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2014 Mugello MotoGP Friday Round Up: On Wasted Sessions, A Feisty Rossi, And American Joy And Despair
The weather didn't really play ball at Mugello on Friday. The forecast rain held off until the last five minutes of Moto3 FP2, before sprinkling just enough water on the track to make conditions too wet for slicks, too dry for wet tires. That left the entire MotoGP field sitting in their garages waiting for the rain to either get heavier and wet the track completely, or else stop, and allow it to dry up. Dani Pedrosa explained that though the track was dry in most places, San Donato, the first corner at the end of the high speed straight, was still wet. Bridgestone slicks need to be pushed hard to get them up to temperature, and if you can't push in Turn 1, then they don't. That leaves you with cold tires, which will come back and bite you further round the track.
One of the items on the list of requirements Dorna sent to Michelin was the need for an intermediate tire. Would anyone have gone out if they had had intermediates? Pedrosa believed they would have. 'With intermediates you can go out. I'm not sure whether you get anything out of it, but for sure you don't have 24 bikes in the box.' You don't learn much in terms of set up when you go out on intermediates, but more people might venture out. One team manager I spoke to was less convinced. 'We have five engines and a limited number of tires. We can't afford to lose an engine in a crash. Why take a risk, when it's better to save miles on the engine?'
2014 Mugello MotoGP Preview: Rossi's Revival In Race 300, And How Marquez And Moto2 Are Changing MotoGP
The paradox of the motorcycle racer is that every race is a big race, yet no race is more important than any other. The pressure on the MotoGP elite is so great that they have to perform at their maximum at every circuit, every weekend. Every race is like a championship decider, not just the race which decides the championship. There may be extra pressure at a home race, or on a special occasion, or when a title is at stake, but the riders cannot let it get to them. There is too much at stake to be overawed by the occasion.
Still, Mugello 2014 is a very big race indeed. It is Valentino Rossi's 300th Grand Prix, and a chance for him to return to the podium on merit again, and not just because the crowds were calling his name. It is the best hope of a Jorge Lorenzo revival, the Yamaha man having won the last three races in a row at the spectacular Tuscan track. It is the best hope for Ducati, the Italian factory having run well here in the past. And it is the first realistic chance for Marc Marquez to fail, the Spaniard has never found the track an easy one, though it did not stop him winning there.
Valentino Rossi heads into the race weekend more optimistic than he has been in years. Though Misano is closer to Rossi's home in Tavullia – it is literally walking distance, though it is a long walk indeed – Mugello is the Italian's spiritual home, the track he loves most in the world.
The news that 340mm carbon brake discs are to be allowed once again in MotoGP has rekindled a debate that has been going on behind the scenes for some time. The move to allow the discs at all tracks, and not just Motegi where they are already compulsory, has come as both power and weight of the MotoGP machines has grown over the past three years. But the real solution lies in reducing minimum weight.
There was a certain irony in the moment chosen by the Grand Prix Commission to ban carbon discs larger than 320mm. The move – made for reason of cost savings and rationalization – came just as MotoGP was to return to 1000cc, meaning the bikes were about to reach higher top speeds. Compounding the problem, the minimum weight was also increased. The initial proposal was to raise the minimum from 150kg, the weight of the old 800cc machines, to 153kg. However, to make life easier for the CRT machines, the weight limit was raised even further, in two steps, to 157kg in 2012 and 160kg in 2013.
Michelin has been named as the official tire supplier for MotoGP starting from 2016. The French tire manufacturer will take over the role from Bridgestone when Bridgestone leaves at the end of 2015 season.
The official announcement confirms the worst kept secret in the paddock. Michelin had been widely trailed as being awarded the contract, as the French firm had shown the most interest. Unofficial talks had taken place with Pirelli, and Dunlop had made a formal request for information, but Michelin was the only tire maker to submit a bid. Michelin has already been testing its 16.5" slicks at Vallelunga and Clermont Ferrand in preparation for a bid.
The bid to become single tire supplier marks something of a turnaround for the French tire maker. When Dorna decided to go to a single supplier in 2008, Michelin did not enter a bid, saying that they had no interest in racing if there was no competition. As more and more race series have gone single supplier, that position has become untenable. Tire development can happen, but it is driven by corporate goals rather than competition, as Bridgestone explained when they announced their decision to withdraw.
MotoGP riders are to get some help with braking. From Mugello, all riders will be able to choose once again between running 320mm and 340mm brake discs on the front wheel. Use of the 340mm discs had been made compulsory at Motegi for safety reasons, but now, they will be available at all circuits.
The 320mm brake discs had been made compulsory at the end of the 2011 season, in an effort to cut costs. At that point, teams were free to choose from multiple sizes and masses of brake disc, meaning they were forced to purchase and transport sizeable numbers of discs to each race, while only using one or two sizes. Limiting choice was meant to rationalize the process, and cut costs for the teams.
Colin Edwards is to finally get the new chassis he has been waiting for. NGM Forward boss Giovanni Cuzari told MotoGP.com that the team will have a new frame at Mugello, along with a new front fairing. A new seat unit and subframe would also be available. The new parts will only make their appearance on race day, Cuzari said.
More parts would appear after Barcelona, Cuzari said, which would bring their bike to approximately 75% of the machine planned for next year, which will be a complete rolling chassis with Yamaha engines. The parts would initially only be given to Colin Edwards, who has struggled to get to grips with the Yamaha chassis. He has been unable to get the bike to turn, leaving him well off the pace of teammate Aleix Espargaro. Espargaro has been very happy with the chassis supplied by Yamaha, when supply problems left Forward with a frame. In 2015, Yamaha have committed to only supplying engines, with chassis no longer being available. Colin Edwards has been pushing hard for a chassis similar to the FTR Kawasaki he campaigned in 2013, with which he was much more comfortable, though the ZX-10R engine was too tall and too underpowered to make a competitive package.
Honda's RCV1000R production racer is due to get some upgrades after all, but those upgrades are not set to come until 2015, according to reports on GPOne.com. The performance of the RCV1000R has been a source of some disappointment for the teams who stumped up the roughly 1 million euros a season the bike costs, as well as for the riders who have been hired to race the bike. After reports that a Honda test rider had lapped with 0.3 seconds of the factory RC213V machine, expectations of the bike were very high indeed.
On the track, the RCV1000R has not got anywhere near the times expected of it. Comparing the fastest race lap of the fastest RCV1000R rider against the slowest RC213V rider shows an average difference of 0.730 seconds over the first five races of the season, four tenths more than Honda had managed with a test rider. Teams have complained, riders have been open in criticizing the lack of power, and the current teams have been eyeing the Open class Yamahas fielded by the NGM Forward team with some interest.
2014 Le Mans MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Rossi's Revival, Lorenzo's Slump, Ducati's Stagnation, Miller's Revenge And Funny Front Ends
Now, Valentino Rossi knows how Max Biaggi felt. 'I did one mistake in 27 laps,' Rossi told the press conference after the MotoGP race at Le Mans. 'But in the crucial moment of the race.' Rossi braked a little bit too deep into Turn 9, ran wide, and Marquez was through. The mistake was because Rossi knew Marquez was coming, and had to try to push to keep ahead. 'I try to push, to do 1'34.0, but I knew I was at the limit.' Rossi knew that if he did not keep pushing to the full, Marquez would be upon him and past him in no time. It was perhaps that effort that caused Rossi to make the mistake that let Marquez by.
It was indeed a strange role reversal for Rossi. Ten years ago, it was Rossi himself who was hunter, stalking riders like Max Biaggi and Sete Gibernau, following them and simply waiting for a mistake. Now, the hunter had become prey, faltering when Marquez bore down upon him. At last, he got to ride a mile in Biaggi's boots.
Yet all credit is due to the veteran Italian. He is currently the only rider in the world capable of putting up any kind of resistance to the unstoppable force which is Marc Marquez. Both Rossi and Marquez were surprised and disappointed at Rossi's mistake, both relishing the chance to go toe to toe with one another. 'I don't know if I can beat him,' Rossi said, 'But I would like to fight. I think it would be fun.' Marquez concurred, telling the press conference he had expected to have 'a nice battle' with Rossi as he came up behind him, but when he saw Rossi make the mistake, he did not hesitate. He was past, had put half a second into Rossi within half a lap, and was gone. If anything, it was a mark of respect that he distanced himself so quickly. Marquez may have been prepared for a fight with Rossi, but he couldn't afford to hang around to see what Rossi could do. With five victories from five poles, Marquez may be confident, but he is not yet reckless.
Andrea Iannone has been handed a penalty point for an incident during qualifying at Le Mans on Saturday. The Italian was deemed to have ridden dangerously after he rejoined the track at the Garage Bleu Esses almost directly beside Marc Marquez, who was on a flying lap.
Marquez had complained about the move during the press conference, but Iannone had claimed that he had run out of brakes at the Chemin aux Boeufs chicane and cut across the sliproad. Marquez had responded to that suggestion by pointing out that if you've run out of brakes, you normally close the throttle across the sliproad, rather than accelerate. Race Direction appear to agree with Marquez' assessment.
Below is the press release on the incident:
FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix
Monster Energy Grand Prix de France - Decision of the Race Direction
On 17 May, 2014 during the MotoGP Qualifying 2 session of the Monster Energy Grand Prix de France, the rider #29 in the MotoGP class, Mr Andrea Iannone ran off the circuit and rejoined the circuit at a speed and in a position which caused danger to himself and another rider, and disrupted the progress of the other rider.
2014 Le Mans MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Marc Marquez As Sound Investment, Rossi On The Honda, And The Changing Of The Moto2 Guard
Qualifying at Le Mans was full of surprises. Efren Vazquez grabbed his first ever pole in Moto3, Jonas Folger bagged his first Moto2 pole after just five races in the class, and Pol Espargaro secured a front row start as a rookie. Andrea Dovizioso posted another impressive performance, grabbing third in qualifying, and Ducati's first front row start of the year. The two Movistar Yamahas were relegated to the second row of the grid, and Dani Pedrosa will start from way down in ninth. If you'd put money on that sequence of events, you could have earned yourself a very tidy sum indeed.
You certainly wouldn't have earned much by betting on who would take pole. Marc Marquez is turning into the very antithesis of surprise, at least if you judge him by the timesheet. The championship leader only managed three flying laps during qualifying at Le Mans, but two of those were fast enough to break the pole record held by Dani Pedrosa, and set using super soft Michelin qualifying tires. For the second meeting in succession, Marquez destroyed a pole record which had stood throughout the spec tire era.
He also destroyed the field in the process. Marc Marquez was nearly seven tenths quicker than the second placed rider during qualifying. He was over eight tenths quicker than both Movistar Yamaha riders, and over a second quicker than his teammate Dani Pedrosa. He took his fifth pole of the season – a clean sweep in 2014 so far – and his sixth in succession. If he wins tomorrow, he will take the record as the youngest rider to win five premier class races in a row from Mike Hailwood. He has more records in sight: Giacomo Agostini won the first eight races from pole in 1971; Mick Doohan won ten races from pole in 1997. Bookies are currently offering odds of 1/18 on Marquez taking the championship in 2014. Those are the kind of returns you would expect from interest on a long-term savings account, not from having a flutter in the hope of winning big. In the opinion of the bookmakers, betting on Marc Marquez is like putting money in the bank.
France will continue to host MotoGP for at least another seven years. Today, Dorna announced that agreement had been reached to extend the contract with race organizer Claude Michy through 2021, adding five years to the deal which was due to expire after the 2017 round.
The new deal does not guarantee that the race will continue to be held at the Le Mans circuit, however, as the contract is with the organizer, who negotiates separate deals with the Le Mans track. The chances of it being moved elsewhere are slim, however. The two alternative circuits capable of hosting a Grand Prix in France are Magny-Cours and Paul Ricard. Both feature interesting layouts, but suffer with location, as neither are very close to large population centers. Paul Ricard is better situated, close to the French coast, and therefore with accommodation reasonably nearby. But Paul Ricard suffers the disadavantage of having all of its gravel traps replaced with hard asphalted run off, ideal for cars, but not so good for motorcycles.
Below is the press release issued by Dorna on the new contract:
French Grand Prix contract extended to 2021
Who can stop Marc Marquez? By the look of the FP2 timesheet, maybe Andrea Iannone can. The Pramac Ducati rider ended Friday just 0.007 behind Marquez, the closest anyone has been to him on a Friday since Qatar. Looks are, of course, deceptive, and if you dig a little deeper you see that Iannone's fastest lap, though impressive, was made using a tow from Dani Pedrosa, just as the Repsol Honda rider was setting his fastest lap of the session. Iannone also benefited from using the extra soft rear tire which Ducati is allowed to use, making it that little bit easier to post a quick lap.
Iannone should not be written off too quickly, however. Pedrosa slowed up to let Iannone past immediately after the pair had set their quick laps, and on the next clear lap, Iannone got into the 1'33s again, posting a time equal to Pedrosa's best lap, but this time, all on his own. Whether he convert that to consistent pace in the race remains to be seen. The Italian appears to be circulating around the 1'34.3 mark. Fast, but not fast enough to match what Marquez appears to be capable of.
For real race pace, you have to look a little further down the timesheets. Jorge Lorenzo appears to have refound his mojo, and is starting to grind out the laps. The Movistar Yamaha rider put in 16 full laps during FP2, 5 of which were 1'34.1s, plus a single lap of 1'34.054. This is the Lorenzo of old, working on consistent pace and slowly ratcheting up the pace. Lorenzo's pace is still no match for Marquez – the Repsol Honda man seems capable of banging in 1'33.8s at will – but it is clearly the best of the rest. It has taken four races for the real Jorge Lorenzo to make an appearance, but at least he is finally here.