The latest episode of the Paddock Pass Podcast is out, and in this edition, Neil Morrison and Steve English catch up with the events of the Le Mans MotoGP round and take a broad overview of the happenings in WorldSBK. After a quick recap of the on track events at the French Grand Prix, Neil and Steve turn their attention to the wildness that is the current state of MotoGP's Silly Season.
Another race, another victory, so what exactly is Marc Márquez’s big secret?
I’m stood in the Le Mans pitlane, chatting with a venerable MotoGP engineer, trying to eke from him the relative merits of every bike on the grid.
“The holy grail of motorcycle racing has always been to come up with a device that can save front-end slides, and now Honda has one…” he says, pausing for effect. “He’s called Marc Márquez.”
And that there is the story of MotoGP right now. Love him or loathe him, Márquez is on another level to everyone else. He has an ability that none of the others possess. That doesn’t mean he’s unbeatable, because he’s not always the fastest man out there, but it’s this unique talent that helps him to make the difference.
After Le Mans, the MotoGP teams had rushed from France down to Barcelona to test the new surface and layout at the Montmelo circuit. The track has been completely resurfaced, and extra runoff created at Turn 13 (the old Turn 12) which means that the corner can be restored to its former glory, before it was altered in the wake of the tragic death of Luis Salom in 2016.
In the third part of our series on test riders, we come to the rider who has arguably had the biggest impact on the factory he has worked with. Michele Pirro has been the workhorse for Ducati's test program, putting in the miles to do the hard work, while at the same time being fast enough to be genuinely competitive during his wildcard appearances. Ducati's use of Michele Pirro has clearly inspired other factories to pursue similar avenues, with KTM taking Mika Kallio and Suzuki using Sylvain Guintoli.
In the next couple of days, we will have an interview with Pirro on how it feels to be a test rider, but first, Ducati team boss Davide Tardozzi on Pirro's role as a test rider for Ducati. Tardozzi talks about the importance Pirro's speed has had to the development of the Desmosedici, and how Ducati try to cultivate that speed through competition, either in the Italian CIV championship or by scheduling tests with other manufactures to encourage riders to try to beat each other's lap times.
Q: How important has Pirro been to Ducati?
Looking back, it is always easy to identify the pivotal moments in a championship. Last year, it was the Barcelona test, when Honda brought a new chassis which gave Marc Márquez the confidence he had been lacking. In 2015, it was arguably Motegi, where Valentino Rossi stayed ahead of Jorge Lorenzo, but the effort it took in the difficult conditions left him drained at the start of a long and exhausting set of flyaways. In 2012 it was Misano, where a tire warmer got stuck to Dani Pedrosa's brake disc, forcing him to start from the back of the grid, and leaving him in a position to get tangled up with Hector Barbera, and crash out of the race.
In the midst of a racing season, however, such pivotal points are much harder to identify. Or rather, all too easy to misidentify. After Estoril 2006, everyone thought that Nicky Hayden's championship challenge was over. Valentino Rossi's heartbreaking engine blow up at Mugello looked like it would put paid to his shot at the 2016 title, but he still kept the fight alive for a long time. Anything can happen during the course of a season, so when we look back at a season we can easily overlook the drama of a single race that seemed important at the time. 2015 is a case in point: there were so many twists and turns that it is hard to pinpoint a single turning point, so fans and followers tend to pick their own.
Looking at it now, just five races into a nineteen-race season, it is easy to believe that the races at Jerez and Le Mans will be the turning points we look back at when the bikes are packed up for the final time after Valencia. The three-rider crash at Dry Sack two weeks ago, in which Andrea Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo, and Dani Pedrosa managed to all take each other out without any obvious culprit being to blame, had a huge impact on the championship. And Sunday's drama-packed race at Le Mans will surely be spoken of in the same terms. Not just because of who didn't finish the race. But also because where some riders finished is going to have a profound impact on their futures.
MotoGP standings after Le Mans:
Results and summary of the MotoGP race in Le Mans:
Moto2 standings after Le Mans:
Results and summary of the Moto2 race in Le Mans:
Results and summary of the Moto3 race in Le Mans: