May 17th, 2015
Notes: Marc Marquez had a very strong pace, a long string of laps in the mid 1'33s. Jorge Lorenzo's pace was a lot less consistent. Bradley Smith was surprisingly strong, also posting a very long run on a pace just short of that of Marquez.
2015 Le Mans MotoGP Saturday Round Up: How The Weather Shakes Up Racing, And Matching Lorenzo's Metronomic Pace
Motorcycle racing would be a good deal less complicated if it was an indoor sport. Leaving the complications of housing an area covering several square kilometers to one side for a moment, having a track which was not subject to rain, wind or shine would make things a lot more predictable. No longer would the riders and teams have to worry about whether the track was wet enough for rain tires, or slicks could be used with a dry line forming. Nor would they have to worry about track grip dropping as temperatures rose beyond a certain point. Or differences in grip from one part of the track to the next, as clouds hide the sun and strong winds steal heat from the asphalt. There would be only the bike, the rider, and the track.
Racing would be a lot less interesting, though. Saturday at Le Mans was a case in point. On Friday, it looked like the races were all pretty much wrapped up: Jorge Lorenzo was unstoppable in MotoGP, Tito Rabat was back to his best in Moto2, and Danny Kent was imperious in Moto3. Cold temperatures in the morning and rain at the start of the afternoon threw a spanner in the works for almost everyone. All of a sudden, things look a lot more complicated. And rather intriguing.
The Moto3 class were the hardest hit. The skies were pregnant with rain before qualifying started, with only very light drizzle falling. Within two minutes of the green light going on, the drizzle was heavier, and the track went from being a little slow to being downright treacherous. Fabio Quartararo got it right: first out of the pits, he took pole with his first flying lap. Then he got it wrong: he was nearly two seconds slower on his next lap, then found himself tumbling through the gravel at Turn 1, the quickest corner on the circuit. He wasn't the only one, being joined in the gravel by his teammate Jorge Navarro, while on the other side of the track, Brad Binder had crashed out. The men and women of Moto3 had had enough: they filed back into the pits as the track went from damp to wet, only a few brave souls venturing out in the second half of qualifying, circulating fifteen or more seconds off pole pace.
Going out first turned out to be the key. The riders who waited for the lights to go green at the end of pit lane fill the front of the grid, those who let the pack escape first, then followed at a leisurely pace in pursuit of an empty track are all well down the order. Quartararo, Navarro, Pecco Bagnaia, Romano Fenati fill the front rows, Danny Kent and Efren Vazquez bring up the rear. It was, said Kent, a 'terrible mistake', after dominating in free practice. It was an understandable one, though, as normally, the Leopard Racing team's tactics would have bought Kent and Vazquez free space in which to set out the pace. A normally smart move backfired this time, due to the weather.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after qualifying at Le Mans:
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after qualifying at Le Mans:
Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto2 class:
Results and summary of qualifying for the MotoGP class at Le Mans:
A track drying after rain during Moto3 qualifying made for extremely difficult conditions for the MotoGP riders, leaving FP4 as a lost session for gathering data in the race. Loris Baz and Alex De Angelis both gambled on going out on slicks in the last five minutes, and were rewarded with first and second spot on the timesheets. Dani Pedrosa took 3rd, after having led the way for most of the session, ahead of Valentino Rossi.
Results and summary of the Moto3 qualifying session at Le Mans:
Jorge Lorenzo has dominated the final session of free practice for the MotoGP class at Le Mans, laying down a blistering pace and topping it off with a scorching lap to top the timesheets by nearly four tenths of a session. The Movistar Yamaha rider led for most of the session, only occasionally bested, and reasserting his claim at the end.
Andrea Iannone put on an impressive display for a man who dislocated his shoulder less than five days previously, briefly topping the session before being deposed by Jorge Lorenzo. Cal Crutchlow put the CWM LCR Honda into 3rd, sandwiching himself between the two factory Ducatis of Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso. Bradley Smith was one of only two riders in the top ten not to improve his time, the other being Valentino Rossi. Smith's time on Saturday morning was good enough for 5th, the same place in the top ten which his time from Friday afforded.
Enea Bastianini has topped the morning session for the Moto3 class, posting a fast lap towards the end of the session to take top spot in the very chilly conditions at Le Mans. Isaac Viñales put in a late charge to take 2nd on the Husqvarna, while Miguel Oliveira took 3rd. Danny Kent had a small crash at the end of the session, putting an end to his last throw at improving his time. Kent fared better than his teammate, Efren Vazquez, who had a big highside in the last moments of FP3.
2015 Le Mans MotoGP Friday Round Up: Surprising Smith, Smooth Lorenzo, And Has Marquez Lost Another Engine?
If you had put money on Bradley Smith being the fastest man at the end of the first day of practice at Le Mans, you would probably be a very happy camper this evening. The Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider does not often top a practice session – the last time was nearly a year ago, on the Friday at Barcelona – though he often shows plenty of speed. But there has always been one thing or another to prevent him from converting speed through a particular sector into a really fast flying lap.
That's where the Jerez test helped. At Jerez, Smith, along with several other riders, tested a new front fork set up which made a huge difference to his riding. The aim of the change had been to absorb more of the force in braking, and allow the front tire to retain its shape. By limiting the deformation of the front tire, the new fork allows Smith to brake later and enter the corner better. The tire keeps its shape, giving the rider confidence to release the brake and enter the corner fast. The bike is smoother, and Smith has benefited.
They also found improvements in engine braking, which helps the bike to turn. Better engine braking means a more stable bike entering the corner, crucial to extracting the maximum speed out of a Yamaha. Putting it all together gave Smith confidence, and with confidence comes speed.
It was a perfect afternoon for Smith all the way up to the final corner of his final lap. Smith was very fast on that run, moving up to third spot before heading the timesheets with a lap of 1'33.179. He was on course for another quick lap, but ruined it with a rookie error. Aleix Espargaro crashed in front of him, and he ran wide following the Suzuki. Trying to get back on track, he crashed, but it was a very weird crash indeed, he told reporters. He ran over what looked like a rock or a lump of rock in an asphalt join, and it flipped the bike up. A shame, but the speed he had shown before was encouraging.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after the first day of practice at Le Mans: