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2013 Aragon MotoGP Saturday Round Up: On Championship Turnarounds, Honda's Moto3 Gambit, And The 2014 Calendar
Qualifying at Aragon showed that the fourteenth round of the season could turn out to be a turning point in all three Grand Prix championships. Momentum shifts, sometimes suddenly, sometimes slowly, and before you know it, title races can open up again. Foregone conclusions are shown up for the illusions they are, and the words of every championship leader - 'I won't start thinking about the title until Valencia - are brought into keen focus.
In Moto3, the lead Luis Salom had built up after the summer break has slowly been dissipating, as Alex Rins and Maverick Viñales have clawed points back from the Spanish veteran. On Saturday, Alex Rins took yet another pole - his sixth of the season - crushing the opposition and putting seven tenths of a second into Viñales, the man in second. Luis Salom struggled, ending the session in 8th, over a second slower than Viñales, and 1.7 seconds off the time of Rins. He must attempt to defend his championship lead from the third row of the grid, and with Rins, Viñales and Alex Marquez ahead of him, he will have his work cut out.
So what happened to the lap times? When MotoGP tested here at Aragon back in June, Jorge Lorenzo was nearly one and a half seconds faster than his time on the first day of practice. Marc Marquez was half a second slower than his time in testing, despite being the fastest man after FP1 and FP2, Valentino Rossi was a second slower, and Dani Pedrosa was just a couple of tenths slower than his test time, set here three months ago.
The answer is simple: no grip. Grip is missing both front and rear, as temperatures have soared unusually at the Spanish circuit. The track is also dirtier: a car event held before the test had laid rubber down and swept the track clean, but that was not the case ahead of this weekend. The lack of grip has meant everyone has struggled to match the lap times from earlier in the year.
After the serious incident at Silverstone, in which Dani Rivas crashed into Steven Odendaal during the Sunday morning warm up, as Odendaal and other riders stood waiting to make practice starts, the Grand Prix Commission has taken steps to regulate practice starts in all three Grand Prix classes. From now on, practice starts will only be allowed from designated locations at the circuit, and practice starts elsewhere will be banned.
Practice starts will be allowed from pit lane exit during practice, and at one or two designated zones around each track, as decided before each race. Marshals will indicate the start of the practice start zones, and all riders not electing to practice a start in that zone will be warned by yellow flags and will have to stay on the opposite side of the track from the start zone.
The new rules are effective immediately. The FIM press release containing the full set of rules appears below:
FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix
Decision of the Grand Prix Commission
If there is one complaint made about MotoGP it is that it is an almost entirely Spanish sport. The three title candidates in MotoGP are all Spanish, the three title candidates in Moto3 are all Spanish, and Scott Redding has his hands full holding off another Spanish rider, Pol Espargaro, for the 2013 Moto2 title. Spaniards dominate in all three classes, and it has been a long time since the Spanish national anthem hasn't been heard on a Grand Prix weekend.
So at first glance, the news that the Spanish CEV championship is to fall under FIM control and host rounds outside of Spain looks like increasing the stranglehold the Spanish have over Grand Prix racing. By raising the importance of the Spanish championship and therefore diminishing the status of other national championships, the FIM is making the situation worse, and handing even more control to Dorna, who run both the MotoGP and the Spanish CEV championships.
Though superficially attractive, there are some fundamentally wrong assumptions underlying that analysis. At the heart of the fear is the misconception that Dorna's main aim is to promote Spanish riders. The opposite is true: Dorna's main source of income is the sale of TV rights, and selling them as broadly as possible. Having too many Spanish riders in the series makes it hard to sell to broadcasters outside of Spain, hence Dorna's push to get more non-Spaniards into the series, especially in the Moto3 and Moto2 classes. Riders from outside of Spain are receiving preferential treatment in MotoGP, while pressure is being put on teams to reduce the number of Spaniards in the top class. The signing of Pol Espargaro has been a major bone of contention between Dorna and Yamaha, the repercussions of which are not yet fully worked out.
Replacement Merry-Go-Round: Cudlin In For Hernandez, Scassa Replaces Abraham, Salom In For Baz, And WSBK Wildcards
As the end of the season approaches, the punishment which the riders have taken is starting to take its toll. With several riders out or moved, replacements are being sought to complete the season, or at least fill in for the next race.
In the MotoGP class, the knock on effect of Ben Spies' extended absence means that a vacancy arose at the PBM team. With Michele Pirro unable to race in the overseas triple header, dedicating himself to testing for the remainder of the year, Yonny Hernandez has been moved to the Ignite Pramac squad for the last five races of the year, as was announced after the Misano test. That meant that Hernandez' spot at PBM needed filling, preferably by a rider with some kind of Grand Prix experience. That rider has now been found, and Damian Cudlin is to take the place of Hernandez at the next round of MotoGP at Aragon. Whether Cudlin will continue at PBM after Aragon is yet to be determined. Cudlin has GP experience, having replaced Hector Barbera in 2011 at Motegi and Phillip Island. He has also raced both as a wildcard and as a replacement rider in Moto2.
As the 2013 MotoGP season heads into its final five races, negotiations for 2014 are coming to a head. While the seats on factory and satellite machines were filled some time ago, the next level of competitiveness, both in terms of riders and bikes, is now up for grabs.
Two names and two teams were the focal point of the negotiations, and the log jam behind which many other riders were waiting. It was up to Aleix Espargaro to make a decision on whether to stay at Aspar, or pay off his contract and head to the NGM Forward squad, and up to Nicky Hayden to decide whether his future lay in MotoGP with Aspar or Forward, or if it was time to head over to World Superbikes, and become the first rider to win a title in both series.
In turn, the Aspar and NGM Forward teams had become the hot ticket, because of the packages they had to offer, and how competitive they are expected to be. Forward will be running Yamaha's leased engine package, consisting of an engine, frame and swingarm from the 2013 Yamaha M1 for 2014, with the rest of the bike to be built by FTR. The British engineering firm will then build an entire chassis package for 2015, though the chassis could be entered earlier if it is finished. The package will run the spec Dorna software instead of Yamaha's custom electronics, and this is likely to be the limiting factor on performance.
The 2013 MotoGP season has been a bad one for shoulder injuries. Shoulder problems have caused Ben Spies to miss almost the entire MotoGP season, and now Karel Abraham has also decided to sit out the remainder of 2013. The Czech rider injured his shoulder in a bad fall at Indianapolis, causing ligament damage which needs surgery to correct. Abraham is currently undergoing therapy to prepare for surgery, scheduled to take place in early October.
Abraham's situation once again underlines how problematic shoulder injuries are. The shoulder is the most complicated joint in the human body, because of the range of motion the shoulder has. To give the shoulder such freedom of movement, it contains a large amount of soft tissue and connecting ligaments. This tissue is easily damaged in a crash, and such tissue takes a very long time to heal properly, and complicated surgery to correct.
The Cardion AB team will now look for a replacement, but finding one will not be easy. They have been told by Dorna and the FIM that a replacement rider should have prior experience, either in MotoGP or World Superbikes, on the grounds of safety. That severely limits the list of eligible candidates, especially as Paul Bird's PBM squad must also find a similar rider to replace Yonny Hernandez, who is moving into the Pramac team to replace Ben Spies.
2013 Misano MotoGP Test Round Up: 2013 vs 2014 Machines, Spec Electronics And A New Rear Bridgestone
The rain on Monday morning brought a welcome respite for tired journalists at least, after a night spent filing stories until the early hours of the morning. It meant that the Misano MotoGP test did not get underway until very late in the morning, with most riders staying in the pits until well after noon.
Once they got started, though, there was a lot to be tested. Both Yamaha and Honda had brought the latest versions of their 2014 prototypes for testing, but with the championship heading into its final five races, there was a lot to work on with the current crop of machines.
That was particularly true for Dani Pedrosa. The Repsol Honda man dropped from second to third in the championship at Misano, Jorge Lorenzo matching him on points, but taking the position on the basis of having more wins. Pedrosa has complained of a lack of rear grip almost all season, and if he is to retain a shot at the title, his team have to find a solution. Did they find anything? Pedrosa gave a series of carefully worded answers trying to put a positive spin on the test, but the short answer was 'not really'. There were positive points and negative points, and they had some ideas to try at the next races, but in reality, they did not find the silver bullet they were looking for.
If half a second is a long time around Misano, seven tenths of a second is almost a geological era. Jorge Lorenzo was lacking grip and braking stability on Saturday; on Sunday morning, Ramon Forcada stiffened the front to improve Lorenzo's braking, and the factory Yamaha man crushed the opposition in the warm up. Four hours later, the reigning world champion did exactly the same again in the race, destroying his rivals in the first three laps, and holding on for a victory that was both overwhelming and important.
The first three laps? Lorenzo probably won the race in the first 100 meters off the line. Lorenzo had fluffed his practice starts on Saturday, bogging down and not really getting off the line. On Sunday, he was so fast away off the line that he had two bike lengths before he had even changed up into second gear. By the time he crossed the timing line at the end of the first sector, he was already 0.4 seconds ahead. By the end of the first lap, he was 1.2 seconds ahead. It was already game over.
There was the small matter of the remaining 27 laps, of course, but Lorenzo controlled the race imperiously. Every time one of the Repsol Hondas chasing him got a little closer, Lorenzo responded, upping his pace to match either Dani Pedrosa or Marc Marquez, depending on who was leading the chase. The gap climbed to three seconds, dropped to two seconds, climbed again to four before Lorenzo crossed the line nearly three and a half seconds ahead of Marquez. It had been a typically Lorenzian performance, ruling the race with an iron fist, crushing the opposition before it even had a chance to consider trying to put up a fight.
Yonny Hernandez is to replace the injured Ben Spies for the rest of the 2013 MotoGP season. So far, Spies' seat has been filled by Ducati tester Michele Pirro, but the stress of racing as well as working through a very busy test schedule has taken its toll on the young Italian. Furthermore, Pirro racing the three flyaways would have meant that testing would have ceased for the three-week duration, and with work in full swing for the 2014 season, that was not time Ducati had to lose.
Who will take Hernandez place at PBM is as yet unknown. Michael Laverty looks set to take Hernandez' ART machine for the rest of the season, while no clear favorite has yet emerged to take over the PBM Aprilia on the other side of the garage.
What this means for Spies' future is as yet uncertain. The Texan has a contract with Ducati for the 2014 season, but Spies' extended absence through injury has created tension in the Pramac team. There is unfounded paddock gossip that if Hernandez adapts well to the Desmosedici, he could take Spies' place next year. That, however, depends on a messy and expensive severance between Ducati and Spies. At the moment, such talk should be rated as improbable, but not entirely impossible.
Below is the press release from the Ignite Pramac team:
Half a second at Misano is a very, very long time. At a short track like this, gaps are measured in tenths, not seconds. The gap from 5th to 12th, for example, is 0.505. Yet the gap from Marc Marquez on pole to Jorge Lorenzo, the rider with the second fastest time, was 0.513 seconds. A huge difference.
Despite another one of his fast crashes in free practice, from which he keeps walking away almost unhurt, Marquez stayed calm, posted an impressive fast lap in his first run of Q2, and then followed it up by obliterating Casey Stoner's 2011 Misano pole lap record by over two tenths of a second. The lap was stunning - another trademark of Marquez since his switch to MotoGP - and beyond the capability of anyone to follow. The Repsol Honda man looked unstoppable during qualifying.
Not just during qualifying. There has only been one session of practice in which Marc Marquez was not fastest at Misano, and that was Q1, a session he did not participate in. Marquez has now scored six poles in his first year, joining Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi as the only riders to have started from pole so many times in a season. He is, in case you haven't noticed, downright impressive.
Though the factory seats in MotoGP are all filled, the prime seats on the non-factory entries are still open. Top favorites among the riders are the NGM Forward team, with the leased and FTR-kitted Yamaha M1s, and the Aspar team, which will be running factory-backed Aprilias, though not as an official factory team. These four are the most competitive of the non-factory bikes, and any rider dreaming at a shot of a return to a factory ride, with Suzuki in 2015 perhaps, will want to be on board one of these bikes.
At the moment, there are two lynchpins around which all of the rest of the choices revolve. Aleix Esparagaro is the rider garnering the most interest from teams, unsurprisingly given just how competitive the Spaniard has been on the Aspar ART machine. Espargaro's problem is that he already has a contract for 2014, guaranteed by Aspar if he ends the season as the best CRT finisher. Given that he is 41 points of the next CRT rider - Colin Edwards of NGM Forward - not succeeding in that goal looks increasingly unlikely.
Dani Rivas has been handed a two-race ban for the crash he caused during morning warm up at Silverstone, two weeks ago. The crash happened because Rivas was remonstrating with another rider after the flag had dropped for the end of warm up, and a group of riders were stood still waiting to do a practice start. Rivas was not looking where he was going, and slammed straight into the back of Steven Odendaal, as footage on Youtube shows. Both Rivas and Odendaal were taken to hospital; Odendaal is riding again, Rivas is still injured.
Rivas will now be forced to miss not only Misano, where he is injured, but also Aragon and Sepang. Below is the FIM press release explaining the decision:
2013 FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix
Hertz British Grand Prix - Decision of the Race Direction
On 1st September 2013 at the end of the Moto2 class Warm Up session for the Hertz British Grand Prix at Silverstone, there was an accident involving riders number 27 Dani Rivas, 44 Steven Odendaal, 19 Xavier Simeon, and 81 Jordi Torres, with both Rivas and Odendaal requiring medical attention which ruled them out of the race.
2013 Misano MotoGP Preview: On Yamaha's Seamless Gearbox, Marquez' Misdemeanors And The Veto That Wasn't
Will they or won't they? "They", of course, were Yamaha, and the question was whether Yamaha would start to use their seamless gearbox at Misano, something which riders Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo had been asking for a long time. That the gearbox would be used at the test on Monday seemed obvious, but several publications - including both MCN and the Spanish website Motocuatro.com - predicted that Yamaha's seamless transmission would be raced at Misano.
They were right. In the press conference on Thursday, Jorge Lorenzo was the first to break the news. 'It will be here for the weekend,' he said, going on to clarify: 'tomorrow.' Rossi was delighted, telling the press conference he was very happy that Yamaha had decided to start using the seamless transmission, as it could help them in their fight against Honda.
It was not by any means a magic bullet, Rossi was at pains to stress, but it would make it easier to ride over the full length of a race. There is no real gain in terms of lap time, but with reduced tire wear and reduced strain on the rider, it did add up to gains in total race time. 'It was a nice feeling not to feel this dropping of power for a few milliseconds,' Lorenzo explained. 'You don't feel it on the seamless - it is like a scooter, an automatic bike.' The biggest gain was in shifting up through the gearbox with the bike banked over, Lorenzo said. With the conventional gearbox, the bike would move, but with the seamless, 'the bike doesn’t move and you save more the tires and are in more in control of the bike.'