Somebody appears to have neglected to inform Marc Marquez of the laws of physics. Though the track is less slippery than it was last year, and so a little faster, where Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo upped their pace by three tenths of a second, dipping under last year's pole record, Marc Marquez positively obliterated it. The Spanish rookie put in one of the best laps every seen on a MotoGP bike, and stripped nearly nine tenths of a second off the pole record, held by his teammate Dani Pedrosa. He sits half a second ahead of reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo, and a fraction more ahead of Pedrosa.
That gap bears repeating. Half a second in a single lap is a world apart in MotoGP: If they both started at the same time, Marc Marquez would have crossed the line 22 meters ahead of Jorge Lorenzo after that first lap, or roughly 11 bike lengths. By comparison, third place man Dani Pedrosa would have followed 60 centimeters later, or just over a wheel length, while Cal Crutchlow would have crossed the line 1.3 meters later, his front wheel in line with Pedrosa's boot and Lorenzo's rear wheel.
Of course, posting a fast lap in qualifying is one thing, hammering them in lap after lap is another. Jorge Lorenzo is the master of the metronomic lap times, but at Indy, Marquez is just blowing him and everyone else away. Marquez' race pace is around the low 1'39, a lap time he is capable of comfortably repeating, while the rest struggle to post the occasional 1'39.4. If you're the betting type, it's not even worth putting your money on Marquez for the win, the bookmakers have already priced the rest of the field out of the market.
Can anyone stop Marc Marquez? On the face of it, it doesn't look like it. The battle looks to be for second, but that could be quite a battle indeed. With the track improving, the Yamahas are getting stronger, better able to brake later and carry some corner speed. But they are still a way behind the Hondas, Cal Crutchlow insists, the Yamahas suffering with the front wheel locking up under braking. "[That] seems to be hindering us a lot more than the Honda, because they can still come out of the corner," the Englishman told reporters. "We need to carry our corner speed, but if we're locking [the front] going into the corner, we've got no confidence to release the brake, so it's difficult."
Jorge Lorenzo is a little more confident. "I think we have a good pace," the factory Yamaha man said. "The rear tire doesn't drop as much as we expect, so maybe tomorrow we can fight for the podium or even for the victory." That seems a little optimistic, especially if the temperatures rise as expected. Right now, Lorenzo can't use the hard compound rear tire, as it does not provide sufficient grip, something the Yamahas need to maintain corner speed. The Hondas, on the other hand, spend less time on the edge of the tire, and can get the hard tire to work. If it heats up sufficiently at Indy on Sunday, Marquez may well already be packing for his flight home by the time the Yamahas cross the line.
If we have penciled in Marc Marquez' name as the winner on Sunday, what about the rest of the podium. It looks like being pretty tight, with Stefan Bradl, Cal Crutchlow, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa all in the hunt. There is little to choose between the four of them, with the real question mark being how the respective collarbones of Lorenzo and Pedrosa will hold up. Both men are confident, the pain remaining within manageable bounds, their respective front row starts a sign of just how well they are doing.
On paper, Stefan Bradl should be able to stay with Lorenzo and Pedrosa, the German having excellent pace in free practice. But in the heat of the afternoon, problems with the front tire left him struggling, despite using the harder of the two options. He saved a couple of big slides in qualifying, classifying the save at Turn 1 as "one of my biggest saves ever," the front nearly getting away from him. It left him qualified on the third row, a good distance behind the leaders. The issue he is struggling with is down to set up, and if they cannot find a solution, then Bradl will struggle in the expected heat of Sunday.
As for Crutchlow, he looks very fast and very consistent. He finally has the new fuel tank the factory Yamahas are using, though for the moment, he has not seen any noticeable effect. The fuel tank is a little lower, and sits a fraction further back than the tank he was using, but the benefit only comes with a full fuel tank, something which the team rarely practices with during the weekend. "At the moment, definitely 100% I feel zero difference, because it's not supposed to help in any other way than at the start of the race," Crutchlow said. But even then he might not get much benefit, because of the state of the circuit. "I don't expect it to be any better here, because the track surface is so slippery. In the first laps you don't push as hard at this track as at other tracks. "
While Lorenzo is vying for the front row, teammate Valentino Rossi is having another tough weekend. The solution the Italian and his crew found to his braking problem at the Aragon test is simply not working at Indy, leaving Rossi languishing down in 9th, 1.4 seconds behind Marquez. "I have very much problems, especially braking and corner entry," Rossi told the media. "I can arrive to one level, and after that, when I try more, I have too much movement on the front," He said. "I made some mistake, I had two moment with the front, so I lose a lot of feeling."
The situation was reminiscent of the start of the season, when Rossi had struggled with the same problem. That issue had been resolved at Aragon. "From the Aragon test when we modify a bit the setting and use another fork, we did a good step. Especially in the race, but also in the qualifying, I was able to start always in the top 5, and was not so bad." That feeling was now gone, with no resolution in sight. Yet Rossi's pace was not as bad as his qualifying position suggests, only a couple of tenths off the pace of Lorenzo and Pedrosa. "For me, tomorrow in the race, about the pace, we are not very far. "
Rossi's travails are as nothing to those of Ben Spies, however. The Texan was happy and confident after the first day of practice, pronouncing himself glad that he was finally able to "race with both arms again." His joy lasted less than half the morning session of practice on Saturday. Spies exited the pits on his second run of the day, and as he got on the gas out of Turn 4, was spat off his Pramac Ducati and fell heavily on his left shoulder. It was immediately clear that there was something wrong, the footage showing Spies' collarbone sticking up higher than it ought to. Fortunately - or perhaps unfortunately - his collarbone was not broken, but he was instead diagnosed with a grade 3 acromioclavicular dislocation. In lay terms, his collarbone had come loose from its mooring on the shoulder blade, and will need to reattach.
How did it happen? Spies told Cycle News that the problem was down to the way the traction control works on the Ducati. The system is automatically engaged once the rider changes up into second gear, but the section out of the pits at Indy is tight and twisty, and can be taken in first gear. This is what Spies did, and when he opened the throttle coming out of Turn 4, the bike bit him. Whose fault was this? It looks like a failure of communication. Spies had either forgotten or hand never been told how traction control was switched on, unsurprising given that none of the circuits he has ridden at so far see a rider spend so long in first gear out of the pits. On the Yamaha, traction control engaged automatically once launch control was disengaged, and Spies had assumed the Ducati worked the same way.
It was a painful and potentially costly mistake. The Texan will likely be out for three to four weeks, once the full extent of his injury has been assessed back home in Dallas. Having already missed 7 of the 9 races so far, he could end up making that a grand total of 10 out of 12. Team boss Francesco Guidotti is reportedly not impressed. The Italian told GPOne.com, "we shouldn't speak of bad luck. I don't want to point the finger of blame at the rider, but these situations don't resolve themselves on their own." An oblique threat, perhaps? While Spies' decision to allow his injured right shoulder to heal properly was clearly the right one, damaging his left shoulder in his first race back has not endeared him to the team. Spies has a contract directly with Ducati to race for them in 2014, but if Pramac keep the Ducati junior team franchise, the atmosphere between Spies and the team will not have improved.
While Spies' position in MotoGP is looking more and more shaky, Nicky Hayden's appears to be firming up. Though he has been dropped from the factory Ducati team, Hayden is still in demand in the MotoGP paddock. Hayden is still in talks with the NGM Forward team for one of the non-MSMA Yamaha M1 machines which Forward will be leasing next year, but Honda are also keen to retain his services. American Honda is in talks with HRC about placing Hayden alongside Stefan Bradl in the LCR Honda team, riding one of Honda's production racers. The Kentucky Kid still enjoys huge popularity in the states - items related to Hayden often fetch the highest prices at the Riders for Health auctions held at MotoGP events - and American Honda is keen to capitalize on his selling power.
It is, Nicky Hayden told reports, a question of money. Somebody has to pay for this, and in the case of placing Nicky Hayden on a production racer at LCR, that somebody would be American Honda. "Only if American Honda would support this idea does it become possible," LCR Honda boss Lucio Cecchinello told Italian site Moto.it. A final decision for LCR will come at Misano, in mid-September.
With the news that Indianapolis will remain on the calendar for 2014, it seems likely that Dorna will encourage American Honda, and help support Hayden at LCR, or any other team he wants to remain at. The US market remains critical for Dorna, and Hayden is one of the keys which they are continuing to use to try to unlock the market. Until a replacement comes along, Hayden has a place in MotoGP.