2013 Valencia MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Of Pressure, Mistakes, Engines, And How To Win A Championship
After all the drama, the talk stops tomorrow. Two titles on the line, and five men to fight over them. On Sunday, there will be no talk of crew chiefs being sacked, of team bosses appealing for penalty points, of teams concocting dubious plans, of teammates, team strategies or team orders. When the red lights go out, and the thunderous roar of four-stroke racing motorcycles fills the natural bowl which cradles the tightly wound ribbon of tarmac that is the Circuit Ricardo Tormo, it is every man and woman for themselves, and the devil take the hindmost. Nearly a hundred young men and one young woman will take to the track on Sunday. Most have already had their dreams of glory shattered; three more will share that disappointment; only two will etch their names permanently into the history books.
Both the Moto3 and the MotoGP titles are still undecided, the winner of each race likely to be crowned champion. The Moto2 title is already decided, and going on the evidence of practice and qualifying, the race could be over within a couple of laps, Pol Espargaro hoping to top off his championship with a win in the final race in front of his home crowd. The HP Tuenti Pons rider has been fastest in every session so far, usually by a comfortable margin, so his objective looks well within his grasp. Others may try to prevent an Espargaro victory march, but it doesn't look like either Tito Rabat, Jordi Torres or Nico Terol will be able to do much about it. Espargaro has deserved his title, repaying the faith Yamaha put in him when they signed him to the Tech 3 MotoGP team at Qatar, before the very first race of the year.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after qualifying at Valencia on Saturday:
Pol Espargaro isn’t in a particularly generous mood this weekend. Already owning 2013 Moto2 championship, the Spanish rider made it abundantly clear he'd like to win again before graduating to the top class next year. His lap time of 1'35.126 beat second-fastest Jordi Torres by two-tenths of a second. Third-fastest Nicolas Terol was another two-tenths back.
Former points leader Scott Redding -- who likely will take the runner-up prize in this year's Moto2 championship -- currently sits out of the points in 18th position and more than a second back of the leaders. Redding, who is nursing a broken wrist, also will be moving to the top class next year.
Aleix Espargaro and Colin Edwards will race for the NGM Forward team in MotoGP next year, riding FTR-based Yamaha production machines. The announcement had been expected for a very long time, but confirmation only came on Saturday morning at Valencia, as haggling over buying out Espargaro's contract had continued over the past couple of months. Negotiations have finally been completed, and Espargaro has been cleared to join Forward.
MotoGP fans have been rubbing their hands in anticipation of this weekend's final round of the championship. The race has everything: a mental Moto3 race to be decided outright by the rider who wins, with just five points separating Luis Salom, Maverick Viñales and Alex Rins; a triumphant homecoming for a newly crowned Moto2 champion, Pol Espargaro wearing a positively regal helmet to celebrate, while his title rival Scott Redding wears special leathers and helmet thanking the Marc VDS Racing team who have stood behind him for the past four seasons; and a shootout for the MotoGP championship, between Jorge Lorenzo, a man with nothing to lose, and Marc Marquez, who has to balance between riding hard enough to keep the bike working properly and not taking any unnecessary risks, while ensuring he comes home in fourth, something which sounds easier than it is. There were even a couple of sideshows: the presentation of the Honda RCV1000R production racer, and Yamaha's annual technical presentation, in which they brief the media on how they have developed the bike to be so competitive.
All that is forgotten. Valentino Rossi's shock announcement on Thursday that he had told long-term crew chief Jeremy Burgess that he wanted to replace him with someone else has dominated the headlines, as well as the hearts and minds of almost everyone in the paddock. In the search for the elusive last couple of tenths of a second which separate Rossi from the three Spanish superstars who have dominated the 2013 season, the Italian is leaving no stone unturned. Even the most revered of institutions - Burgess is held in extremely high regard throughout the paddock, even by his fiercest rivals - are no longer sacred. Rossi still wants to win, and so far, he has failed. 'We've been chasing rainbows for four years,' as Burgess so succinctly put it, but to no avail. 'We haven’t nailed anything decent in those four years. These are long periods in racing and it becomes more and more difficult.'
Even though he already claimed his world chanpionship, Pol Espargaro didn't relinquish his spot at this top of the timesheet by again setting the fast time in the second practice at Valencia. Esparago remained more than a tenth of a second clear of the field with teammate Esteve Rabat in second and Thomas Luthi in third. Last year's Moto2 winner here, Marc Marquez, sits at the top of the MotoGP practice in what traditionally is the final race of the season.
Pol Espargaro, already crowned the 2013 Moto2 World Champion, obviously isn't content to rest on his laurels. The Spaniard and future MotoGP rider set the fast lap during FP1 at the Valencia circuit Friday with a time of 1'35.691. Esteve Rabat placed a close second at eight-hundreths back with Thomas Luthi rounding out the top three. Championship runner-up Scott Redding, still nursing a fractured wrist, lapped 23rd quickest.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after Sunday's race at Motegi:
2013 Motegi MotoGP Sunday Round Up: On The Unpredictability Of Racing, And Why You Should Never Trust Pundits
There have been occasions over the past few years when I have asked Nicky Hayden how he manages to find the motivation to keep racing every Sunday. His answer is always the same, whether I have asked him after a surprise podium, or after coming in tenth: 'You never know what can happen in the race. That's why we line up.' Hayden is living testament to his own deeply driven mixture of ambition, hope and determination. His 2006 championship was won against the odds, and against the greatest rider of the period at the height of his powers.
Sunday's races at Motegi - indeed, the races at all three of the flyaways - have been a shining example of the vicissitudes of racing. In all three classes, the presupposed script was torn up and thrown away. In Moto3, young men facing pressure made major mistakes. In Moto2, one astounding comeback met with disaster, another astounding comeback met with triumph, and a championship. And in MotoGP, the champion elect as of a couple of races ago is finding himself having to fight for his title. The season is only over once everyone crosses the line for the last time at Valencia.
Full report and results below:
Pol Espargaro has topped the time sheets for Moto2 free practice at Motegi, the last of the morning fog that hindered the Moto3 session earlier on had completely dispersed and glorious sunshine baked the twin-ring circuit. Espargaro looked in glistening form in his quest to wrap up the Moto2 world championship later today, he finished a little over a tenth of a second ahead of Marc VDS rider Mika Kallio and Belgian's Xavier Simeon.
Local hero Takaaki Nakagami finished in fourth place ahead of Tito Rabat and a highly determined Scott Redding. Riding with a fractured and pinned left wrist, Redding posted a string of very competitive lap times and looks set to fight tooth and nail later today to try and prevent Espargaro from taking the title that he himself has held in his grasp for so much of this season. Alex DeAngelis ended in seventh ahead of the Aspar duo of Jordi Torres and Nico Terol while NGM Forward Racing's Simone Corsi rounded out the top ten.
2013 Motegi MotoGP Saturday Round Up: An Impressive Lorenzo, A Determined Redding, And Cultural Sensitivities
At the post-qualifying press conference at Motegi, Jorge Lorenzo reminded his audience of the last two times he had ridden in the wet. At Le Mans, he had had his worst race finish since his rookie season in 2008. Then at Assen, his growing confidence saw him get launched off the bike at over 250 km/h, and break a collarbone in his fall. So when the MotoGP riders took to the track at a rain-soaked Motegi, Jorge Lorenzo had every reason to be cautious. He worked carefully building his rhythm for the first 20 minutes or so of the extended practice/qualifying session, before pushing on hard, eventually destroying the opposition with a lap just under 8 seconds off the dry race lap record. It was a testament to just how quickly Lorenzo can recover his confidence.
It was good just to have any action at the Japanese circuit. After fog had prevented the medical helicopter from arriving at the circuit on Friday, making practice impossible, teams and riders headed to the Motegi Twin Ring with hope in their hearts on Saturday morning. The fog was gone, and when the medical helicopter arrived at the track, a cheer went up in the media center. Practice was on.
Except it wasn't, at least not right away. The fog had departed, making way for torrential rain. The safety car circulated forlornly several times on Saturday morning, throwing up streams of spray in its wake. With the rain easing off towards lunchtime, a new schedule was drawn up: an extended qualifying session in the afternoon (75 minutes for the MotoGP class), followed by a longer practice session on Sunday morning (40 minutes for Moto2 and Moto3, 50 minutes for MotoGP), and the race to be run as normal.