Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi head into Silverstone tied on points, with Lorenzo only leading because he has more wins to his name this season than his teammate. With the race that close, who does the season favor? Who will emerge victorious at the end? It is far too early to make any firm predictions, but perhaps we can guess from looking at last year.
There are seven races left in 2015, and the seven left this season are the exact same races in the exact same order as the last seven of 2014. That parallel invites comparisons, and the drawing of conclusions, though such conclusions are tenuous at best. However, there are tracks which favor Rossi, and tracks which favor Lorenzo, and their performance there may yet be indicative of the final outcome.
First, the numbers. Both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo currently have 211 points after the first 11 races. With seven races left, there are a grand total of 175 points still up for grabs. Though neither rider is likely to run the board – they are too evenly matched for that – a look back at their performances last year can be instructive.
In the last seven races of 2014, Rossi won two, at Misano and Phillip Island, and Lorenzo won two, at Aragon and Motegi. Lorenzo took three second places, while Rossi ended in second just twice. Rossi ended in third two times, Lorenzo just a single time, and both riders scored a blank due to poor weather. Rossi crashed at Aragon on a damp track, while Lorenzo retired after a tire change at Valencia in half-wet, half-dry conditions.
Michelin Speaks: Piero Taramasso On 2016 Tire Allocations, Front Tires, Intermediates, And Performance
The change of official tire suppliers for MotoGP, with Bridgestone departing and Michelin arriving, is arguably the most significant change to the class since the series went to a single tire in 2009. Changing tire manufacturers has a massive impact on everything, from bike design to rider preference, and Michelin face a huge challenge to get everything ready in time. Bridgestone helped by staying on for an extra year to allow Michelin to properly prepare, and the tires which the French manufacturer have been developing are looking very promising.
Their preparations have not been helped by conditions. Test days have been hit by rain, with testing severely hampered. This was also the case at Brno, when the majority of the MotoGP field was due to get their first outing on the Michelins since Sepang, though the factory riders had a chance to test after Mugello. The rain did give a group of journalists a chance to grill Piero Taramasso, Michelin's manager of two wheel motorsports activities.
Had the weather affected their plans for the test at Brno, we asked? "The plan was to test in dry condition so it looks like it will be not the case," Taramasso replied. "We brought some new solutions for the front. For example we had the same profile with two different casings and three different compounds. For rear tires same profile, two different casings, and two different compounds. So this was the plan."
The Massive Silly Season Update: Redding vs Kent At Pramac, Honda's Musical Chairs, Moto2 And Much More
Brno was a busy time for teams, managers and riders. Apart from dealing with jet lag and the sweltering heat, silly season kicked off in force at the Czech round of MotoGP. The summer break and the chaos which ensued from the situation around the Forward Racing team put everything on hold over the summer, with tentative talks starting at Indianapolis. Those talks, and events outside the paddock, helped clarify the situation, and at Brno talks began in earnest. The empty spaces on the MotoGP grid are starting to be filled.
The weekend kicked off with the fairly sensational news that Danny Kent was talking to Pramac Ducati about a ride in MotoGP, going straight from Moto3 and skipping Moto2. The deal on the table would be a three-year deal with support from the factory, racing a GP15 alongside Danilo Petrucci. It was an offer Kent was giving very serious consideration, and expected to think about in the run up to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Given that Octo is the title sponsor of the Silverstone round, and also the sponsor of the Pramac Ducati team, announcing a British rider at the British GP would be a sponsor's dream.
Signing Kent has not come out of the blue. The Moto3 championship leader has made it clear he will not be back in Moto3 next year, whatever happens. Kent has options in Moto2, most notably with his current Kiefer team, who run on the Leopard Racing banner. Kiefer are set to move up to Moto2 in 2016, and are keen to retain the services of Kent. But Kent sees 2016 would be an ideal moment to make the jump to MotoGP, given the technical changes which are coming next season. Michelin tires, as the biggest change, will mean a much more level playing field, as everyone in MotoGP, veteran and rookie, will have to work to figure out how to get the most out of them. The more rear-biased style, using the extra grip of the rear to carry more corner speed, may also help a rookie coming up from Moto3. Ducati certainly think the switch might work, Davide Tardozzi telling me at Brno "this is not something we thought up last night, we have been thinking about this for a while."
