2013 Aragon MotoGP Saturday Round Up: On Championship Turnarounds, Honda's Moto3 Gambit, And The 2014 Calendar
Qualifying at Aragon showed that the fourteenth round of the season could turn out to be a turning point in all three Grand Prix championships. Momentum shifts, sometimes suddenly, sometimes slowly, and before you know it, title races can open up again. Foregone conclusions are shown up for the illusions they are, and the words of every championship leader - 'I won't start thinking about the title until Valencia - are brought into keen focus.
In Moto3, the lead Luis Salom had built up after the summer break has slowly been dissipating, as Alex Rins and Maverick Viñales have clawed points back from the Spanish veteran. On Saturday, Alex Rins took yet another pole - his sixth of the season - crushing the opposition and putting seven tenths of a second into Viñales, the man in second. Luis Salom struggled, ending the session in 8th, over a second slower than Viñales, and 1.7 seconds off the time of Rins. He must attempt to defend his championship lead from the third row of the grid, and with Rins, Viñales and Alex Marquez ahead of him, he will have his work cut out.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after qualifying at Aragon:
Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto3 class:
Overnight rain left the track dirty and damp at the Motorland Aragon circuit, forcing the Moto3 riders to tiptoe cautiously around the Spanish circuit. Times dropped as the session went on, with Isaac Viñales - cousin of Maverick - ending the session on top with late fast lap. Viñales ended the session ahead of Scotsman John McPhee, with Alex Marquez in 3rd.
So what happened to the lap times? When MotoGP tested here at Aragon back in June, Jorge Lorenzo was nearly one and a half seconds faster than his time on the first day of practice. Marc Marquez was half a second slower than his time in testing, despite being the fastest man after FP1 and FP2, Valentino Rossi was a second slower, and Dani Pedrosa was just a couple of tenths slower than his test time, set here three months ago.
The answer is simple: no grip. Grip is missing both front and rear, as temperatures have soared unusually at the Spanish circuit. The track is also dirtier: a car event held before the test had laid rubber down and swept the track clean, but that was not the case ahead of this weekend. The lack of grip has meant everyone has struggled to match the lap times from earlier in the year.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after practice at Aragon:
Alex Rins has set the pace for the second Moto3 free practice session, the Estrella Galicia rider's time of 1:59.801 put him a tenth ahead of morning pace setter and championship rival Maverick Vinales. Both Spaniards became the first Moto3 riders to circulate the Aragon circuit in a sub two minute lap time. Fellow title combatant Luis Salom ended up in third place ahead of Mahindra rider Miguel Oliveira and Zulfahmi Khairuddin.
Alex Marquez took sixth position on the timesheets and was followed by a fresh face to the top ten in young German Philipp Oettl. Romano Fenati, Alexis Masbou and an extremely brave Jonas Folger completed the top ten. Folger was riding with a badly damaged left ankle from his crash in Misano, the Aspar rider required crutches to move between his bike and the pit box.
After the serious incident at Silverstone, in which Dani Rivas crashed into Steven Odendaal during the Sunday morning warm up, as Odendaal and other riders stood waiting to make practice starts, the Grand Prix Commission has taken steps to regulate practice starts in all three Grand Prix classes. From now on, practice starts will only be allowed from designated locations at the circuit, and practice starts elsewhere will be banned.
Practice starts will be allowed from pit lane exit during practice, and at one or two designated zones around each track, as decided before each race. Marshals will indicate the start of the practice start zones, and all riders not electing to practice a start in that zone will be warned by yellow flags and will have to stay on the opposite side of the track from the start zone.
The new rules are effective immediately. The FIM press release containing the full set of rules appears below:
FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix
Decision of the Grand Prix Commission
Maverick Vinales has opened proceedings at Aragon by topping the first free practice session with a lap time of 2:00.513. This left the Spaniard almost half a second quicker than compatriot and championship leader Luis Salom and amazingly under the circuit record benchmark. Efren Vazquez finished the session in third place ahead of a resurgent Romano Fenati and Alex Rins.
Rins' teammate Alex Marquez was in sixth position followed by Miguel Oliveira, Arthur Sissis, Alexis Masbou and impressive wildcard rider Maria Herrera rounded out the top ten.
Preview press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams at Aragon:
If there is one complaint made about MotoGP it is that it is an almost entirely Spanish sport. The three title candidates in MotoGP are all Spanish, the three title candidates in Moto3 are all Spanish, and Scott Redding has his hands full holding off another Spanish rider, Pol Espargaro, for the 2013 Moto2 title. Spaniards dominate in all three classes, and it has been a long time since the Spanish national anthem hasn't been heard on a Grand Prix weekend.
So at first glance, the news that the Spanish CEV championship is to fall under FIM control and host rounds outside of Spain looks like increasing the stranglehold the Spanish have over Grand Prix racing. By raising the importance of the Spanish championship and therefore diminishing the status of other national championships, the FIM is making the situation worse, and handing even more control to Dorna, who run both the MotoGP and the Spanish CEV championships.
Though superficially attractive, there are some fundamentally wrong assumptions underlying that analysis. At the heart of the fear is the misconception that Dorna's main aim is to promote Spanish riders. The opposite is true: Dorna's main source of income is the sale of TV rights, and selling them as broadly as possible. Having too many Spanish riders in the series makes it hard to sell to broadcasters outside of Spain, hence Dorna's push to get more non-Spaniards into the series, especially in the Moto3 and Moto2 classes. Riders from outside of Spain are receiving preferential treatment in MotoGP, while pressure is being put on teams to reduce the number of Spaniards in the top class. The signing of Pol Espargaro has been a major bone of contention between Dorna and Yamaha, the repercussions of which are not yet fully worked out.
There is more movement afoot in the Moto3 class for next season. Today, the Red Bull KTM Ajo team announced that they have signed 2013 Red Bull Rookies Cup winner Karel Hanika for 2014. The young Czech rider will join Australian rider Jack Miller and Malaysian Zulfahmi Khairuddin on board factory-backed KTM Moto3 machines for next season.
Though Hanika's signing had been rumored since Misano, it marked a turnabout in fortunes for the young Czech prodigy. At Brno, Hanika was still without a ride for next season, the only offers he had requiring he bring sponsorship. By Misano, agreement with Ajo was as good as reached, the deal only just being announced.
That a rider like Hanika should have difficulty finding a deal speaks volumes of the financial problems faced by Moto3 teams. Hanika is very highly rated by all who have seen him race in the Red Bull Rookies Cup, series manager Peter Clifford describing him as 'the biggest talent the Red Bull Rookies has produced.' Hanika has shown maturity and talent in his domination of the series, yet Moto3 teams were still hesitant to sign him. With sponsors demanding instant success, young talent is being given less time to develop and learn. In the end, it took Red Bull to step up and support the young Czech rider who had come through the system.
Valentino Rossi is to back a Moto3 team showcasing Italian talent from next season. The Italian will work with Sky Italia, the broadcaster who will be taking over the broadcast rights for MotoGP from next season, to field a pair of riders including current FMI Italia rider Romano Fenati on KTM machines. Sky Italia will be the main sponsor, while Rossi's VR46 clothing and merchandise brand will provide support and backing for the project.
The aim of project is to help bring young Italian talent into Grand Prix racing. This was also the aim of the Italian motorcycling federation when they set up the FMI Italia team with Romano Fenati and Francesco Bagnaia, but the FTR Hondas have been no match for the superior horsepower of the KTMs this season. The Sky Italia / VR46 team have elected to race with KTM machinery, giving them a better chance of fighting on an equal footing.