May 22nd, 2010
Results and summary of Qualifying Practice for MotoGP:
Results of 125cc qualifying at Le Mans:
While the first day of practice at Le Mans was - unusually - a crash-free affair, day 2 got off to a bad start, with falls in the 125 and MotoGP classes, as riders pushed too hard on a cool track. In the MotoGP class, Ben Spies, Alvaro Bautista and Mika Kallio all had big crashes, both Bautista and Spies highsiding spectacularly.
Things looked worst for Spies, the Texan being stretchered off to the Clinica Mobile, but after inspection - and worries about a fractured metatarsal bone in his left foot - Spies was pronounced badly bruised, but healthy. Spies and Kallio are both expected to ride this afternoon, the injuries not serious enough to prevent them.
Toni Elias headed up the second session of Moto2 free practice at Le Mans, though he was made to work for it during a very hectic last 10 minutes. The Gresini rider had a comfortable lead for most of FP2, but with 10 to go, Yuki Takahashi, Andrea Iannone and Raffaele De Rosa all took turns at the top of the timesheets. After the flag had fallen and the dust had settled, it was Toni Elias who came out on top, just eight thousandths of a second ahead of Andrea Iannone, and under five hundredths ahead of Tech 3's Yuki Takahashi, while BQR's Yonny Hernandez is a tenth behind Takahashi.
The field in Moto2 is ridiculously tight, as ever. Just over a second covers the first 30 riders, and two tenths can make as much as ten places difference. Qualifying will be very tough indeed.
Casey Stoner was the fastest man on Saturday morning's second session of free practice for the MotoGP class at Le Mans, topping the timesheets early and staying there for the rest of the session. Stoner didn't quite have it all his own way, as Jorge Lorenzo put on a late surge to get within fifteen thousandths of the Marlboro Ducati rider. Lorenzo's FIAT Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi ended in 3rd, a quarter of a second behind Stoner, and just five hundredths ahead of Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa.
At first, the big surprise of the session was Pramac Ducati's Aleix Espargaro, who found a burst of speed in the second half of the session, initially being listed as 6th, just behind Andrea Dovizioso, and ahead of Nicky Hayden. His time was later corrected, though, bumping the Spaniard down to 10th.
Pol Espargaro was the fastest man again during this morning's FP2 session for the 125cc class, the Tuenti Derbi rider continuing where he left off from Friday. But the Derbi domination was broken, with the Bancaja Aspar riders Nico Terol and Bradley Smith running 2nd and 3rd fastest, Terol close on Espargaro, Smith half a second back. The Derbi armada was stranded behind the Aspar bikes, Marc Marquez leading Efren Vazquez and Sandro Cortese.
With the bikes finally back on track at Le Mans, the flood of rumor and innuendo that has dogged every MotoGP press conference and rider debrief in France dwindled to a mere trickle. Instead of questions of who has been talking to who, and who was seen in which hospitality, Friday's debriefs actually talked about the conditions on track.
That did not prevent the same Italian journalist who harassed Jorge Lorenzo about his manager, Marcos Hirsch' visit to the Ducati hospitality. And once again, Lorenzo hammered out the same old story: Marcos is talking to Filippo Preziosi about his new Multistrada. And no, I have not spoken to Ducati yet.
When Lorenzo did get to talk about the bike, he said he was happy with the setting, which they'd brought with them from Jerez. There'd been a problem with his number one bike early on, and so Lorenzo had gone out on his second bike. He'd spent most of the first part of the session just getting a feel for the track again. "I always adapt to the bike first, and only then start modifying the setup," Lorenzo explained.
But the Yamaha is so good it doesn't really need much tweaking. "Le Mans suits the Yamaha," Lorenzo said, explaining that this went as far back as when Max Biaggi was riding the M1 here in 2002, when Biaggi scored a podium here in the first year of the MotoGP era.
Jules Cluzel gave heart to his home crowd, by setting the fastest time in the first session of practice for the Moto2 class at Le Mans. The Frenchman took the lead in the last quarter of the session, deposing Toni Elias, who had dominated up until that point. Elias was also forced to allow former Gresini teammate Alex de Angelis ahead of him, by just nine hundredths of a second. Sergio Gadea rounds out the provisional front row, finishing just ahead of Fonsi Nieto, who was also fast all session. Yuki Takahashi confirmed his and the Tech 3 bike's form, ending 6th fastest, ahead of Julian Simon, the Mapfre Aspar team having spent a frantic day on Thursday preparing their brand new Suter chassis.
Valentino Rossi topped the timesheets in surprisingly tense first session of free practice for the Le Mans MotoGP weekend. The Fiat Yamaha rider deposed Marlboro Ducati's Casey Stoner on his very last fast lap, beating the Australian by just one tenth of a second. Stoner finished just ahead of Rossi's teammate Jorge Lorenzo, after both men had led during the session.
