The weather put the cat among the pigeons at Brno on Friday. Hot weather, track temperatures of over 50°C and a bumpy track pushed the riders and their tires to the limit, and the afternoon session of MotoGP turned into a proper crashfest. Valentino Rossi was the first to go down, followed a second later by Dani Pedrosa, but what caused those two to crash had nothing to do with the weather conditions. A leaking fork seal dribbled oil onto Dani Pedrosa's brakes, causing a mist of oily smoke to trail behind Pedrosa, onto the rear wheel of his Honda RC213V and the front wheel of Valentino Rossi's Yamaha M1. Rossi lost the front and crashed at Turn 13, Pedrosa was highsided off his bike at Turn 14. Rossi walked away unhurt, Pedrosa slammed his left foot into the ground, aggravating an old injury suffered in Australia in 2003.
Rossi was perplexed rather than anything else. "I feel some smoke from the bike of Dani already from the corner before. But I think it was just a feeling, because usually, don't happen," Rossi said. It could not have been a lot of oil, he added, as it was only him who crashed because of the incident, apart from Pedrosa himself. Fortunately he was not injured, Rossi said, though it had created a problem for the Italian. "I was in the wrong place at the wrong moment," Rossi said. "The important thing is no problem for me, but we lose the possibility to try the number 1 bike. So from that moment we have to try the other bike that was on another setting. But anyway is important to understand the way to follow." Rossi's pace on his second bike was good, but he believed the set up they had wanted to try on the bike he crashed on would have been even better.
Where Rossi was relatively phlegmatic, Dani Pedrosa was quietly seething. Yet another mechanical issue on his Honda RC213V had caused him to crash, and once again caused him injury. He had fallen heavily on his left foot, and aggravated an old injury he suffered at Phillip Island in 2003. Pedrosa had been checked over for fractures, but none had shown up in the X-rays. The foot was still extremely painful, as the bones in that foot were held together with a number of screws. Pedrosa had iced his foot as soon as he had returned to his race truck, but the foot remained painful.
He had not seen it coming, nor been able to do anything about it, Pedrosa said. "I couldn’t really feel that I had a problem on the bike and when I flicked from left to right - I didn’t really have time to really flick, but I was already in the air. So I make a huge highside and I think when I flipped over and impacted the floor, that was when I had this impact on my foot." Though it was not fractured, "the pain is quite high" Pedrosa said. The swelling and the pain could pose a problem. The left foot is a motorcycle racer's busy foot, used to change gears, but Pedrosa was having difficulty moving the foot. If it did not get better overnight, racing would be extremely difficult. "I will see in the next hours how I am recovering and how I am tomorrow morning," Pedrosa told us. "If the pain is less and I have less swelling, then I can work better on the bike."
Whether Pedrosa is able to ride or not on Saturday and Sunday, to be out of contention at Brno, a track he loves and goes very well at, was extremely disappointing. But Pedrosa's ire was not caused by the fact that he fancied his chances at Brno. "Anywhere it is disappointing, here or somewhere else, because to have this kind of issue, to have this kind of crash because of shit like this is not good." The frustration was visible on Pedrosa's face. A stuck throttle, an unprotected vital sensor, and now a leaking fork seal. Pedrosa was getting tired of having his Honda try to kill him.
Rossi and Pedrosa weren't the only riders to go down. Bradley Smith, Marc Márquez, Mike Di Meglio, Andrea Dovizioso all went down at various points round the track. The cause was simple, the extreme heat causing the track to lose grip, and the difficulty in choosing the correct front tire. "The most difficult conditions of the year," is how Rossi described the combination of heat, bumps and tires. Bridgestone has brought a medium and a hard front, but the medium overheats too quickly in the blistering heat at Brno, and the hard is not providing the grip needed to withstand the bumps and handle the corner speed. "The 38 [hard front] is right on the limit," Cal Crutchlow said. The Englishman had pushed hard at the end of the session to ensure a time, but had been forced to take a lot of risks to do so.
Marc Márquez had ended the afternoon session as fastest, but Jorge Lorenzo was quickest on the day. Márquez was relieved to be competitive, after some concerns in the morning that they problems they had suffered at Mugello and Barcelona had resurfaced. "This morning in FP1 I was a bit worried because I start to have the feeling of the first part of the season," Márquez said. The changes made for the afternoon had helped reduce the problem. "We did a great work for this afternoon and improved a lot. At Mugello and Montmelo I did not have the pace, but this afternoon I was able to be more constant with good lap times. Only Lorenzo was faster than us, but we were closer. That means the potential is there. OK maybe the problem will affect us more at this circuit but we are working on it."
Lorenzo was the rider marked out by both Márquez and Rossi as the man to watch, a role which Lorenzo was happy to take upon himself. He had seen the other riders crash, and taken those crashes as a warning, been a little more cautious in the afternoon session. But while he had struggled for grip in the afternoon, he knew others had far worse problems than he did. "I feel difficult on the bike but compared to the other riders I struggle a little bit less." Part of that is down to his style, not loading the front quite so heavily and allowing him to use the medium front tire better than the rest of the field, who rely more on heavy braking and therefore need the added support of the hard front.
Had the difficulty of the conditions caused him to change his approach to the weekend, made him decide be more cautious in his objectives? Lorenzo dismissed any such suggestion. "My objective in Indy was winning and here is the same: to win the race. If I see it’s not possible I will see what I do, what is my realistic position." Lorenzo acknowledged that he was not as free as Marc Márquez was in terms of how much risk he could afford to take. "The Yamaha riders don’t have the same freedom of pressure that Marc is having. He’s taking so many risks already from today, he crashed two times. He take more risks than us because he has to recover all the points. My goal is to put the bike in the best way for the race and I think we are in a good way for that. In the first one or two laps of the race we will see what I can do."
What happens in the race is still all very much up in the air, quite literally. For qualifying on Saturday, Friday's blistering heat is set to continue. For Sunday, though, rain is forecast, starting at some point in the afternoon. It may start raining before the MotoGP race, or it may hold off until the evening. It will add an extra level of complexity to the race.
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