2015 Le Mans MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Why The Honda Is The Third-Best Bike In MotoGP, And Wins vs Titles In Moto3
Something always happens at Le Mans. Something happens at every MotoGP race, of course, but Le Mans seems to always have more than its fair share of happenings. Unlikely events, weird crashes, high drama. Marco Simoncelli taking out Dani Pedrosa. Casey Stoner announcing his retirement. Things that nobody had seen coming emerge from the shadows. News that was half suspected is suddenly thrust into the limelight. Something always happens at Le Mans.
This year, it was the turn of Honda to make the headlines, not something you want to do at Le Mans. The weakness of the bike was finally exposed, with three factory Hondas all crashing out, and the fourth one looking likely to do the same at any moment. Dani Pedrosa and Scott Redding suffered identical crashes, losing the front early in the race. Cal Crutchlow's crash was different. He made a mistake when his foot slipped off the peg, grabbing the front brake harder than he meant to and locking the front as he turned in to La Chapelle, the long downhill right hander. But up until that moment, he had been struggling with exactly the same lack of front end grip on corner entry. Marc Márquez' spectacular and wild first few laps saw him running off the track just about everywhere, as he tried to brake hard and enter the corner, but ended up running wide.
At last there was confirmation of something which all of the Honda riders had been saying since last year. Cal Crutchlow's first reaction when he got off the RC213V was "I'll tell you what, it's a hard bike to ride." Scott Redding said much the same. "It's a difficult bike to ride, a lot more difficult than the Open Honda." Such statements were met with outright skepticism by most observers. After all, this was the same bike on which Marc Márquez had won the first ten races of the season, before going on to wrap up his second title in a row virtually unchallenged.
That was probably part of the problem. The Honda was nowhere near as good as Marc Márquez was making it look. "In my opinion, the talent of Marc hides some limits of the Honda," said Andrea Dovizioso in the post-race press conference. "He's the only one able to go fast, also last year, but especially this year. I believe Honda in this moment doesn't have a perfect balance."
Press releases from some of the Moto3 teams involved in the post-race test at Jerez:
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after the races on Sunday:
2015 Argentina MotoGP Saturday Round Up: The Ducati Disadvantage, Tire Choices, And How Great Tracks Create Surprises
Fast tracks are good for racing. Phillip Island demonstrates this every year, and the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit is confirming it in 2015. The mixture of fast sweepers and tricky braking sections places an emphasis on bike handling and rider ability, over and above sheer engine power. This gives enterprising riders opportunities to excel, and overcome any horsepower disadvantages they may have.
Today was a case in point. The Suzukis had shown yesterday that they were extremely fast around the Argentinian track, and Aleix Espargaro came into qualifying as a favorite to take pole. The medium tire (the softest compound available, which the Hondas and Yamahas do not have in their allocation) gave Espargaro plenty of speed, but would it be enough to stay with Márquez? Perhaps some sleight of hand would be needed. With the hard tire his only race option, Espargaro had some mediums to play with. Taking a leaf out of Marc Márquez' Big Book Of Strategy, he and crew chief Tom O'Kane decided that his best hope of getting pole would be a two-stop strategy: coming in twice to change bikes, using three new tires to chase a top time.
The trouble with stealing from Marc Márquez' Big Book Of Strategy is that you find yourself going up against the man who wrote it. It was at Argentina last year that Márquez and crew chief Santi Hernandez saw that a two-stop strategy might be possible, putting it into practice at the next race at Jerez. "Already last year, when I finished the qualifying practice here, we spoke with the team and saw that it was possible to use three tires, because the good lap was on the first lap," Márquez explained at the front row press conference in Argentina. They had done it at Jerez last year, and went for it in Argentina as well. He was amused that Espargaro had gone for the same trick. "We did it, and Aleix also, I saw that he had the same strategy as me. It was interesting."
Press releases from Moto2 and Moto3 teams after the first day of practice at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit:
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after the first day of practice at Austin:
Ever since he first entered the MotoGP class, Marc Márquez has owned the Circuit of the Americas at Austin. In 2013, in just his second ever MotoGP event, he was fastest in all but two practice sessions, then went on to win the race, becoming the youngest ever MotoGP winner in the process. A year later, he was fastest in every session, and extended his advantage over his teammate in the race, winning by over four seconds. The gap to third that year was demoralizing: Andrea Dovizioso crossed the line nearly 21 seconds after Márquez had taking victory.
With two one-two victories for Honda in two years at Austin, does anyone else really stand a chance? Surprisingly, it seems there might be. Much has changed over the past year: the renaissance at Ducati, the improvements at Yamaha, both of the bike and, more significantly, of the riders. And with Dani Pedrosa out with injury, Márquez faces the challenge from Movistar Yamaha and factory Ducati alone.
It is also easy to forget that the 2014 race was a real anomaly. First, Jorge Lorenzo took himself out of contention early. An out-of-shape Lorenzo arrived at Austin under pressure after crashing out at Qatar. He got distracted on the grid and jumped the start by a country mile, his race over even before it began. Valentino Rossi struggled with a front tire that chewed itself up, putting him out of contention almost immediately. And though the Ducatis were better than they had been before, the GP14 used in the first few races was a far cry from the much better GP14.2 which Ducati raced at the end of the year. Finally, Márquez himself was brimming with confidence, having won the first race of the season despite having broken his leg just four weeks before.
