tired and frazzled around the edges than when they first convened after the summer break at Indianapolis. Tempers are a little shorter, stubble is a little longer, and eyes are a little redder. Add to this the fact that Thursday at Silverstone also plays host to the Day of Champions, and the teams and riders have a lot more PR duties to do, going up to the stage to help sell some of the items up for auction to help Riders for Health, and you have a group of tired and irritable motorcycle racing followers all clumped together in a room.
Despite the weather, the overwhelming consensus is a positive feeling going into the weekend. The track is widely loved, every rider I spoke to singing the praises of the circuit. What's more, the forecast fine weather has also had a positive effect on the general mood. In the past, Silverstone has inspired dread among the paddock, as it has all too often been cold and very, very wet. Moving the race from June to late August/early September has been a masterstroke, however, as the chances of warm dry weather are vastly improved. Nicky Hayden even half apologized to the waiting British journalists for having given them a hard time about the British climate.
It's been a busy couple of days at FIM headquarters, as they have been putting the finishing touch to new rules for both the World Superbike and MotoGP series. The biggest news was the release of the detailed technical regulations for the World Superbike series for 2014 and beyond. The new rules had been announced in early August, but the precise details had to wait until now. The one thing missing from the announced rules is any mention of an overall price cap. That, presumably, will come at a later date.
Though the changes outlined in the new reuglations are extremely detailed, they can be boiled down to a few major points: the introduction, of the EVO class, which allows Superstock engines in Superbike chassis; the introduction of price caps on suspension and brakes; restrictions on gear ratios; and the introduction of an engine allocation system similar to that in MotoGP, and also in Superstock.
The engine allocation system had long been expected, after Carmelo Ezpeleta made a series of barbed (and misleading) attacks on the number of engines supposedly used by Aprilia in WSBK in 2011 and 2012. The limit on the number of engines is relatively low: each rider will have 8 engines to last a season with. Though that seems reasonable for some 13 or 14 race weekends, that requires the engines to last for 26 or more races. As in MotoGP, the engines are sealed to prevent maintenance on crankshaft, bottom and top ends and the valve train, other than camchain tension adjustment. The crankcases, cylinders, cylinder heads and valve and cam covers are sealed. Seals may be broken to allow gearbox ratios to be changed - see below - but also as in MotoGP, that can only be done in the presence of a technical official from the series.
There must be something in the Moravian water. Three races at Brno on Sunday, and all three genuine barnburners. What's more, the podiums had a good mixture of experience, age, and nationality. 'Only' five of the nine were Spanish, while in Moto2, there wasn't a single Spaniard on the podium. And at the end, the championships in all three classes got a little more interesting.
Race of the day? Impossible to say, but the 2013 Czech Grand Prix will surely be remembered for the MotoGP race. After a tense race with a blistering finish last year, the 2013 race was even better. A brilliant start by Jorge Lorenzo - perhaps the best of his career - saw him catapult into the lead at the start. He pushed to break the following group, consisting of Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa and Cal Crutchlow.
You could have earned yourself a tidy sum today if you'd correctly predicted the MotoGP front row. Though Cal Crutchlow, Alvaro Bautista and Marc Marquez are all familiar faces on the front row, the combination of the three was quite unexpected. Crutchlow earned his second ever MotoGP pole at Brno, shattering the pole record on his way to doing it. Bautista was on the front row at Laguna Seca, but his previous front row appearance was pole position at Silverstone over a year ago. And Marquez is a regular patron of the front row, but in four of his eight front row starts, he has had pole. The combination of the three was a surprise, and a testament to the way the new qualifying system this year manages to throw up surprises.
That is not to everyone's taste. 'This type of practice, with 15 minutes, is not very fair,' was Valentino Rossi's opinion, after the Italian had once again failed to break into the first two rows of the grid. 'A lot of riders are able to take the right slipstream and improve a lot the lap time and also the position they usually have in practice. So is not just about the potential but also about being in the right place at the right moment and make a good lap with the guy in front.' Qualifying has been Rossi's Achilles heel ever since the introduction of the new system, which coincided with his return to Yamaha.
After visiting three Honda tracks in a row, MotoGP finally heads back to a Yamaha track. Brno is fast, flowing, with a multitude of left-right and right-left combinations which favor the agility and high corner speed of the Yamaha over the more stop-and-go Honda tracks. Here, it is the Yamaha's turn to shine.
Well, that was the theory. At the end of the first day of practice, it's the Honda of Stefan Bradl on top of the pile, ahead of Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez and Cal Crutchlow. That's Honda, Yamaha, Honda, Yamaha, Honda, Yamaha. So much for Yamaha domination. Then again, with just three tenths of a second separating Bradl in first from Crutchlow in sixth, Brno is hardly seeing the Hondas dominate either. There is very little to choose between any of them.
