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Flights have been buzzing in and out of Austin for the better part of a week now. Mid-March is the city’s Golden Week when the confluence of spring break and South-by-Southwest (or SXSW, or just “South By”) means thousands of party-starved students from the University of Texas vacate to South Padre Island, freeing up space for thousands of aspiring musicians, filmmakers and digital mavens to crowd sponsored parties while pitching each other on their latest projects.
Amidst this year’s annual festival of creativity, a new type of visitor has filtered in to town. Their attire is adorned with sponsors unfamiliar to your typical angel-headed hipster. Their first order of business is not to find good wi-fi. They are not hawking free tacos or Nike Fuelbands to garner attention. They do not sport ironic moustaches.
Theirs is a different festival, held at a new venue southeast of town. In just over a month’s time, the fastest men will launch the fastest motorcycles headlong into the Circuit of the Americas’ intimidating layout, vying for crucial points early in the 2013 MotoGP season. Five of these riders will have a critical advantage after sampling the track and their machines over three days of private testing.
The Honda riders continue to work in the afternoon, but much of the attention is turning to entertainment rather than racecraft. Only Blake Young has improved his times, while Marquez and Pedrosa are turning lots of laps for the benefit of innovative camera work. Without the Dorna establishment here to clamp down on media, HRC are pulling out all the stops to shoot 1,000 frame per second corners, eye cameras, and on-board footage. Look for the Austin track to feature prominently in HRC promotions through the early part of the season.
It's a calm morning at the Circuit of the Americas, with Yamaha having shipped up yesterday. Honda is not relaxing, of course. Marquez logged 25 laps in total, splitting time between bikes and notably putting both within 0.1 seconds of one another atop the timesheets. Pedrosa edged down his time from yesterday on his 4th lap, and Bradl also improved his time early on. The teams will likely be searching through settings for some of the afternoon before putting their final assault on the Austin circuit near the end of day.
Off the track, things are even more exciting. Speedweek.de is reporting that Kevin Schwantz was prevented from entering the circuit yesterday. Schwantz had attended the previous CRT test at COTA as an advisor to Attack rider Blake Young, and was presumably going to serve in that role again. With the higher profile surrounding the factory test and presence of Schwantz fan Valentino Rossi, it would appear that the COTA management were wary of any controversy Schwantz's presence might generate. The lawsuit between the two parties is still pending for a hearing in Travis County court.
The second day of testing ended very similarly to the first, with Hondas leading the way. Bradl spent much of the day running amongst the factory bikes, although he didn't make the leap into the 2:03's alongside Marquez and Pedrosa.
The Yamaha riders logged over 60 laps each, making the most of their last day of testing. Rossi is now jetting off to Brazil for a prior engagement, while Lorenzo is presumably preparing to be hung tomorrow over after cruising SXSW with X-Games stars and Jesse James.
Grip was less of an issue by the end of the day, although still short of ideal. Pedrosa experimented with the asymmetric Bridgestones, flipping the medium left/soft right to a soft left/medium right configuration (don't try this with your BT-003's) to help solve some of the front-end grip issues he was experiencing. It's hard to say if anything particular about the track is to Pedrosa's liking, but he seemed more comfortable with his results from today.
The Honda riders, including Bradl, will remain on track for one more day of testing. Gearing will likely be an area of focus as the riders try to find the best compromise among the technical combinations of slow corners, flowing chicanes and high speed straights.
Pedrosa tips his Honda in Turn 1. Nobody is happy with the grip yet, least of all Dani.
Working alone in a quiet garage, Bradl has made substantial progress.
Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.
Lorenzo has an easy way about him, and always has a smile for everyone in the briefing.
Pedrosa does not.
The riders testing in Austin will have several advantages when the MotoGP race is held here in April. Track knowledge and baseline setups alone must be worth the expense to ship bikes and crew halfway around the world to this new circuit. But grip remains elusive, despite elevated temperatures from yesterday, holding times to within a few tenths of yesterday's best.
With only a handful of bikes circulating, the riders to a man are acknowledging that lack of grip is holding them back. For the Yamahas, both Lorenzo and Rossi are particularly concerned with exit grip from the circuit's multiple hairpins. For his part, Lorenzo is relatively pleased with a setup breakthrough near the end of yesterday and continues to make progress. Rossi continues to enjoy the circuit, but that has yet to get him into the 2:04's.
The factory Honda riders both noted the slippery track, but their bikes seem to get better acceleration out of the corners, and Marquez continues to work through elbow protectors the way most people use up chewing gum. Pedrosa seemed less than enthused with the morning work, and continues to search for gearbox and suspension issues that will serve as a reference point. Working alone, Bradl is churning through productive laps and he is progressing along with, and sometimes in front of, the HRC machinery.
As expected, times have dropped substantially since the lunch break here in Austin, where the temperature is flirting with 80 degrees (F). The Hondas have made more progress in the Spring sunshine, with Marquez dropping over 4 seconds from his previous pace. The Yamahas have trimmed their times, but to lesser degrees.
It's already becoming common to see Marc Marquez atop a time sheet, although the gap of nearly half a second to Pedrosa might be worthy of a raised eyebrow or two. Stefan Bradl performed yeoman's work putting his LCR Honda in front of both factory Yamahas for much of the afternoon. A late session charge by Lorenzo carved out .7 seconds of his previous time to salvage Yamaha's position close to the HRC duo.
Today's action has been relatively clean; with so few bikes on COTA's spacious track, there are few conflicts for territory. Earlier in the day Blake Young crashed his Attack Performance CRT bike, but any on-track carnage seems to have only slowed Attack.
Rossi completed 68 laps, with all other factory riders putting in 50-ish laps. It is not for lack of trying that Rossi finds himself well back of the action at what is effectively a neutral site for all participants.
On a breezy morning in Austin, riders logged tentative laps to get a feel for the layout at Circuit of the Americas. Until the sun does more work to counteract the brisk wind, the morning track has been slippery. The riders all seem guardedly positive about the track. Comments range from Jorge's "all the track is tricky" to Marquez's note that the post T1 series of flip-flops are quite challenging. Pedrosa reserved commentary on the layout until he gets more time on a warmer track.
Despite losing his Moto2 ride after the withdrawal of a major sponsor from the ESGP team, Gino Rea is to contest selected Moto2 rounds in 2013. The young Englishman has received the go-ahead from Dorna and IRTA to enter as a wildcard at as many races as he can raise funds for in the 2013 season.
With material support from FTR, Rea will be testing and racing the 2013 version of the FTR Moto2 chassis. The team, run by Gino Rea and his father David, currently intend to race at 11 rounds of the Moto2 championship - basically, all of the European rounds. The exact number of races they will appear at will depend on the amount of money they can raise.
That is the big question for Rea. The young Londoner still needs to raise some GBP 20,000 to contest each round. Rea has received strong support from his fan base, raising money from individual donations through the Gino Rea Club website. That effort continues, while Rea is also searching for more traditional sponsors.
Below is the press release issued by Gino Rea, complete with contact details for potential sponsors:
Gino Rea to wildcard in Moto2 2013 World Championship under 'Gino Rea Race Team'
In the midst of motorcycle racing's launch season comes an interesting project. The CAME IODA Racing team was launched last night in Rome - featuring a night-time ride by Danilo Petrucci on the IODA TR003 bike used last year through the streets of the Eternal City, as part of the three-day Moto Days exhbition in Rome - at which the MotoGP pairing of Petrucci and Lukas Pesek were presented, along with Johann Zarco, will be riding the team's Suter Moto2 bike this season.
At the same time, an interesting project to try to leverage the team's fan base was also presented. Team boss Giampiero Sacchi - formerly of Aprilia - presented the IODA Your Racing project, an idea to try to raise funds through fans of the team. The idea is that everyone who wanted to contribute to the team can chip in a small amount - the current level of contribution is set at 10 euros - to help fund the team. For that amount, you get your name or nickname - to a maximum of 12 letters - on the fairing of Danilo Petrucci's Suter BMW MotoGP bike. Clearly, the 10 euros does not buy you a lot of real estate: the twelve characters of your nickname will take up an area just 0.5mm high and 10mm wide, but it will be displayed for the full length of the season.
It has been a busy week for the medical staff of motorcycle racers. In Switzerland, Interwetten rider Thom Luthi underwent a second operation to sort out the elbow and shoulder he damaged during testing at Valencia, while Nicky Hayden had minor surgery to clean up some old scar tissue from his injured wrist.
Luthi's operation was the most serious. After the operation to fix the elbow he shattered, which took place directly after the test in mid-February, Luthi once again returned to the hospital this week to have a few problems in his shoulder seen to. The surgery reattached three torn ligaments in his acromioclavicular joint, the point where the collarbone attaches to the shoulder blade, which were also damaged during his crash at Valencia.
The operation is serious enough to put Luthi out of contention for the first two races of the season. The team are confident that the Swiss rider will be able to make his return at the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez on 5th of May, though whether he is at full fitness by then remains to be seen.
With the 2013 MotoGP season due to start in just four weeks' time, it's time to take a trip down memory lane and get ourselves excited about this season's racing. To do so, over the next few weeks, we will be running an occasional series of shots by MotoMatters.com star shooter Scott Jones, taken at some of the rounds he attended last season. His stunning photos are a reminder of why we love motorcycle racing so much. Remember also to check out the special offers Scott has on signed photos, including riders such as Casey Stoner, Cal Crutchlow and Nicky Hayden. Not long to go now...
The NGM Forward racing team were pioneers of the CRT concept. It was the NGM Forward team who were the first to present their plans to race the bikes presented as an alternative to the cripplingly expensive factory prototypes, launching their 2012 campaign with Colin Edwards at Misano in 2011. Edwards had an excruciating year aboard the Suter BMW, jumping ship to the Kawasaki-powered FTR for the 2013 season.
Now, Forward is preparing the ground for its 2014 campaign even earlier. In an interview with GPOne.com, NGM Forward boss Giovanni Cuzari revealed that the team is already in talks with several manufacturers for the season after this one. Cuzari said he had had a recent meeting with Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta to discuss 2014, when major changes will take place in MotoGP, with the dropping of the CRT category and the introduction of a new division, between the MSMA entries and the non-MSMA entries. Cuzari told GPOne that he had discussed the projects proposed by Honda (production version of the RC213V) and Yamaha (leasing M1 engines for use in custom-built chassis), but he also said he had had contacts with both Suzuki and Kawasaki.