The last two races have followed a familiar pattern. On Friday and Saturday, Jorge Lorenzo has laid down a scorching pace, which his rivals – and more importantly, his teammate and rival for the 2015 MotoGP title, Valentino Rossi – have been unable to follow. Lorenzo's name was penciled onto the winner's trophy, and his grip on the MotoGP class looked secure.
Then on Sunday, everything changed. The weather gods intervened, rain lashed down at Silverstone, then started and stopped at Misano, throwing the race into disarray. Both times, Valentino Rossi handled the conditions better than Lorenzo, gaining big points in both races. At Silverstone, Rossi won comfortably, while Jorge Lorenzo struggled home in fourth. At Misano, Rossi rode a tactically poor race, but still managed to come home in fifth. Lorenzo got caught out by the pace of Scott Redding, failing to understand that the Marc VDS rider had already been out for several laps and had his tires up to temperature and his brain up to speed. The Movistar Yamaha rider tried to stay with Redding, and paid the price when he turned left after a long series of rights, crashing out and scoring zero points.
What do we have at Aragon? Another weekend where Lorenzo is dominating, Marc Márquez his only clear rival, with Dani Pedrosa there as a dark horse. Valentino Rossi, meanwhile, is struggling with tire degradation, the performance of the tires dropping in the heat. Rossi could lose a big handful of points to Lorenzo on Sunday, if he is unable to match the pace of the top three. He really needs a bit of a miracle, either in the shape of rain, or in the form of colder temperatures.
What does the forecast say? It's complicated. Temperatures may be a little lower than on Saturday, but the difference will be marginal. Rain is possible – most forecasts predict a chance of rain at some point in the afternoon. The time the rain is expected, if it falls? Around 2pm. Just as the lights go out for the start of the race...
Leaving aside the weather – the one thing no one can control, no matter how much the riders, and the series organizer Dorna, would like to do so – the pattern is clear. Jorge Lorenzo has outstanding pace, but so do both Marc Márquez and Dani Pedrosa. Lorenzo's tactic will be simple, to fire off the line into the first corner, and try to disappear. He had hoped to start from pole, having shown the pace to qualify in first all weekend. But a truly astonishing lap by Marc Márquez denied him.
So fast was Márquez that he took himself almost by surprise, looking down at his lap timer to see that he had taken half a second off his own pole record. With that in the bank, Márquez came in to swap bikes and go out for a second run, but too many mistakes meant he could not improve on his time. With Lorenzo closing the gap, the reigning champion went out for one more try, deciding to give it his all. He tried a little too hard into Turn 2, forgetting that this was the first right hander after a series of long straights, with one very long left hander in between. No heat in the right side of the tire meant he was dumped in the gravel, despite a brave attempt to save the crash on his elbow, knee, shoulder, and any other part of his body he could prise between himself and his bike.
Lorenzo was forced to settle for second, but the Movistar Yamaha man was far from dejected. At a track where the Yamaha has not been traditionally strong, Lorenzo was able to smash his own pole time from last year by one and a half seconds. This year's M1 was a better bike than last year, Lorenzo said, but he was particularly happy that he and his crew were extracting the maximum performance from it. "We are working very well," he said, "getting better every time. We know more details about how to improve the bike all the time. We are getting closer to perfection." Watching Lorenzo from trackside, it was hard to disagree. Lorenzo hammers through turns as if he is on rails, fearsomely fast every inch of the way.
Dani Pedrosa looked set for a front row start, but he was hampered by an uncooperative front tire. "Every time I tried to make a good entry, I was losing the front," Pedrosa said. With just a single front tire for qualifying, he did not have a chance to swap it out and try again. But he was not concerned with his starting position, having assured himself his race pace was good. In both FP3 and FP4, the Repsol Honda rider had the pace to match both Márquez and Lorenzo. Pedrosa will be a factor come Sunday.
One of the riders to deny Pedrosa a front row was Andrea Iannone. Despite having a badly banged up shoulder, having dislocated it earlier in the week, Iannone pulled out a scorching lap to take the final spot on the front row. The Ducati rider had been frustrated to have injured his shoulder before Aragon, a track he loves, and which he has known much success. But the shoulder had not slowed him much, neither in terms of qualifying nor in terms of race pace. Twenty three laps around the circuit will be tough, though. Iannone will be trying to hang in for as long as he can.
Pol Espargaro will head up the second row, having put in an incredible lap to take fourth. But it was just a single lap, the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha struggling with race pace. His teammate Bradley Smith had precisely the opposite problem, posting a very modest qualifying time which put him back in tenth on the grid. It had been a deliberate strategy, Smith claimed, sacrificing qualifying in search of a better race pace. The goal was to get the best start possible, trying to pass as many of the bikes ahead of him, and try to get to the front of the second group. He did not have the pace to fight with the leaders, but his goal was to finish ahead of Andrea Dovizioso, and limit the damage to Dani Pedrosa. Those are the riders he is facing in his fight for fifth place in the championship.
What of championship leader Valentino Rossi? He was pessimistic on Saturday, after a strong start on Friday. The problem had been tire wear in the warmer conditions, after Rossi had put together a good pace in the cooler temperatures of the morning. "The thing that I’m more worried about is my rhythm, my pace," Rossi said. " am half-a-second slower than the top three in the pace. So we need to find something for tomorrow to improve and now we will try to work with the team and try to improve in the warm-up. For me the warm-up will be important to understand if we can make an improvement." The hard tire was too hard to use, Rossi said, lacking performance over the race. The soft rear would be the race tire, though it was really a little too soft for his taste. "I think more than the riding style it is also my weight and my height," Rossi told us.
Where does that leave Rossi's twenty-three point championship lead? In danger of being severely reduced. If Rossi and his crew cannot find a solution to the tire degradation during morning warm up, he runs the risk of finishing off the podium, while Lorenzo is in with a good shot of victory. Finding something to help with warmer conditions in the afternoon is tough at 9:40am, when the temperature is struggling to get above 15°C.
If the championship battle in the premier class is tight – a little too tight for comfort, as far as Valentino Rossi is concerned – then the situation in Moto2 and Moto3 is a lot more comfortable for the championship leaders. Johann Zarco can wrap the title up this weekend if he can gain seven points on Tito Rabat, but with Rabat on pole and looking menacing, that seems an idle hope. Rabat may only be delaying the inevitable, but that will not matter to him. Beating Zarco at what is effectively his second home round is what matters to Rabat, the reigning world champion going all out for the win.
Rabat faces fierce competition, however. Local boy Alex Rins – and he really is local, living in Valdealgorfa, some 10km away from the track, a village we pass every morning on our way in – has matched Rabat's pace all throughout the weekend. Spurred on to greater heights by the pace of his former teammate Alex Márquez, Rins has pushed Rabat in every session. Márquez has shown pace early, but been unable to step up when Rins, Rabat, Zarco and Lowes pull out all the stops. It has served only to rile Rins, who still harbors a lingering resentment after his treatment as Márquez' former teammate, team manager Emilio Alzamora effectively deciding that it was Márquez who would be Moto3 champion, and not Rins. 2015 is Rins' revenge.
Moto3 promises to be the most intriguing race of the weekend, and one which is tough to call. Aragon is not a track where a large group will stay together, the front more likely to splinter into a small bunch of leaders followed by smaller groups of stragglers. With Enea Bastianini on pole, championship Danny Kent's job is simple: stay with Bastianini, and ensure the Italian does not recover too many points from him.
On Friday, that looked to be a tough ask, Kent struggling with a lack of front-end feel. Changes by his crew chief Peter Bom brought a radical improvement on Saturday morning, a change in direction set up restoring confidence for Kent, and with that confidence, speed. Another change in the afternoon brought another step forward, and Kent will now start from the front row. His only objective is to sit on the tail of Bastianini and ensure the Italian does not get away.
It is a tough situation for Bastianini. The Italian broke his duck at Misano, winning from pole for the first time in his career. It has lifted a weight from his shoulders, and is surely the first of many to follow. But that liberation came after the championship was virtually out of reach. Fifty five points is not impossible to get back, but is a very tough ask with just five races to go. With Kent back in good and determined form, that makes it even harder. You have to fancy Bastianini for the win on Sunday, but that may not do him very much good. It will come down to Danny Kent, and his aggressiveness in the early stages, and his refusal to budge from Bastianini's tail. If Kent gets caught up fighting with others, and loses touch with the leaders, he will be in trouble. He has to fight his way to the top three, and make sure he can stay there. He did not do that at Misano, and now is the time to make amends.
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