MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
Failed records and new rules
Back in the heady days of Marlboro Team Roberts domination, King Kenny Roberts had a favourite saying, which he would shout at full volume during the team’s frequent and legendarily messy victory dinners. Full of wine, joy and relief, King Kenny’s voice would boom around the dining room: “Who got fourth?” In other words, who cares who got fourth when his crew had won the race?
Well, everyone at Brno knew who got fourth. During the top three press conference – Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi – one journalist was polite enough to apologise for asking so many questions about Marc Márquez who, for the first time in his short but uniquely wonderful MotoGP career, had ridden past the chequered flag and straight back into his pit, with no reason to stop in the parc fermé.
Press releases from the MotoGP team after Monday's test at Brno:
Marc Marquez did not take kindly to finishing fourth on Sunday, that much was obvious from the test. He lined up at pit lane exit at precisely 10am, waiting for the track to open. As soon as it opened, he was away, the first rider to take to the track in a long way. When Jorge Lorenzo went fastest, Marquez seemed determined to catch him, finally leaving the test at the end of a long day at the top of the timesheets.
Testing is not really about who is fastest, though riders cannot avoid turning it into a competitive sport. It is more about carefully running through options and testing parts, selecting what works and what doesn't, trying new bikes and parts, and testing out set up changes which are too experimental or time-consuming to try on a normal race weekend. Riders are still trying to go fast, but they and the teams are more interested in comparing their own times, rather than the times of others.
The factory Honda and Yamaha teams had similar programs. Both had the latest version of their 2015 bikes for the riders to test, as well as minor modifications to their current set ups in search of a bit more performance for the end of the year. That Honda's 2015 bike is working should be no surprise: Marc Marquez topped the timesheets on the new bike, praising the work done so far. It is an improvement over the 2014 machine, and faster in the middle of the corner, though there are still a few areas that need work. It was good enough for Marquez to get under Cal Crutchlow's pole record from 2013, however. Would he like to use it for the rest of the season? Though the bike is faster, it would be too much of a risk using it for the rest of the season.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after Sunday's race at Brno:
The hot-hand fallacy finally caught up with Marc Marquez. His amazing streak of consecutive wins stays at ten, the Spaniard being beaten for the first time this year. In his twenty-ninth race in the MotoGP class, Marquez and his crew finally failed to find a good enough set up to win, or even make it onto the podium. The Repsol Honda man has only missed out on the podium twice before, once at Mugello last year, when he crashed, and once at Phillip Island, when he was disqualified from the tire fiasco race.
Defeat had been waiting in the wings for Marquez for a while now. Look solely at the points table, and his dominance looks complete. But go back and look at his winning margin, and his advantage has not looked quite so large. Of his ten wins, only two were by a considerable margin: one at Austin, where he has always been better than the rest; one at Assen, where rain created large gaps. His advantage at Argentina and Indianapolis was 1.8 seconds, at Jerez, Le Mans and the Sachsenring under a second and a half. Marquez could only eke out victory at Qatar, Mugello and Barcelona, races he won by a half a second or less. At most races, Marquez was winning by a slender margin indeed, lapping on average just five or six hundredths of a second quicker than his rivals. It was enough, but it was really not very much at all.
Marquez' slender advantage over his rivals was a sign of just how close they really were. Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa had all come close to beating Marquez, and in the case of Pedrosa at Barcelona, Marquez had been forced to delve deep into his bag of tricks to beat his teammate. Marquez' talent may have loaded the dice he was rolling, but eventually they would fall another way. "People said winning was easy for me," Marquez told the Spanish media, "but I know how hard it was."
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after qualifying at Brno:
The key to success in motorcycle racing is about controlling as many variables as you can. There are two variables which riders and teams cannot control, and which they fear for that very reason: the weather, and crashes. The weather spared both MotoGP and Moto2 at Brno on Saturday, but played havoc in Moto3. Crashes, too, made life difficult, both for MotoGP and in Moto3. It made for an intriguing day of practice.
The day started under leaden skies, with the threat of rain ever present throughout the morning. Dark clouds rolled in, then rolled right out again, chased deeper into Moravia and away from the track. They broke only briefly in the afternoon, the Moto3 qualifying session the main victim. Standing at trackside, the rain came and went so quickly that by the time I posted an update on Twitter, the weather had changed, immediately contradicting me. In the end, a red flag saved my blushes, Phillip Oettl crashing and damaging the air fence, causing the session to be halted while the air fence was repaired.
The rain had disappeared by the time MotoGP qualifying rolled around, conditions good enough for Marc Marquez to get close to Cal Crutchlow's pole record from 2013. That Marquez should take pole is hardly a surprise – that's nine out of eleven this year – but the way he controlled not just pole position, but the whole front row of the grid. Marquez jumped straight to pole on his first run out of the pits, but as he started his second run, he picked up a passenger. Andrea Iannone latched onto the tail of Marquez, and as Marquez flashed across the line to improve his time, Iannone used his tow to leapfrog ahead of his time, taking provisional pole from the Repsol Honda man. His soft tire spent, Iannone couldn't follow Marquez on his second run, the world champion going on to reclaim pole and demote Iannone to second. Further down the grid, Andrea Dovizioso followed Valentino Rossi around the circuit to improve his own time, moving up to second and demoting Iannone another spot.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after the first day of practice at Brno:
2014 Brno MotoGP Friday Round Up: Yamaha's Big Improvement, Elbow Down In The Wet, And The Factory Bosses Speak
The first day of practice at Brno turned out to be a day of two halves. The morning was glorious, sunny and relatively warm. Clouds began gathering shortly after lunch, and the first spots of rain started to fall just as FP2 for the Moto3 class came to a close. The rain grew steadily heavier for the first half of the MotoGP afternoon practice session, easing up and stopping with some ten minutes to go. By the time the Moto2 bikes took to the track, the circuit was already drying, though it only really dried out completely towards the end of Moto2.
The two halves of MotoGP practice showed the same picture, however. Marc Marquez is fast in the wet and fast in the dry, and clearly looking comfortable on the Repsol Honda. Teammate Dani Pedrosa is also quick in both conditions, though a little closer to Marquez on a wet track than on a dry track. In the dry, Jorge Lorenzo is very close to Marc Marquez, but in the wet, both he and Movistar Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi are a second off the pace of the Repsols.
Speed in the morning had given Lorenzo confidence he could be competitive with Marquez, and his pace in the wet was not a worry, he said. Everyone had started slowly in the wet, and Lorenzo was no exception. For Rossi, the second they are giving away to the Hondas in the wet is an issue, but losing track time to the rain was more of a problem. Rossi had been fifth in the dry, just a quarter of a second off Marquez, and after FP1, he and his crew had some ideas to improve turn in and enter the corner faster, right where he is losing out to the others. The rain meant he did not have a chance to test it, and with the chance of rain on Saturday, Rossi was concerned he would not be able to try it out before the race.
Leon Camier turned a lot of heads at Indianapolis in his first ride on the Drive M7 Aspar Honda production racer. The Englishman was drafted in to replace Nicky Hayden while he recovers from surgery, but despite it being the first time he rode a MotoGP bike, the Bridgestone tires, carbon brakes, and the Indianapolis circuit, Camier was very quickly up to speed with the other Open class Hondas.
Having a fast rider come in to MotoGP from World Superbikes allows a number of comparisons to be made. Among the most interesting is the difference in technology and tires. At Brno, Camier explained the difference in feel and cornering between the World Superbike Pirellis and the MotoGP Bridgestones. The front tire, especially, is a completely different kettle of fish, requiring a different style, and therefore different set up.
"The main [differene] for me is the tires and the brakes," Camier told us, "the tires being the biggest one. It's just that you have so much more front grip and with angle that you can brake and turn in with the brake on. [The front tire] is adjusting itself to be able to do that."
Is this the race it finally happens? Will Marc Marquez' record-breaking streak of wins, his perfect season, finally come to an end? We have discussed the statistical improbabilities of it continuing to the end of the year before. At some point, the chips will fall someone else's way, and a small mistake by Marquez, or just a perfect weekend by one of his rivals will see someone else on the top step of the podium.
What would it take to beat Marquez? Dani Pedrosa had a strong idea. "A win makes you stronger, so every time Marc wins, he is more committed," Marquez' Repsol Honda teammate said. "So your approach every time is harder, you have to be even more committed." Did he have a plan to try to beat Marquez this weekend? Proceed as normal, look for speed every session, try to find the perfect set up. There was no point trying to formulate a plan of attack. "You can't plan things against Marc," Pedrosa said, "he is smart, he can adapt each time."
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone ahead of the Brno round of MotoGP:
Riders and managers will be very busy this weekend at Brno, as negotiations continue for the open slots left on the 2015 MotoGP grid. The deals that saw Stefan Bradl leave LCR Honda for Forward Yamaha and Cal Crutchlow depart Ducati and head for LCR Honda have kicked negotiations for the remaining seats into overdrive. Forward Yamaha still has one seat open, with Aleix Espargaro set to join Maverick Viñales at Suzuki, a deal due to be announced in September. There are two Open class Hondas available, at Gresini and Aspar, with Scott Redding moving up to take the factory RC213V, and Hiroshi Aoyama set to lose his seat. Pramac Ducati has one seat available, now that Andrea Iannone has moved up to take Crutchlow's place in the factory Ducati team. And Aprilia will have two seats to fill when they reenter the class in 2015.
Interview: Alvaro Bautista On The Pros And Cons Of Nissin And Showa, Electronics, And The Importance Of Training
Since leaving Suzuki when the Japanese factory withdrew from MotoGP at the end of 2011, Alvaro Bautista has been with the Gresini Honda team. There, he has ridden the team's factory RC213V, racking up three podiums and one pole for the team. Things have not been as easy for him as for the other Honda riders, however, as Gresini has a deal with Showa to supply suspension and Nissin to supply brakes. As the only team in the paddock on that combination, competing against the massed ranks of Brembo/Öhlins-shod MotoGP machines has been hard. Where the Brembo/Öhlins bikes have masses of data from other riders they can compare their set ups against, Bautista and Gresini have only their bike, and the data from the bike on the other side of the garage. In the previous two seasons, that was an FTR-built machine powered by a CBR1000RR engine, making data comparison very difficult. This year things are a little easier, with the RCV1000R being closely related to the RC213V, but challenges remain.
At Barcelona, MotoMatters.com friend and contributor Mick Fialkowski caught up with Bautista to ask him about his season so far. In a long conversation, Bautista talks about the difficult start to the season, the challenges presented in developing the Nissin and Showa suspension, about the changes made for the 2014 season, and about the fitness required to compete at the top level of MotoGP. It made for a fascinating discussion:
Mick Fialkowski: Alvaro, it's been an up-and-down season so far. First three races without points, then a podium at Le Mans. What happened?
Alvaro Bautista: I think in the first three races we just had bad luck. We were competitive in Qatar. Also at Austin I was in the podium group, as well as in Argentina. We had a setting that wasn't too bad for the race but I didn't finish, so it was just bad luck. Then I scored a podium at Le Mans and in Mugello I struggled a lot with the setup of the bike. Using this suspension and these brakes the thing is that when we have problems, it's difficult to fix them because we don't have any reference, only myself, and that makes it more difficult for us.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams, Bridgestone and Indianapolis Motor Speedway after the Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix: