The infamous rain arrived as predicted on Saturday morning and made quite a grand entrance, the torrential downpour delaying the first session of the day by an hour and 20 minutes. When rain finally eased enough to clear standing water, the lightweight class kicked off action for a shortened 30-minute session on rain tyres. With no hope of improving on Friday times, there wasn’t much to fight for other than preparing a possibly wet qualifying session and / or race.
"I mean the championship is, we can say, over," Andrea Dovizioso told the pre-event press conference on Thursday in Buriram. With five races to go and a total of 125 points at stake, Marc Márquez leads Dovizioso by 98 points. Mathematically, the title is still open, but you would be not be wise to bet against Márquez winning the championship this season.
In FP1, Marc Márquez demonstrated both why he is leading the championship, and how the championship isn't over until it has been put beyond mathematical doubt. On his first run of the weekend, the Repsol Honda rider went out and posted a string of laps in the 1'31s, a second or more clear of his rivals. On his second run, he repeated that pace, becoming even more consistent.
On his third run, he exited with new soft tires, front and rear, with the intention of putting in a quick lap to secure a spot in Q2 on Saturday. It was the same strategy as in Aragon: go out in FP1, and if you feel good on the bike, post a lap good for Q2 at the end, so that you can spend all of FP2 working on race setup in conditions which will most closely resemble the race. With rain forecast for Sunday, it seemed like the right choice.
Error of judgment
Luca Marini is the fastest of the Moto2 bunch in Thailand, topping the timesheets in FP2 in an incredibly tight field. Marini leads a field of 24 riders all within a second of each other, while less than four tenths of a second separate the top fourteen who go through to Q2.
Fabio Quartararo has topped the second session of free practice for the MotoGP class in Buriram, the Petronas Yamaha rider continuing his run of fastest times at almost every circuit. Quartararo won the final shootout on Friday afternoon to go nearly two tenths of a second quicker than anyone else.
Gabriel Rodrigo topped the second session of free practice for the Moto3 class at Buriram, the Argentinian rider winning the traditional late charge for a time on Friday afternoon in the chase for a spot in Q2. Dennis Foggia ended in second spot, while Jakub Kornfeil was a fraction slower than the Sky VR46 rider.
Kornfeil's time will not do him much good on Sunday, however, as he has been handed a 12-place grid penalty for riding slowly in FP1. Kornfeil was not the only rider punished, Ayumu Sasaki being forced to start from the back of the grid.
The intermediate class got reacquainted with the Chang International Circuit, seeing both the rain flag and a glimpse of sun in the same session. Rain didn’t really make its presence felt though, allowing for a fully dry practice session ahead of a more worrying forecast for the rest of the weekend. The familiar duo of Tetsuta Nagashima and Alex Marquez exchanged top spot for the early part of the session, with the Japanese rider leading the way going into the final time attack.
Friday morning at the Chang International Circuit was a warm but overcast affair, making conditions more bearable for the premier class crowd. Marc Marquez was back at the scene of his success at the first Thai GP and the world champion was keen to reclaim the land, topping the timesheets by over a second as soon as he hit the track. The closest rivals got for the next 25 minutes was eighth tenths of a second, with a handful of riders within very close proximity on the timesheets.
The circus was back in action for the first outing of the Asia rounds and Moto3 opened the show and made the best of the hot and (still) dry conditions. Although just the first acclimatory session, riders were keen to post a sensible time, with an eye on the promised rain for much of the weekend. Tony Arbolino was the first man to find the top of the timesheets early on and didn’t let go until the final five minutes, when most riders were on the attack.
On paper, the Chang International Circuit at Buriram is a very simple proposition. A tight corner followed by a short straight, then a tight corner followed by a very long straight, and then a long hairpin followed by a medium-length straight. And then a bunch of complicated twists and turns to get back to the start and finish line.
Of course, a track is never the same on paper as it is when motorcycles actually race on it. Sure, Buriram has three straights which determine a lot of the circuit's character. But there is much more to it than just getting the bike turned and getting on the gas as quickly as possible. There are a plenty of places with a choice of lines, where a canny rider can find an opening on the rider ahead. And the nature of that tighter interior sector is such that a bike which isn't a basic drag bike can make up a lot of ground.
Take Turn 3 (the long back straight has a kink formally designated as Turn 2), the long hairpin at the end of the straight. Not perfectly flat, it offers a choice of two lines: stay inside and hug the inside kerb, and try to make the ground up on corner exit; or run in wide and cut back to the second apex carrying more speed. Both lines work. Both lines get you to the corner exit at roughly the same point in time. And both suit two very different bike characters. It may look point and shoot, but it really isn't.
Fast and fear-inducing
For the second time in his MotoGP career, Valentino Rossi is to change crew chiefs. At the end of the 2019 season, David Muñoz, currently crew chief for Nicolo Bulega in the Sky Racing Team VR46 Moto2 team, will replace Silvano Galbusera as crew chief for Rossi in the Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP team.
The news was first broken by Spanish daily AS.com early on Thursday, and confirmed by Rossi later in the pre-event press conference for the Thailand round of MotoGP at Buriram. "Yes, it's true," Rossi said in response to a question from Mela Chercoles, the journalist who broke the story. "Next year I will change my chief mechanic. It was good, because after the Misano race we spoke with Silvano, because we want to try to do something to be stronger."