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.
Where do you draw the line? That's the central question in the paddock at Le Mans. The last-corner incident at Jerez is still front and foremost in many riders' minds, though perhaps none more so than Jorge Lorenzo's. Jorge Lorenzo still believes that Marc Marquez should be penalized for the move he made at Jerez, while the rest of the world remains to be convinced.
The subject came up at a rider briefing held by Race Direction at Le Mans, after all of the riders had arrived at the track, but before the press conference was due to begin. The briefing had been convened to discuss other issues - what to do when races are red flagged, behavior on the grid, the procedure for restarts, and a host of other complicated but important details surrounding safety. The briefing was clearly needed, as Marc VDS rookie Livio Loi's post red flag crash at Jerez made clear, the youngster's lack of experience causing him problems.
It was inevitable that the subject of the clash between Marquez and Lorenzo would come up at a meeting such as this, and, depending on whose account you believe, it was inevitable that tempers would be frayed. Lorenzo was described on GPOne as being 'furious' with Race Direction over their refusal to penalize Marquez for his pass at Jerez, though in the press conference, Lorenzo played that report down. He stood by his assertion that Race Direction needed to penalize Marquez, and that he had left the meeting early because "I thought it was over, the briefing, and I leave. Someone has to leave first, so I was the first one to leave."
2013 Jerez MotoGP Post-Race Round Up, Part 2: Of Forgotten Winners, Worried Yamahas And New-found Optimism
At the post-race press conference, as he fielded question after question of his last-corner clash with Marc Marquez, and refused to give an answer, Jorge Lorenzo eventually came out with the slightly exasperated quip: "Now a lot of questions to me, and when I won in Qatar, no questions for me. It's a little bit strange." It is a common occurrence in sporting journalism, and makes clear that while the athletes believe they are involved in a purely sporting endeavor, the media understands that what they are involved is actually show business. The big story of the weekend is not necessarily who stands on the top step of the podium.
Which is a shame, as Dani Pedrosa's victory at Jerez was both well-deserved and deeply impressive. The Hondas has come to the track with a disadvantage from testing, and were expected to struggle against the mighty Yamahas. It did not quite turn out that way, the Hondas - and especially Pedrosa and his crew chief Mike Leitner - found the grip they needed to beat Jorge Lorenzo and the rampaging Yamaha hordes, despite the horribly greasy conditions of the hot Jerez track.
We'd been wondering how long it would last. Nobody had started a formal pool yet, but we knew that at some point in the season, Marc Marquez would try something which would generate a mountain of controversy. The question was not if, but when, surely.
It took three races, which is positively restrained measured by the standards of his 2012 Moto2 season. Then, he managed to embroil himself in controversy in the very first race when he ran Thomas Luthi off the track at the end of the straight at the beginning of the final lap.
Yet while Marquez' pass on Jorge Lorenzo is already generating enough print copy to wipe out a small forest, it is totally different from his move at Qatar in 2012. That was a cynical slide to the left which saw him edge Luthi off the track and out of contention. This was a dive up the inside of a gap left by Lorenzo in the final corner of the final lap, after Marquez had spent the previous five or six laps making it perfectly clear to Lorenzo that he was hell-bent on finishing ahead of him.
Saturday at Jerez was a crash fest, in just about every class. Why? The heat - well, perhaps heat is an exaggeration, but certainly the weather was better than anyone expected a few weeks ago. Once the heat hits the Andalusian track, the grip drops off a cliff, and the riders are left struggling to cope. In Moto3, MotoGP and Moto2, a lot of riders hit the deck on Saturday afternoon.
Alex Rins was one of the first to fall, crashing out during qualifying for the Moto3 class. It did not slow him down, the Spaniard grabbing pole for the second race in succession. MotoGP was much worse: during the final session of free practice, Cal Crutchlow threw his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha away at the start of the back straight. Later in that session, Crutchlow watched from behind as Marc Marquez fought a losing battle with gravity at the other end of the straight, the front folding and the rear whipping round on him despite valiant efforts to save it. "I was willing him to save it," Crutchlow joked afterwards, "but in the end gravity won."
Ask Jorge Lorenzo if there is one thing which the Yamaha needs to allow him to compete with the Hondas, and he will tell you it is a seamless gearbox. The system used by Honda on the RC213V allows the riders to shift gear while the bike is still leaned over, without upsetting the machine. It is an important factor in the Honda's better drive out of corners, as Dani Pedrosa, Marc Marquez, Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista can shift gear earlier and make optimum use of the rev range to accelerate harder.
That Yamaha is working on a seamless gearbox is no secret, with Yamaha's test riders currently racking up the kilometers around tracks in Japan, testing the reliability of the maintenance-intensive system to the limit before using it in a race. Recently, however, Spanish magazine SoloMoto published an article suggesting that Yamaha has already been using its new seamless gearbox since the beginning of the season. In evidence, the magazine pointed to an apparent difference in fuel consumption between the factory Yamahas and the satellite bike of Cal Crutchlow. While both Cal Crutchlow and Valentino Rossi made mistakes at Qatar, only Rossi was able to recover, and then battle with Marc Marquez for the podium. The theory put forward by SoloMoto was that the smoother transition between gears gave both better drive and lower fuel consumption, as the ignition is cut for a much shorter period, wasting less of the limited gasoline the MotoGP bikes are allowed.
2013 Jerez MotoGP Friday Round Up: Yamaha vs Honda, Or Going Just As Fast In Two Very Different Ways
For the past couple of years, it has seemed as if there is some kind of unwritten law which states that any MotoGP weekend must be accompanied by rain. The weekends without the threat of rain or some other form of ill weather have been few and far between, so it is both a relief and a joy to come to Jerez and have the prospect of a full weekend of stable and dry weather. That's not to say that no rain has fallen: this morning, as we walked to the car, we felt three or four large drops, but that was all. From the forecast, this looks like the entire quota of rain for the weekend, and the paddock is duly grateful for small mercies.
A consistently dry track still posed problems for the riders, however. The last time MotoGP was here, back in March, conditions were far from ideal. It rained, every day, with plenty of sunshine in between, leaving the track treacherous and difficult, with low grip levels and a patchy surface. Though the teams collected plenty of data at that test, very little of it is usable this weekend, with much higher temperatures and better grip. Until the afternoon, that is, when the warmer temperatures meant that grip levels started to drop again, a perennial problem at Jerez. The bumps, too, are an issue, with many riders running wide after hitting them as they braked for the hairpins at the circuit.
Despite the fact that the conditions are better, times so far have not been faster than at the test. Quickest man on the first day of practice was Jorge Lorenzo, the reigning champion picking up where he left off at Qatar before the rude interruption of Austin. His advantage is small - just over a tenth over Dani Pedrosa, a fraction more over Cal Crutchlow - but his race pace is impressive so far. Lorenzo put a lot of laps on a single set of tires, testing tire wear, and getting ready for the race.
The MotoGP paddock is assembled in all its splendor at Jerez, and it is positively bulging at the seams. Shiny new hospitality units (very shiny, in the case of the Go&Fun Gresini unit) now pack the paddock, the existing units larger and new units added, causing the paddock to loosen its belt and expand into the adjacent car park, sequestering part of the area previously reserved for team and media cars. Under a bright blue Andalusian sky, it really is looking at its most appealing.
The expanded paddock makes you understand why IRTA decided to ban Moto2 and Moto3 riders from having their motorhomes in the paddock, all of them now expelled. The riders themselves are less impressed. "It was nice to have somewhere you could zone out during the day, and relax," Scott Redding said of the change. Sitting in the hospitality and watching the world go by was very pleasant, but still left him on his guard, he explained. Private quiet time was gone.
And it also removes part of the socialization process which young riders used to undergo, with the Moto2 and Moto3 men wandering around the paddock chatting to team members and other riders, everyone getting to know each other, and catching up on the latest news and gossip. It was part of what made the paddock feel like a village; a small Italian village, high in the mountains, with an inexplicably male-dominated population. The Moto2 and Moto3 riders added much to the fun of the place, spending most of their evenings challenging each other to wheelie competitions on mountain bikes and scooters. The paddock loses much with the change, feeling more like a workplace than a community.
2013 Austin MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Of Record Breakers, Deserved And Undeserved Attention, and Banquo's Ghost
Another day, another record. Marc Marquez now takes the place of Freddie Spencer as both the youngest rider ever to take a premier class pole, and youngest rider ever to win a premier class Grand Prix. If you had any doubt that Marquez is something special, then the inaugural round of MotoGP at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas should have removed it. Marquez is on the path which all great riders take, scoring a podium in his first race, pole and a win in his second. This is what preternaturally talented riders do: learn fast, and race fast, and win soon.
The manner of Marquez' win was what was most impressive. Together with his team, the Spaniard elected to run the harder rear tire, holding station when everyone else (except for fellow Honda rider Stefan Bradl) chose the softer of the two options. After overshooting the start, he slotted in behind his Repsol Honda teammate - a rider in his 8th season of MotoGP - evaluated how wear was affecting his rear tire, then pushed hard to pass Pedrosa in a strong and gutsy move through turns 5 and 6. He then nursed a front tire that had developed a minor problem home to take his maiden win in MotoGP, and take two of Spencer's records, both of which had stood since 1982. His win was not just a matter of talent, but also of great maturity, and of having the backing of arguably the strongest crew in the paddock.
One record down, one to go. By qualifying on pole in just his second MotoGP race, at the age of 20 years and 61 days, Marc Marquez becomes the youngest premier class polesitter in history, deposing the legendary Freddie Spencer of the crown he has held for 31 years. On Sunday, Marc Marquez will go after the next target: the record as the youngest winner of a premier class Grand Prix, also held by Spencer. If he fails to win on Sunday - a very distinct possibility - he still has until Indianapolis to take Spencer's record, making it very far from safe.
Marquez' pole was the crowning glory of an utterly impressive weekend so far. The Repsol Honda youngster has dominated most of practice, leading his teammate by a quarter of a second or more in every session but one. He was immediately fast, but his race rhythm is just as impressive. In FP3, as grip on the track improved, Marquez cranked out 2'04s and 2'05s like they were going out of style. He was consistent, too. Not quite Jorge Lorenzo consistent, but he was running a pace that would have let him build up a lead, with only Dani Pedrosa able to stay close.