Racing season is now truly upon us. MotoGP kicked off ten days ago at Qatar, last weekend the British Superbike championship had their first race of the year at Donington Park, and this weekend sees a bumper crop of racing. MotoGP is at Austin, where MotoAmerica also kicks off its inaugural season since taking over the AMA series from the DMG. World Superbikes heads to the Motorland Aragon circuit in Spain, where they are joined by the Superstock 1000 and Superstock 600 classes. It is going to be a busy weekend.
Despite the bustle of action, the amount of real news emerging has been limited. Teams and riders are too busy racing, absorbing the lessons of the first races while preparing for the next races, to be plotting and scheming beyond that. Here's a rundown of things you might have missed this weekend anyway.
And you thought the Stoner return was a surprise...
As many of you will have spotted, this was in fact an April Fool's story. First and foremost, Dani Pedrosa's arm pump issues are very real, and he is seeking urgent treatment for the problem. This April Fool's joke was not entirely in the best of taste, for which we offer our apologies, most of all to Dani Pedrosa. Pedrosa is one of the finest racers of his generation, as his place in the list of all-time winners shows all too clearly. The joke was meant in the be best possible way. For a more sober reflection on Pedrosa's injury, read the blog piece I wrote for On Track Off Road magazine.
There were lots of clues that this was a joke, however. There is the small matter of Pedrosa being halfway through a MotoGP contract with HRC, set to ride for Repsol Honda in 2016. What's more, Dani Pedrosa will be 31 in 2016, and the maximum age in Moto3 is 28. Pedrosa would never be allowed to enter Moto3. Even more ridiculous is the idea that Pedrosa would leave Honda, having raced for the factory his entire life. He has shown no interest in racing in any other class, either, and will most likely retire from racing when he leaves MotoGP, whenever that happens to be. As for the financial inducements by KTM and Red Bull, well, it is easy enough to calculate just how much they would be worth...
Though we rather regret the lost age of class specialists dominating junior classes, riders like Angel Nieto, Toni Mang and Juan Martinez forming the first hurdle for youngsters on the way to a glorious career, Moto3 is now a stepping stone for young riders entering Grand Prix racing. For another year, all of the stories on the website will be as accurate as possible. Normal service has now been resumed...
The cause of Dani Pedrosa's shock announcement that he will be withdrawing from racing temporarily to seek treatment for arm pump has finally been unearthed. MotoMatters has learned that in addition to seeking treatment for the medical condition, Pedrosa is headed to Austria, where he is to test KTM's Moto3 machine ahead of a shock return to the junior class in 2016, in pursuit of a fourth world championship. Pedrosa believes racing the lighter Moto3 bikes will allow him to avoid arm pump, and prolong his Grand Prix career. Alongside racing for KTM in Moto3 in 2016, Pedrosa will help develop the Austrian manufacturer's MotoGP prototype, ahead of its debut in 2017.
MotoMatters uncovered the story while waiting to follow Pedrosa to the VUMC hospital in Amsterdam. A source in Qatar had revealed that the Spaniard would be flying to Holland for treatment at the hospital, with a reputation for dealing with sports injuries. Pedrosa was seen to arrive at Schiphol airport, where he was greeted by a woman wearing an orange uniform. Recognizing the woman as Avril Fisch, long-standing group leader of KTM's engine development department, we approached close enough to be within earshot, without being seen.
When Pedrosa came through the doors of the arrival's hall, Frau Fisch greeted the Spaniard with the words, "So, Dani, ready for your challenge in Moto3 next year?" At that point, we confronted Fisch and Pedrosa, where they confessed their plans.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after Sunday's races:
2015 Qatar MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Of Ducati's Revival, An Underrated Dovizioso, And Yamaha's Struggles
A Ducati on pole? Three Ducatis on the first two rows? Four Ducatis in the top ten? Cheater tire! The only logical explanation for the grid positions the factory and Pramac Ducati secured at Qatar is the fact they have the special soft tire available to them. And that tire, we are told by everyone who is not on a Ducati, is worth a second a lap. So the grid positions of the Ducati are a travesty, right? Come the race, they'll be rolling road blocks holding up the rest once their tires go off, right?
Wrong. This narrative, current among everyone who sees their favorite rider further down the grid than they had hoped for, bears only a very passing resemblance to the truth. The soft tire may offer some advantage to those who are allowed to use it, but it takes experience and data to get the best out of the softer rubber. Ducati have plenty of data they can pass on to the Pramac team, but the Desmosedici GP15 of Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone has barely had more than two or three laps on the soft tire. The bike is so new that they simply haven't got around to spending much time working on qualifying.
The real story is a lot more complex than just the soft tire. It starts in FP4, when Marc Márquez realized that the Yamahas were still struggling to match race pace, but showing real signs of improvement. It was time to do something about that, and he decided to deploy a trick he picked up last year. The Repsol Honda man allowed both Pramac Ducatis to get into his draft, and towed them round to help their fast laps. His ploy paid off, though not entirely. Yonny Hernandez was catapulted up into fifth, but Danilo Petrucci got a little too close and was forced into mistakes. Petrucci ended up only ninth, losing out in the second half of the track. If he had got the last two sectors right, Petrucci could have been as high as fourth.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after qualifying at Qatar:
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after the second day of practice at Qatar: