For anyone on a budget, Misano is one of the cheaper MotoGP rounds to attend. Ticket prices aside, the area has a large amount of tourist accommodation, and the race takes place right at the tail end of the tourist season, when hotel prices are starting to drop. Buses run to and from the circuit from Riccione, making transport to and the track affordable. Misano is a great circuit to go to if you are trying to keep costs to a minimum.
Misano may be a cheap weekend for fans, but it certainly wasn't cheap for the teams in all three classes in MotoGP. The rain-drenched conditions on Friday saw riders crashing left, right, and center, in Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP. They racked up a grand total of 62 crashes in all three classes, in just a single day. Given that crash damage on Grand Prix machinery tends to start at a minimum of around a thousand euros, going up arithmetically with the severity of the crash and the class the bike is racing in, a conservative estimate of the grand total for repairs on the first day of practice would be enough to pay for a ride in Moto3. Or possibly even on a MotoGP Open class bike.
The cause of those 62 crashes? The water certainly didn't help. Rain fell through the night and all day, leaving the track soaked and standing water on some part of the track. But it wasn't just the water, the surface of the track itself was very poor, and rubber left on the track made braking on the racing line a treacherous affair, riders in all three classes going down as the front locked up. The fact that Bridgestone had started the MotoGP riders off on the harder of the two wet tire options didn't help either. It was an understandable choice: in previous years, when riders have used the softer wet tire, they have ended up being destroyed at Misano. But on a track with standing water to cool the wet tires, tire temperatures were never raised enough for the soft tires to start to show any significant wear. The harder front tire never really reached the temperature at which it started to offer any real grip.
The conditions caused Bridgestone some logistical problems. Based on previous experience with wear, the Japanese tire manufacturer had brought 2 soft and 8 medium rain tires. The severity of the rain caused a drastic rethink, and riders were provided with a lot more of the soft rain tires, giving them sufficient to use in case it rains during the race. It was the right response to a difficult situation, but it highlights the perils of restricting tire numbers. Weather conditions can always catch you out.
The real problem, though, was the condition of the track. Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa firmly blamed the state of the asphalt for the lack of grip, Rossi having paid the price during the morning session. Bradley Smith concurred, having crashed in both the morning and afternoon, saying the asphalt felt almost polished. Tires were skating over the top of the track, rather than digging in and providing grip. Smith told us that he expected the track condition to be raised during the rider's safety commission. The track hasn't been resurfaced since MotoGP returned to the Misano circuit in 2007. It is likely that a new surface will be one of the conditions placed on the track before the race next year.
Making the problem worse was the amount of rubber laid down in certain corners. It was clearly visible in some places, the best tactic being to try to avoid it altogether. Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow all said that they had to adjust their lines to avoid the rubber. Get onto the ideal racing line, and grip would disappear, braking turning into a lethal gamble. Get off the racing line, and you would be off the ideal line for the corner, but you could at least apply the brakes with more confidence that the front wasn't about to be wiped out from under you.
Confidence was something which Jorge Lorenzo was still lacking in. The Movistar Yamaha rider needed a long time to get up to speed, but even after two sessions, he was still over a second off the pace of the Repsol Hondas. Lorenzo denied that it was fear of the rain and memories of his massive 2013 crash at Assen which was slowing him, but admitted to be extra careful. The lack of pace was part due to his caution, and in part due to the bike not giving him the confidence he needed. He needed more rear grip on corner entry if he was to be fast, he said.
It is a problem common to all Yamahas. The worse the grip, the more the Yamahas suffer. The whole ethos of the Yamaha is based around corner speed, which means carrying as much speed into the corner as possible, then carrying it through the corner and back out onto the straight. Corner speed demands grip, however, as the tire has to hold up when the bike is thrown into the corner. Grip demands temperature in the tires, the rubber needing to be as close as possible to its ideal operating temperature to form the chemical bonds with the asphalt which provides mechanical grip.
A soaking wet Misano was the worst of all possible worlds for the Yamaha riders. With no temperature in the tires, they would not provide the grip needed to carry corner speed. Without corner speed, it was impossible to load the tires to generate heat and create grip. Smith illustrated the problem by recounting that he could hear both the Ducati and the Honda catching him on braking and corner entry, though he was then able to hold his own on corner exit and acceleration.
The Ducati, above all, was a strong package in the wet. At the track's wettest, all four Ducatis were in the top 8, with Yonny Hernandez topping the timesheets both in the morning and in the early part of the afternoon. By the end of FP2, it was Andrea Dovizioso who had taken a commanding lead, the Italian feeling very at home in the wet.
Of course, all this will be meaningless by tomorrow. The weather forecast is for the rest of the weekend to be dry, with only a small chance of light rain on Saturday, followed by a dry and sunny Sunday. Friday was not wasted – Valentino Rossi, for example, had a chance to test a brand new wet set up, though he discovered that it did not work anywhere near as well as the standard set up. But the lessons learned on Friday will have no relevance once the sun comes out. A new weekend starts on Saturday, and a dry track.
There were plenty of developments off the track, some so fast moving, they look set to carry their momentum throughout the weekend and into the following days. Two expected announcements were forthcoming, Aprilia announcing they were partnering with Gresini to launch their return to MotoGP. Riders are expected to be Marco Melandri and Alvaro Bautista, though Melandri is far from certain. The Italian only wants to return to MotoGP on a competitive bike, and the 2015 Aprilia will certainly not be that. If there is any kind of involvement by Aprilia in World Superbikes for next year, then Melandri is likely to choose to stay there. That would open up a second spot at Aprilia, though who might fill that is hard to say. Scott Redding is at the top of Aprilia's shopping list, but Redding is wary of taking a step back on his career path. With Gresini technically in breach of their contract with the British rider – his contract stipulates that he will be on a Honda RC213V, which Gresini cannot supply – Redding has options outside of Gresini, and staying with the Aprilia could create several complications. Redding is also tipped for a spot at Pramac Ducati with factory backing, while Yamaha would like to see Redding in the Forward Yamaha team. If Honda want to keep Redding, they may have to help the Marc VDS Racing team make the step to MotoGP, by supplying some kind of financial support. If they don't, they could find themselves racing against Redding, and given the speed he has shown this year on a woefully underpowered bike, that is not a prospect which holds much appeal for HRC.
As for the Marc VDS Racing team, they are still short of the target budget for the first year if they move up to MotoGP. That does not mean that they will not make the jump, but it does make the move a risk. The team was expecting to sign a title sponsor for the project on Friday evening, though that would fall through if the team doesn't make the jump. They will have to make a decision soon, though it could yet still take a few days.
Other announcements were also made, though there are still a few to come. Avintia announced that they would be fielding Ducatis from 2015 onward, with a chance that Hector Barbera could be on the bike from the next race at Aragon. All that will depend on the results of a test at Mugello in the week before the Aragon round of MotoGP.
A few slots were settled in Moto2 as well. Alex Rins was confirmed with the Pons team, taking the place of the departing Maverick Viñales, who is off to join Suzuki in MotoGP. Rins' deal with Pons makes a move by Miller to LCR Honda a near inevitability, that deal expected to be announced this weekend.
Another Moto2 situation was settled on Friday, with the line up of the Swiss National Team being announced. Dominique Aegerter, Robin Mulhauser and Tom Luthi will be the riders, with Luthi racing under a separate banner, but inside the same team. All three will be switching from Suter to Kalex for 2015, despite the success of both Aegerter and Luthi on the Suter chassis.
The Swiss riders are not the only ones to abandon Suter. Everyone on the Swiss chassis is looking to abandon Suter at the end of this year, with a view to switching to Kalex. The German chassis builder looks likely to be supplying 26 riders with Moto2 chassis next season, almost double their current quota of 14. They will handle the expansion by splitting their customers into new teams and old teams. Existing teams will get an uprated bike for the 2015 season, new customers will have to make do with the 2014 bike. Given that the 2014 Kalex is the machine currently dominating the racing, that should not be a massive issue for the teams.
There is a danger here for Kalex. The German chassis builder has built a reputation for creating competitive chassis by not overstretching themselves, and promising more than they can deliver. They will have some spare capacity after KTM removed the option of a Kalex frame for their Moto3 machines, but even so, they will have a lot to do. The decision to supply the newcomers with old frames needs to be seen in that light.
Saturday is a new day for the teams and riders in all three classes at Misano, in many different respects. Dry weather will shake up the order on the track, while new announcements could provide yet more clarity on who goes where for 2015. It promises to be a busy and interesting day, just like Friday.