2015 Brno MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Foiled Expectations, A Sea Change In The Championship, And The Distractions Of Contracts
There were many things we expected to see on Sunday at Brno. Rain was one of them. Order restored in Moto3 was another. But most of all, we expected to see a scintillating MotoGP race going down to the wire. We saw none of those things, yet the Czech Grand Prix turned out to be one of the most intriguing races of the season. The momentum shifted in Moto3 and MotoGP, and swung even further in Moto2. And apart from a few drops shortly after Moto3 finished, the rain stayed away all day.
Free practice had promised a thrilling MotoGP race, with little to choose between the pace of the top three riders in the championship. Expectations were both raised and dispelled after qualifying, with Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi locking out the front row. Lorenzo on pole was no surprise, nor really was Márquez on the front row. Rossi, though, was an eye opener, and on paper, a mouth-watering prospect. Qualifying has been Rossi's weakness since the system switched to the new qualifying format of two separate Q sessions. Starting from the front row means he doesn't have to fight his way through to the front before he can attack. The last time Rossi had been on the front row was at Assen, and there, he had gone on to win an epic battle with Marc Márquez. Could he pull it off again?
The clues that he would not be able to were there for all to see in the long run data from free practice on Saturday. But the insurmountable obstacle to any hopes of a thrilling race was the man on pole. Jorge Lorenzo had laid down such a withering pace in qualifying to take pole that he looked pretty much untouchable. He destroyed Cal Crutchlow's pole record from 2013 by over half a second, becoming the first motorcycle racer to lap the Brno circuit in under 1'55. His race pace was the strongest of the trio, but the gap looked manageable.
The entertainment value in MotoGP waxes and wanes through the years. One year, the races are all serial snoozers, each race settling into a procession a lap or two after the start. The next, everything is turned on its head, every race a tense battle to the line for a close finish. We are lucky indeed that this year falls very much into the latter category. There have been some classic races already, and tomorrow's race looks like being an absolute corker. The two title favorites and the most highly-tipped outsider are on the front row of the grid, two fast Ducatis and the best satellite rider at the moment are behind them on the second row, and one of the most exciting young talents in MotoGP will start from seventh, and is clearly competitive. Battle tomorrow is not just for victory, but for the momentum in the championship. And if the racing needed spicing up any more than it has been already, it might just rain.
The big surprise on the front row is Valentino Rossi. The Italian has been mediocre at best during qualifying, ending up all too often on the third row of the grid, and having to pull off miracles to fight his way to the front. It was clear that something was afoot this morning, when Rossi posted an exceptional time in FP3 to take him into second spot, and very safely into Q2. Clearly, he and his team had been working on something to find some speed on a single fast lap, in a bid to boost his qualifying position. It made qualifying an even more intriguing spectacle than usual, with the question at hand not just who would grab pole, but whether Rossi would be able to raise his game and put himself in a position to be competitive from the very first laps.
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.
It was a hectic trip across the Atlantic for many in the MotoGP paddock. The air at Brno was thick with tales of airport-based woe, of overbooked flights, bad weather delays, missed transfers and lost luggage. Despite the supposed privilege of platinum frequent flyer status – one of the side benefits of working for a MotoGP team is you rack up a lot of air miles – the staff of one MotoGP were stuck in one airport for over 24 hours, thrown out of the airport lounge and unable to leave. Chicago O'Hare was temporarily transformed into the motorcycle racing equivalent of purgatory: large numbers of riders, mechanics and other staff kicking their heels with nothing to do. That is especially tough on riders: most of them suffer from some form of hyperactivity or another. Few can sit still, and most are very outdoor types. L'enfer, c'est les aéroports, if you will forgive me paraphrasing Sartre.
But there was an overwhelming sense of contentment at being in Brno. The track is much loved, even among those who do not go particularly well here. It is wide, fast, and flowing, and allows the riders to play with the lines. Dani Pedrosa, who has won here twice in MotoGP, explained why he liked the track. "It's wide, and the corners are with a nice shape, so you can be precise," Pedrosa told us. "It's a track that demands that you are precise, and I like this. Also, you can try many things, one centimeter more out, one centimeter more in, later, deeper, or earlier. This gives you a gain to be able to adjust your riding lap by lap, and some tracks are just one line and one pace and you cannot change. Here you can play a little bit more and that's positive. I like it."
From one endangered race to another. The MotoGP paddock leaves Indianapolis, possibly for the last time, and heads to Brno, a race which has been on the endangered list for the past ten years. Not all of the paddock got out on time: overbooked flights and thunderstorms caused massive delays, and left riders, teams and media stuck hanging around in airports for many hours. Hardly the ideal way to adapt to a shift of time zones by six hours, but they have little choice. There will more than a few bewildered faces in the paddock at Brno, trying to figure out where they are and what day it is.
A quick glance around should be enough to remind them. Brno is a glorious circuit, set atop a hill in the middle of a forest. To reach the track, you drive up the narrow, winding, tree-lined roads that once formed the basis of the old street circuit. The closed circuit which replaced those roads still retains most of that character: fast, flowing, rolling up hill and down dale through the trees. Where the track really differs from the public roads is in how wide it is.
The space that creates is seized upon eagerly by the riders, using it to take a number of lines through each of its corners, giving plenty of opportunities for passing. The fact that the corners are all combinations helps: riders flick right-left, left-right, right-left again and again. Make a pass into one corner, and your rival has a chance to strike back immediately at the next. It is a track which is made for great racing, and great motorcycle racing at that. Riders, fans and media alike all hope fervently that the financial and political problems which have dogged the Czech Grand Prix can be resolved, and we can keep this spectacular circuit.
This is part two of our Indy round up, covering the excellent Moto2 race, and the intriguing Moto3 race. If you want to read about MotoGP, see part one.
The Moto2 race turned out to be a barnstormer, a welcome return for the class. Once, Moto2 was the best race of the weekend, but in the past couple of years, it has become processional, and turned into dead air between the visceral thrills of Moto3 and the tripwire tension of MotoGP. At Indy, Johann Zarco, Alex Rins, Franco Morbidelli, Dominique Aegerter and Tito Rabat battled all race long for supremacy. They were joined at the start of the race by a brace of Malaysians, Hafizh Syahrin running at the front while Azlan Shah fought a close battle behind. Sam Lowes held on in the first half of the race, but as he started to catch the leaders in the last few laps, he ended up crashing out.
In the end, it was Alex Rins who took victory, just rewards for the man who had been the best of the field all weekend. It was Rins' first victory in Moto2, and confirmation of his status as an exceptional young talent. MotoGP factories are showing a lot of interest in Rins, but having learned his lesson with Maverick Viñales, who left after just one year, Sito Pons has Rins tied down to a two-year deal. Will Rins be a comparable talent to Viñales? Many believe he will.
Rins wasn't the only young rider to make an impression. After crashing out trying to get on the podium at the Sachsenring, Franco Morbidelli finally succeeded at Indianapolis. The 21-year-old Italian made the transition from Superstock successfully, and is part of a growing revival of Italian motorcycle racing. He will hope that his first podium marks the step to being a permanent fixture at the front.
2015 Indianapolis Race Round Up, Part 1: Marquez Vs Lorenzo, Rossi Vs Pedrosa, And Why Ducati Is Going Backwards
Whether this is the last time MotoGP visits Indianapolis or not – the lack of an announcement on Sunday night suggests that this was the last time – the 2015 edition will certainly go down in history as memorable. Race day saw the biggest crowd since 2009 head to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, though in a facility this vast, anything less than a quarter of a million fans is going to look empty, and all 67,000 were treated to some genuine racing spectacle. An upside down Moto3 race, where those bold enough to gamble on slicks were duly rewarded; an old-fashioned Moto2 dogfight, where a group of evenly matched riders brawled from start to finish; and a pair of exceptionally tense duels in MotoGP, with championship positions raising the stakes even further.
The race of the day? Hard to say. All three had their own appeal. Rain and a drying track made Moto3 a weird contest, with massive gaps between the leaders, and yet still strangely exciting, because of the potential effects on the championship. Moto2 harked back to the halcyon days of Márquez, Iannone, and Espargaro, and reminded us of why we used to love the class. And MotoGP was more about tension than straight up excitement, brains kept busy calculating the ramifications for the championship as the front four swapped positions.