2015 Indianapolis MotoGP Friday Notes - Marquez vs Lorenzo, The Mystery Of Tires, And Weird Silly Season Rumors
Every race track has something special, but each is special in a different way. There are the tracks which are notable for the speed, such as Mugello, Termas de Rio Hondo, or Phillip Island. There are tracks which have a spectacular setting, such as Phillip Island, Mugello, or Aragon. There are tracks which are notable for their layout, either fast and flowing like Assen or Brno, or tight and treacherous such as the Sachsenring. And then there are tracks which are so unlike anywhere else that motorcycle racing goes to that they have a character all of their own. Like Indianapolis.
What makes Indy such a unique challenge? "The special thing about this track is that during the weekend, the grip is improving a lot, so this is one point you must understand during the weekend how the grip improves," Marc Márquez said. Understanding this, that the track you roll out onto on Friday morning bears no relation to the track you will be racing on come Sunday, presents a very specific challenge. It rewards riders and teams who understand how a track matures and changes, can anticipate what is coming without getting ahead of themselves and paying the price for overestimating the available grip. A number of riders did that on Friday morning, especially in Moto3. Getting it wrong in the afternoon was worse, as Pol Espargaro demonstrated by opening the gas just a little more than the tire could cope with, and finding himself being spat off his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha and onto the hard, unforgiving tarmac. The fault was all his, Espargaro said.
Before the track was resurfaced, he would have had something else to blame, but the changes mean that the tarmac is much more predictable, with a single type of asphalt all around the infield. "Consistent" was the word used over and over again by rider after rider when asked to describe grip levels. They meant around the track, rather than all day, however. Because the road course at IMS sees so little use, it is dusty and green when MotoGP rolls into town, needing sweeping and some rubber laid down on it. That takes the best part of the first day, with the added complication of drastically rising temperatures from morning to afternoon.
2015 Indianapolis MotoGP Thursday Notes: Improved Hondas, Favored Yamahas, And The Silly Season That Wasn't
The summer break ended fittingly, in a downpour. Rain engulfed the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the riders gathered for the start of the second half of the season, but it failed to dampen their spirits. Most of them were raring to go, having had three weekends away from racing. The only exceptions were the men who raced the Suzuka 8 Hour race, Pol Espargaro telling reporters he was 'a little tired' after missing out on some much needed downtime. As for the rest? "Looking forward to getting back to riding," was how Cal Crutchlow summed up the general feeling in the paddock. Fortunately for all concerned, Thursday's rain is likely to be the last for a few days. The MotoGP weekend should take place under clear skies and with good weather.
Perhaps most eager of all was Marc Márquez. He would have been happy to have skipped the summer break altogether, it coming just as he and his team had made a big step forward with the Honda RC213V. After struggling, then crashing out two races in a row, Márquez finished second at Assen, then dominated at the Sachsenring, and felt he was finding his feet. The most important thing, he told the press conference, was that he was enjoying riding the bike again, something which he hadn't done for a long while. "I didn't have this from Valencia and Sepang in the preseason," Márquez said.
The reigning world champion is currently undefeated in the USA on a MotoGP bike. Since his debut, he has won three times at Austin and twice at Indianapolis. Why does he do so well here? "They are left hand tracks, which helps me, because I train a lot on dirt track." Márquez spends a lot of his time racing on dirt ovals at his home near Cervera, and at some of the other dirt tracks which are sprouting like mushrooms across northern Spain. He expressed his fondness for the layout of Indianapolis too, calling it 'different', and rather unique among racetracks. It lost some of that uniqueness when it was changed last year, Márquez preferring the old layout. Perhaps his view is colored by the fact that the change made the track a little more flowing, making it better for the Yamahas.
Depending on who you ask, MotoGP's summer break is either too short, or too long. For the fans, three full weekends without MotoGP is a painfully long time, though both World Superbikes and BSB have done a pretty good job of making MotoGP's absence much more bearable. For the teams, riders and staff, the four weeks between the Sachsenring and Indianapolis pass in an instant, seeming way too short to qualify as a break.
In between PR appearances and negotiations for 2016, riders are lucky to grab five days R&R before getting back to training for the remainder of the season. Team staff, on the other hand, spend their time catching up with all of the stuff they didn't get done in the first half of the season, and trying to get a head start on the second half. What were supposed to be 23 days away from it all get eaten up by a myriad of minor tasks that had been neglected, and before they know it, they are on a plane again and heading for the next race. Not that they mind: for 99% of the people involved in MotoGP, they are driven by a passion for racing, and being at a race track is their idea of heaven. That is why they are paid so poorly, and what makes the paddock such an inspirational place to be.
