It has been a busy day at Le Mans. Not just for the riders, trying to handle the new MotoGP schedule. But also for the marshals and corner workers, having to deal with the usual crashfest at Le Mans. And consequently, for the mechanics, who are seeing their handiwork returned to the garage with a variety of pieces missing, crushed, or broken.
It is ever thus. There were 36 fallers in Le Mans on Friday, down a little from last year, when there were 38. And there were a bunch of riders who went for the double: Marc Marquez, Diogo Moreira, and Ivan Ortola crashed in both the morning and the afternoon, in MotoGP and Moto3 respectively. In Moto2, crashing twice in the same session was all the rage. Rory Skinner, Sean Dylan Kelly, and Sam Lowes all hit the gravel in Practice 1, Aron Canet repeated that feat in Practice 2.
For comparison, at Jerez, there were just 20 fallers on the Friday. And there were 50 crashes over the entire weekend. At Le Mans, we are nearly at that number and there are still two days to go.
Down you go
Why are riders particularly prone to crashing at Le Mans? A lot of reasons. The weather is a factor, cold track temperatures leaving the tires likely to cool off, and cold air temperatures giving them a hand in doing so. Then there's the track: there are long sections where you barely touch the left-hand side of the tire, spending all your time on the right side of the bike. A cool track and a cold wind will suck the heat out of the left side of the tire, along with the grip that accompanies it. So it is easy to find yourself tumbling through the gravel, ruing a momentary lapse in focus.
"Because the temperature is low and you have part of the track where you don’t load so much the front, and then you have three or four corners in a row where you need to load a lot the front and the temperature of the tire is not enough," Mooney VR46 rider Marco Bezzecchi explained. And because you're not loading the front, that sets off a vicious circle of having to enter corners with care, and without any load.
It starts with the fast first corner, Bezzecchi explained. "Then, after, in the braking for the chicane, you don't brake strong because the tire is cold. So then you go to six, you don't brake strong because the tire is cold and then you go to seven, you need to brake strong and then you can make a mistake. So it's difficult because of this."
"It’s kind of tricky out there," Jack Miller agreed. "Some corners you can push more than others. You know, this track's always like that. You’ve got to balance it out. Because Turn 3 is always really slippery. Turn 7 is always really slippery. And you can't push like you can maybe at, like Turn 4, for example. Down the bottom of the hill. Where you can push pretty hard down through there and even in the last sector."
Miller backed Bezzecchi's statement that there were places where you weren't loading the front tire. "Exactly. You’re not getting heat into it," the Red Bull KTM rider agreed. "So what he says is right, I mean the last time you sort of put left hand temperature in the tire is the braking of the back straight, because then the next one you sort of just roll into and roll around and then you're right, right, right. And then you get on the left again. It's always like ice there. And the tracks kind of got a bit of a crown in it."
It might be tricky, but Miller was managing the track just fine. The Australian was fastest in the morning, then fastest again in the afternoon. "It's a tricky track for sure, but the bike's working well and to be fast both this morning and this afternoon was really nice," Miller said. "And then also to be able to improve this afternoon in the sort of tricky conditions was definitely really nice. Because this bike really handles the wind pretty well, so I love that part of it."
The KTM RC16 is picking up where it left off in Jerez. Both Miller and teammate Brad Binder were quick in the morning and afternoon, and both are directly through to Q2. They also had the best pace on used rubber of the grid, Marco Bezzecchi the only rider capable of matching or beating them, Bezzecchi cranking out a 1'32.0 on a very used tire, Miller and Binder a tenth of a second off on similarly worn rubber.
The KTMs were also using updates tried at the Jerez test. New frames, and the new squared off rear spoiler instead of the Tellytubby-esque triangular version first trialed at Portimão, and used since then. That should worry KTM's rivals: the bike is already good, and yet they are finding ways to improve it.
Compare and contrast with Yamaha. A despondent Fabio Quartararo regretted not getting through to Q2, despite riding right on the limit throughout. And he bemoaned the state of the new parts Yamaha had brought to the Jerez test. "We tried an exhaust which was not working, chassis is not working, aero is not working, electronics is not working," the Monster Energy Yamaha rider said. "Maybe one setting that we tried with Öhlins was a little bit better. But from the test, the new things that we tried were useless."
Quartararo falling short of Q2 was not for a want of trying. Watching Quartararo ride the Yamaha M1 is looking more and more like Marc Marquez riding the Honda, the Frenchman having to bully an unwilling M1 into submission. "I have no feeling on the bike, but it's like the bike is super aggressive, the bike is not turning like usual," the Frenchman said on Friday. "But we are losing all our strong points that we were having. Even if we had less power, we had other strong points, now it's like we find something in one point, but we lose it in another way."
Yamaha found more power for the M1 this year, but that has only made their problems worse. "I'm hoping for of course more power for the future, but if every time we change something and we have more power, it's taking us so much time to build a bike, it's incredible," Quartararo said. "Maybe the character of the engine makes the bike super aggressive, we have more power but it's making the bike super aggressive in a new way."
The problem for Quartararo was that there was no longer a single thing he could point to as the cause of his problems. The bike was difficult everywhere. "Normally I'm a rider who can say quite easily where I'm missing something, where I'm struggling," the Frenchman said. "But right now, I'm feeling that much aggressive on the bike, the bike is moving that much that I don't know what to say. Why do I need to say that the bike isn't stable, where I'm struggling, I'm out of the corner and the bike is shaking till the end. So it's difficult to say, the bike is moving there. It's moving everywhere."
The conventional wisdom on Social Media is that if Yamaha would only build a more powerful engine, especially a V4, then Quartararo would have the tools to battle for the title. But if you listen carefully to what Quartararo is saying, the engine is the least of his problems. The trouble is not the power, it is getting the power down smoothly and controllably to the ground, and managing the bike on corner exit and corner entry. Quartararo and teammate Franco Morbidelli are having to fight the bike everywhere, and none of the energy they are using to do that is being converted into speed.
There is an amusing irony in contrasting the fates of Yamaha and Honda. Yamaha tried to fix their problems with a faster engine, when their biggest need is for a chassis and aerodynamic package that will improve the handling of the bike. Honda, meanwhile, have turned to Kalex to build them a chassis, while their biggest problem is getting drive out of corners and acceleration. Honda have a new frame, where what they really need is a massive step in electronics and a much smoother engine.
So about that Kalex chassis... Marc Marquez and Joan Mir have one frame each for the weekend, finally getting a chance to put the chassis through its paces. And in the case of Marc Marquez, through the gravel as well. But it is a clear improvement, though right now, it is more a matter of potential than actual performance.
"We tried the new chassis in the morning and I could feel a bit better," Joan Mir said. "I was able to ride more comfortable but it's quite different so we have to adapt a bit the bike and myself to this new style." He ran into problems in the afternoon, and he and his Repsol Honda crew were left trying to fix it. "In the morning it was coming very natural, but in the afternoon it is something we have to see because it is not normal what happened. We have to understand so we avoid it for tomorrow. Overall tomorrow we will keep with the same chassis and try to improve a bit more and to see where we are."
Testing a new chassis in a race weekend is not ideal, especially now that pure setup time has become even more compressed in the new format. "It's true that we tried both chassis. It was also not easy, it was a busy day, because every time I went out on the track, it was a different bike, different chassis, different riding style, different way to approach the corner," Marc Marquez explained. So this makes life more difficult, but it was the time to do it, and it was positive."
Marquez, like Mir, hopes to continue with the Kalex frame on Saturday. "Now we need to analyze a few things, but tomorrow maybe we will keep going in that way of the Kalex chassis, to try to understand this different philosophy. Because there are some negative points, some positive, but try to absorb those negative points to try to be even faster. Saying that, we are still far from the top guys."
Like Yamaha's engine, however, Honda's new chassis doesn't address the bike's fundamental problems. "It's another step in some areas in this circuit, but we need more steps. It's not the only step we need," Marquez insisted. "We are still losing too much, we are too much on the brakes, because we are losing in acceleration and on the straight. So we are a lot on the brakes. For that reason we are pushing a lot the front. For that reason all the Hondas, we are crashing too many times."
No pain, no gain
Marquez crashed a couple of times on Friday, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. The morning crash was on the old HRC frame, but the crash in the afternoon was a big one, the bike tumbling end over end after Marquez lost the front on the entry to Chemin aux Boeufs as he was chasing one last fast time at the end of P2.
Contrary to expectations, it was the crash in the morning he was most annoyed about. "It's true that I had two crashes, maybe the second one is acceptable. For me, the second one is normal in racing. You are pushing with new tires, and the target was to try to be in Q2, and I was happy. The first one is the one that was maybe unnecessary, and the one that I can avoid." The problem, Marquez explained, was that he was forced to use a medium front tire in the morning to save a soft front for the time attacks in the afternoon.
The afternoon crash illustrates just what separates Marc Marquez from the other riders. After two years of nearly constant pain, four operations on his right humerus (and before that, two winters recovering from surgery on his left and right shoulders), the six-time MotoGP champion is as hungry for success as ever. Other riders might want to ease themselves back into racing after a four-week layoff, but not Marc 'The Cannibal' Marquez.
"I know that 90% of riders will take it easy and step by step, but I'm not like this. And if I come back, it's because I'm ready to race, ready to push, and ready to work for the team, and to work for the team is to ride the bike on the limit," Marquez said. And he couldn't resist a little sideswipe at his teammate and the two LCR Honda riders. " Of course I can accept and drop and be half a second slower like the other Hondas, and be out of Q2, but it's not my way. My way is to push."
Even more revealing of Marquez' calculating approach to risk a crash were his comments on that crash on his final run in Practice 2. His target was to get straight through to Q2, so he couldn't afford to settle once he had set a fast lap. "When I passed on the straight I was P8, so then I was pushing," he said. "I said, OK, I will try to improve the lap time, because like this I will be in Q2, and if not, there will be a yellow flag and they will not improve. So..."
'They' are of course everyone else on the same lap. There have been suspicions that riders see the upside to a crash in the last minute of practice, but nobody has ever stated it so bluntly. Nobody is going to crash on purpose on their final run – the risks are too great. But the new format encourages riders to take more risk in pursuit of a fast lap. If they stay on the bike and improve their lap time, it can be a ticket to Q2. If they don't, Marquez points out, then that will bring out the yellow flags, and cause the lap times for anyone following behind to be canceled. It's not exactly win-win, but the downside of crashing is considerably reduced.
Marquez had previously pulled out one of his older and more common tricks, following Pecco Bagnaia around in the hope of improving his lap time. In the end, it was Jorge Martin who helped Marquez into Q2 by serving as the perfect target for setting a quick lap. Bagnaia was struggling, and things had not improved as the day went on.
"This morning everything was OK apart from the time attack," the reigning world champion said. "But I was thinking that I was just because I didn't push as much I wanted with the rear tire so I wasn't ready to do that time attack. But this afternoon, when we start with the same rear tire, I was in trouble completely. Nothing was working. I was struggling a lot with everything, so we put another medium rear and also with the medium I was struggling."
Fortunately for Bagnaia, his final run with a new rear soft worked out. "The only one that everything worked well was the last one with the time attack," the Ducati Lenovo rider said. "But I did a session losing feeling from the start to the time attack, so I didn't push like I wanted, but was the only run where I felt great with my bike again. So I was not happy, I was quite, not nervous, but asking what was not working because was a strange situation. After all, we can say that the rear tire wasn't performing like we wanted and I just lost like 50 minutes of the session for that."
We have been here before, of course. On Friday at Jerez, Bagnaia struggled, only to find some pace on Saturday, enough to get him onto the podium in the sprint race, and then that little bit more to bring him victory in Sunday's grand prix. But this was not the same, Bagnaia warned. "The situation in Jerez was different. In Jerez I was really struggling to ride and my feeling wasn't at the top. Here my feeling this morning and then the last exit was perfect. I was able to push. I was able to do what I want. So it's different. Was just a lack of grip from the rear."
Finally to Aprilia, the other factory which had brought some of their aero updates from Jerez to Le Mans. At the Jerez test, the factory Aprilia riders had tested a revised version of the fork winglets again, winglets which attach to the fork stanchions and set between the fairing and the front fender. Because of their position, they are also not part of the aerodynamics package the factories have to homologate. Like the tail wings, they are free for factories to do as they wish, the manufacturers finding yet another loophole in the rules.
Aprilia also fitted the tail wing to the Aprilia on Maverick Viñales' machine, a combination which Aleix Espargaro had tried at Jerez but crashed on. The rear wing needs to be used in combination with the fork wings, Espargaro explained, though the fork wings can be used on their own.
"We will keep using the fork wings," Espargaro said. "It allowed me to increase the wheelie and also to lean better in corner one, which is always positive here in Le Mans. It’s positive, yeah." The Aprilia rider is opposed to the idea of wings in principle, but in practice, they make the bikes go faster. "Once again we put more wings on the bike which I don’t like, but it is what it is. It works so we will keep using it."
Did it do any good? Aleix Espargaro finished second in Practice 2, Aprilia teammate Maverick Viñales ending the day in sixth. There is nothing wrong with the one-lap pace of the Aprilia RS-GP, but the pace on used tires of neither Espargaro nor Viñales was much to write home about. Still, there is one more session of practice on Saturday morning, then qualifying in which to chase a spot on the front row. If Espargaro and Viñales can make a decent start on Saturday afternoon, their race pace may not even matter, as long as they can keep the rest of the field behind them.
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Haven't seen anything about that, which I thought would be a big talking point this weekend. Anything happen?
In reply to Stewards/Rider meeting? by larryt4114
I didn't write about it…
I didn't write about it because nothing came out of it. The Stewards spoke, the riders argued, nothing was achieved.
Rider solidarity is hard. Which is why a rider union is impossible.
There's always complaints…
There's always complaints about Marc but on many issues he is a bs free zone. We currently have a great crop of riders and if Marc retired today the racing would remain good. However, 'elders' saying it as it is, with the standing of Marc, might be exactly what is needed. Too many of the other riders are too keen on speaking a lot whilst saying very little.
In reply to There's always complaints… by WaveyD1974
Who mentioned Asparagus? lol
In reply to :-) by larryt4114
To be fair to the grand…
To be fair to the grand elder he is pretty consistent on safety. Possibly not in detail but in general.
Serial offender Marquez…
Serial offender Marquez wipes out Olivera in Portugal in one of his signature out of control dive bomber moves, then "apologised" and said he would serve the penalty imposed.... Shamefully he and Honda appeal the penalty - only because of an admin error - and now Marquez races in Le Mans having served ZERO penalty for the injuries he inflicted on the RnF rider. Let's be clear, missing a couple of races due to a self inflicted injury is NOT serving a penalty. Marquez basically lied and has lost the respect of all but the most rabid of Honda supporters.
Shame Marquez shame.
In reply to Serial offender Marquez… by gms5
It's an embarrassment for the series, to say the least. If Mickey Mouse decides to take two unrequired long-lap penalties at LeMans I'll think more of him. That's about as likely as me winning the big lottery next week. Probably less.
In reply to Serial offender Marquez… by gms5
The good news is there is a…
The good news is there is a new women only series being launched in WSBK Series.
In reply to Serial offender Marquez… by gms5
When did he lie ? Curious,…
When did he lie ? Curious, did I miss something ?
"Yamaha tried to fix their…
"Yamaha tried to fix their problems with a faster engine, when their biggest need is for a chassis and aerodynamic package that will improve the handling of the bike."
-- what's interesting to me about this is that Yamaha USED TO have a great chassis and great handling. How did they simultaneously focus on improving engine performance and then "throw the baby (good chassis) out with the bathwater (slow engine)"?
Obviously there are a million details about their bike program that I know nothing about, but it just seems odd how they seem to have so significantly lost the plot (Honda included). But perhaps this goes back to the whole 'short and high' vs. 'long and low', and both Japanese manufacturers making internal concessions trying to stick with 'short and high' while band-aiding all around it to try and keep up with the rest of the field.
In reply to "Yamaha tried to fix their… by Lucas Black
I think it's a wonder that…
I think it's a wonder that anybody produced anything with 'great handling' while having a motor chained to the rear capable of throwing a bike down the road at the speeds they do.
MM93 - whatever it takes
So MM93 just admitted that because he was already through to Q2 in FP2 with just a minute or two remaining in the session, he could just bin the bike and call it a day.
Not my kind of guy.
In reply to MM93 - whatever it takes by v4racer
He said what everybody knows…
He said what everybody knows to be true. It's the reason there is often a few yellows at the end of a session. Nobody crashes deliberately. Everybody pushes knowing that a crash will possibly stop their rivals from taking advantage...provided they can actually still walk. It's impossible to say anything for sure. A good example would be Peco yesterday. He was outside the top ten but nobody would have been surprised if he had pulled a top 3 out of the hat. Perfect time for the riders ahead of him in the times to, as Fabio used to say, turn off their brains. Served Fabio well. Provided they can still walk of course.
In reply to He said what everybody knows… by WaveyD1974
once some people decide to get a snitcher on someone they can only see them through the tint of whatever lenses they're wearing. Hence, nothing that person can do will be good. As David said in this article, "Nobody is going to crash on purpose on their final run – the risks are too great"; and if anyone should know the risks, it must surely be Marc. But he simply acknowledged what we all, including armchair racers like myself can, and indeed have seen, that a last minute crash can sometimes work to a rider's advantage. I guess haters will be haters, and who better to hate than one of the most successful riders in history, whose passion, self belief and drive have brought him 8 world titles. I'm pretty sure he doesn't put himself through it all just for the money.
In reply to Yes, but... by Rob@Orewa_NZ
Maybe but to err is human…
Maybe but to err is human and we are all more or less biased some if not most of the time. I think what Marc was talking about was pushing past the point of confidence a little bit more than usual. See if it will stick. If it does, the rider gains time, if not, at least the yellow pops out.
Dovi was 100% right when he…
Dovi was 100% right when he warned Quartararo that getting more power will ruin strong sides of Yamaha...
The end justifies the means
In reply to The end justifies the means by itukusaes
I guess Marc has studied…
I guess Marc has studied Machiavelli in some detail. Marc "The Cannibal" is really Mach "The Caravan"?