Andrea Dovizioso pulled out a bit of a surprise by finishing in 4th, over three tenths of a second ahead of his Repsol Honda teammate, Dani Pedrosa. Pedrosa led a trio of Americans, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha's Colin Edwards finishing ahead of Ducati's Nicky Hayden, and Edwards' teammate Ben Spies. Just 1 second covered the top 8, with Pramac Ducati's Aleix Espargaro not far off in 9th.
The Derbis continued their domination of the 125cc class in 2010, with Pol Espargaro of the Tuenti team setting the fastest time in the first session of practice by a whopping half a second. Espargaro finished the day ahead of Red Bull's Marc Marquez and Marquez Ajo teammate Sandro Cortese. Aprilia's opposition was headed by Nico Terol of the Aspar team, but the Spaniard was nearly 1.2 seconds off the pace of Espargaro. Terol's teammate, Bradley Smith, had a difficult start to the weekend, suffering technical problems early on and missing most of the session, ending the day in lowly 18th position.
Today we take you on a lap of the circuit, as seen from trackside. On Thursday, little moves on the track, and so we are free to go round the circuit, if we so wish. Most people go round on the scooter, many riders go round on a bicycle, mixing physical training with mental training. I like to circulate on foot, to get a sense of the elevation changes around the track. Here's my lap of Le Mans:
Since rumors that Casey Stoner had already signed a contract with Honda broke a few days after Jerez, the atmosphere in the motorcycle racing media has become positively frantic. The three-week delay between Jerez and Le Mans has certainly not helped, with a string of stories leaking out from Italy and Spain that Honda had signed Stoner, that Ducati had offered Valentino Rossi a contract, that Honda had targeted a "dream team" of Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo for their 2011 line-up. Most of those stories probably bear some relation to reality, but that relationship is extraordinarily tenuous with some of them.
That fevered atmosphere spilled over into the pre-event press conferences and rider debriefs here at Le Mans. Normally, the talk is all of what new parts riders have, and what they expect of the weekend, but apart from the questions put at the official press conference by the host and TV commentator Nick Harris, the only thing that the assembled press wanted to talk about was the future of the Fantastic Four; Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the wealth of chassis choices in Moto2 is a double-edged sword. With so many frames to choose from, and the field so incredibly tight, teams are looking for the reasons why their riders are not performing as they had hoped and expected, and putting the failure to perform down to their choice of chassis.
The Mapfre Aspar team were the first team to team to make the jump. The Aspar team, fielding 125cc World Champion and former 125cc champ Mike di Meglio, decided to drop the Italian RSV chassis they had been using since the start of the year, and switch to the Swiss Suter chassis, currently favored by the bulk of the Moto2 paddock. The steel trellis RSV chassis - though stunningly beautiful and one of the few departures from the standard aluminium beam chassis being used elsewhere - has had problems with weight, and Aspar had complained that the pace of development was not meeting the team's demands.
Aspar's dropping of the RSV chassis left just one rider using the Italian frame: Karel Abraham of the Czech Cardion AB team. But like the Aspar riders, Abraham had also been struggling with the setup of the chassis, as well as with aerodynamics, and like the Aspar team, Cardion AB have also decided to drop the Italian manufacturer's chassis.
In the latest episode of OnTheThrottle's excellent videos, World Superbike commentator Jonathan Green catches up with Sterilgarda Yamaha World Superbike rider James Toseland at the team's base near Milan. Green and Toseland discuss racing in Italy, and JT casts an eye over the MotoGP season so far. Here's the video:
Looking around the MotoGP paddock at the riders the teams and manufacturers have riding for them, and one thing you notice is the embarrassment of riches which Yamaha seems to have on their MotoGP bikes. In the Fiat Yamaha team, they have arguably the greatest rider of all time, alongside the youngster who looks capable of beating him. In the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team, Ben Spies, the man who blew away the World Superbike championship sits alongside the only rider to get anywhere near the Fantastic Four last year, Colin Edwards. Sitting in the garage, there is the eminence grise of MotoGP, Jeremy Burgess, the thoughtful French genius Guy Coulon and the unsung hero of Ben Spies' career, Tom Houseworth.
Looking at all that talent, we wanted to know just what Yamaha's secret was. So at Jerez, we spoke to Lin Jarvis, managing director of Yamaha Motor Racing and one of the driving forces behind Yamaha's MotoGP project. Jarvis was graceful enough to give us twenty minutes of his time, and to answer our questions about Yamaha's approach to the human side of racing. We talked to Jarvis about who hires the riders for Yamaha's racing projects, how those decisions come about, and what factors make Yamaha so strong in this respect. Jarvis also spoke about his ideal rider lineup for 2011, and how hard he expects to have to fight for it throughout MotoGP's silly season. Finally, Jarvis talked to us about the problems of filling MotoGP grids, and what should be done about it. We started off, though, with the burning question of who is in charge of hiring.