There was a sense of eager anticipation at Misano on Thursday. For the past five years, the riders have complained more and more of the poor surface, of bumps, of a lack of grip, and of asphalt polished as smooth as pebbles on a beach. The new surface is a vast improvement, incredibly grippy, most of the bumps ironed out and fresh dark asphalt ready to welcome sticky rubber. Racing at Misano will be a much more rewarding experience than it has been in the past.
Just how much better is the new surface? Aleix Espargaro said that the Suzukis had lapped a second under the lap record, while Marc Márquez had been untouchable, lapping "nearly three seconds under the record." That seemed almost improbably fast, and a quick survey among the rest of the paddock suggested Márquez' time was not quite that quick, but at 1'31.9 impressive nonetheless. That is fully two seconds quicker than the race lap record, and a second under the pole record. On a scorching hot surface with track temperatures of over 60°, that is a very impressive time.
Track temperatures could be an issue, as Dani Pedrosa explained. "Because the asphalt is super black it got so hot, it started sweating," he said. The surface is so dark that it absorbs more heat than other, lighter-colored surfaces, meaning that track temperatures rise more quickly and get hotter overall. But with temperatures this weekend expected to be closer to normal, around 29° on Sunday, excessive heat should not be a problem.
The one thing that everyone who has ridden at the track agreed on was that the circuit now has phenomenal grip. "Grip is good," Dani Pedrosa told us, channeling his inner Gordon Gekko. Whether he meant to paraphrase the main character from the movie Wall Street is hard to tell, but he had a wry smile on his face as he told us. Truth is, Pedrosa has a wry, and sometimes impish smile on his face almost every time he speaks to the press nowadays. The days of Taciturn Dani are long gone.
So who will the extra grip benefit? The Suzuki riders felt it was good for them, as it meant they could exploit the corner speed of the GSX-RR, though both Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales were quick to add that the lack of top speed remained a serious disadvantage down the straights. Dani Pedrosa said having grippy asphalt was good for the Honda, as grip is what they usually lacked. Andrea Iannone put 50% of his lap time improvement at the test down to the new asphalt, and the rest down to the GP15. And though they had not yet ridden the track, the two Monster Tech 3 Yamaha men said that extra grip should work in the M1's favor too, helping it hold corner speed and use the traction out of corners. The problem is that the extra grip may favor all of the bikes on the grid, but who benefits most is hard to say. The Honda may benefit, Pedrosa told us, but he did not know how much it would help anyone not on a Honda.
One person was very clear in his assessment of who would benefit from the extra grip. Was the added grip good for the Yamaha? I asked Wilco Zeelenberg. "Good for Yamaha? Good for Jorge!" he replied. As Jorge Lorenzo's team manager, his opinion can hardly be regarded as unbiased, but that does not mean he is wrong. If there is one rider who can use the extra grip to extract corner speed and pace, it is Jorge Lorenzo. This may be Valentino Rossi's home race, but Lorenzo has never finished lower than second here.
The riders who have tested were at an advantage, but that advantage should not be overstated, said some of the men who had not ridden at Misano yet. It would be important not to get too worried after the first day of practice, Cal Crutchlow said, as they would need that day to get the bike sorted. But by Saturday, they should have caught up. Marc Márquez said he felt his advantage would only stand in FP1. By the time FP2 rolled around, the rest of the field would have caught up again.
Do Valentino Rossi's laps on an R1 street bike mean he is better prepared? The consensus was that it was no substitute for a proper test, such as the Hondas, Ducatis and Suzukis have had. Different bike and tires meant different brake markers, different lines, and a different experience to a MotoGP bike, Rossi said. Jorge Lorenzo concurred: "If we were racing on R1s, Valentino would have an advantage," he joked. The riders with the real advantage are those who have ridden a MotoGP bike around the circuit.
Thursday is gossip day at the circuit, with everyone catching up on the latest contract negotiations and signings to be announced. Though there were no official announcements on Thursday, there was still plenty of unofficial news. The provisional MotoGP calendar is due to be announced on Saturday, with those involved very tight-lipped over how and where the calendar has changed. Stefan Bradl told German media that he had signed a deal with Aprilia for 2016, and will remain on the bike for next year, helping to develop the brand new RS-GP due to make its debut at the Sepang test in February. That means Sam Lowes is likely to be parked with the Gresini Moto2 squad for 2016, ahead of two years at Aprilia in 2017 and 2018.
There were plenty of unconfirmed whispers too. A home may have been found for Jack Miller, gossip placing him in the Marc VDS garage taking the place of the departing Scott Redding. This move would make a lot of sense, as the Marc VDS team is short of cash, having overspent the budget to get in to MotoGP in 2015. A free rider, with a free (or heavily subsidized) bike and a free crew would make a big difference for the entire Marc VDS structure, from Moto3 to MotoGP.
The most intriguing bit of gossip has KTM showing an interest in Dani Pedrosa for 2017. For certain, Pedrosa would be a real scalp for KTM to have, the Spaniard bringing raw speed and real talent to the new KTM project. 2017 onwards is likely to be the tail end of Pedrosa's career, a time when he is more willing to settle for cash, rather than a precarious shot at winning a title. But actually getting Pedrosa to sign for KTM could prove to be challenging.
Spare a thought also for Eugene Laverty. The Irishman has a two-year contract with the Aspar team, a deal he entered into in the clear knowledge that his first year would be spent on a sub-par bike – which the RC213V-RS has very much proved to be – in the expectation of getting on more equal machinery when the rules changed in 2016. Despite his contract, however, it is still not certain the Aspar team will have a seat for him next year. The team is in dire financial straits, and it is far from clear that they will be able to run two bikes. If they do not, then Laverty would be the first rider to be kicked out in the cold.
Laverty's dilemma is that he has yet to have a clear answer from Aspar as to the team's future. Laverty has plenty of contacts in the World Superbike paddock, and strong chances of a very good ride. But the seats are starting to dry up in WSBK, as teams move to sign riders before the end of the season. They are willing to wait for Laverty, but they cannot wait too long. With uncertainty around his MotoGP ride enough to prevent him from signing up for WSBK, Laverty is a most precarious position. It is a tough life indeed in MotoGP, unless you are at the very top.
Gathering the background information for long articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, buying the beautiful MotoMatters.com 2015 racing calendar, by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page.