2013 Le Mans MotoGP Friday Round Up: Of Four Fast Men, Improved Ducatis, Redding's Reign, And A Quota On Spaniards
So far, so good. That seems to be the story from the first day of practice at Le Mans. A full day of dry weather - except for the last few minutes of FP2 for the Moto3 class, where the rain turned briefly to hail, only to blow out again as quickly as it came - means that everyone had a chance to work on their race set up. With the top four separated by just 0.166 seconds, the top five are within a quarter of a second, and Alvaro Bautista, the man in ninth, is just over seven tenths from the fastest man Dani Pedrosa.
A good day too for the Hondas. Dani Pedrosa was immediately up to speed, as expected. Marc Marquez was also quick in the afternoon, which was less expected. Unlike Jerez and Austin, this was the first time he rode a MotoGP machine at Le Mans, and getting used to hauling a 260 hp, 160kg bike around the tight layout of the French track is a different proposition to riding a Moto2 bike with half the horsepower here. He took a morning to get used to the track, asked for a few changes to the base set up inherited from Casey Stoner, and then went and blitzed to second in the afternoon, 0.134 seconds off his teammate.
More important than Marquez' speed is his consistency, however. In the afternoon, he posted seven laps of 1'34, which looks to be the pace to expect for a dry race. Only two men did more, Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo having posted nine laps at that pace, with both men also consistently a tenth or two quicker than the Spanish rookie.
If you have aspirations of winning the championship, the first qualifying session of the year is your first chance to stake your claim. Qualifying is the moment you stake your claim, show everyone what you have, and what they are up against. The rest of the year, pole position is nice, but the most important thing is to be on the front row, and get a good start. But at the first qualifying session of the year for the first race of the year, you need to send your opponents a message: This is what you are up against. This is what you face if you wish to beat me.
Champions know this. At Qatar, the champions made their presence felt, and announced their intent to the world. In MotoGP, the defending champion - and the man who starts the year as favorite - set a pace that none could follow, robbing upstart Cal Crutchlow of what would have been his first pole. In Moto2, Pol Espargaro made a mistake, crashed, and corrected his error as soon as his bike was rebuilt, pushing hard to take pole in the dying seconds of the session. And In Moto3, Luis Salom took his first ever Grand Prix pole by putting it on the line when it mattered, seeing off all-comers in the final moments, while Maverick Viñales gritted his teeth to ride through the pain and grab 2nd on the grid.
KTM and Aki Ajo have finalized their agreement for Ajo to run the factory Red Bull KTM Moto3 team. KTM issued the following press release announcing the deal:
The Grand Prix Circus came to Sepang with three titles in the balance. Only one of them got wrapped up on Sunday, though, tropical rainstorms throwing a spanner into the works of the other two, but generating some fascinating racing. The fans had one fantastic dry race, one fantastic wet race, and a processional MotoGP race that looked much the same as it would have had it been dry. There was a packed house - over 77,000 people crowded into the circuit, a highly respectable number for a flyaway round - cheering on local heroes, there was confusion over the rules, and there were a lot of new faces on the podium. There was also a much better balance of nationalities on the podium: where in previous races, the Spanish national anthem has been played three times on a Sunday, at Sepang, it was only heard once. Most of all, though, the Moto2 and MotoGP races ran in the wet would be determined by the timing of the red flags, with Race Direction's decisions on safety also having an outcome on the results of the races, and in the case of MotoGP, possibly implications for the championship.
After Maverick Viñales' shock decision to quit his team, it got a lot easier for Sandro Cortese to wrap up the Moto3 title at Sepang, needing only to keep a watchful eye on Luis Salom during the race and not finish behind him. Salom had made Cortese's task even easier a week previously, by launching an ill-considered dive up the inside of Jonas Folger at the start of the last lap at Motegi, incurring a penalty which dropped him five grid positions at the start. Cortese started from the front row, while Salom had his work cut out, starting from way back in 10th. Cortese could more or less cruise home at Sepang and secure the title.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after the thrilling races at Sepang:
2012 Sepang MotoGP Saturday Round Up: MotoGP's Future In The East, Honda's Chatter, And The Chances Of Rain
This year's Malaysian round of the MotoGP series has offered a glimpse of the future, for those with an interest in seeing it. While the series is locked in a series of arguments over the future of the technical regulations, the massive economic problems in its key television markets, and the Spanish domination of the sport in all classes, Sepang pointed the way forward, and that way is definitely east.
It starts with the crowds. Where crowd numbers have been falling almost everywhere at the European rounds, Sepang is seeing record attendances this weekend. Grandstand tickets are selling out fast, and despite the rain, fans are turning up in large numbers. How much those numbers are being inflated by Australians flocking to the circuits they can fly to affordably to see Casey Stoner ride the last few races of his career is uncertain, but that they should be packing the grandstands in Malaysia seems unlikely. There are also plenty of local fans, coming to see riders from the region threaten the top of the timesheets for the first time in history, and not just make up the numbers at the rear.
2012 Motegi Post-Race Round Up: A Dominant Honda, Unnecessary Fuel Limits, Going Last To First, And Moto3 Maturity
"I don't think it will be between only Dani and me," Jorge Lorenzo had said on Saturday night at Motegi. After qualifying, there was a sizable group of fast men, including Cal Crutchlow, Andrea Dovizioso and Ben Spies, who all looked quick enough to keep pace with Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo. It turns out he was wrong: once the lights went out, the contest was between the two main title contenders as it has been all season, especially once Casey Stoner dropped out of contention after the massive ankle injury he sustained at Indianapolis.
Qualifying had been deceptive: Jorge Lorenzo took a brilliant pole, and had looked his usual fast and smooth self. Pedrosa had had a bumpy ride - literally, chatter mysteriously appearing early on during QP and taking a long time to get under control, leaving Pedrosa to start from 2nd. The race was similarly deceptive: Lorenzo led, stalked by Pedrosa, and the hearts of race fans beat faster in anticipation of a repeat of Brno. That would not come to be. Once Pedrosa motored by Lorenzo, he was gone, managing the gap all the way to the end.
It was an impressive display and a fantastic achievement, given the Repsol Honda man still had chatter with his RC213V. But HRC are slowly getting a grip on that situation, and are opening the gap over Yamaha once again. Jorge Lorenzo was clear that Pedrosa's advantage lay in acceleration, something which the Yamaha has traditionally suffered with, though the problem has been less this year. "There was too much difference on the straight," Lorenzo said. "I could not recover everything in the corners."
The Moto2 and Moto3 markets are stepping up a gear as the 2012 season winds to a close, and the top seats in both the Moto2 and Moto3 class are starting to fill up. Today, the Tech 3 team announced that they have signed young British rider Danny Kent to a two-year contract to race for the team in Moto2. Kent has had a strong third season in Grand Prix, being a front row regular and bagging his first podium at Assen this year. The young Briton has regularly scored solid points in the ultra-competitive Moto3 class, running as wingman to current championship leader Sandro Cortese on the Red Bull KTM. Kent will line up alongside Frenchman Louis Rossi at Tech 3, though the addition of Kent makes the Tech 3 squad a very English affair, with Kent joining the team's MotoGP line up of Cal Crutchlow and Bradley Smith.