2013 Indianpolis MotoGP Friday Round Up: The New King Kenny, Yamaha's Seamless Gearbox, And Returning Next Year?

There's something about America. Especially if your name is Marc Marquez. The Repsol Honda Rookie led both sessions on the opening day of the Indianapolis Grand Prix (the last one? Too early to say) going quickest both in the tricky morning, when there was very little grip, and in the afternoon, once the bikes had laid down some rubber. Marquez has won both US rounds so far, dominating at Austin and winning comfortably at Laguna Seca, and he has picked up at Indy where he left off before the summer break.

Unsurprisingly, the parallels with Kenny Roberts are starting to be made, the only other rider to become world champion as a rookie. Those parallels are unfair yet perfectly valid: both men exceeded expectations and raised the bar, shaking up the established order with a radical new riding style. Yet Roberts and Marquez also came from totally different backgrounds: Kenny Roberts had grown up racing dirt track, switched to road racing and then came to Europe to win his the championship at the first attempt, on tracks he had never seen before. Marc Marquez has had a classically European education: minibikes from a very young age, then nurtured through Spain's many road racing series, before rising up through the ranks of 125, Moto2 and now MotoGP. Marquez knows all of the tracks MotoGP races like the back of his hand, with the exception of Austin, which nobody knew, it being a new circuit, and Laguna Seca, which didn't prevent him from mastering and winning at his first attempt.

Of course, there is the small matter of half a MotoGP season before Marquez can match King Kenny's achievement, and with Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa now back from injury and approaching full fitness, the title is far from being a given. When asked if he thought Marquez was now favorite to win the championship, the ever astute Cal Crutchlow pointed out the glaringly obvious flaw in that line of argumentation. "I still don't agree that it will be solely his championship, because Lorenzo and Pedrosa are so strong always at the end of the year," he told reporters. "I expect him to win this weekend, because of his pace and how good he was at Laguna. But I still think Pedrosa and Lorenzo are the strongest guys." Marquez learns fast, though. "He's fast," Crutchlow affirmed. "You can't slow him down, he gets faster every race."

Fortunately for the championship - and the defending champion in particular - both Pedrosa and Lorenzo are in better shape than they feared. The pair had taken radically different approaches to recovering from their collarbone injuries. Lorenzo, ever the training monster, had spent all his time working on building strength and gaining flexibility. Pedrosa, more cautious, had proceeded more carefully, resting the shoulder as much as possible to allow it to recover. Both approaches worked - demonstrating once again that no two collarbone or shoulder injuries are ever alike - with Pedrosa grabbing second spot just eight hundredths behind his teammate, and Lorenzo the fastest Yamaha a quarter of a second behind Marquez. Pedrosa will likely make the most progress, his shoulder loosening up as each session goes on, struggling less and less to force the bike to change direction and to control the bike wanting to wheelie.

Lorenzo and Pedrosa weren't the only riders returning from MotoGP's sick bay. Both Pramac Ducati men were also back from injury, Ben Spies after a long layoff to allow the shoulder he damaged at Sepang last year to heal, while Andrea Iannone injured his shoulder at the Sachsenring. For Spies, it was good news: "It's great to be able to ride the bike with both arms," he said. Though he was only 13th fastest, 1.6 seconds behind Marquez, he felt he was riding at full fitness again, something he had not done since that injury at Sepang. The prognosis for Iannone was less favorable: the Italian has shooting pains in his shoulder in the change of direction, can't tuck in properly and is suffering in braking. Painkillers may help him get through the weekend, but he faces two more on two consecutive weekends. Iannone may do better by following Spies' example.

That the Hondas have an advantage at Indianapolis is clear. Marquez, Pedrosa and Stefan Bradl lead the session, the German continuing his solid progress on the LCR Honda, while Lorenzo leads Crutchlow and Valentino Rossi, the trio of Yamahas over a quarter of a second and more behind Marquez. That may yet change, as grip improves. Jorge Lorenzo complained that his bike was spinning too much, unable to get the drive to match the Hondas. Watching the super slow motion shots set up at Turn 5, you could see the rear end of the Honda stepped out more, biting to help get the bike turned and making it easier for the Hondas to drive out of the corners. As the track cleans up, the improved grip should favor the Yamahas a little more, Cal Crutchlow said, allowing them to exploit their better edge grip and to reduce the spinning of the rear tire.

Would Yamaha's seamless gearbox help? It's hard to say. On Thursday, Jorge Lorenzo had pleaded with Yamaha to introduce it sooner rather than later. The gearbox, which he and Rossi had tested a week earlier at Brno, did not give the massive boost in lap times some had been expecting, Rossi had explained, but still made a big difference overall. "The big improvement is in 20 or 30 laps, because the bike becomes more easy to ride," Rossi said. It was more stable in acceleration, more stable in braking, and placed less stress on the tires. The gearbox made it easier to ride the bike at the limit, but it also allowed a change of riding style. Gear changes became less critical, allowing the rider to change up while the bikes is still leaned hard over, Rossi explained. "You don't have to modify the style, but you can use some tricks for use gearbox to the maximum to go faster," he said.

But Yamaha do not want to introduce it yet, much to Lorenzo's discontent. The Spaniard would like to see it brought in as soon as possible, to allow him to challenge the Hondas at every circuit. But the risk is great, as if the gearbox locks up, there is no way of saving it. "I understand that Jorge wants the gearbox as soon as possible," Rossi said. "Also me, I want the gearbox as soon as possible. But you know, the gearbox is a critical part, and I also agree with Yamaha that they want to be sure at 100%." The penalty if things went wrong was high. "You have the good and the bad. You can take a risk for the advantage, but you can also have a problem. But anyway, Yamaha will decide," Rossi said.

So Yamaha hope that the track conditions will come to them. The surface is the subject of much discussion, with riders due to debate the issue in the Safety Commission, there are calls for the multiple track surface changes to be fixed. Whether Indianapolis Motor Speedway heeds the call of the riders or not will depend on many things, most importantly whether there is a race at the track again next year. The circuit is keen to retain the race, and though three races in the US are perhaps a little too much of a good thing, Dorna are keen to stay as well. Indy is a byword in American racing, and close to many of the US' major markets. It is easier to sell motorcycle racing to an American audience when it is linked to such an iconic venue than if it stays only at Laguna Seca - also iconic, but really only for motorcycles and the smaller four-wheeled series - and Austin, a brand new circuit with no history.

Therein lies the conundrum for Dorna: try to hitch a ride on the coat tails of established traditions like the Indy 500, or try to build a new audience around the entirely foreign concept of road course motorcycle racing. Neither is simple, and when it comes down to it, smart promotion of the sport may be much more successful and significant than the location of the races. But until Dorna shows any sign of doing that - on the basis of past evidence, an impossible dream - then jumping on the Indy 500 bandwagon may be their best bet for conquering America, the world's richest TV market.

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Perhaps a re-pave of the entire circuit with a revamp to run it the other direction could make it one of the poorer circuits on the calendar rather than an unacceptable turd.
Good riddance

The course uses a significant portion of the oval. If you repave the the MotoGP course, then you'd have to repave the whole thing. Not gonna happen.

Now that all the factory teams have spent the development money to have seamless gearboxes I think the idea of spec hardware and software for all teams at some point in the future is fading rapidly. I can't imagine Dorna being able to include the functionality for various styles of seamless gearchanges in the spec software.


I have never been convinced of Ben Spies' calibre as a consistent rider despite the fact that he has been a World Champion in his rookie season at Yamaha and prior to that in AMA he had shown great promise. In MotoGP however, on the couple of occasions when he was called to substitute for injured Suzuki riders, Spies looked pretty ordinary. His debut into MotoGP full time on the Yamaha showed that he has capabilities but on a bike he claimed did not have all the new parts of the factory bikes (this was when he was in Tech3).

When he became part of the official Yamaha factory team he notched up one win but given how Lorenzo was going on the other factory bike, Spies definitely looked ordinary again (this in 2011). Last year was a disaster and it did not have much to do with Spies or his ability. It was plain rotten luck.

What is of concern is that someone who is not really the epitome of consistency and one who had to stay out of racing for as long as he did (Spies that is) and is saddled with a bike whose reputation is that of a killer of careers of riders (the Ducati) could well be on his way out of the MotoGP series or could end up on anyone of the non-MSMA bikes. I would be very surprised if Spies can do something miraculous with Ducati for the rest of the season. Spies may just be tempted to go back to World Superbikes where he will have more of a chance to look like a winner, provided Nicky Hayden, Colin Edwards, Alvaro Bautista et al do not become refugees and move to WSBK for rehabilitation.

Ben Spies has a contract no doubt, David. But don't these contracts usually have some options both for the rider and the team to get out of the contract? Now that Spies has dislocated the other shoulder and is out of Indianapolis and probably also the coming two GPs, can Pramac not look for another rider for next year? However, given the way the Ducati is going there may not be too many people interested in the ride, but that is another story. I am wondering if Spies has the motivation to go on with Ducati. I could be totally wrong and I acknowledge that.

I'm wrong, but doesn't Lorenzo have a titanium plate holding his collar bone together while Pedrosa has skin holding his? That to me would explain why their recovery regimes were wildly different. Lorenzo could rely on the titanium holding the bone and allowing it to knit while any exertion on Pedrosa's part could easily have moved the two pieces apart.

As an ex club racer, I struggle with the comments the riders make about the changes in asphalt around the Indy track - albeit I was not at the same level and therefore not at the same limit of grip, but, the club tracks were bumpy, patched, sealed and even covered with goose droppings early in the morning. I would have been thrilled to have "simple" differences in the age of the asphalt.
I do realize that every circuit and particularly every corner offers its own specific challenges. Challenges in particular corners come from the radius (single or complex), the camber of the track, the ability to even see the corner or through it, the bumps (size, location, severity), etc. Every corner has a known line (or even set of lines), lean angle, gear, speed, body position and when you can feed in the throttle and how hard.
Even if the track surface grip is different in turn 3 versus turn 8, I will know these corners and what is possible based on all the variables that affect my ability to get through the corner at the fastest speed possible without ending up sliding down the track.
Perhaps it is a 'feel' of the track and the bike that maybe I never developed - which also, perhaps, is what separates the men from the boys, as it were.
From guys who spend there time honing their skills on dirt bikes where conditions at every corner change from lap to lap - In the end, I just don't understand the complaint at its most basic level.

Nicely said. They're just far, far closer to the limit, all the time, than you or I ever get. I'd likely never have noticed the "bad" patch of asphalt that Pedrosa crashed on last year at Phillip Island. Even when I think I'm flying, I'm nowhere close to the edge of adhesion.

The comparison to dirt is a really interesting one, and the basis of a very, very long post ... ;)

The difference between club racing and world championships, as noted by Morbidelli, is that everyone is very, very close to the edge. particularly in Moto2, if you leave a margin for error, you will be a long way back.
Now the problem with that is that if there is a random factor: wind or goose droppings, you *must* leave a margin for error, or you are just gambling.

Now looking at the video from my nice safe 5-castor OHS approved chair, the thing that strikes me is the bumps. Not little sharp one, but slight dips, which unweight the tyres and throw you over the bars if you don't anticipate them just right. See Ben Spies's high-side for reference. So to a certain extent you are right, it's a skill to be able to memorize every bump and modulate lean and throttle for each.... but that's a big task, especially if you over-cook and run a little wide, or are trying an optimistic passing manoevre. Throw in the course surface on the newer parts with their uneven rubber coating and the massive build up of marbles...

It's the sort of thing you put up with at club level, along with poor pit facilities, changing your own tyres and race-track food. But at world level... it's supposed to be the best, to allow the riders to ride at their best. Indy is not at that level.

INDIANAPOLIS -- At least one Indy car is coming to Indianapolis Motor Speedway's road course next month.

The car from a yet-to-be-determined team will complete laps in various configurations as a possible precursor to an IndyCar race to be held next May.

The dates being considered for the feasibility test are Sept. 4 and Sept. 6. Firestone has an oval-track test set for Sept. 10-11.

IMS president Doug Boles said the car — and maybe a second car — will travel in the same counter-clockwise configuration being used this weekend by MotoGP and also try the clockwise direction used by Formula One from 2000-2007.

When going clockwise, the test will go through the oval track's Turn 1 as the late Dan Wheldon did when he ran a car here in fall 2011. That's the only time an Indy car has been on the road course that debuted in 2000.

Boles said that if an IndyCar road race happens next May, the circuit will get modified. One part requiring attention, he said, is the infield section of the oval's first turn.

"The last corner coming out of the infield is really tight," Boles said. "It would be too slow (for a car)."

Boles said the portion of the road course located behind the IMS Hall of Fame Museum and the north end of the infield likely would be modified, too.

"But it's all conceptual right now," he said.

An IndyCar road course race in May is being considered to serve as a start-your-engines event to the Indianapolis 500.

Boles said Derrick Walker, IndyCar's president of competition and operations, is working through the details of the test.

David, please break this story for us ! Any rumor on Honda/Yammy or rider option? Could we see Edwards/Hayden on M1 team next year? We Americans could use some good news from the MotoGP paddock..

More at a later date, but the rumors I have heard indicate Kenny Roberts would try to run a Moto2 team, to try to get American riders into MotoGP. However, this could be part of the deal which Roberts has been working on since he left the paddock in 2007. If he comes back, he will do it right, but it's so hard to do it right.

quick reply for a race weekend....will Joe Roberts please come to the will call in Moto2 paddock to grab your leathers .paging Joe Roberts...