It's been a busy couple of days at FIM headquarters, as they have been putting the finishing touch to new rules for both the World Superbike and MotoGP series. The biggest news was the release of the detailed technical regulations for the World Superbike series for 2014 and beyond. The new rules had been announced in early August, but the precise details had to wait until now. The one thing missing from the announced rules is any mention of an overall price cap. That, presumably, will come at a later date.
Though the changes outlined in the new reuglations are extremely detailed, they can be boiled down to a few major points: the introduction, of the EVO class, which allows Superstock engines in Superbike chassis; the introduction of price caps on suspension and brakes; restrictions on gear ratios; and the introduction of an engine allocation system similar to that in MotoGP, and also in Superstock.
The engine allocation system had long been expected, after Carmelo Ezpeleta made a series of barbed (and misleading) attacks on the number of engines supposedly used by Aprilia in WSBK in 2011 and 2012. The limit on the number of engines is relatively low: each rider will have 8 engines to last a season with. Though that seems reasonable for some 13 or 14 race weekends, that requires the engines to last for 26 or more races. As in MotoGP, the engines are sealed to prevent maintenance on crankshaft, bottom and top ends and the valve train, other than camchain tension adjustment. The crankcases, cylinders, cylinder heads and valve and cam covers are sealed. Seals may be broken to allow gearbox ratios to be changed - see below - but also as in MotoGP, that can only be done in the presence of a technical official from the series.
There must be something in the Moravian water. Three races at Brno on Sunday, and all three genuine barnburners. What's more, the podiums had a good mixture of experience, age, and nationality. 'Only' five of the nine were Spanish, while in Moto2, there wasn't a single Spaniard on the podium. And at the end, the championships in all three classes got a little more interesting.
Race of the day? Impossible to say, but the 2013 Czech Grand Prix will surely be remembered for the MotoGP race. After a tense race with a blistering finish last year, the 2013 race was even better. A brilliant start by Jorge Lorenzo - perhaps the best of his career - saw him catapult into the lead at the start. He pushed to break the following group, consisting of Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa and Cal Crutchlow.
You could have earned yourself a tidy sum today if you'd correctly predicted the MotoGP front row. Though Cal Crutchlow, Alvaro Bautista and Marc Marquez are all familiar faces on the front row, the combination of the three was quite unexpected. Crutchlow earned his second ever MotoGP pole at Brno, shattering the pole record on his way to doing it. Bautista was on the front row at Laguna Seca, but his previous front row appearance was pole position at Silverstone over a year ago. And Marquez is a regular patron of the front row, but in four of his eight front row starts, he has had pole. The combination of the three was a surprise, and a testament to the way the new qualifying system this year manages to throw up surprises.
That is not to everyone's taste. 'This type of practice, with 15 minutes, is not very fair,' was Valentino Rossi's opinion, after the Italian had once again failed to break into the first two rows of the grid. 'A lot of riders are able to take the right slipstream and improve a lot the lap time and also the position they usually have in practice. So is not just about the potential but also about being in the right place at the right moment and make a good lap with the guy in front.' Qualifying has been Rossi's Achilles heel ever since the introduction of the new system, which coincided with his return to Yamaha.
After visiting three Honda tracks in a row, MotoGP finally heads back to a Yamaha track. Brno is fast, flowing, with a multitude of left-right and right-left combinations which favor the agility and high corner speed of the Yamaha over the more stop-and-go Honda tracks. Here, it is the Yamaha's turn to shine.
Well, that was the theory. At the end of the first day of practice, it's the Honda of Stefan Bradl on top of the pile, ahead of Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez and Cal Crutchlow. That's Honda, Yamaha, Honda, Yamaha, Honda, Yamaha. So much for Yamaha domination. Then again, with just three tenths of a second separating Bradl in first from Crutchlow in sixth, Brno is hardly seeing the Hondas dominate either. There is very little to choose between any of them.
So how do you separate the leaders? It's hard to do. All six men are posting consistent runs of mid to high 1'56s, the only exceptions being Stefan Bradl, who only upped his pace at the end of FP2, and Dani Pedrosa, who had opted to go for shorter runs. Pedrosa was in more pain than expected, he said on Friday, and that had made it difficult to ride. He had not had much pain the previous couple of days, but back on the bike less than a week after the previous GP at Indianapolis and his collarbone was more painful than he had hoped. It didn't slow him at Indy, though, so he should be just as fast as at Brno.