Indianapolis is a pretty good place to get back to racing, too. Downtown has a real motorcycle buzz, with bike-related activities going on throughout the weekend. Indianapolis Motor Speedway remains one of the most special motorsports facilities in the world, drenched in legend and racing history. Getting in and out of the circuit is a breeze, in contrast with other races, meaning you don't have to get up at insane o'clock if you want to get to the track in time for the start of morning warm up.
It has its downsides too: in a facility is gargantuan as IMS, the crowd of 60,000 or so MotoGP fans just rattle around the place. The layout of the track, housed in the circuit's infield, is limited by the exigencies of its location. The changes made for 2014 were a major improvement on the previous road course, making it a lot more flowing than it was, but it remains flat, with corners that have been designed rather than evolved. This year, it also lost the link with the Indy Mile, at the Indiana State Fairground, the legendary flat track race being held a month earlier.
With just days to go until MotoGP hits the second half of the season, now is a good time to start asking the question who is in the hot seat for the 2015 MotoGP championship. Valentino Rossi leads the title chase by 13 points, but his lead is due more to his terrifying consistency than racking up win after win. Jorge Lorenzo had a seemingly invincible run from Jerez to Barcelona, but has also finished well off the podium. Andrea Iannone has been brilliantly consistent, but has not looked capable of winning, which is a prerequisite for a MotoGP title. Marc Márquez struggled in the first part of the season, but a new swing arm and a return to the 2014 chassis has taken the edge off the worst characteristics of the RC213V. Dani Pedrosa, meanwhile, missed too much of the first part of the season to be a factor.
Will Valentino Rossi pull off his his eighth MotoGP title, and his tenth title overall? Will Jorge Lorenzo become the first Spaniard to win three MotoGP titles? Or will Marc Márquez pull a rabbit out of the hat and take his third championship in a row? Let us run through the options and weigh the probabilities.
This is the second part of our silly season overview. Before starting on this part, make sure you have read the first part of the review, published yesterday.
If Jack Miller is parachuted into Aspar, the second seat in the team is up for grabs. Though Dorna are keen to have an American in MotoGP, it is widely believed that Nicky Hayden's days are numbered. Despite his denials, there are question marks over Hayden's wrist, and he has not been as competitive on the Open Honda as he had hoped. Hayden was at the last round of World Superbikes at Laguna Seca a couple of weeks ago, where he was seen talking to a lot of teams. There is a lot of speculation Hayden could end up on an Aprilia in World Superbikes next season, the American already having visited the factory's Noale HQ in 2013, before he left Ducati to sign for Aspar.
Could Hayden take the second Aprilia seat in MotoGP? This seems extremely unlikely. The factory already has an experienced development rider in Alvaro Bautista, and is really looking for someone faster and younger to lead the challenge. One name being bandied about is Stefan Bradl, the German being a particularly attractive prospect for the Italian factory. With Melandri having abandoned the Gresini Aprilia team, the second seat in the team is being filled by Michael Laverty. A sensible choice under the circumstances: Laverty is already Aprilia's official test rider, and the RS-GP is still very much a test bed for collecting data, to be used to build the 2016 bike, which will be a full prototype built from scratch. The downside to having Laverty is that he is also racing in BSB for the Tyco BMW team. The two calendars clash only once, when MotoGP goes to Phillip Island, and BSB is at Brands Hatch, so Laverty is able to fill in on a race-by-race basis.
However, with Bradl having announced that he has rescinded his contract with Forward Racing, due to the fact that they cannot guarantee him a ride for the rest of the season, Bradl becomes a more appealing option for Aprilia. The German could start racing almost immediately – a start at Indianapolis is probably too early, with the Brno test a more likely date – and could fill in until the end of the season. Bradl is still relatively young – he will be 26 in November – a former Moto2 world champion, and highly motivated. Signing Bradl to what is effectively an 18-month contract could be a smart move for Aprilia, as they would get someone young, fast, and able to help develop their new 2016 bike. If Bradl is fast in 2016, Aprilia could keep him for the future, if he isn't, he can keep working on improving the bike for 2017, and his successor.
If you think that silly season has been a bit quiet this year, you'd be right. Normally by now, we would have passed through the stage of outrageous fabrication, left the wildly inaccurate rumors behind us, and be well into probable rider signing scenarios. This year, the annual merry-go-round has barely registered, with very little sign of who may end up where for the 2016 season.
Of course, for the most part, this is because all of the factory seats bar the second slots at Aprilia and Ducati are already spoken for in 2016. Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Márquez, Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso, Aleix Espargaro, and Alvaro Bautista all have contracts for next year. Maverick Viñales' seat at Suzuki is safe through 2017. Of the currently active factory riders, only Andrea Iannone's contract could be ended after 2015, but Ducati will be keeping the Italian for 2016 as well. The only truly vacant seat is the one at Aprilia vacated by Marco Melandri, who never really wanted to be in MotoGP anyway.
With no factory seats available – or rather, with no truly desirable factory seats available – options to move up the MotoGP food chain are limited. Teams, too, are reluctant. 2016 sees the return of Michelin and the advent of spec software, making teams wary of changing too many variables at one time. Better to stick with the rider you know, whose data you already have and understand, and who has a solid relationship with the crew chief and team, rather than get a new rider in and spend a lot of time and effort trying to figure out whether problems are down to the rider or adapting the bike to the new technical regulations.
Nine races down, nine to go. The Sachsenring marks the mid-point of the season, and in all three Grand Prix classes the outlines of the championship are becoming clear. In Moto2 and Moto3, there is one rider who can dominate, winning often, taking a hefty points haul when he can't, and having luck work in their favor and against their opponents. In MotoGP, the title looks to be settled between the Movistar Yamaha teammates, with the Repsol Hondas playing a decisive role.
The three races in Germany all played out following the broader patterns of their respective championships. In the Moto3 race, Danny Kent steamrollered his way to victory, his teammate Efren Vazquez helping him to extend his lead in the championship to 66 points by taking second ahead of Enea Bastianini. In Moto2, Johann Zarco narrowly missed out on victory, the win going to Xavier Simeon. The Belgian plays no role in the championship, while Zarco's nearest rival Tito Rabat was taken out by Franco Morbidelli in the final corner. Rabat's crash means Zarco now leads Moto2 by 65 points. Both Kent and Zarco can start to pencil their names in for the respective championships, their leads starting to edge towards the unassailable.
In MotoGP, the title chase is still wide open, with both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo easily capable of winning. The championship started strongly in Rossi's favor, then the momentum swung towards Lorenzo, before creeping back towards Rossi in the last two races. At Assen, Rossi put a big chunk of points between himself and his teammate. In Germany, the Repsol Honda men played more of a role in the championship than the two Yamaha riders, limiting Rossi's points gain to just three. He now sits thirteen points ahead of Lorenzo, with everything still to play for, and neither man capable of dealing a decisive blow.
2015 Sachsenring MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Why The Hondas Are Fast, And Who Can Stop Marquez Or Kent
Is the run of Yamaha domination about to come to an end? After winning seven out of eight races, the Yamaha YZR-M1 certainly looks like the best bike on the grid, so on paper, it should continue to crush the opposition beneath its wheels at the Sachsenring. After all, the strength of the Yamaha is its ability to carry corner speed and get drive out of corners, and the Sachsenring has barely a straight line in its 3.7 kilometers. Yet after two days of practice, it has been the Hondas which have ruled the roost in Germany. The bike which is supposed to have problems looks untouchable, with Marc Márquez looking untouchable, Dani Pedrosa the best of the rest, and both Scott Redding and Cal Crutchlow showing real promise.
Why is the Honda so fast at the Sachsenring? Two reasons. Firstly, the circuit only has a couple of the types of corners where the Honda has struggled. It is only in Turn 8 and Turn 12 where the riders are braking almost straight up and down, the rear stepping out and becoming difficult to control. "Where we have a problem here is only two corners," Marc Márquez said at the press conference. "The rest is just with the gas, and there we don't have the problem." Those other corners are where the Hondas are making up the time. And they are making up the time because the track lacks grip.
One of the enigmas which we in the media center have been struggling with is whether the Honda does better in cold weather or in hot weather. But after much discussion with a bunch of people who are much smarter than we are, we came to the conclusion that the temperature of the track is irrelevant. It is not whether it is hot or cold that matters to the Honda, but whether the track actually has any grip. On a good track with plenty of grip, the Yamahas can carry corner speed and use the excellent mechanical grip of the bike to their advantage, and make a break. If such a track then also has a lot of sharp corners, where the Honda riders are struggling to control the rear under braking, and get it to slide controllably, then the Yamaha simply walks away, as do the Ducatis, and perhaps even the underpowered Suzukis. All three of those bikes can exploit mechanical grip, to carry corner speed and get drive as the riders lift the bike up from the edge of the tire into the traction area, where it can dig in and push the bike forward.
2015 Sachsenring MotoGP Friday Round Up: Marquez Gets His Magic Back, Redding Learns That Relaxing Helps You Go Faster
It is a dangerous thing to write a rider off. We learned that with Valentino Rossi, the old man currently leading the championship after two terrible years at Ducati, one tough year at Yamaha and then the first sign of resurgence from the middle of 2014. Rossi adapted, learned, progressed, and came back stronger. After the first seven races of 2015, the wolf pack in the media center had written off Marc Márquez and HRC. The Honda RC213V was too aggressive an engine to be tamed by electronics, the chassis too stiff to contain the stampede of horsepower contained in the 90° V4. The bike span, wheelied, and worst of all, slid the rear wheel unpredictably when it touched down ready for braking into the corner. Márquez was trying, but perhaps a little too hard, riding every lap as if it was his one shot at pole, overloading the front tire to compensate for the lack of braking at the rear. Márquez was pushing his luck, and it kept running out during the race, the Repsol Honda man either finishing down the order, or ending up in the gravel once the front cried enough.
Márquez crashed out at Barcelona, but that crash did not tell the whole story. Márquez and his crew had made a step forward that allowed him to control the rear under braking a little better, taking the sharpest edge off the area where the Spaniard was suffering most. At Assen, they made another step forward, and for the first time this year, Márquez started to enjoy riding the bike again. He knew he could be competitive, making his disappointment at being beaten – and outsmarted – by Valentino Rossi all the greater. "The first target was to try to feel again that confidence with the bike," Márquez said after practice on Friday. "In Assen I did and I felt it well. Now the second target is win a race."
Two races ago, a bet against Márquez winning would have been a safe one to take. After two sessions of free practice at the Sachsenring, Márquez has once again assumed the mantle of favorite for victory. He was fastest in the morning with a consistent pace, but was downright intimidating in FP2. The gap may have been reduced from a third of a second to just a single tenth over the man in second place, but nobody has the pace of Márquez. The Repsol Honda rider hammered out nine laps of 1'21, more than all the other riders on the grid put together. His nearest rival in terms of consistency is his teammate, Dani Pedrosa, and Pedrosa could only string together three 1'21s.
"Honestly, I’m happy because it was a long time ago that I feel like this on the Friday," Márquez said. "In Assen I had that feeling with the bike but only in qualifying and on the race, but today from the beginning I feel good and this is important." The feeling was the same at Assen, the knowledge that he had better control over the bike. "I’m able to stop better the bike and I’m able to be more constant. The bike is less critical on the front. Then I’m able to be more constant in some laps. If I do some mistakes I can keep the line and this is important."
2015 Sachsenring MotoGP Thursday Round Up: A Plethora Of Tires, A Bullish Marquez, And The Dangers Of Suzuka
The Sachsenring treated us to its usual surprises on Thursday, with rain and squally winds blowing through the paddock in the morning, and the sun coming out as the day went on. Fortunately, the only people out on track were the riders doing reconnaissance laps on the scooters, and safety officers cutting fast laps during their usual pre-weekend track inspection. As an observer, it is hard to tell the difference between a circuit safety inspection and hooning round the track in one of the many high-end BMW sports cars which the German car maker provides to Dorna, but I'm sure that as ex-racers, both Loris Capirossi and Franco Uncini know what they are doing.
Weird weather has already had its effect on the tire allocation. Originally, Bridgestone had brought three specifications of front tire, the soft to deal with the cold mornings, the medium to deal with the warmer afternoons, and the asymmetric tire with soft rubber on the right and a compound closer to the medium on the left, to handle the wind gusting to cool the right side of the tire. But when Bridgestone's engineers turned up at the track a week ago, Saxony was in the middle of a heatwave, with air temperatures of 38° C or more. Bridgestone rushed a small compliment of their hard front tires in to the Sachsenring, just in case temperatures reached the high 30s again. It does not look like they will, but it looks like being a complicated weekend for the riders.
Will the asymmetric front tire prevent a lot of crashes on Friday? It should help, but it won't prevent them altogether. "We all know that Turn 11 is dangerous," Bradley Smith said of the blind and blisteringly fast right hander at the top of the hill, which has caught so many riders out in the past. "But we all see people forget in FP1, they have their wake up call, and then they don't crash again." One crash there is enough to remind everyone to treat the turn with the respect it deserves. "We know it's dangerous, but they crash in FP1 and then they don't for the rest of the weekend. That's not because the conditions suddenly get better, it's because they were more wary and showed it more respect. Maybe if they had a sign at the end of pit lane saying be wary at T11..."