June 12th, 2015
2015 Barcelona Friday MotoGP Round Up: Fast Suzukis, The Deceptive Pace Of The Yamahas, And Tires And Electronics
What did we learn from Friday practice at Barcelona? We learned that things are not quite what they seem. Does the fact that the Repsol Honda riders are second and third overall mean that HRC's travails are behind it? Certainly not. Do the two Suzukis in the top five – and Aleix Espargaro setting the fastest overall time – mean Suzuki have found the horsepower to match the Honda and Ducati? Absolutely not. Will the Yamahas' lowly positions on the grid put them out of contention on Sunday? Leaving aside the fact that it's just the first day of practice, with another full day on Saturday, definitely, absolutely, certainly not.
Are all these assumptions completely baseless? That's where it gets interesting. In fact, there is a kernel of truth underlying them all. The Honda is improved, certainly, but racing is not practice. The Suzuki is definitely quicker, but it isn't horsepower which is putting the Suzukis where they are. And the Yamahas are clearly having a problem, but it is not a problem which will trouble them much in the race.
The headline times are deceptive, at least in the case of the Yamahas and Hondas. The fastest laps of Dani Pedrosa and Marc Márquez are impressive, but both times they were one-off laps set on very short runs in qualifying trim, rather than times set in long runs using a race set up. Perhaps spooked by his experience in Mugello, where a prolonged focus on electronics and race set up left him stranded in Q1, and then failed to get into Q2, Márquez ensured that he had a fast lap under his belt at the end of both free practice sessions. Pedrosa did much the same, working on race set up early, then pushing for a time at the end of both FP1 and FP2.
Press releases from the teams and Bridgestone after the first day of practice at Barcelona:
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after practice at Barcelona:
The updates Suzuki have brought to Barcelona are starting to pay dividends. After getting both riders in the top five during the morning session of free practice for MotoGP, they have repeated that achievement again in FP2, with Aleix Espargaro topping the second session by nearly three tenths of a second. The Repsol Hondas are fast, especially for just a single lap, with both Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa pushing to the top of the order at the end of the session, Marquez taking 2nd, Pedrosa grabbing 3rd.
Andrea Dovizioso was the first of the Ducatis home in 4th place, just ahead of the second Suzuki of Maverick Viñales. Andrea Iannone took 6th, just ahead of Jorge Lorenzo, who was the first Yamaha home in 7th. Cal Crutchlow put the LCR Honda into 8th spot, with Pol Espargaro the next best Yamaha, the Tech 3 rider over a second slower than his brother on the Suzuki. Scott Redding put in a quick lap to grab 10th, and the final spot in Q2, a good recovery after a big crash earlier in the session.
Danny Kent has taken charge of the Moto3 class, edging ahead of the rest of the field at the end to top the second session of free practice. Kent nudged Niccolo Antonelli into 2nd but eleven thousandths of a second, Ale Tonucci cloe behind on the Mahindra. The entire Moto3 field is close: less than a second covers the top 22 riders, nearly two thirds of the field.
Johann Zarco was the fastest of the Moto2 riders on Friday morning at Barcelona, the championship leader setting the pace from the very beginning of the session. Sam Lowes translated a successful test into speed during FP1, the Speed Up rider taking 2nd spot a quarter of a second behind Zarco. It was only by the very narrowest of margins, however: Lowes was just one thousandth of a second faster than Jonas Folger in third, while Tito Rabat ended the session in 4th, a further six thousandths behind Folger.
Marc Marquez has topped the first session of free practice in Barcelona, upping the pace at the end of the session as the track started to improve. Marquez deposed his Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa, the Spaniard having found the same burst of pace as Marquez late in FP1. The speed of the two Hondas meant Aleix Espargaro was bumped into third, the Suzuki man showing impressive pace throughout the session, and improved top speeds. Both Espargaro and Suzuki teammate Maverick Viñales were quick, Viñales ending the session in 5th, behind Jorge Lorenzo.
Yonny Hernandez was 6th fastest in FP1, the Pramac man fastest of the Ducatis, with an excellent fast lap by Nicky Hayden on the Open class Aspar Honda shooting up to 7th, just eight tenths behind Marquez. Valentino Rossi ended FP1 in 8th, the championship leader over a second off the time of Marquez, and ahead of the factory Ducati of Andrea Dovizioso. Cal Crutchlow rounded out the top 10.
The Estrella Galicia 0,0 team has got the weekend off to a strong start, with Jorge Navarro leading the first session of practice for the Moto3 class at Barcelona. The track was cold and dirty after the overnight rain, with times dropping only at the end of the session, and Navarro emerging as quickest. Championship leader Danny Kent set the 2nd fastest time, with Efren Vazquez in 3rd. Romano Fenati suffered a technical issue in the last few minutes of the session, and was forced to park his bike up around the back of the circuit.
2015 Barcelona MotoGP Thursday Round Up - On The Merits Of A Good Base Set Up, A Wet Weekend, And Arm Pump
The difference between a successful race weekend and going home with empty hands is often made before the bikes have even turned a wheel on the track. "Base set up," that is the elusive goal which teams spend so long chasing during testing and practice. A good base set up will give you two full days to try to go faster, knowing that the worst case scenario is that your bike is only very good, rather than perfect. If the bike is competitive from the start, you can focus on winning, rather than trying to find something which works, and gambling on changes which you are not certain will be effective.
This, then, is the dilemma facing Jorge Lorenzo's rivals at Barcelona. Lorenzo has that base set up that makes him the man to beat from Friday morning. "In the last races, Jorge find always a good solution, good setting from the beginning," Valentino Rossi told the press conference. "He was able to concentrate more on improving his riding style and arrived for the race at the maximum. 100%. This is the way to do it." That is the dilemma facing Rossi and his Movistar Yamaha team. They often find themselves working hard all weekend and finding solutions to some of their problems on Sunday morning, but that leaves them with very little preparation time. Having that base set up is all important. " We hope this time to be more competitive from the beginning, or more closer," Rossi said. "It is not important that we are first, but it is important to have good pace and a good feeling with the bike."
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone ahead of this weekend's round at Barcelona:
Press release previews from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams:
From Mugello to Barcelona, or from the heart of Italian motorcycle racing to the heart of Spanish motorcycling. Or rather, Catalan motorcycling, as any of the many Catalans which fill the paddock will happily point out. Then again, Catalonia is – ironically – at the heart of Spanish motorcycling itself. If MotoGP had a home race, it would be here. Series organizer Dorna has its offices just south of Barcelona, and the working language of the organization is Catalan. Just east of the circuit lies the old factory of Derbi, once a mainstay of the 125cc class. Check the birthplaces of any one of the riders racing on a Spanish license, and most of them hail from one of the towns and villages within an hour or two's drive of the Montmeló circuit. Most riders still have a house in the area, though many elect to live in the tiny mountainous tax haven of Andorra, because of the opportunities it affords for training, so they tell us.
With so much support, can the Spaniards – or Catalans, or Mallorcans – lock out the podium at home? It would be a crowd pleaser for sure, but getting three Spanish riders to fill out the MotoGP podium at Barcelona will be far from easy. That there will be one, perhaps two Spaniards on the box is a given. But filling all three places? That is going to be tough.
Jorge Lorenzo comes to Barcelona as the man to beat, mainly because it has been impossible to do just that for the past three races. The Movistar Yamaha rider started the season with a run of poor luck and strange circumstances, but since Jerez, everything has gone perfectly for him. He and his team have worked smoothly every practice to set up a bike Lorenzo is capable of winning on, and delivered on that work on Sunday at Jerez, Le Mans and Mugello. He has led from start to finish, taking less than half a lap to dispose of the opposition. So dominant has he been that he is closing in on Casey Stoner's record of leading the most successive laps. If Lorenzo leads the first 11 laps at Barcelona, he will beat Casey Stoner's total of 88 laps, set in 2007. Given the outright superiority Stoner displayed that year, it would be a very ominous sign for the 2015 championship indeed. Lorenzo trails his teammate Valentino Rossi by just 6 points in the title chase. Rossi will have to work hard to take his lead into Assen.
Last year, Marc Márquez won the first ten races of the season on his way to his second successive MotoGP championship. He ended the season with a grand total of thirteen wins, eventually tying up the title at Motegi, with three races still to go. He could have wrapped it up a race earlier, had he not crashed trying to keep pace with Valentino Rossi at Misano. Márquez and the Honda RC213V reigned supreme, clearly the best package on the grid.
Eight months later, and Márquez trails the championship leader Rossi by 49 points, having won only one race, and taken one other podium finish at Jerez. Márquez has crashed out of two races, nearly crashing out of a third as well, and is 101 points down on his total after the same number of races last year. The Honda RC213V is being universally blamed for Márquez' decline, with a series of crashes by Cal Crutchlow, Scott Redding and Dani Pedrosa also being put down to an overloaded front end. The question on everyone's lips is, how did the RC213V go from being the best bike on the grid to being behind the Yamaha and the Ducati? How could Honda get it so badly wrong in just a few short months?
The answer to that question is, of course, that they didn't. There is clearly a problem with the Honda – the obvious culprit being an overabundance of horsepower and aggressive engine braking – but it is hardly a terrible motorcycle. The bike is still faster than it was last year, race times dropping on average by over a second. But the problems Honda are facing did not happen overnight. The supremacy of Márquez has masked a slow and steady decline of the RC213V, the bike losing its advantage over the past couple of seasons.
Press releases from the series organizers and some of the teams after Monday's World Superbike test at Portimao: