With everyone slowly recovering from the shock of the announcement that Bridgestone is pulling out of MotoGP at the end of the 2015 season, it is easy to forget that we are here for a motorcycle race. The roar of Grand Prix machinery hurtling around the beautiful Circuito de Jerez on a glorious Andalusian morning soon dispelled thoughts of 2016, and concentrated minds on what is to come on Sunday.
The heat of the afternoon, though, made thinking tough, and riding even tougher. Track temperatures rose to over 50°, robbing the circuit of even more grip, and making it greasier than ever. Rider consensus was that the track was in pretty good shape, but when it's this hot, the already low-grip surface of Jerez becomes very difficult to ride. That meant that the number of riders who managed to improve their times in FP2 in all three classes were limited.
The Marc VDS Racing team is considering moving up to MotoGP for the 2015 season. Team manager Michael Bartholémy has started the process which could lead to a MotoGP entry for next season.
A switch to MotoGP is far from being a foregone conclusion, Bartholémy was keen to emphasize. 'This is the first step in a long, political process,' he said. The first stage would consist of talks with Marc van der Straten, the Belgian brewing magnate who owns the eponymous team, here at Jerez, then again two weeks later at Le Mans.
Bartholémy would also have to liaise with Carmelo Ezpeleta to make sure that there was a grid slot available for the team should they choose to move up to MotoGP. 'The problem at the moment is that we do not have a place on the grid,' Bartholémy said.
Belgian rider Xavier Simeon has headed a sun-drenched second Moto2 free practice session at the Jerez circuit in Spain. The Gresini rider ended proceedings ahead of Sandro Cortese and Takaaki Nakagami in second and third positions. While Nakagami would be happy with his return to form Cortese had a highly turbulent session, twice feeling the anger of other riders after riding slowly on the racing line. First Dominique Aegerter kicked out at the German and then Championship leader Esteve Rabat pushed him with his fist whilst gesticulating wildly.
Rabat eventually calmed down and ended the session in fourth place, however he still held the fastest time of the day from the morning's session and looked consistently quicker than any other rider on track. Aegerter also had to regain his composure and went on to post the fifth fastest time. He was followed by his compatriot Thomas Luthi who was ahead of Simone Corsi, Johann Zarco and the German duo of Marcel Schrotter and Jonas Folger completed the top ten. Maverick Vinales Moto2 education continued with a crash early in the session, this severely limited his race simulation time and perhaps signifies a blip in the initial ease with which he took to the intermediate class.
Tito Rabat has continued his strong 2014 form to head the opening Moto2 Free Practice session at Jerez despite taking a relatively low speed tumble late in proceedings. He posted a benchmark time of 1:43.486, a mere three tenths shy of the current circuit race lap record. Rabat also made sure it a clean sweep of Spanish front-runners across the classes for the Friday morning sessions. It was a Marc VDS Racing 1-2 as Rabat's team mate Mika Kallio snared second place and looked the only rider able to match the Championship leader's pace consistently throughout.
Increasingly impressive youngster Jonas Folger posted the third fastest time ahead of Xavier Simeon and fellow German youngster Sandro Cortese. Nico Terol managed to find some pace after a difficult start to the season thus far registering the sixth quickest lap ahead of Thomas Luthi, rookie sensation Maverick Vinales, his team mate Luis Salom and Takaaki Nakagami rounded out the top ten.
2014 Argentina MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Of New Tracks, Doohanesque Domination, And The Merits Of A Rossi Revival
There is much to be said in praise of the first running of the Argentinian round of MotoGP at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit. First and foremost, praise should be heaped upon the circuit itself. Designer Jarno Zafelli took a formerly pedestrian layout and added just enough kinks and twists to make for an exhilarating and difficult racetrack. There are plenty of places to pass, and sections different enough that teams and riders can concentrate on their strengths, though that makes them vulnerable at other parts of the track. Add in a final section which lends itself to last-gasp attacks – at the risk of penalty points, as Romano Fenati found out – and you have an utterly superb track for motorcycle racing. If Jarno Zafelli of Dromo was hired more often, instead of Hermann Tilke, there would be a lot more fantastic circuits to race at.
The only negative was the fact that the track was still so dirty, a result of it not yet having seen enough action. Once the riders got off line, they found themselves struggling for grip, losing a lot of ground. Fortunately for the races, almost everyone got off line at some point or other, putting them all on an even footing. Once the surface cleans up properly, the track should offer even more places to attack, and alternate lines through sections. The Termas de Rio Hondo circuit is a fine addition to the calendar.
Crowds and racers thought so too. Attendance wasn't as high as expected: nearly 53,000 paying customers on Sunday, well shy of the 70,000 which had been hoped, but over 6,000 more than Laguna Seca, the race it replaced, despite being a long way from the nearest large conurbations. But the atmosphere was electric, and people came from all over South and Central America to see the action. Adding a race in this part of the world was badly needed. The authorities built it, and the crowds came.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after the race in Argentina:
Two races and three qualifying sessions in, and all three classes in MotoGP are providing an object lesson in the importance of consistency. Marc Marquez has taken pole for all three MotoGP races, Tito Rabat has done the same in Moto2, and Jack Miller has been on pole for two out of three Moto3 races. There's a similar pattern in the races as well, with Jack Miller having cleaned up in Moto3, and Marc Marquez winning both MotoGP races so far. The only interlopers are Alex Rins, who nabbed a Moto3 pole at Qatar, and Maverick Viñales, who gatecrashed the Moto2 party at Austin. Then again, if you were hoping to have your party gatecrashed, you'd definitely want it done by a man called Maverick.
The routes Marquez, Rabat and Miller have taken to domination of their classes are markedly different, though. Rabat is the most lackadaisical of the three, always leaving it to the last minute before laying down a scorching lap with which he secures pole. His advantage is usually slim, but enough to get the job done. Rabat's leadership of the Moto2 class is sheer consistency, getting the results he needs when he needs them, and always being on the ball.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after qualfiying at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina:
Jonas Folger moved to the top of the timesheet early and held on to take the fastest time in the third Moto2 practice Saturday at the Termas de Rio Hondo Circuit in Argentina. Folger's 1'44.203 -- his best time of the weekend -- put him half a second in front of Tito Rabat's second-fastest showing. Maverick Vinales, who appeared to struggle early in the session, closed the gap at the end of practice with a 1'44.827, good for third.
Johan Zarco, who had led a previous session, grabbed the fourth-fastest time, just behind Vinales. At another tenth back was Mattia Pasini to round out the top five.
For much of the session, it was Folger and Rabat out in front. The pair dipped into the 1'44s early and consistently ran at that pace. At the halfway point, Vinales could manage only 15th. But with five minutes to go the pace began to quicken and with less than two minutes left, Vinales set his fastest lap of the wekend to climb into the top three.
2014 Argentina MotoGP Friday Round Up: Of Dirty Tracks, Confusing Lap Times, and MotoGP-Hungry Argentinians,
What did we learn from the first day of practice at the brand new Termas de Rio Hondo track in Argentina? We learned that Marc Marquez and Jack Miller learn tracks very quickly indeed. We learned that Moto2 is tight as ever. We learned that South America has been crying out for a round of MotoGP almost since the moment the series left Argentina for the last time in 1999. And we learned that a brand new track always faces teething problems the first time it appears on the calendar. In Argentina, the biggest problem is a dirty track, covered in sand, wreaking havoc on the tires. That, though, is a relatively easy problem to solve: a few more sessions and a grand total of 90 different bikes circulating will clean the track up very quickly.
If anyone was in any doubt as to whether building a circuit in a small town in the middle of the Argentine pampas was a good idea, the crowds lining up to get into the circuit on Friday morning should have dispelled their fears. Reports were that the fans were queuing to get into the track at 7am on Friday. That is quite unheard of in Europe, where the first day of practice is always a good day to spend at the track if you want to explore it and see the action from various points around the circuit. The Argentina round is reportedly already a sell out, with 70,000 tickets sold and only VIP passes left on the open market. This bodes well for the future of the event, and justifies the investment made by government in the facility. If the aim is to attract tourists to Termas de Rio Hondo, and put the town on the map, they have clearly already succeeded.
Press releases from some of the teams after the first day of practice at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit: