Aragon was a busy time for the riders and managers in all three Grand Prix classes. Wrapping up contract negotiations before the circus heads east for the Pacific Ocean flyaways was high on the list of priorities, though not everything ended up getting sorted before the teams packed up at Aragon. Plenty of agreements were reached, however, as we shall see below.
Though most of the loose ends have been tied up in MotoGP, a few question marks remain. The Aspar team was one of those question marks, which came much closer to a conclusion at Aragon. The original plan was to have Jack Miller join the team, bringing his crew with him, and covering most of the cost of riding, but various obstacles prevented that from happening. Money was a major factor, in part the amount Aspar were willing to pay to have Miller in their team, but perhaps a bigger factor was being left with Hondas.
The Open class Hondas have both been a huge disappointment for all of the teams which have run them. The 2014 RCV1000R was massively underpowered, and was getting blown away by the factory bikes along the straight. To remedy that situation, Honda offered the RC213V-RS, a cheaper version of the factory RC213V, but without the seamless transmission and using the spec electronics. That bike has also not been competitive, perhaps in part because it is a stripped down version of the original. "This bike was designed to use a seamless gearbox," Nicky Hayden explained last weekend. "You can't get the best out of it without one."
While the world of motorcycle racing is still buzzing with the outcome of the MotoGP race at Aragon, it is easy to overlook a couple of exciting and important races in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes. In both cases, the championship leaders came to Aragon with the chance to put one hand on the title, and in both cases, they leave Europe empty handed, having failed to capitalize on the opportunities which presented themselves. The races also provided a couple of extremely deserving winners capping great battles in both classes.
The Moto3 race turned out to be the thriller everyone expected. A modest (by Moto3 standards) group made the break, Miguel Oliveira taking the initiative and the lead. He was joined naturally enough by the two rivals for the title, Enea Bastianini trying to push forward as much as possible, Danny Kent keeping a wary eye on Bastianini. Brad Binder tagged along at the back, while a strong start from Romano Fenati took him from his usual poor qualifying position to the fight at the front. Efren Vazquez was in the fray, as were Niccolo Antonelli and Jorge Navarro, both looking very strong. Jorge Martin impressed in the group, putting the Mahindra right in among the leaders.
2015 Aragon Sunday Round Up, Part 1 - Of Deceptive Speed, Unforced Errors And A Championship Reopened
Just when it looked like the three Grand Prix championships were getting closed to being wrapped up, along came Aragon. The three races at the last European round before the Pacific flyaways left the title chase still open in all three classes. The outcome in both Moto2 and Moto3 still looks pretty much inevitable, but a win by Jorge Lorenzo in MotoGP meant that the battle for supremacy between the Spaniard and Valentino Rossi is anything but over. The Moto2 and Moto3 crowns may end up being handed out at Motegi, Phillip Island or Sepang, but the championship fight for MotoGP will most likely go all the way to the last race in Valencia. That may be hard on the fans of the two riders involved, but for MotoGP as a series, it is great. The pressure and the tension go up with every race, and makes watching an ever greater joy.
Jorge Lorenzo's victory at Aragon was taken exactly as he has taken his previous five wins: the Movistar Yamaha rider got the jump off the line, led in to the first corner, and tried to make a break. The timesheets bear witness to just how hard he was pushing. Breaking it down into the four timed sectors which go to make each lap, Lorenzo set his fastest split times in the third and fourth sectors on his first lap, and followed that up with his fastest splits in the first and second sectors at the beginning of lap two.
If his intention was to intimidate the opposition – and clearly it was – then it worked. Marc Márquez, who had got caught up off the line behind Andrea Iannone, stuffed his Honda RC213V past the Italian's Ducati into Turn 7 on the first lap, then pushed to close the gap to Lorenzo on the second lap. He caught the Yamaha as they powered through the long left hander which comprises Turns 10 and 11. Trying to make up ground he pushed a little too hard, losing the front on the way into Turn 12. The only man who had looked like he had the pace to match, and perhaps even beat Lorenzo at Aragon, had taken himself out of contention. Now Lorenzo was left to ride, and to reign, unopposed.
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's the value of testing? Judging by Jorge Lorenzo's time on Friday – a second under the race lap record, and three tenths off the outright lap record – you would have to say that it's good at least for a day's worth of practice. The Movistar Yamahas came to the Motorland Aragon circuit having tested here twice, once after Barcelona, once before Misano. The test in September allowed them to find a strong set up for this weekend, one which works well, as Lorenzo's blistering lap time in the afternoon showed so clearly.
Though Lorenzo set his time, as Valentino Rossi put it, in "a real time attack, 100%," it was one lap in a series of four, three of which were quicker than anyone else. It was perhaps not so much an early attempt at a qualifying lap as it was simulating the start of the race. The partial sectors on Lorenzo's out lap bear that out. His time through sector 2 was relatively slow, seven tenths of a second of Rossi's fastest time through the same sector, but in sector 3, he was just a tenth off Rossi's best pace, and in the final sector, Lorenzo was faster than Rossi's quickest time through that part of the track.
Was Lorenzo going all out while Rossi sandbagged? Racing is never quite as simple as that. Lorenzo seems to have been practicing the first few laps, his strategy being to gap the field from the start and make his escape. Given that this is exactly how Lorenzo won all five of the races he took victory in this year, that should hardly be a secret. Valentino Rossi, meanwhile, was probably working on his race pace, doing slightly longer stints than his teammate, five-lap runs rather than four lappers.
2015 Aragon MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Being Fastest vs Finishing First, And Advice For Young Riders From A Moto2 Champ
When different riders agree on a subject, it is worth listening. Summing up the 2015 championship, both Marc Márquez and Andrea Dovizioso independently came to the same conclusion. When asked in the press conference who was stronger, Valentino Rossi or Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Márquez explained that it wasn't as simple as that. "It's difficult to say," Márquez said. "If you ask me, I would say Jorge is faster because his speed is really good. On the other side, Valentino is doing his 100% and he always finishes in front these last two races."
Earlier in the day, Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso had been asked if he could become one of the wild cards which could help decide the championship. "In a normal situation, it's quite difficult. But not impossible," Dovizioso replied. But the championship was far from decided, Dovizioso went on to add. "I think that the points gap between Valentino and Lorenzo is quite big now, and Valentino is really good at managing the points. But I think Lorenzo has the speed to fight and to gain the points. Still there a lot of races left. I think he has the speed and is strong enough thinking about himself to try to win the race, and anything can happen."
From the coast to the high plains. From the hubbub of a string of seaside resorts along the Adriatic Riviera to the vast unspoiled mountains and hills of Baja Aragon. From the green and fertile Po basin to the arid olive groves and vineyards of the Maestrazgo. Contrasts don't get much greater than between Misano in Italy and Motorland Aragon in Spain.
The tracks, too, are very different. Misano is fairly slow, with a lot of tight first gear corners. Aragon is much faster, with some tighter sections, but a couple of seriously fast and flowing corners. Misano is pretty much flat as a pancake, where Aragon has its own version of Laguna Seca's Corkscrew, though not quite so precipitous, and a long, fast downhill back straight leading to a long double-apex left hander and a climb uphill to the finish.
The scenery may change, but the storyline in MotoGP remains the same. The championship remains a head-to-head battle between the Movistar Yamaha men, much as it has been since Le Mans. After Misano, the ball is very much back in Valentino Rossi's court, having extended his lead over Jorge Lorenzo to 23 points. He will need that cushion, as the championship now arrives at Aragon, a circuit where Lorenzo arrives as clear favorite, having had some strong results here in the past. Rossi, meanwhile, is at one of his worst tracks, Aragon being one of just two tracks where the Italian has never won, Austin being the other.
With the flyaways fast approaching, MotoGP's silly season for 2016 is reaching its climax. All of the factory seats are taken – including the seat at Aprilia vacated by Marco Melandri – and the top satellite rides are filled as well, either officially or unofficially. A few pieces of the puzzle remain, but fitting those together is more or less complex, depending on the team and the rider involved. Here's a look at where we stand so far.
The five factory teams will remain unchanged for 2016. Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi will stay with Movistar Yamaha, Marc Márquez and Dani Pedrosa at Repsol Honda, Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales at Suzuki ECSTAR, and Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl will continue at Gresini Aprilia. Though Bradl is yet to be confirmed, off the record comments from the team make it clear that the German is to stay with Aprilia for 2016, and possibly beyond. Sam Lowes has signed a three-year deal with Aprilia for 2016 onwards, but Lowes will first take his seat in the Gresini squad's Moto2 team in 2016, seizing the chance on the Kalex Moto2 machine to take a shot at the championship.
The Monster Tech 3 Yamaha and LCR Honda teams have also been confirmed for 2016, with Pol Espargaro, Bradley Smith, and Cal Crutchlow all staying put. It looks extremely likely that LCR will be back to a one-man team in 2016, after the misadventure with CWM, whose owner is under investigation on a number of charges, virtually ruling out any chance of further sponsorship for next year. LCR will return to its extremely successful formula of race-by-race sponsorship, which has worked for Lucio Cecchinello since he first started using it in 2006.
Racers are gamblers. The helmet designs featuring dice, cards and other gambling paraphernalia bear witness to that. They have to be gamblers, a willingness to take risks is a prerequisite to being fast on a motorcycle, running the odds through your mind and betting the house on your own ability to get the upper hand. Sometimes the gamble pays off, and when it does, the rewards are bountiful. Other times, however, you lose, leaving you a hard, hard row to hoe.
There are gambles to be taken at every MotoGP race, but Misano turned into the biggest casino the series has ever seen. Rain which came after the start then stopped again meant gambling on the right time to come in for tires – twice, once to go from slicks to wets, once to go from wets to slicks – left some riders reaping rich rewards, while others were left with empty hands. Come in too late for wets, and you could lose 10 seconds wobbling round on a wet track on slicks. Come in too late for slicks, and you could lose 10 seconds or more a lap trying to find grip on wet tires as they were tearing themselves apart. Be too cautious, as Cal Crutchlow did, and you could end up way down the finishing order. Push too hard too early, as Jorge Lorenzo did, and you could end up in the gravel.
That the rain came at all was a surprise. The forecast had been for hot and sunny weather on Sunday, as temperatures climbed through the weekend. It was only on Sunday morning that the first signs of trouble showed up, with rain and thunderstorms predicted for the afternoon. Moto3 and Moto2 went off without a hitch, but as the MotoGP bikes headed out on their sighting laps, it was already spotting with rain. That spawned panic in the pit lane, with teams checking set up, and sometimes radically changing it on the spot. Front springs were being rapidly swapped, and at Suzuki, a new shock went into Maverick Viñales' wet bike.
2015 Misano Saturday Round Up: The Prospect Of A Furious Fight, Mind Games Which Weren't, And Three Stop Strategies
Remember Brno? A scintillating qualifying left Jorge Lorenzo on pole, with Marc Márquez beside him and Valentino Rossi filling out the front row. Race pace for the three was very similar, and the fans were left with the mouthwatering prospect of a thrilling race on Sunday. They were disappointed. Jorge Lorenzo surged to the lead off the line, and shaking off Marc Márquez, disappeared into the distance, winning comfortably. The battle royal promised by free practice never materialized, and we were all left with a hollow feeling of disappointment, no matter how brilliant Lorenzo's victory was.
Hence my reluctance to play up the prospect of a good race at Misano. The ingredients are the same. The same three riders on the front row, in the same order. The same comparative strength in race pace, Lorenzo and Márquez very close – in this case, running several low 1'33s in FP4 – while Valentino Rossi a couple of tenths behind. The sort of gap he and his crew usually manage to find on Sunday morning, leading to the suspicion that what they find is Rossi's insatiable desire to race to win, a setting that has been known to be good for up to three quarters of a second a lap in the distant past. This has all the makings of a classic race, but that is no guarantee of that actually happening.
Valentino Rossi expressed the fears of everyone, except perhaps Jorge Lorenzo. "Usually at the beginning of the race Jorge is always very strong," he told the press conference. "Especially when he has this pace like in this weekend. For sure he will start and he will push from the first corner very strong. Usually also Marc is able to stay with him. So it’s crucial try to stay with them in the first laps. And after you can see what’s happen, if you are close. If you are already far it’s already finished." Dani Pedrosa, starting from fourth on the grid, saw something similar. "I think one of the keys is the beginning," he told us. "When [Lorenzo] puts his rhythm it is hard to do his style on the track, how he rides the bike is quite different. So when he has more free room to race, he is faster."