So how do you separate the leaders? It's hard to do. All six men are posting consistent runs of mid to high 1'56s, the only exceptions being Stefan Bradl, who only upped his pace at the end of FP2, and Dani Pedrosa, who had opted to go for shorter runs. Pedrosa was in more pain than expected, he said on Friday, and that had made it difficult to ride. He had not had much pain the previous couple of days, but back on the bike less than a week after the previous GP at Indianapolis and his collarbone was more painful than he had hoped. It didn't slow him at Indy, though, so he should be just as fast as at Brno.
One race down, two more to go in the first of MotoGP's two triple headers in 2013, and this is the most brutal transition. After a draining race in the humidity of the Mid West, the teams and riders pack up, head east and face a wall of jet lag before getting ready to race at Brno, one of the most physically demanding circuits on the calendar. After that, they get to pack up again and head back west, just a short hop this time to the UK, its one hour time difference from Brno small enough not to cause jet lag, but just enough to throw your body clock just out of kilter.
Whether Brno will produce the same flashes of excitement which Indianapolis did remains to be seen. At Indy, the riders encountered what they described as the best surface they'd ever seen at the track - relative, of course, to previous visits - and that helped in some small way to spice the racing up a little. In previous years, getting off line meant running the risk of serious injury, the drop in grip levels meaning riders found themselves in low earth orbit. Getting off line in 2013 was still a risky pursuit, but if you did it in the right place, you could get away with it, and even use it to your advantage.
With all of the prototype seats occupied for 2014 - barring a contractual bust up between Ducati and Ben Spies, which is only an expensive theoretical possibility at the moment - battle has commenced for the rest of the MotoGP seats regarded as being most competitive. While the factory bikes - the bikes in the factory and satellite teams being raced as MSMA entries - are all taken, the privateer machines - using Dorna spec ECU software and extra fuel - are still mostly up for grabs.
The three most highly sought after machines are the 2013 Yamaha M1s to be leased by the NGM Forward squad, Honda's production racer (a modified RC213V with a standard gearbox and metal spring instead of pneumatic valves) and the Aprilia ART bikes, which are an increasingly heavily modified version of Aprilia's RSV4 superbike. Of the three, only the ART machine is a known quantity, with Aleix Espargaro and Randy de Puniet having raced the bikes with some success in 2012 and 2013, joined by Yonny Hernandez and Karel Abraham this year. Teams and riders will have to guess about the performance of the Yamahas and Hondas, though given the basis of the two machines, it is a safe bet they will be relatively competitive.
The most popular machine among riders is the Yamaha M1, naturally enough. The bike is a near complete 2013 machine, with a few parts excluded, such as the fuel tank, and will utilize the spec ECU software from Dorna, being developed by the current CRT teams. Given just how good the 2013 M1 is - Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi have won races on it, Cal Crutchlow has scored regular podiums - it is expected to be the best privateer machine on the grid next season, and anyone hoping to advance in the series is angling for a ride on it.
And so Giovanni Cuzari, the team boss of Forward, is a very popular man with the riders. He has had talks with almost everyone who is anyone, including current Pata Honda World Superbike rider Johnny Rea, Aspar's Aleix Espargaro, now rideless Nicky Hayden, current BMW World Superbike man Marco Melandri, IODA Came's Danilo Petrucci, as well as current Forward riders Colin Edwards and Claudio Corti, and Forward's Moto2 rider Alex De Angelis.
2013 Indianpolis MotoGP Saturday Round Up: An Unstoppable Marquez, A Breakable Spies, And A Desirable Hayden
Somebody appears to have neglected to inform Marc Marquez of the laws of physics. Though the track is less slippery than it was last year, and so a little faster, where Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo upped their pace by three tenths of a second, dipping under last year's pole record, Marc Marquez positively obliterated it. The Spanish rookie put in one of the best laps every seen on a MotoGP bike, and stripped nearly nine tenths of a second off the pole record, held by his teammate Dani Pedrosa. He sits half a second ahead of reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo, and a fraction more ahead of Pedrosa.
That gap bears repeating. Half a second in a single lap is a world apart in MotoGP: If they both started at the same time, Marc Marquez would have crossed the line 22 meters ahead of Jorge Lorenzo after that first lap, or roughly 11 bike lengths. By comparison, third place man Dani Pedrosa would have followed 60 centimeters later, or just over a wheel length, while Cal Crutchlow would have crossed the line 1.3 meters later, his front wheel in line with Pedrosa's boot and Lorenzo's rear wheel.
Of course, posting a fast lap in qualifying is one thing, hammering them in lap after lap is another. Jorge Lorenzo is the master of the metronomic lap times, but at Indy, Marquez is just blowing him and everyone else away. Marquez' race pace is around the low 1'39, a lap time he is capable of comfortably repeating, while the rest struggle to post the occasional 1'39.4. If you're the betting type, it's not even worth putting your money on Marquez for the win, the bookmakers have already priced the rest of the field out of the market.