Jorge Lorenzo's disappointing performance at the French Grand Prix at Le Mans has been the cause of some debate. The factory Yamaha man finished a lowly seventh, his worst finish (other than DNFs) since his rookie season in 2008, and finishing off the podium for the first time since Indianapolis in 2011. To say this was an uncharacteristic performance from Lorenzo is something of an understatement.
So what went wrong? Immediately after the race, Lorenzo made it clear that he believed the problem was with his rear tire. He had had no grip whatsoever, and been unable to get any drive from his rear tire. He told the press afterwards that the only logical explanation he could think of for his problems was a defective rear tire. Lorenzo had been fast in the morning warm up, though it was a little drier then, and the set up used was very similar to then. In 2012, Lorenzo had won at Le Mans by a huge margin, so he could not understand why he was struggling so badly in France.
MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We will be featuring sections of Oxley's blogs, posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website, over the coming months.
The race to arm MotoGP’s private teams with higher-performance CRT bikes is gathering pace. Last summer Honda announced that they will sell a lower-cost version of their RC213V and then two months ago Yamaha confirmed that they will lease YZR-M1 engines from 2014. At Le Mans the whisper going round the paddock was that Aprilia are working on a pneumatic-valve spring cylinder head for their RSV4 CRT engine, which could be ready by September.
As is customary, the Bridgestone media service issued their post-race debrief on tire performance on Tuesday, in which they discuss how the tires they selected held up during the race at Le Mans the previous weekend. This week's press release is more interesting than most, as it contains a denial from Bridgestone that there was anything wrong with the rear tire used by Jorge Lorenzo in the race on Sunday, countering claims that his tire was defective.
Speaking to the media after the race on Sunday, Lorenzo said that although he was not a tire engineer, he could think of no other explanation but a defective tire for the complete lack of rear grip he had suffered throughout the race. The setting they had used in the wet morning warm up had worked well, Lorenzo said. In 2012, under similar conditions, he had not had a single problem, he explained, going on to win the race by nearly 10 seconds. Lorenzo also pointed to the fact that Valentino Rossi had had problems with a tire on Saturday morning, and had that one replaced, as is allowed under the rules if a defective tire is found.
Suzuki's return to MotoGP takes another step closer to being realized this week. Frenchman Randy de Puniet is flying to Japan today to test Suzuki's inline four MotoGP machine at Motegi, as part of the testing program to develop the bike ready for its return in 2014.
In an interview with the official MotoGP.com website, De Puniet said he would be departing on Monday. "We leave tomorrow to go to Japan to test at Motegi with Suzuki," he told MotoGP.com. "It will be a good experience for me, and I hope to do a great job." After testing at Motegi, De Puniet will fly back to Europe to take part in the next round of MotoGP with the Power Electronics Aspar team at Mugello, where he will ride the team's Aprilia ART machine.
2013 Le Mans MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Of Titles, Shot Tires, Fast Students, And A Spaniard-Free Podium
Defending titles is not easy. In the last twenty years, only Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi have managed to win successive championships, despite both Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner winning twice. Why is it so hard? A lot of reasons. Nothing motivates a rider, a team or a factory like losing. Winning a championship requires a lot of hard work and talent, but also a smattering of luck, and at some point, luck runs out. Winning a title means always looking forward, eyes on the prize, while defending a title means looking back, at everyone out to get you. All these things combine to make winning the second title in a row much, much harder than winning the first one.
Jorge Lorenzo found this out the hard way in 2011, when he faced an unleashed Casey Stoner on the Honda RC212V. And now, after his second title in 2012, he's learning exactly the same lesson again, this time at the hands of Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez on the Honda RC213V. At Le Mans, all of the above factors came together, working against Lorenzo to drop him down the field, and move him from just four points to seventeen points adrift of the new championship leader, Dani Pedrosa.
What happened? First and foremost, the Hondas happened. Dani Pedrosa rode a brilliant race to take his second win in a row. It was arguably one of the best races of his career: getting a fantastic start, managing the wet conditions brilliantly, and putting in a number of hard, precise attacks to gain positions. His pass at Garage Vert to take the lead for the final time was one of particular beauty: jamming the bike precisely inside Dovizioso on the first of the double right handers, holding the tighter line, then taking a clear lead through the second. From that point he was gone. Since the Sachsenring last year, Pedrosa has won nine of the last fifteen races, a strike rate of sixty percent. That's the kind of batting average you need to win a title.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after an exhilarating French Grand Prix in Le Mans:
Race summary and results for MotoGP:
Track was still wet for the MotoGP warm up, which saw the lead swapping hands a lot, between Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez, Stefan Bradl, and Aleix Espargaro. Lorenzo came out on top, finishing ahead of Cal Crutchlow and Marquez.
2013 Le Mans MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Of Exceptional Rookies, Real Race Pace, And What It Takes To Be Champion
Marc Marquez is just starting to let the mask slip. Asked in the press conference about the fact that he will start from pole at Le Mans, despite this weekend being the first time he has ridden a MotoGP bike at the French track, Marquez admitted he always has to play down his chances ahead of each weekend. "On Thursday, I always need to say something similar," he said.
His modesty is very becoming, and throughout the preseason and the early races, he has continued to dampen down overly-inflated expectations. Yes, pole is nice. Yes, winning is fantastic. No, he is not even thinking of the title yet. But everything about Marc Marquez screams ambition, the desire to win, to do what it takes to beat his rivals and prove to everyone what he believes, that he is the best rider in the world, a (self-)belief that motivates every top level athlete.
The last-corner lunge inside Jorge Lorenzo at Jerez will be cited as evidence, but more than that, the desperate attempts in the preceding laps were proof enough, if proof were needed. Is Marc Marquez thinking of winning the MotoGP championship in his first year, a feat previously only achieved by Kenny Roberts? No, it is not chief among his concerns. Is he trying to win as many races as possible, an objective that will bring him the 2013 title if he succeeds? Of course he is. He may not be thinking about the championship, but he is definitely trying to win it.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after qualifying for tomorrow's French Grand Prix at Le Mans:
Summary of qualifying and results for MotoGP:
Jorge Lorenzo responded to Marc Marquez's early domination on Saturday by heading the fourth MotoGP free practice session. In doing so he went about setting the fastest lap of the weekend, which was faster than Dani Pedrosa's race lap record from last year and a tenth quicker than last year's pole position lap time. Marquez finished the session in second place despite a crash on the approach to the Dunlop chicane while Dani Pedrosa finished third ahead of Valentino Rossi, Stefan Bradl and Andrea Dovizioso.
The session was red-flagged for seven minutes in the early stages after Cal Crutchlow, who finished the session in seventh place, had a big high-side whilst pushing on cold tyres. He landed hard on his right side and looked very sore, lying prone on the side of the circuit. He eventually got to his feet and walked away gingerly, perhaps having been seriously winded. There were comical scenes following as Crutchlow rode a push-bike to the medical centre from the pits, after his initial ride on the back of a scooter.
The top ten was completed by Alvaro Bautista, Bradley Smith and American Nicky Hayden aboard the second factory Ducati.
Scintillating Spanish rookie Marc Marquez finished FP3 half a second quicker than the rest of the MotoGP field. The Repsol Honda rider's stunning lap time of 1:33.600 was close to the pole position time of last years French grand prix. Jorge Lorenzo finished in second place followed by the third of the championship contenders Dani Pedrosa. Ducati continued their impressive showing for the weekend thus far with Nicky Hayden finishing the session in fourth ahead of Cal Crutchlow and his Ducati teammate Andrea Dovizioso. An impressive Bradley Smith, Alvaro Bautista, Valentino Rossi and Stefan Bradl rounded out the top ten.
An initially cool track saw the likes of Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi and Stefan Bradl fail to improve on their fastest lap times from Friday, while Alvaro Bautista suffered a heavy crash on the approach to the Dunlop chicane with six minutes to go in the session, Hector Barbera had a near identical spill, both riders were able to walk away.
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.