What is the biggest downside of the flyaways? The three back-to-back races are crucial on the way to the end of the championship. This is the time you need to perform, where you can make the difference by pushing that little bit harder. The downside, of course, is that if you push too far you can lose everything. "Three races in a row is always complicated," Valentino Rossi told the press conference on Thursday. "You can have a small problem in the first race and pay a lot."
The first day at Motegi was a concerted attempt to prove Rossi right. The afternoon session turned into a concerted effort by several riders to hurt themselves, sometimes successfully. In cool conditions and with a place in Q2 on the line, the last few minutes of FP2 turned into a massive wreckathon, with rider after rider going down.
Worst victim was Dani Pedrosa. In perhaps the biggest highside since Jorge Lorenzo prefigured Virgin Galactic at Shanghai, the Repsol Honda rider was flung from his RC213V at the end of the back straight, entering Turn 11. As soon as he landed he knew he had broken his collarbone. "Take me to the hospital, I've broken something," he told a Dorna photographer after his crash. It is not the first time he has had terrible luck at Motegi.
After getting confirmation from the medical center – Pedrosa's right collarbone is completely broken, not just fractured – he and his team decided he would fly back to Barcelona for surgery. Pedrosa is to be replaced by Hiroshi Aoyama for the foreseeable future, which in practice means for all three flyaways. Pedrosa will hope to be back for Valencia, but it may be better for the Spaniard to choose to wait until he is fully fit.
If it wasn't for Pedrosa's highside, then we would probably all be talking about Eugene Laverty's excursion to the stratosphere. Laverty crashed at Turn 6, and was stretchered off to the medical center, then helicoptered to the nearest hospital for a CT scan. That turned up no damage, thankfully, but Laverty has been forced to sit out FP3 awaiting assessment for concussion.
The most damaging crash, however, came for Alex Rins. The Pons Moto2 rider fell heavily when he clipped a kerb at Turn 14, destroying his bike. He was taken to the medical center for examination, but fortunately for Rins, he had not broken anything as he had at first feared. But after clawing his way back to within a point of Johann Zarco, this was his chance to apply pressure to the Frenchman. He will need to be mentally very tough to do that on Sunday.
Why the crashes? Cal Crutchlow's theory, according to MCN reporter Simon Patterson, is that people are trying to ride the Michelins like Bridgestones, and that's not working out. That shift in balance – Bridgestone were strong in the front, weak in the back, the opposite to the Michelins – means riders are ending up with too much pressure on the front, and too much grip in the rear. That is a recipe for being launched to the sky. Or in Marc Márquez' case, smoking up an elbow slider as he tried to save a lowside at Turn 10.
Who is quick? Jorge Lorenzo ended the day on top of the timesheets after a final dive for a time at the end of FP2. He put himself ahead of Andrea Dovizioso, who had topped the timesheets in the morning. The Ducati is looking strong, the bike's rear grip giving it an advantage out of the many slow corners. Ducati have a new aerodynamics package, the winglets looking every more like Formula One front wings. There may be a ban looming, but Ducati haven't given up yet.
Maverick Viñales is quick too, ending the day in third on the Suzuki. But the real threat seems to come from Marc Márquez. The Repsol Honda's race pace is probably unmatched. Wrapping up the title in Motegi will require a win, and for the Movistar Yamaha riders to finish up well down the order. The latter may prove impossible. But a win for Márquez may yet happen.
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