One race down, two more to go in the first of MotoGP's two triple headers in 2013, and this is the most brutal transition. After a draining race in the humidity of the Mid West, the teams and riders pack up, head east and face a wall of jet lag before getting ready to race at Brno, one of the most physically demanding circuits on the calendar. After that, they get to pack up again and head back west, just a short hop this time to the UK, its one hour time difference from Brno small enough not to cause jet lag, but just enough to throw your body clock just out of kilter.
Whether Brno will produce the same flashes of excitement which Indianapolis did remains to be seen. At Indy, the riders encountered what they described as the best surface they'd ever seen at the track - relative, of course, to previous visits - and that helped in some small way to spice the racing up a little. In previous years, getting off line meant running the risk of serious injury, the drop in grip levels meaning riders found themselves in low earth orbit. Getting off line in 2013 was still a risky pursuit, but if you did it in the right place, you could get away with it, and even use it to your advantage.
With all of the prototype seats occupied for 2014 - barring a contractual bust up between Ducati and Ben Spies, which is only an expensive theoretical possibility at the moment - battle has commenced for the rest of the MotoGP seats regarded as being most competitive. While the factory bikes - the bikes in the factory and satellite teams being raced as MSMA entries - are all taken, the privateer machines - using Dorna spec ECU software and extra fuel - are still mostly up for grabs.
The three most highly sought after machines are the 2013 Yamaha M1s to be leased by the NGM Forward squad, Honda's production racer (a modified RC213V with a standard gearbox and metal spring instead of pneumatic valves) and the Aprilia ART bikes, which are an increasingly heavily modified version of Aprilia's RSV4 superbike. Of the three, only the ART machine is a known quantity, with Aleix Espargaro and Randy de Puniet having raced the bikes with some success in 2012 and 2013, joined by Yonny Hernandez and Karel Abraham this year. Teams and riders will have to guess about the performance of the Yamahas and Hondas, though given the basis of the two machines, it is a safe bet they will be relatively competitive.
The most popular machine among riders is the Yamaha M1, naturally enough. The bike is a near complete 2013 machine, with a few parts excluded, such as the fuel tank, and will utilize the spec ECU software from Dorna, being developed by the current CRT teams. Given just how good the 2013 M1 is - Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi have won races on it, Cal Crutchlow has scored regular podiums - it is expected to be the best privateer machine on the grid next season, and anyone hoping to advance in the series is angling for a ride on it.
And so Giovanni Cuzari, the team boss of Forward, is a very popular man with the riders. He has had talks with almost everyone who is anyone, including current Pata Honda World Superbike rider Johnny Rea, Aspar's Aleix Espargaro, now rideless Nicky Hayden, current BMW World Superbike man Marco Melandri, IODA Came's Danilo Petrucci, as well as current Forward riders Colin Edwards and Claudio Corti, and Forward's Moto2 rider Alex De Angelis.
2013 Indianpolis MotoGP Saturday Round Up: An Unstoppable Marquez, A Breakable Spies, And A Desirable Hayden
Somebody appears to have neglected to inform Marc Marquez of the laws of physics. Though the track is less slippery than it was last year, and so a little faster, where Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo upped their pace by three tenths of a second, dipping under last year's pole record, Marc Marquez positively obliterated it. The Spanish rookie put in one of the best laps every seen on a MotoGP bike, and stripped nearly nine tenths of a second off the pole record, held by his teammate Dani Pedrosa. He sits half a second ahead of reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo, and a fraction more ahead of Pedrosa.
That gap bears repeating. Half a second in a single lap is a world apart in MotoGP: If they both started at the same time, Marc Marquez would have crossed the line 22 meters ahead of Jorge Lorenzo after that first lap, or roughly 11 bike lengths. By comparison, third place man Dani Pedrosa would have followed 60 centimeters later, or just over a wheel length, while Cal Crutchlow would have crossed the line 1.3 meters later, his front wheel in line with Pedrosa's boot and Lorenzo's rear wheel.
Of course, posting a fast lap in qualifying is one thing, hammering them in lap after lap is another. Jorge Lorenzo is the master of the metronomic lap times, but at Indy, Marquez is just blowing him and everyone else away. Marquez' race pace is around the low 1'39, a lap time he is capable of comfortably repeating, while the rest struggle to post the occasional 1'39.4. If you're the betting type, it's not even worth putting your money on Marquez for the win, the bookmakers have already priced the rest of the field out of the market.
2013 Indianpolis MotoGP Friday Round Up: The New King Kenny, Yamaha's Seamless Gearbox, And Returning Next Year?
There's something about America. Especially if your name is Marc Marquez. The Repsol Honda Rookie led both sessions on the opening day of the Indianapolis Grand Prix (the last one? Too early to say) going quickest both in the tricky morning, when there was very little grip, and in the afternoon, once the bikes had laid down some rubber. Marquez has won both US rounds so far, dominating at Austin and winning comfortably at Laguna Seca, and he has picked up at Indy where he left off before the summer break.
Unsurprisingly, the parallels with Kenny Roberts are starting to be made, the only other rider to become world champion as a rookie. Those parallels are unfair yet perfectly valid: both men exceeded expectations and raised the bar, shaking up the established order with a radical new riding style. Yet Roberts and Marquez also came from totally different backgrounds: Kenny Roberts had grown up racing dirt track, switched to road racing and then came to Europe to win his the championship at the first attempt, on tracks he had never seen before. Marc Marquez has had a classically European education: minibikes from a very young age, then nurtured through Spain's many road racing series, before rising up through the ranks of 125, Moto2 and now MotoGP. Marquez knows all of the tracks MotoGP races like the back of his hand, with the exception of Austin, which nobody knew, it being a new circuit, and Laguna Seca, which didn't prevent him from mastering and winning at his first attempt.
The news that Cal Crutchlow has signed a two-year deal with Ducati led to howls of despair from MotoGP fans, especially among those in the UK. Why, they asked, would Crutchlow willingly leave the Tech 3 Yamaha team and the as-near-factory-as-possible M1 to take on the miserable task of taming the Ducati? Why throw away another year on a bike which he knows he can score podiums, and perhaps even wins on, in exchange for riding a bike which has been a proven failure since Casey Stoner last climbed off it and headed next door to the Repsol Honda garage? If Valentino Rossi, the biggest name and most politically powerful rider in motorcycle racing couldn't make the bike competitive, what chance does Crutchlow stand?
Though only Crutchlow himself fully understands the motives behind his choice, he has left plenty of evidence offering some insight into why he has signed for Ducati. Though fans around the world have tried to point to a single reason - usually either money or having a factory bike - the decision-making process is far, far more complex than that. It is a case study of the complex thought process that lies behind the decisions a rider must make when steering his career. With so little time spent at their peak, and so many factors outside of their control, the decisions a rider makes are not as clear-cut and simple as the fans would like them to be.
So why did Crutchlow go to Ducati? There is no easy answer to that question. Crutchlow had a number of options on the table, but not all led to the same goal. His objective, Crutchlow has made it clear on numerous occasions, is to win races and challenge for the title. Winning races requires a competitive bike, and there is no argument that the satellite Yamaha he currently rides is capable of doing just that.
It had been widely rumored that Yamaha would have some important updates to test at their private test being held yesterday and today at Brno. The biggest expected update to be tested was a seamless gearbox, but though Yamaha Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis had hinted they might be testing the new gearbox, it was far from certain. As the test at Brno was a private one, no media were invited who would be able to verify whether the seamless gearbox was being tested or not.
Fortunately, however, the Brno circuit was allowing visits in to watch the test. And among those was Pavel, who runs the Czech Valentino Rossi fansite http://www.rossi-yamaha.cz/. Pavel shot some video footage of the private test - thankfully not covered by the blanket ban Dorna has on all coverage of the official tests - and was kind enough to send us the audio from the recordings. Armed with that audio, we were able to analyze the sound, as we have done previously (on both the Honda and the Yamaha), to try to judge whether Yamaha were indeed testing a seamless gearbox, and if they were, what advantage it was giving them.