The key to success in motorcycle racing is about controlling as many variables as you can. There are two variables which riders and teams cannot control, and which they fear for that very reason: the weather, and crashes. The weather spared both MotoGP and Moto2 at Brno on Saturday, but played havoc in Moto3. Crashes, too, made life difficult, both for MotoGP and in Moto3. It made for an intriguing day of practice.
The day started under leaden skies, with the threat of rain ever present throughout the morning. Dark clouds rolled in, then rolled right out again, chased deeper into Moravia and away from the track. They broke only briefly in the afternoon, the Moto3 qualifying session the main victim. Standing at trackside, the rain came and went so quickly that by the time I posted an update on Twitter, the weather had changed, immediately contradicting me. In the end, a red flag saved my blushes, Phillip Oettl crashing and damaging the air fence, causing the session to be halted while the air fence was repaired.
The rain had disappeared by the time MotoGP qualifying rolled around, conditions good enough for Marc Marquez to get close to Cal Crutchlow's pole record from 2013. That Marquez should take pole is hardly a surprise – that's nine out of eleven this year – but the way he controlled not just pole position, but the whole front row of the grid. Marquez jumped straight to pole on his first run out of the pits, but as he started his second run, he picked up a passenger. Andrea Iannone latched onto the tail of Marquez, and as Marquez flashed across the line to improve his time, Iannone used his tow to leapfrog ahead of his time, taking provisional pole from the Repsol Honda man. His soft tire spent, Iannone couldn't follow Marquez on his second run, the world champion going on to reclaim pole and demote Iannone to second. Further down the grid, Andrea Dovizioso followed Valentino Rossi around the circuit to improve his own time, moving up to second and demoting Iannone another spot.
Qualifying was on a dry track.
The weather didn't play a part on the free practice session, allowing riders to determine their pace for the racing tomorrow and get a last half hour of setup before the qualifying.
Valentino Rossi set a 1'56.207 lap early on, a time that stood throughout the entire session. Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez were able to go quicker in the first two sectors, but the Hondas couldn't tie the last half of the track together in spite of the fact the Honda's power put it at a theoretical advantage up the power-sapping incline in sector three.
Rossi unfortunately crashed and spent most of the session in the medical centre, tucking the front on a high-speed corner entry. He injured the little finger on his left hand, but was cleared for qualifying, having not suffered a fracture. His bike was damaged severely, but Rossi has a second bike for qualifying.
Bautista also crashed at the same spot, seconds after Rossi, and stated that he thought there was something on the track, but neither rider suggested a red flag.
Dani Pedrosa has topped the final session of practice for the MotoGP class at Brno. The Repsol Honda rider found a real burst of speed towards the end of the session, extending the gap over his teammate to over three tenths of a second by the end of the session. Marc Marquez was forced to settle for second, after taking an early lead.
The final minutes of the session turned hectic, as ever, with riders pushing hard for a fast lap to ensure a place in Q2. Bradley Smith posted an impressive time to take 3rd spot, under half a second off the time of Pedrosa, and just ahead of the Movistar Yamahas of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi. Andrea Iannone secured his place in Q2 with the 6th fastest time, very close behind Rossi, and just a fration ahead of Pol Espargaro on the Tech 3 Yamah. Andrea Dovizioso led the factory Ducati pair, with Crutchlow posting the 9th fastest time ahead of Aleix Espargaro. Aleix Espargaro had been unable to improve his time from yesterday, but had already booked a place in Q2.
The Repsol Hondas had a clear advantage, but behind them, times were extremely close. A tenth of a second separated Bradley Smith in 3rd from Andrea Dovizioso in 8th, with Cal Crutchlow another tenth of a second behind that.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after the first day of practice at Brno:
2014 Brno MotoGP Friday Round Up: Yamaha's Big Improvement, Elbow Down In The Wet, And The Factory Bosses Speak
The first day of practice at Brno turned out to be a day of two halves. The morning was glorious, sunny and relatively warm. Clouds began gathering shortly after lunch, and the first spots of rain started to fall just as FP2 for the Moto3 class came to a close. The rain grew steadily heavier for the first half of the MotoGP afternoon practice session, easing up and stopping with some ten minutes to go. By the time the Moto2 bikes took to the track, the circuit was already drying, though it only really dried out completely towards the end of Moto2.
The two halves of MotoGP practice showed the same picture, however. Marc Marquez is fast in the wet and fast in the dry, and clearly looking comfortable on the Repsol Honda. Teammate Dani Pedrosa is also quick in both conditions, though a little closer to Marquez on a wet track than on a dry track. In the dry, Jorge Lorenzo is very close to Marc Marquez, but in the wet, both he and Movistar Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi are a second off the pace of the Repsols.
Speed in the morning had given Lorenzo confidence he could be competitive with Marquez, and his pace in the wet was not a worry, he said. Everyone had started slowly in the wet, and Lorenzo was no exception. For Rossi, the second they are giving away to the Hondas in the wet is an issue, but losing track time to the rain was more of a problem. Rossi had been fifth in the dry, just a quarter of a second off Marquez, and after FP1, he and his crew had some ideas to improve turn in and enter the corner faster, right where he is losing out to the others. The rain meant he did not have a chance to test it, and with the chance of rain on Saturday, Rossi was concerned he would not be able to try it out before the race.
Leon Camier turned a lot of heads at Indianapolis in his first ride on the Drive M7 Aspar Honda production racer. The Englishman was drafted in to replace Nicky Hayden while he recovers from surgery, but despite it being the first time he rode a MotoGP bike, the Bridgestone tires, carbon brakes, and the Indianapolis circuit, Camier was very quickly up to speed with the other Open class Hondas.
Having a fast rider come in to MotoGP from World Superbikes allows a number of comparisons to be made. Among the most interesting is the difference in technology and tires. At Brno, Camier explained the difference in feel and cornering between the World Superbike Pirellis and the MotoGP Bridgestones. The front tire, especially, is a completely different kettle of fish, requiring a different style, and therefore different set up.
"The main [differene] for me is the tires and the brakes," Camier told us, "the tires being the biggest one. It's just that you have so much more front grip and with angle that you can brake and turn in with the brake on. [The front tire] is adjusting itself to be able to do that."
Rain opened the session with Andrea Iannone and Hector Barbera setting the only dry laps, crossing the line as the skies opened. Dani Pedrosa set the wet pace and was predictably bested by Marc Marquez. Cal Crutchlow was briefly the quickest wet rider, but the Repsol Honda duo returned to the third and fourth places.
With more rain likely tomorrow morning, the places for the qualifying sessions could already have been determined this morning.
Marc Marquez has topped the timesheets for the first session of free practice for MotoGP at Brno, after a protracted tussle with Jorge Lorenzo. The Repsol Honda and Yamaha men swapped top spot a couple of times, pushing harder to take back the lead each time the other took it away. The difference was small, just under four hundredths of a second.
Dani Pedrosa ended the session in third, and right on the tail of the leaders, Pedrosa finishing just 0.015 behind Lorenzo, and five hundredths behind Marquez. Aleix Espargaro put in a late fast lap to take fourth, two tenths off the pace of Marquez, and dropping Valentino Rossi to fifth. Stefan Bradl took the sixth fastest time, after briefly leading the session.
A late charge in the last ten minutes saw the second half of the top ten shaken up. A lot of riders pushed for a fast lap on a dry track, with the threat of rain this afternoon and tomorrow morning. Andrea Dovizioso, Yonny Hernandez, Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith put in time that would provisionally see them through to Q2, at the expense of Michele Pirro, Andrea Iannone, Scott Redding and Cal Crutchlow.
Is this the race it finally happens? Will Marc Marquez' record-breaking streak of wins, his perfect season, finally come to an end? We have discussed the statistical improbabilities of it continuing to the end of the year before. At some point, the chips will fall someone else's way, and a small mistake by Marquez, or just a perfect weekend by one of his rivals will see someone else on the top step of the podium.
What would it take to beat Marquez? Dani Pedrosa had a strong idea. "A win makes you stronger, so every time Marc wins, he is more committed," Marquez' Repsol Honda teammate said. "So your approach every time is harder, you have to be even more committed." Did he have a plan to try to beat Marquez this weekend? Proceed as normal, look for speed every session, try to find the perfect set up. There was no point trying to formulate a plan of attack. "You can't plan things against Marc," Pedrosa said, "he is smart, he can adapt each time."
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone ahead of the Brno round of MotoGP:
The British Grand Prix is to move, if everything goes to plan. At a press conference held today, Dorna and the management of the Circuit of Wales announced that a deal had been reached that will see the track, to be built in Ebbw Vale in South Wales, will host the race for the next five seasons, with an option to extend the contract for another five years after that, until 2024.
The only problem is that the Circuit of Wales does not exist yet. The track is part of a £ 315 million project aimed at regenerating the Blaenau Gwent region, a once-prosperous region that has lost most of its employment since the coal and steel industries closed. The Heads of the Valleys Development Company have set up a scheme to create a major motorsports industry hub centered around an FIM and FIA homologated race track, capable of hosting world championship racing.
Bradley Smith is to keep his MotoGP ride with the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team for another season. After a difficult start to the 2014 season, Smith's place in the MotoGP team had been in doubt, as this was the year when the Englishman had been expected to deliver. Smith had shown glimpses of his potential at a number of rounds, often being fast in practice. But several crashes and poor race results have seen Smith fall short on Sunday, when it counts.
Smith keeping his place is in part due to team boss Herve Poncharal keeping faith in the young Briton, who has raced for Tech 3 in Moto2 and MotoGP since 2011. But the lack of a suitable replacement was also a reason for Poncharal to retain Smith. Poncharal told MotoMatters.com at Assen that he had no interest in current riders in MotoGP other than Smith, but was looking to Moto2, and even Moto3. Credible reports suggested that Yamaha was keen on bringing Alex Rins in to MotoGP straight from Moto3, but Rins turned down the offer, preferring to go to Moto2 instead. Poncharal was also interested in Jonas Folger and Maverick Viñales, but Folger is in the middle of a two-year contract in Moto2, while Viñales elected to sign for Suzuki.
Below is the press release issued by Tech 3 on Bradley Smith's new contract:
Riders and managers will be very busy this weekend at Brno, as negotiations continue for the open slots left on the 2015 MotoGP grid. The deals that saw Stefan Bradl leave LCR Honda for Forward Yamaha and Cal Crutchlow depart Ducati and head for LCR Honda have kicked negotiations for the remaining seats into overdrive. Forward Yamaha still has one seat open, with Aleix Espargaro set to join Maverick Viñales at Suzuki, a deal due to be announced in September. There are two Open class Hondas available, at Gresini and Aspar, with Scott Redding moving up to take the factory RC213V, and Hiroshi Aoyama set to lose his seat. Pramac Ducati has one seat available, now that Andrea Iannone has moved up to take Crutchlow's place in the factory Ducati team. And Aprilia will have two seats to fill when they reenter the class in 2015.
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 are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
Racing is mostly about self-interest. It can be no other way. And even though the cliché that says nice guys don’t win is incorrect, the nice guys who do succeed only do so by morphing into ruthless assassins the moment they start thinking about racing, let alone actually going racing.
But even in this most vicious of sports there are times when self-interest needs to be overruled for the general good.